Friday, June 24, 2011
Peter Falk: Goodbye, Columbo
Yesterday Gene Colan died and today we heard the news that Peter Falk passed away, at the age of 83. I loved Columbo, watched the very first episodes on the Sunday Mystery Movie on NBC. The format of the show was unique—a detective story where the killer is known from the beginning. Where the detective himself isn’t handsome, doesn’t chase people, and never pulls out a pistol. Oh and he seems like the worst detective in the world—wearing a crumpled overcoat with clumsy behavior. What is a guy like this doing in Los Angeles, solving crimes involving some of the richest and most powerful people in California? Because his mind is sharp as a razor. And probably the detective work on this show was closer to reality than any other police shows.
Last year, I started having fond memories of Columbo and got ahold of the first season on DVD. Did the shows hold up, almost 40 years later? Hell yes! The first real Columbo episode (after 2 pilots) was Murder by the Book, from September 1971, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Jack Cassidy (father of David Cassidy from the Partridge Family). Cassidy is a writer who decides to kill his writing partner (Martin Milner from Adam-12, also Locke’s father on LOST). One thing about the Columbo series, not only was Falk superb as the detective, most often his co-stars were really great actors, too. Cassidy was wonderful in the role and returned to play different killers in Season 3 and Season 5. I also enjoyed the other episdoes from the 1971-72 season, which featured Eddie Albert, Roddy McDowell, and Patrick O’Neal as the prime suspects.
Peter Falk was a great actor in movies as well as Columbo. He made several films with his friend John Cassavetes, who was in the second season of Columbo. Cassavetes played a conductor who murders his mistress. One great thing about this episode, and many others, is the not-so subtle class warfare. Columbo’s prime suspects are either very rich or very powerful people who contrast against his down-to-earth roots as an Italian-American. They enjoy lording it over Columbo with their snobbishness until their ego eventually trips them up.
Here is the opening credits to the Sunday Mystery Movie on NBC from the 1970s. Seems corny today but that guy walking in the dusk, shining a flashlight on Columbo, Quincy, McCloud, and McMillian and Wife seemed pretty cool back then. Nuff Said.