July 11, 2016
Columbo episodes work best through a variety of factors: a seemingly simple murder that has a major, unseen complication; opportunities for Columbo to interact in a world not his own; and most importantly, an engaging antagonist - one who can be either charming yet arrogant (like Jack Cassidy); willing to attempt some psychological manipulation (like Robert Culp); or have some sense of likability (like Clive Revill)
Columbo: Season 3's Candidate for Crime is one of the lesser Columbo episodes...it's not bad, and is completely watchable, but the tone feels old-fashioned and several aspects of the episode don't quite fit.
Part of it is the passage of time: the idea of a politician having an affair with an aide is slightly more "acceptible" now than it was then. (It also hurts that Ken Swofford, who plays the soon-to-be-deceased campaign manager, seems to be rehearsing his later role as Frank Flannigan for Ellery Queen Mysteries). It's hard to believe in our current media-saturated client that an affair could "stay hidden." (It's also a shame that, even within the more cynical view of politics in the early 1970s, more couldn't have been made about the candidate's possible indiscretions....at least, other than marital).
Much of the problem with Candidate for Crime is due to the casting of Jackie Cooper as the main lead, a candidate for U.S. Senate. Cooper feels like a last-minute addition to the cast, and his acting style feels completely wrong. (This should be more of a charming wheeler-dealer; Cooper feels more like a character from a bad 1930s political drama). When it comes to moments of intimacy with his mistress, Cooper looks less like a man with enough charisma to seduce a younger woman and more like a grandfather handling one of his grandchildren.
(Seriously, those particular scenes really feel wrong with an unavoidable tone deafness).
However, there are quite a few moments that make Candidate for Crime worth watching. One of them is Columbo dealing with a high-end tailor; although there is some awkwardness, there's also a great moment of Columbo's investigative process, playing the innocent but keeping track of the finer details. There are also two really brief scenes involving a young Katey Segal, which shouldn' t be too much of a surprise, since Candidate for Crime was directed by her father Boris Sagal.
Is Columbo: Candidate for Crime a complete success? No, but it's also eminently watchable.
For a different set of opinions, please check out this episode of The Columbo Podcast