Columbo: The Complete Series available in 34-disc set
Posted October 20, 2012
There was never a question of who the murderer was on Columbo. By the time the detective arrived on the scene, viewers had already watched the killer meticulously execute the crime and establish an alibi that would fool just about everybody. Everybody, that is, but the rumpled investigator whose polite though insistent hectoring would wear down the smug culprit's façade of innocence.
Peter Falk won four Emmy Awards as the genial cop, whose cat-and-mouse battles with supposedly smarter criminals made him one of the most beloved characters in TV history. The 34-disc Columbo: The Complete Series (Universal, not rated, $150) for the first time collects all 69 episodes and 24 TV movies that aired on NBC from 1968-78 and on ABC from 1989-2003.
A broad spectrum of stars played Columbo's antagonists, who were inevitably rich, intelligent and confident that their social status would protect them from too much badgering from the police. They are initially dismissive of the seemingly forgetful, stogie-smoking cop in the battered raincoat who is out of his depth in their cultured world. But a gnawing fear arises in them as they realize that he's not befuddled at all, that he has a keen eye for detail and there really is a point to his pointless questions.
He puts the crooks at ease with his fumbling manner and idle chatter. Frequently, his interviews ends with him scratching his head, thanking them for their time and turning to leave. Then he turns back and says apologetically, "Oh, just one more thing …" and hits them with a question that signals they may not be as clever as they thought.
Falk first appeared as Columbo on NBC in the 1968 two-hour film Prescription: Murder, which creators William Link and Richard Levinson (who also created Mannix and Murder, She Wrote) based on their 1962 stage production starring Thomas Mitchell. They had adapted the play from a 1960 episode they did for the TV anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show titled "Enough Rope." Bert Freed starred as Lt. Columbo.
The 1971 pilot film, Ransom For a Dead Man, starring Falk was a ratings hit. For the next seven seasons, the show was part of the NBC Mystery Movie rotation, which also included McMillan & Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, and McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver. ABC revived the franchise in 1989 with a series of episodes that appeared frequently over the next three TV seasons and then once every year or so until 2003.
A Who's Who of film and TV stars portrayed the villains and victims on Columbo. Patrick McGoohan, Robert Culp, George Hamilton, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Vaughn, Anne Baxter, Gene Barry, Honor Blackman, Robert Conrad, Dick Van Dyke, Lee Grant, Ruth Gordon, Vera Miles, Ricardo Montalban, Martin Landau and Tyne Daly are just some who played killers that almost got away.
Falk, who died of pneumonia at age 83 in 2011, was a respected veteran actor before Columbo. He appeared in numerous films and TV shows. He was nominated for an supporting actor Academy Award in 1960 for playing vicious mob assassin Abe Reles in Murder Inc., and again in 1961 as a mobster's right-hand man in the Frank Capra comedy Pocketful of Miracles.
His 2006 memoir was titled Just One More Thing.
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