On June 23, 2011, the great Peter Falk sadly passed away at his Roxbury Drive Beverly Hills home. The cause of death was later revealed as cardiorespiratory arrest, with pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease as underlying causes. Falk is survived by his wife and two daughters, and is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Ranked in 1996 by TV Guide as number 21 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list, Columbo is television crafted to the highest standard, and when on form, I am lost for hours in this wonderful, televisual behemoth. Now the the anniversary of Falk’s death is approaching, I realised I could pay tribute to my favourite TV, homicide detective.
Falk exudes warmth, charisma, charm and comedy in Columbo, and I’m sure many of us have sat down on a Sunday morning, or afternoon (or at 3am on a Thursday morning), to watch him solve yet another complex murder case. Created by William Link and Richard Levinson, the show popularised the inverted detective story format, where the viewer was privy to who committed the murder, and how it was done. The delight unfolding over the next hour or so, was seeing how Columbo would eventually reel the murderer in. Under the friendly, bumbling, absent-minded, dishevelled exterior and tatty raincoat, run-down car, and invisible wife, lies a sharp, formulaic mind capable of nitpicking over the most minute of details. Slowly but surely, the murderer becomes antagonised, until the grand finale, where the mystery is finally pieced together. The series was once broadcast on over 80 networks, spanning 44 countries. In 2012, the programme was chosen as the third best cop or legal show on Best in TV: The Greatest TV Shows of Our Time, and in 2013, TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.
My own personal favourite is ‘A Deadly State of Mind’ – this episode revolves around psychiatrist Mark Collier (George Hamilton), who kills Carl Donner (Stephen Elliott) with a fireplace poker after a confrontation with Donner over Collier’s affair with Donner’s wife, Nadia (Lesley Ann Warren). Collier concocts a cover story involving a home robbery gone astray. When Columbo catches on, Collier hypnotises Nadia into diving into an imaginary swimming pool from her fifth story balcony. Columbo admits he cannot prove Collier killed Nadia, and the only witness to the original crime is a blind man walking past the house as Collier was leaving. The final unravelling of this episode is pure, televisual gold. Like a mouse being pinned into a corner by a cat, Columbo solves the mystery with all the finesse that he so expertly possesses throughout the entire series.
In terms of guest names – it’s the crème de la crème of actors/actresses. Honor Blackman, Johnny Cash (in the brilliant Swan Song), Billy Connolly, Robert Culp, Ed Begley, Jr., George Hamilton, Rip Torn, George Wendt, Martin Landau (Double Shock), Patrick McGoohan, Leonard Nimoy, Leslie Nielsen, William Shatner and Dick Van Dyke, to name a few. With performers of this credence, you can’t go far wrong.
Falk was born on September 16, 1927, in New York City, USA. The world lost a great man and actor when he died, but all 69 Columbo episodes are preserved on DVD, and I can think of nothing better than settling down with a cuppa and losing myself in one. He died at the grand old age of 83, leaving behind a legacy of memories for his generation and generations to come. His death was greeted with tributes from many film celebrities, including Steven Spielberg, who said: “I learned more about acting from him at that early stage of my career than I had from anyone else.” Stephen Fry tweeted that Columbo was “TV’s greatest ever detective.” Peter Falk. What an absolute legend.
‘Oh, just one more thing…’