When I was a kid, my Dad got me into watching Columbo. While I’m a casual fan of police procedurals, many of them do very little for me. Columbo was one of the first shows to really turn that genre on it’s ear, with it’s star Peter Falk proving to be anything but your typical detective. With his little car, a half smoked cigar, unkempt clothes and rapidly deteriorating lazy eye, Columbo was able to lull criminals into exposing their plots.
“Just one more thing,” he would ask as he naggingly tried to fill in the details, ever so slowly causing criminals to expose their lies. Columbo was an amazing show because unlike Law & Order, known for it’s twists and attempts to make you think various people were guilty… In Columbo, we know who did the crime. The drama in Columbo is watching Peter Falk as the seemingly bumbling gumshoe, outwit the culprit. It was a testament to Falk’s acting ability that this schtick not only worked, but did so for over 30 years.
Of course Falk did many other roles in his career and achieved some fame in other parts both on stage and screen. He even logged in a role in Princess Bride, ensuring cult status geek cred. However, it’s Columbo that has made him a small screen legend. Falk never begrudged Columbo or subsequent typecasting and embraced the role his entire career.
Sadly today at age 83 Peter Falk has passed away. Falk had wanted to do a final Columbo on NBC and had pushed for it a few years back, but NBC had gotten out of the Columbo business at the early part of the new century. Perhaps it’s better this way, as Columbo shouldn’t be killed or written off in dramatic fashion. Instead we’ll never learn what happened to Columbo, we just imagine he’s still out there on a beat somewhere, doing his thing.
We never learned a lot about Columbo, in fact. Sure we learned lots of amusing stories about his wife, but never her name. She was simply Mrs. Columbo, did she even exist? Then there’s Columbo himself, we never learned his first name. He simply says Lieutenant, when people ask. He once flashed his badge and it looked as though his name was listed as Frank, but it was never confirmed.
Trivial Pursuit once claimed Columbo’s first name was Phillip, based on information they had plagiarized from Fred L. Worth’s “Super Trivia” book. Little did Trivial Pursuit know, that like GI Joe’s inverted thumbnail, Fred Worth had made up that name for Columbo to protect his copyright. It even went to the Supreme Court, sadly, Fred was no Columbo and lost his case, but it makes for an interesting story none the less.
Just yesterday I was browsing the video store and saw a newer release of a film, called American Cowslip, which featured Peter Falk on the cover. I sort of took solace in that, thinking that ol’ Mr. Falk was still out there doing stuff and perhaps a new Columbo was still possible. Alas, as it turns out Falk had been battling early Alzheimer’s and hadn’t made a new movie for several years. Too bad, but Falk has left us with hours upon hours of entertainment and one truly iconic character which will live on in cinema forever… Columbo!
If you’ve never seen Columbo, Netflix has a pretty good selection of the series. Just one more thing… Thank you, Peter Falk.