We’ll leave the full and proper obituaries to the New York Times and such, who do it best, but we want to remember Leonard Nimoy in our own way with a review of our favourite non-Star Trek (and other work) performance: as a Columbo villain. We saw this season 2 Columbo episode “A Stitch in Crime” around 15 years ago during the hey day of A&E’s Columbo years (A&E, the original bingewatch) and have never forgotten it. Nimoy’s baddie was so many good things: a totally believable bastard of a clinical, trim, surgeon; a man who looked fine in a bespoke suit; a wearer of gorgeous fine kid leather driving gloves in a colour that matched the fine suit and were probably the inspiration for Drive; a neatnik who waits politely in a guest chair in the darkness of a hotel room to chloroform and drug someone; and the creator of the most stunning apartment ransacking scene in all of cinematic and televised history in the free world.
Nimoy’s Doctor Barry Mayfield is, naturally, less successful in his moments of outright thuggery. He wants to intimidate someone, no less than a nosy nurse who’s out of line, and so he uses the playbook manoever of room trashing. It appears to us that this act is not easy for the actor, adding unintended hilarity to the scene for the modern viewer. For all we know, the director said, “open the cupboard, take out a stack of plates, and lay them gently on the counter. Then, nudge a few couch cushions, ever so gingerly, onto the floor, as if they, too, were made of fine china.” In just over a minute of screen time, the good Doctor manages to make it look like he’s building a cushion fort for the kids, or that maybe a toddler was left unsupervised for a few minutes. It’s truly a sight to behold, and like no other ransack done before or since.
The whole episode is highly recommended, but for the purposes of this piece you can start viewing from 16:22
This is a great Columbo episode, with Nimoy’s signature reserve a great casting choice for this type of villain, one who is the opposite of some of the scenery-chewing 70’s hams we know and love from Columbo. Nimoy’s villain is no less a great foil for our rumpled detective, as he’s more challenging to crack and nearly impossible to ruffle. The world will miss Leonard Nimoy, who seemed ageless and is one of those iconic actors who has been part of our pop cultural understanding and landscape to the farthest reaches of its universe, holding a significant and treasured place for millions of fans. He’s been an icon and a symbol for Roddenberry’s noble ideals for half a century. He wore it with ease and grace and leaves an indelible cultural legacy that will live on.