Columbo: you were great, but that case would never hold up in court
August 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
My previous post, on Quincy ME, got me all nostalgic for another of my favourite shows, the brilliant Columbo. Another influential classic that has stood the test of time. Peter Falk was faultless in his genius portrayal of the clumsy, bumbling and dishevelled detective; seemingly harmless, but always several steps ahead of the murderer, armed only with his notebook and pencil, cigar and the choking fumes from his Peugeot 403.
The episodes always had the best titles, like ‘A Stitch In Crime’ (1973), where the murderer is a surgeon and ‘Uneasy Lies the Crown’ (1990), where the murderer is a dentist. Columbo was also frequently directed by now-familiar names such as Steven Spielberg, Jonathan Demme and Sam Wanamaker, and featured an array of well-known actors in the role of the murderer – from Leonard Nimoy to John Cassavetes, Donald Pleasance, Jack Cassidy, George Hamilton, and even Johnny Cash. William Shatner amusingly appears in two unrelated episodes – with ‘Fade Into Murder’ (1976) a must see for the ski-mask/sunglasses combo disguise which Shatner’s character adopts in order to carry out his crime.
Of course, I’m giving nothing away by exposing the actors who played the murderer, as Columbo always followed the ‘inverted detective story’ format, immediately revealing the perpetrator of the crime. That was the fun of it – guessing that little bit of evidence; that loose end that Columbo would pick up on to catch his crook. Although, most of these ‘loose ends’ would be unlikely to hold up in court. In fact, there have been episodes where Columbo has seemingly got his man through entrapment. In one such episode, ‘Agenda for Murder’ (1990), Columbo, amazingly, claims that bite marks on a piece of cheese, that was found at the crime scene, match those on a piece of chewing gum that he retrieved from the murderer’s wastepaper bin, implicating him. The murderer gives himself up, but Columbo later reveals that the dental x-rays he showed the murderer, and supposedly used to match up the bite marks, were actually his own.
There were rumours that the crumpled detective was to be resurrected in a film, produced, and possibly, played by Benicio del Toro – a huge fan of the show. I’ve heard no more of this, but I think del Toro may be an inspired choice to play an updated Columbo. I also think it would work best if it was made as a TV series. After all, TV is where it began, and the high calibre of current shows have made TV work highly desirable.
‘Agenda for Murder’ features my favourite Columbo guest-murderer, Patrick McGoohan, who appeared in four episodes and also directed, wrote and produced for the show. He was always fun to watch and the perfect foil to Falk. I guess one of the appealing and nail-biting aspects of Columbo was that we were actually rooting for the bad guy, in a way. We knew they did it and we knew that Columbo would figure it out and finger the murderer in the end, but there was always that sense that maybe, just maybe, he (or she) might just get away with it.