Well before technologically advanced evidence tracing and legal shows like Law & Order or CSI Las Vegas /Miami/ New York, ever appeared on our television sets there was a crime solver in a rumpled raincoat, a seemingly bumbling detective, who was known for the catchphrase: “just one more thing", Columbo.
Peter Falk, the Emmy-winning actor best known as television’s Lt. Columbo, died last week at the age of 83. Falk, who was Jewish, appeared in many films and TV shows, but will best be remembered as Columbo.
“He looks like a flood victim,” Falk once said of the character, who wore a trademark raincoat and chomped a cigar. “You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he’s seeing everything. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work.”
Although he played a detective of Italian descent, there was something very Jewish about Columbo. Maybe it's the way the character dressed; you might describe him as a 'shlub'. Also, Lt. Columbo was consistently underestimated by his fellow officers and by the murderers he eventually exposed. The show was unique in that it used the inverted detective storyformat; most episodes began by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator. As such, there is no "whodunit" element. The plot mainly revolved around how the perpetrator, whose identity was known, would finally be exposed and arrested. The show's creator once referred to it as a "howdhecatchem".
The subjects of his investigations are initially both reassured and distracted by Columbo's circumstantial speechand increasingly irritating asides. Despite his appearance and apparent absentmindedness, he shrewdly solves all of his cases and secures all evidence needed for indictment. His formidable eye for detail and meticulous and dedicated approach become apparent only later in the storyline.
I grew up after Columbo ran during the early 1970's, so to me Peter Falk, was more memorable in a bit role he played in the 1987 fantasy film The Princess Bride. In the opening scene of that film Falk plays a grandfather visiting his sick grandson. He brings him a gift.
Grandson: (upon unwrapping the gift) A book?
Grandfather: That's right. When I was your age, television was called books.
And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I'm gonna read it to you.
The Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...
The Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake.
Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.
The sadness of hearing of Peter Falk's passing last week is not just about the fact that we have lost a great actor, but that we have also lost a great character. How many loveable 'shlubs' do we have in our lives? How many people do we underestimate at first only to realize, perhaps too late, that their comments, asides and observations were actually very astute?
But as opposed to Columbo, where Falk was always delivering his trademark 'just one more thing' line at the end, in The Princess Bride it is the grandson who asks for 'one more thing' from his grandpa.
Grandfather: (finishing the book) "The End." Now, I think you oughtta go to sleep.
Grandfather: (patting himself down to see if he hasn't forgotten anything) All right. Okay. Okay. Okay. All right. So long. (Turns to leave the room)
Grandson: Grandpa? Maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow.
Grandfather: As you wish.