by Sandra Murphy
Right from the opening credits, we know who the murderer and victim are, how the deed was done and why. It looks to be the perfect crime. In the midst of patrol officers questioning a witness, crime scene techs brushing for fingerprints and a medical examiner pronouncing the victim dead, there appears a new character—rumpled raincoat, stub of a cigar, squinty eyes, and the air of an absent-minded professor.
Who could it be but Lieutenant Columbo?
Columbo made his debut in 1960 as a live summer replacement show titled, The Sunday Mystery Hour. A stage play followed but never made it to Broadway and that seemed to be that.
The television show didn’t appear until the two-hour movie-of-the-week debuted in 1968. The show was number one for the week and studio executives pushed for a weekly series. Peter Falk and the writers didn’t think the format would work. Three years later, the ninety-minute revolving Sunday nights of McCloud, McMillan and Wife and Columbo finally brought the series to the air. It ran from 1971 until 1978, when Falk decided to take a break from the show. He returned to the role in 1989 and 1990, in a series of two-hour made-for-television movies. The difference between the former ninety-minute version and the two-hour version was apparent in the padded scenes but fans still loved the show.
Part of the show’s appeal was the lack of blood and violence. Even when we saw the murder being committed, the cameras panned to the killer, and then to the crumpled body on the floor. Peter Falk was the only constant character. Although others repeated on occasion, he had no regular sidekick or partner.
The guilty were often rich and powerful people who looked down on Lieutenant Columbo’s blue collar self, not realizing the sharp mind at work. It was the smallest detail that was their downfall. Columbo zeroed in on the most likely suspects, consulted and asked them for help, finally pointing out, “Only the killer could have known that fact.” The killers always went willingly, never in handcuffs, often in genial conversation with Columbo as they walked to the squad car. It was a most civilized arrest.
Mrs. Stewart (Suzanne Pleshette) to Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk)
“Some men, Lieutenant, do not want to look like an unmade bed.” “Dead Weight”, first season, episode five, with Eddie Albert.
Season Six Episode One, “Fade in to Murder”, William Shatner plays a television police detective. When revealed as the killer, Shatner’s character snaps his fingers and exclaims, “Damn! I had to forget something.
That’s always how the third act ends. See, I’ve had no rehearsal as a murderer, I am, after all, a detective.”
And no matter how many other roles Peter Falk played, he was, after all, a detective.
The show was created by Richard Levinson and William Link.
While we now can’t picture anyone but Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo, Bing Crosby was the first choice for the role. He declined, citing incompatibility between a weekly series and his golf game. Lee J. Cobb was the next choice but that deal didn’t work out either. Peter Falk was thought to be too young for the role but he was insistent.
Although Columbo’s first name is never spoken, his badge was seen to read Frank Columbo (season one, episode three, Murder by the Book) according to the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB). When Falk was asked for Columbo’s first name, he always answered, “Lieutenant.”
His wife, never seen, was always referred to as Mrs. Columbo, children are mentioned but no details of how many, what ages or whether boys or girls. His brother-in-law, George, usually answered the telephone at the Columbo house while Mrs. Columbo was out shopping.
Lieutenant Columbo refers to his car as a French automobile and in Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health says it is a very rare 1950 Peugeot. In the real world it is a 1959 Peugeot convertible, Model 403.
The Columbo family dog has no name and is called Dog. He is a Basset Hound, mostly untrained and rides along to crime scenes because he suffers from separation anxiety. In season two, episode seven, titled The Perfect Match, Dog is the key to solving the murder of a chess champion. Laurence Harvey guest starred.
Celebrity murderers included Jack Cassidy (three times), Robert Culp (also three), Patrick McGoohan, Johnny Cash, Vincent Price, Martin Sheen, Faye Dunaway, Roddy McDowall, Dick Van Dyke, and Ruth Gordon.
In Murder Under Glass – Columbo cooks from family recipes.
In Now You See Him, Columbo gets a new raincoat—and can’t stand it. By mid-episode, he’s back to his usual rumpled self.
Actor Peter Falk won a total of four Emmy Awards.
The rumpled raincoat, suit, shirt, tie, and shoes all belonged to Peter Falk, making his the least expensive wardrobe in Hollywood. He wore the same outfit in every episode.
Lt. Columbo never carried a gun.
Sadly Peter Falk passed away this past year.
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Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012.Registration through 12/31/2011 is only $210 (it goes up to $225 after that). Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.