The twenty-sixth episode of Columbo was titled By Dawn’s Early Light and was the third episode of the show’s fourth season. A colonel looks to preserve the status of his military academy by rigging a cannon to take care of a perceived threat. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at the setting, characters and circumstances that give Columbo a taste of academy life and lead him to a dramatic finale.
Patrick McGoohan makes his Columbo debut as Colonel Lyle Rumford, a military man with military principles which he puts into practice at his military academy. Only it is not his military academy. Owner William Haynes (Tom Simcox) sees more economic potential in turning the school into a co-ed junior college, an establishment at which there would be no place for Rumford. Rigging a cannon to backfire, Rumford kills Haynes leading to a police investigation.
McGoohan would go on to become a favourite with Columbo fans after making an Emmy-winning start in this episode, picking up 1975’s Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series. Three more appearances over twenty-four years and five stints in the director’s chair would establish him as a Columbo legend. Younger listeners may best remember him for his role as Edward I Longshanks in 1995’s Braveheart opposite Mel Gibson.
Shot entirely on location, this episode was tightly focused on Rumford and Columbo’s exchanges. Mark Wheeler made an impression as Cadet Springer – an early suspect – while both Bruce Kirby and his son Bruno appeared, the former as Sergeant George Kramer – an officer irritated by Columbo’s methods – and the latter as Cadet Morgan, a cider-fermenting student who helps Columbo crack the case. Burr DeBenning‘s Captain Loomis and Madeleine Sherwood‘s Miss Brady – PA to Rumford – kept the story moving, in turn.
Director Harvey Hart took the helm for the first of his four Columbo episodes, while writer Howard Berk penned the first of his two shows (Berk would go on to write a pair of 1979 episodes of Mrs Columbo, but we’ll forgive him for that!).
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By Dawn’s Early Light was released in 1974. It is 98 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.