6/26/11

Columbo: Final Questions

"You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you're laying a mine field and wagging your tail."
- How the Dial a Murder.
Peter Falk (1927 – 2011)
It has been a busy week here, with new material popping-up at the top of the page nearly every day and the plan was to trickle down the outpour of activity a little bit after uploading the review of Patrick Quentin's Puzzle for Puppets (1944). But then the news broke that Peter Falk, whose disheveled appearance, from the rumpled raincoat, stumpy cigar and a tousled head of hair, was as iconic as the deerstalker and the underslung pipe, had passed away – and I just knew I had to watch and discuss a Columbo episode in his honor. 

Columbo slipped into his wrinkled raincoat, to doggedly pursue murderers, long before I was born, but I catch-up with the decades that preceded my existence in just few short years – as I watched well-nigh every episode on DVD and enjoyed almost every minute of it. There were a few clunkers (the embarrassing episode with the robot immediately springs to mind), but even they rarely had a dull moment. But this also left me with a dilemma: should I revisit one of my favorite episodes, like Try and Catch Me and Columbo Goes to the Guillotines, or watch one I hadn't seen yet? After an internal monologue, which turned into a heated debate, I decided it would be fitting to settle on Columbo Likes the Nightlife – as it was the final episode filmed and shows this to be a series that simply will never age and that Columbo is as timeless as Sherlock Holmes.

The episode was shot in 2002 and aired in early 2003, and gives the series a fresh paint job. Remember the opening credits from the 1970/80s, in which the yellow-colored, typewritten opening credits were somewhat shakily superimposed on the screen? Here they've been substituted for flashy computer graphics and techno music, but the set-up succeeding this new opening still follows the same, unaltered classic Columbo format that we all fell in love with. 

Columbo Likes the Nightlife kicks off with the, more or less, accidental demise of Tony Galper at the hands of his ex-wife Venessa – a two-bit actress who employs her new boyfriend, rave promoter and future club owner Justin Price, to obscure the body. Their operation goes without hitch until they start receiving blackmail demands from a notorious tabloid journalist and they realize that he leaves them with only one recourse: murder!
At the scene of the crime
The murder of this two-penny mudracker is another indication that the series has moved along with the times. The on-screen killings were always very clean, usually a single gunshot aimed at the torso of the intended victim, but here we have a particular messy and graphic murder – which commences when Justin Price pretends he's dropping off the blackmail money. He slaps a cord around his neck and chokes him into semi-unconsciousness, ties the cord to a rusty old radiator and when he struggles to his feet he hurtles him out of an open window – at which the radiator is torn from the wall and plummets with its attached weight four floors to an ugly mess on the pavement. You'd almost think you're watching an episode from CSI at this point, but that delusion is quickly dispelled with Columbo's arrival on the scene – who does a top-notch job deducing, by the smell of mouthwash and toe-nail clippings, that the man was murdered and the look on the officers face as the disheveled lieutenant crawls all over the body is just funny. Note that Columbo touches everything with his bare hands and you can only imagine the apologetic shock the crew of CSI would have if they saw him "processing" this crime scene. 


From here on out, the ruffled veteran policeman does what he knows best: driving the felons with their backs up against the wall and he does it with the same playfulness as a cat before pouncing on a mouse – demonstrating that even the passing of three decades wasn't enough the blunt the edge of this old coated bobcat.

Last year, Crippen & Landru carried Columbo into the current decade with the publication of The Columbo Collection, penned by series creator William Link, and this new batch of stories impressed upon me that, even though Peter Falk is no more, the character he portrayed is still out there pursuing murderers who were laboring under the naïve assumption that they were getting away with a perfectly executed murder – and he will be on that job long after you and me have been consumed by the earth or blown to dust by the incinerator.

Oh, just one more thing... Peter Falk, thanks for more than three decades worth of quality television and may you rest in peace!

5 comments:

  1. Excellent way to remember a classic show and a great actor - and I always though that NIGHTLIFE was a reasonably classy way to go out - it has hints of modernisation (like the use of the sonar equipment and the murder scenes which are, by the standards of the show unusually graphic as you say) and the young protagonists seemed inevitable but in other ways it is very enjoyably traditional, not least because Falk protected the character so well - of course Columbo beats them fair and square in the end, but not predictably.

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  2. Yeah, the episode really is a transition from the old fashioned style of detective work to the modern, scientific based cop shows of today without being at odds with one another. Columbo also seems to have no problem with the advent of technology and forensic science, despite his refusal to wear gloves, and enjoys watching a new generation having some fun without muttering about the good old times – which reveals the agelessness of his character.

    The final scene is also very symbolic for this transition: a classic drawing room scene in the middle of a dance club with a few brilliant deduction from the master detective himself – aided in his explanation with a modern gizmo.

    I should've posted that in my review, by the way. Oh well...

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  3. Wonderful review and poignant memories abound after reading it. The passage of time and eras . . . sad in many ways. Though not trying to sound dramatic. However, there was a unique and quaint quality about Peter Falk's character that doesn't seem to happen now or be in the characters in today's detective/cop shows.

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  4. Wonderful review. I too will watch a Columbo episode, but I'm not sure whether I will end up adequately reviewing it or not. It's a nice way of remembering a wonderful actor whose character has achieved a sort of immortality.

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