FiLM & TV: Columbo, The Complete Series

Complete Columbo

The Complete Columbo DVD set, in faux cigar case.

Teresa’s the one who usually likes her murder-mystery TV shows. I do love Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and I can occasionally enjoy a bit of Suchet Poirot with her, but I wouldn’t generally choose to watch the latter on my own.

Peter Falk, as Lieut. Columbo, LAPD, Homicide.

Columbo, on the other hand, the rumpled but earnest antithesis of Hercule, but with equal capacity in the little grey cells department, I do choose to watch, on my own or in company, even though it’s ultimately pretty much just as formulaic as any Agatha Christie. Just a different formula.

Jack Cassidy in ‘Now You See Him’, 1976. [1]
One of the conceits that makes it work so well, for me, is the way it plays in reverse, with the audience seeing the crime at the outset, and then following Columbo, as he appears to bumble along, piecing the jigsaw of events together, until he nails his culprit.

Columbo gives his signature salute… ‘Just one more thing…’
Falk’s Columbo is kind of beatnik, almost Tom Waits-ian, in certain respects.

Of course a major part of the charm of Columbo is Peter Falk himself. He is, in phrases I once read used to describe Burt Bacharach, ‘impeccably dishevelled’, and ‘rumpled yet earnest’. Equally important are the villains, and their chemistry with Columbo, and, to a lesser extent, the victims.

Actors like Patrick McGoohan and William Shatner, who I knew of before, and Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp, who were new to me, and even Falk’s curvaceous beauty of a wife, Shera Danese, all make repeat appearances in Columbo’s cases. And many other great actors, some well known, some less so, help make this a superb series.

Robert Culp, one of several recurring villains, as Dr. Bart Kepple in ‘Double Exposure’..

Between 1968 and 2003, with some breaks, a total of 69 episodes of Columbo were made, mostly roughly between 70-100 minutes long. But with a number of longer ‘feature’ length episodes and specials. Over those years it evolved and changed in some ways, whilst remaining static in others.

Falk’s character didn’t really change, nor did his M.O, nor the overall structure of the narrative. But fashions in clothes, decor, music, and just the general vibe/ambience, these are all discernibly metamorphosing.

Floral prints ahoy!

I had a primary school teacher, Mrs McKechnie, who dressed exactly like these ladies. I wonder what’s become of her?

Columbo thinks ‘what a cock!’

Don’t look down! Columbo can’t quite bring himself to put his big, fat cigar in his mouth. Roddy MacDowell? Rod by name, and by nature.

Robert Vaughan rockin’ the collars and cravat.

Ah, the white suit with jumbo collars and cravat, a ‘classic’ look. Dangerous in high winds. Those long pointy collars will either have an eye out, or possibly help you fly.

Shatner in syrup, avec grande collar ‘n’ cravat combo.

In exploring the world of Columbo I discovered an excellent blog/website, called Columbophile. I don’t intend to compete with them! But I probably will be expanding the scope of this post occasionally, or adding other Columbo-related posts. Although I’m tempted, I’m not sure I’ll go as far as getting us our own bassett-hound.

Columbo and ‘Dog’.


[1] Cassidy died not long after this, his final appearance in Columbo, when, home alone and having hit the bottle, his cigarette started the fire that would kill him.

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