As with many TV film series (such as Perry Mason), if you like one or two of them then you'll pretty much like them all. This entry in the Columbo series pretty much follows the usual formula – we know the killer and the "perfect" plan but then watch Columbo follow his hunch and gradually starts to pick holes in the story he is told before eventually finding enough to prove his suspicions. Saying this is not a spoiler – it is simply what happens in all the films. With this strict adherence to formula it is usually down to several factors whether or not the Columbo film stands out or if it is just average. Here we have an interesting set up and an unusually cruel murder (the script spares us the horribly slow death that must have followed) that sticks to formula but is none the worse for it. The cat and mouse game played out between the two characters is the most enjoyable aspect and this is thanks a lot to the acting talent in the leads.
Falk is as good as ever and he makes the script totally work – convincing you that this is a real person and that his mind is really that sharp; the moment he seems to offer a hand of trust to Abby in his speech to the women's group is perfectly delivered. Needless to say, Gordon is priceless and it is a testament to the appeal of the Columbo series that some one of her stature got involved. She is very enjoyable and also one of the few murderers that the series invite us to empathise with; she has great chemistry with Falk and the two share scenes that are tense as well as scenes that are comic – humorous banter over Columbo's dog is one, while Gordon is the second of two characters to take the mick out of Columbo's "one more thing" line. The support cast is interesting – a typical performance from the unmistakable Spradlin but a wooden and unnatural one from Hartley. However it is the lead two that matter and they are both marvellous, both individually and together.
Overall this is a typically winning Columbo that sticks to the formula with a solid mystery and a wonderful acting dynamic from the lead two. Comparatively tense, witty and engaging this will please fans and perhaps win others to see what the fuss is all about.