he Great Santini, a successful Los Angeles night-club illusionist, is really an ex-Nazi named Stefan Mueller. When his employer, Jesse Jerome, threatens to reveal his true identity to the Israeli government, Santini kills Jerome in a cleverly conceived scheme to commit the crime while in the process of performing an act on stage, in which he is bound by chains and submerged in a tank. Lieutenant Columbo, the cheaply dressed yet extremely intelligent detective from the LAPD's Homicide Division, arrives to investigate Jerome's murder and instantly suspects Santini. Columbo patronizingly pursues Santini with incessant questions while searching for a clue to prove Santini's guilt and to dispel the illusionist's "perfect" crime.

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