Peter Falk dead, 83
|NEWS - TV NEWS|
The shabby tec who could never make a clean exit, finally...exits.
If there was one thing you could count on about Lt. Columbo, it was that he would never leave a room without immediately entering it again, to clear up "Just one more thing..." Which remembrance adds either sadness and poignancy or a typical note of Peter Falk-style humour to the news that he has departed the department for the last time. At the time of writing, no direct cause of death has been attributed to the demise of the Columbo actor in Los Angeles at the age of 83, but Falk had been battling Alzheimer's Disease for some years.
You can read in a lot of places a rote history of his career, the famous "For that money, I could get an actor with two eyes!" story, and accounts of the sad familial wrangling that put a small shadow on a shining career at the end. But I don't really want to rewrite that stuff, or even dig out my copy of Falk's excellent and very funny autobiography.
I just want to remember with thanks the endless repeats of Columbo that graced many a school holiday - every episode an almost entirely predictable meal, but with an absolutely unique flavour. And to thank William Peter Blatty for letting Lt. Columbo live, even though the dowdy detective was really an unauthorised evolution from Detective Kinderman in The Exorcist and the 1980s literary sequel 'Legion' (made into an excellent and under-regarded film by Blatty himself in 1990).
To thank Wim Wenders too, for having the eccentricity to cast Falk as himself in the spirit-liftingly beautiful Wings Of Desire - a performance that turned out to be a touchstone for all Falk fans.
And more than anything else, to thank Peter Falk for being Peter Falk. There was no-one else - absolutely no-one - who could have taken on the role.
I think it only fit to close this with an excerpt from Top 10 MIndf*** Tv Episodes that features the great Lieutenant...
4: Columbo - 'Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo'
First broadcast March 31st 1990
There comes a certain point in the maturity of a show where one expects that it might begin to play with ideas more, and to engagingly wrong-foot viewers by subverting their expectations. This, even of a show as totally predicated on formula as Columbo. After all, the formula (wherein we witness an elaborate murder which Lt. Columbo must solve when he joins the episode about 15 minutes in) devised by William Link and Richard Levinson in the late 1960s was as much the star of the show as Peter Falk.
Yet when the shabby detective returned for an eighth season after an 11-year hiatus, who's to say that some smart-alec somewhere might not have it in mind to do something really radical in a Columbo episode one of these days? Such as killing off arguably TV's most famous unseen character, the legendary 'Mrs. Columbo'..? In 'Rest In Peace', Helen Shaver is the widow of one of Columbo's previous victories - who died in prison - and she's now out for revenge by taking Columbo's mysterious spouse from him before also poisoning the down-at-heel 'tec. And she does actually succeed in killing Mrs. Columbo.
This mind-fuck works for a number of reasons. Firstly, Peter Falk's famously amiable character would show some new and strange wrinkle in Columbo once in a blue moon; on the few occasions when the diminutive lieutenant dropped the 'dope'-act and really got angry, banging his fist on tables, it was notable. He didn't make such deviations often, but often enough that you couldn't be entirely cosy about how his character would react in future episodes. Secondly, we've never met Columbo's wife anyway (though we've heard a hell of a lot about her in the last thirty years), and if she mysteriously disappears for part of the plot, there's nothing to set alarm bells ringing in that respect. Thirdly, Falk is a truly great actor whose range was rarely challenged by the Columbo phenomenon, and his anger and grief at the loss of his beloved wife in 'Rest In Peace' sells us entirely on her death.
Which, incidentally, was all stage-managed by Lt. Columbo and his wife, as it turns out. I was just fucking with you.
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