Peter Falk, one of my favorite actors, died at the age of 83 on 23rd June 2011. He died peacefully at his home in Beverly Hills. In the last years of his life he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.
I got to know Peter Falk from the “Columbo” detective movies in the early 1980’s when I was in the US. I liked the movies very much, as Lieutenant Columbo would always catch the bad guys, the murderers who were trying to flee their inescapable fate.
Usually the murderer(s) was a very rich and/or powerful guy. Columbo would enter their impressive houses and mansions, and initially he would create more a wave of sympathy rather than fear, as he was a scruffy looking guy with a crumpled raincoat that he would wear all year long.
Columbo was always underestimated almost until the moment the murderer was caught.
In addition to his scruffy looks, he would carefully lead the suspect to believe that he (Columbo) was naive, almost thick in the mind. Add to this his absent – mindedness, and you have the recipe for a disaster in the investigation. How would Columbo ever catch anyone?
His most famous one liner was “Just one more thing”. He would say this when he was by the door, ready to leave the suspect’s home. He would turn his head, bend slightly, and say it. As I recall, the suspects were invariably irritated by the “thick, slow, absent-minded” lieutenant, but were enduring his questioning, almost sure that it would lead nowhere.
As famous as Columbo himself was his car, a Peugeot 403 convertible, released to the market in 1958. If Columbo was scruffy, his car was a moving wreck.
However, he never gave it up, even though in some episodes he had a chance. In the photo above you see a well maintained model.
I would now like to give a short example of his investigative method, or rather of his method of leading the murderer to entrapment and the inevitable confession. In the Episode “Any old port in a storm”, Columbo investigates the murder of a young Californian. The suspect is his half-brother, a wine producer and connoisseur. However, he has alibi: at the time of the death, he was attending a conference in the East Coast. Columbo knows that something is wrong and there are many contradictions in the suspect’s statements and stories, but he has no proof. The suspect has an extensive and rare wine collection that requires the continuous operation of a temperature and humidity system all around the year. Finally, the whole question focuses on the operation of the wine maintenance system. When the victim was murdered, the temperatures where on the high side. The murderer had to keep the body of the victim in the wine cellar while he was attending the conference, but should the system be operational, this would keep the body in a condition that would change the estimated time of death. Therefore, the killer switched the system off for the critical 24 hours he was away. Columbo needed to prrof that the system was off, but he had no record of it. He therefore invites the murderer to dinner at his favourite restaurant, and at the end he offers a bottle of rare port. The killer tastes the port and immediately says that this bottle has gone bad. This was the needed proof, as the bottle was taken from the killer’s wine cellar. Vintage Columbo all the way!
Peter Falk was not just columbo. In his long career he has played in many movies. As this post is personal, I do not want to list all the movies, only the ones I have seen.
“Wings of Desire”, the wonderful movie of German Director Wim Wenders made in 1987, I have presented in another post. In this movie, Peter Falk played himself.
Another movie where Falk starred, was “Anzio, 1968, directed by Edward Dmytryk.
Falk plays Corporal Jack Rabinoff, a “killing machine”, who is based on a real First Special Service Force soldier Jake Wallenstein, who ran an illegal brothel of Italian prostitutes in a stolen ambulance Most of the men, including Rabinoff, are killed. (Source: Wikipedia)
I confess I do not remember anything about the movie as I write.
Closing this personal note on Peter Falk, I would like to refer his masterpiece, “A Woman under the Influence”, a John Cassavetes film made in 1974 and distributed in 1975.
Falk and Cassavetes were good friends. When Falk read the scenario and Cassavetes told him that nobody was willing to produce the movie, Falk gave him 500,000 dollars.
The movie was made, and Falk played the Italian blue collar worker who is married to Gena Rowlands, the “woman under the influence”. The movie is Cassavetes’ best.
Peter Falk was also a figurative artist. He loved to draw and paint.