For anyone who plays chess, “The Most Dangerous Match”, the 1973 episode of Columbo, holds plenty of points of interest. The writers clearly had more than casual knowledge of chess and the competitive chess world, drawing together a plot about rival grandmasters that feels credible, as far as their personalities, and satisfying, in terms of the murder motive.
Laurence Harvey, father of the bounty hunter Domino, plays grandmaster Emmett Clayton who happens to have a personal connexion to his opponent, Tomlin Dudek (Jack Kruschen), having once been in a relationship with Dudek’s assistant (Heidi Bruhl).
She takes delight in the idea of Dudek beating Clayton in the only thing he cares about. The two grandmasters end up having dinner together along with an impromptu game using food and cutlery. When Clayton loses, the buildup makes it very clear just how badly it cuts his pride and sense of identity. His desire to not only murder Dudek but to make the death as humiliating as possible for him makes perfect sense to any serious player who’s had a losing streak.
But in that kind of chess, no grandmaster can compare with Columbo (Peter Falk). Falk’s great, of course, putting the screws into Harvey and Harvey, who died that same year, is pretty good, never playing it as an over the top maniac, just as a terribly sensitive man.
Columbo is available on Amazon Prime with commercials.