December 19, 2016

Mondays with Columbo: NEGATIVE REACTION

One of the great aspects about Columbo is that, at times, the casting is perfection, especially when it comes to the antagonist. Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp are two of the better-known, more popular antagonists, but Negative Reaction does something that we wouldn't expect....

...cast Dick Van Dyke as a villain. And an especially arrogant man with simmering anger to boot.

The plot, in a nutshell, is that Van Dyke plays a photographer in an unhappy marriage. So instead of getting a divorce, he arranges to murder his wife and set up an innocent man recently released from prison. So when Columbo gets involved, that sets up an interesting game of cat-and-mouse...

In most Columbo episodes, the actor portraying the villain either acts arrogantly or plays his cards close to the chest. Dick Van Dyke, however, chooses to be infinitely patient with Columbo, but we see Van Dyke gradually become annoyed with Columbo. In fact, Peter Falk manages to play off that annoyance - we never see his Columbo become more obnoxious, and this becomes a great example of two actors knowing when - and how - to hit the right emotional beats.

In fact, Negative Reaction also has one of the stronger plots of any Columbo episode, with some great moments - the scene in the mission, for example, when Columbo is mistaken for a homeless man. Another scene where Columbo examines some of Van Dyke's photography books. All of these play into a really exceptional script that never feels forced of deliberately wacky like, say, the 1990s Columbo episodes....

And the ending? It may feel like a bit of a cheat on paper, but as works brilliantly. I wish I could say more without spoiling, but everything about it is pitch-perfect, and Negative Reaction is an intriguing (if lesser-appreciated) episode of Columbo.

But don't just take my word for it - check out what The Columbo Podcast and Just One More Thing have to say about Negative Reaction. 

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