Culp's Mind Games
Dr. Bart Keppel (Robert Culp) has made a name for himself as a leading motivational research specialist, an observer of body language to spot and use people's triggers to both motivate and manipulate them. It also leads to him becoming quite the expert in subliminal messaging, inserting single advertising frames into a film to cause a trigger of desire in the viewers subconscious. It is one of the techniques he uses in his blackmail scam when he sets up married men with desirable young women. When his latest victim, Vic Norris (Robert Middleton), won't play ball and threatens to turn Keppel in it leads to Keppel murdering him in a highly crafted way to cover his tracks, the perfect crime. Well that's perfect until Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) shows up and takes an immediate interest in Keppel and his work.
On first glance "Columbo: Double Exposure" appears to be just another episode of "Columbo" from back in 1973, one of those episodes which if you live in the UK are likely to spot on the TV schedule being shown as a TV movie. But "Columbo: Double Exposure" whilst having the usual formula of someone staging the perfect crime and then Columbo pecking away at them till he gets his man this also has the far more interesting side which is the manipulation of someone's subconscious to get them to react in a certain way. We see everything from the use of words, the use of image and the use of split second advertising images all cleverly crafted to manipulate someone and it is fascinating.
This fascinating side of "Columbo: Double Exposure" also comes to life thanks to Robert Culp who in total made 4 appearances in various episodes of "Columbo" over the years but this was easily his best. The way Culp plays Keppel is spot on and you buy into him as this observer of people and behaviour who knows how to manipulate them especially with the use of words to either lift them up or put them down. And this gives Keppel that superiority complex which makes him a worth adversary for Columbo who has that usual smile on his face when he comes across someone who thinks they are smart enough to out wit him. And so with Culp delivering the charm of a confident man it makes for many an enjoyable one on one scene.
What this all boils down to is that "Columbo: Double Exposure" is one of the better episodes of "Columbo" and seeing they were all pretty good this one is special. And that comes down to the perfect casting of Robert Culp and the set up of him being an expert in body language and the manipulation of people.