September 21, 2015
Very rarely (at least, if memory serves) did Columbo ever pull "straight from the headlines", but this may be one of the few Columbo episodes which shares similarities with its more recent equivalent, a fourth-season episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Focusing on the then-prevalent interest in chess (now the subject of a major motion picture, now with extra Tobey Maguire), The Most Dangerous Match has a great idea behind it - after all, aren't most Columbo episodes like a chess match? And wouldn't having Laurence Harvey of The Manuchurian Candidate as a counterpoint to Columbo seem like a no-brainer?
Although there's a great idea behind it...the movie is one of the fair-to-middling entries in the Columbo oevre.
Laurence Harvey plays a chess champion - arrogant, abrasive, and wearing a hearing aid. He will be playing against his Russian opponent - who came out of retirement just to take on the champion - and shades of Bobby Fischer, Harvey goes into a bit of a panic, complete with neo-psychedelic dream sequence...
...and that's the first of many awkward, not well-thought-out sequences in the film.
There are some clever touches: an impromptu dinner between the two chess players leads to a further impromptu game of chess; heightened scrutiny by a Russian chess coach leads to some tension; and every step of the way, Harvey finds ways to counter every move and plan moves. However, even at the end, when he is bragging about the number of games other chess players could handle, Columbo manages to deliver a simple checkmate.
This isn't a bad Columbo episode (you won't get such a thing until the 1980s revival, which is why I'm not covering that era), but the direction seems a bit lackluster. Although the writing is relatively strong, the actual revelation of the "big clue" feels weak. (It also doesn't help that the victim is revealed to be "only hurt" early on - although there is a later killing stroke, it does lay part of the plot open).
Is this a Columbo to remember? No, but it's worth a view if you like chess and/or own the DVD boxed set....
Oh, and just one more thing......the Columbo Podcast is focusing on Make Me a Perfect Murder while Just One More Thing focuses on A Friend In Deed...