Saturday, June 25, 2011

R.I.P. Peter Falk

Dean emailed me yesterday to say that Peter Falk had died, aged 83. I knew he'd been suffering from Alzheimer's for some years, poor guy. In his honour, we're going to watch some of his Columbo episodes, since I have all but the very last set of dvds. Those last seasons - the "new" Columbo episodes - weren't nearly as good as the originals, but there are still some bright spots. "Columbo Goes To The Guillotine" is pretty good, and I liked "Columbo Goes To College", though the plot was incredibly sophisticated and dependent on technological gimmicks. I found it hard to believe that two college boys, who weren't especially noted for their technological expertise (they were upper-class frat boys, basically interested in partying and playing around) could have come up with something that flawless in so little time.

Among the original episodes, there are almost too many excellent ones to be able to list in order of preference: I especially liked "Playback" with Oskar Werner, and pretty much anything with Jack Cassidy in it - he was such an arrogant bastard in every case. Dean likes to mimic one of his lines in Publish or Perish, where he's conning a demented explosives freak into thinking that he wants to publish his book "How To Blow Up Anything": "There's no doubt this book of yours will change the world!"

I liked Falk as Sam Diamond in Murder by Death, too - all that tough guy bluster concealing some very bizarre backstory involving a lot of sexual confusion. "Sam, why do you keep all those naked muscle men magazines in your office?" "Suspects. Always looking for suspects."

What was nice about Falk was that even though he was pretty typecast as Columbo after the 70s, he never seemed to resent it. Not like Basil Rathbone, who hated Sherlock Holmes and detested the way that character dominated his career. Falk seemed to like Columbo, and never minded the fact that this was to be what he'd be most remembered for. And why should he? "Columbo" was a good show - well written, with good performers and handsome production. It holds up very well today, especially compared to freakish murder mysteries like "CSI", where everything seems to be caused by some new secret underground world of fursuit fetishists, or diaper-wearing fantasists, or mouse-worshipping cannibals, or whatever. Columbo was almost always set in the real world; no matter how unusual the people he encountered, they all ran on recognizably human motives - money, jealousy, revenge, fear.

So long, Columbo - you and your car and your raincoat belong to the ages.


Blogger Priscilla said...

I always liked that show.It was one of my parent's favorites. I'm going to have to see if it is on netflix or hulu. I'd like to watch them again.

10:39 pm  
Blogger Daniel Muller said...

Wings of Desire.

10:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was very sad when I heard he had died. Columbo was one of the heroes of my youth and I still love to watch it. I like how it's never about finding out who had done it but about how Columbo will find out. And how he already knows whilst the murder is still feeling safe and thinks he's playing around with the old fool.

Great you mentioned Murder By Death, that movie is one of my all-time favourites, I've seen it more than a hundred times easily and yet it never gets boring. It's such an intelligent movie with sharp dialoges and great actors, every single one of them!

I will dearly miss him.

9:09 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

I've always thought that it was a stroke of genius that made the 'Columbo' mysteries start off by SHOWING the murder. In a curious way, this makes the viewer identify with the MURDERER, not with the detective, as is the usual pattern. We know exactly what the murderer knows - at the beginning, it's far more than Columbo knows. The whole story consists of the tortoise catching up with the hare. But because we share the murderer's knowlege, we can see the full significance of every clue. Even before Columbo fully understands how some discrepancy fits into the overall pattern, we know and start to feel the killer's anxiety as the safety zone begins to contract. I'm sure other mystery writers have done this (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie plays around with it a bit), but Columbo really took it to a whole new level.

3:43 pm  

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