Monday, August 29, 2011
Top Five Episodes of "Columbo" As Ranked by the Murderer's Hair
5. Nicol Williamson, "How to Dial a Murder" (Originally aired April 15, 1978) Though this Shakespearean stage star's blond locks were receding up top, he kept them flowingly long on the side, in a nest of well-honed curls and waves. Hey, it was the 1970s, when a middle-aged man could keep his hair long and stylish. I have to admit I have a soft spot for Williamson's do because it bears a passing resemblance to my own, although I am not blessed with as much of Nicol's natural waviness, but rather just an unruly bunch of cowlicks.
4. Ruth Gordon, "Try and Catch Me" (November 21, 1977) Miss Gordon keeps her hair swirled around and piled on top of her head, as befits an 81-year-old woman. (She's the oldest killer in any episode of "Columbo.") The dye job is so subtle that I noticed it only fleetingly in one scene, but what places her on this list is when she lets the whole thing pile down in a long pigtail that dangles down her back, turning Miss Gordon into the world's only 81-year-old pixie.
3. Johnny Cash, "Swan Song" (March 3, 1974) Jet-black, shaggy, freed from its AquaNet cage, Cash's hair reaches its own pinnacle in this episode. He is manly but relaxed, hip enough to still come off as cool during the gospel numbers - although he also does a wonderful version of "Sunday Morning Coming Down."
2. Robert Vaughn, "Troubled Waters" (February 9, 1975) Vaughn's hair is legendarily perfect, but what makes it remarkable in this episode - the one on the cruise ship - is that it was actually shot on board the Sun Princess. So every time Vaughn stepped outside, the wind blew his hair every which way, but by the time he came back inside, every single strand had fallen back into its proper place. It's amazing to see a head of hair with its own character arc.
1. John Cassavetes, "Etude in Black" (September 17, 1972) Cassavetes' cascading Greek curls beautifully fit his character, a philandering (and murderous, natch) conductor: artistic, louche, sophisticated. His jetting around in a convertible only tousles his mop to ever-greater insouciance. It is a magnificent performance by a magnificent head of hair.