While Columbo is not really known for the highest cinematic quality, there were a few scenes which I've thought were really well done.
(1) The Most Crucial Game - the complete isolation of Columbo in the LA Memorial Coliseum where his feet are aching and he's contemplating how to catch Paul Hanlon.
(2) Any Old Port in a Storm - when the camera flies in over the vineyards and heads toward the main building, finally fading into the statue located on the wine tour.
(3) Murder By the Book - although there wasn't one particular scene which I thought was visually striking, the overall mood was made more riveting by the mixture of low-angle close-ups, darkened rooms at the cabin and the use of pans in several scenes (opening scene with Jim typing, lake scene where they are dragging for Lily LaSanka's body).
Curious what others thought. I'll add my favorite dramatic scenes a bit later.
I would add (in no particular order):
(1) The slow zoom in on Columbo playing "Chopsticks" at the Hollywood Bowl from "Etude In Black"
(2) The low, almost fishbowl-lens shot of Dr. Allenby walking through the empty airport in "Sex and the Married Detective"
(3) The dark, ominous opening shots of "A Friend In Deed"
Great topic! Those uniquely-directed moments are some of my favorites in all "Columbo." They really add something to the episodes, making them more "TV movies" than episodes of a regular show.
The marina scenes in LAST SALUTE FOR THE COMMODORE and DEAD WEIGHT.
At the very least, Columbo rowing away at the end of the first one.
Yes, I love that final scene in "Last Salute to the Commodore" - the music, the whistling, the row boat disappearing into the distance and then fading into what looks like a painting. I know that this episode gets ripped, but I've grown to actually enjoy it quite a bit over the years. This scene is one reason.
Speaking of painting, I thought the flashback scenes used in "Murder, A Self Portrait", while not cinematic in a grand sense, were well done in terms of effect - the juxtaposition of Columbo and Barsini "painting the memory", as it were.
Alex Benedict alludes to the isolation of that scene when he says something to the effect of "how did you do this?" (meaning finding him at the Hollywood Bowl). The slow zoom in is reminiscent of the scene in "The Most Crucial Game". Good spot!
Though a bit light weight in places there a some lovely moments in Murder, Smoke and Shadows. I think they tried really hard with that one to do something different and as a result it feels quite fresh. Columbo's discussion with the boy wonder (who had more super hits than any other director) about light and dark is especially effective.
Yes, that scene ("Murder, Smoke and Shadows")was well done. The music in this episode was also good.
I enjoy some of the weirder nuanced shots.
1) Ransom Dead Man, when her car lights lens flare look like stars from the blurred lens while driving around the mountain, with the background music playing.
2) Agenda for Murder, the two scenes, when Oscar Finch takes the call from Frank at his home with the wife in the background, and then the dark stormy scene when he goes to Frank's house
3) Early scene in Forgotten Lady when they are driving back from the event into her mansion at night with the piano music playing. I had a rich friend in HS, who had the exact same type house and his mom would always play that style music. So it brings me right back to that. hehe
4) The restaurant scene in Dangerous Match with the blurred to in-focus transitions with that flute/jazz song playing. Even though it's been played in multiple episodes, I still dig it.
5) Friend in Deed at the poker table when the Chief laughs at the dude's misfortune rolling dice. Great scene.
6) Make Me a Perfect Murder, when she's walking down the hall with camera zoomed to her face during the count down. Creepy good.
7) Most of Murder: A Self Portrait is great imo, in terms of cinematic shots. Many scenes there. The Cioppino scene. The beach scenes. The scenes at Vito's bar.
And of course the story-within-a-story in Make Me A Perfect Murder, with the director himself playing the role. It uses a lot of cliches, like the character in a fleabag motel room with a neon sign outside, but the cliches are deliberate.
One of my favorite scenes is in "Murder, A Self Portrait" when Columbo and his dog are at the dog show. He is walking his dog around the ground.
I like any scene with Columbo and the dog. They are priceless.
I'm going to add the opening scene from my favorite episode - By Dawn's Early Light. The slow walk down the hall towards the kitchen. You don't know who is in there, you don't know what they are doing, but someone is doing something and the lack of music gives the scene a little bit of a tense vibe.