What a great "Columbo" episode. For fans, this has everything. A brilliant adversary. A tricky plot. Deftly chosen jokes. And a twist ending that comes like a thunderclap.
Dr. Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy) is a surgeon with an ingenious scheme for murdering the kindly Dr. Hidemann, his infuriatingly cautious partner in a research project. But Hidemann's devoted nurse (Anne Francis) catches on to the scheme, and Mayfield murders her to prevent discovery. It's up to our Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) not only to find out who killed the nurse but prevent another murder from taking place.
Two things often trip up even the best writers of this series. One is the ending. Too often an episode ends with Columbo revealing a damning piece of evidence that doesn't seem all that damning. Or he tricks the killer into giving himself away, which never quite feels satisfactory. I won't give away this ending, of course. Let's just say it'll please the most demanding fan.
The other thing is the comedy scenes. Columbo affects dimwittedness and bad manners to trick his quarry into underestimating him. But too often the writers seem to think that he is genuinely a buffoon. For instance, there's a terrible scene in "Dagger of the Mind" where he inadvertently creates havoc at an airport. It's not funny, and it's not our Columbo. "A Stitch in Crime," by contrast, has some splendidly comic moments where he is not a clown, just a bit inattentive to manners. What he does with a hardboiled egg is priceless.
He also has the standard scene where something makes him queasy. In "Ransom for a Dead Man" it's the airplane ride. In "Dead Weight" it's the boat ride. Here it's hospitals, especially the operating room. But I like how he's able to steel himself when it really counts. I also love a novel moment. We actually see our faux-obsequious detective drop the pretense and lose his temper. I don't think he's done that since "Prescription: Murder."
Leonard Nimoy is essentially Mr. Spock in a white coat. His Dr. Mayfield is better able to keep his emotions at bay than just about any other murderer in the series. He makes brilliant move after brilliant move, but Columbo checks him every time. And then in the very last frame: checkmate.