Blu-ray Review: COLUMBO – The 1970s Complete Collection

5 out of 5 stars

Peter Falk’s iconic turn as Los Angeles police Lieutenant Columbo stands as one of television’s most enduring characters. The series, which began with a 1968 TV movie and continued into the 1990s, revolutionised the detective genre with its innovative “howcatchem” format.

The genius of Columbo‘s is the inversion of the traditional mystery structure. Rather than keeping viewers guessing about the killer’s identity, the show opens by revealing the murderer and their (seemingly) perfect crime. When Columbo arrives at the crime scene the killer can’t believe their luck, as they believe that the dishevelled Columbo is a bumbling cop. There’s just one more thing – he happens to be a master detective who knows the killer from the get-go. 

Falk’s performance is nothing short of masterful. His Columbo is a study in contradictions – appearing absent-minded and bumbling on the surface while concealing a razor-sharp intellect. The character’s trademark mannerisms, from his rumpled raincoat to his ever-present cigar, became instantly recognizable pop culture touchstones.

The series boasts impressive production values, with movie-length episodes with a wonderful selection of high-profile guest stars as the killers. This approach allowed for more nuanced character development and intricate plotting. A young Steven Spielberg even directed a highly-regarded early episode (“Murder by the Book”).

Columbo‘s enduring appeal lies in its clever writing, Falk’s charismatic performance, and the satisfaction of watching a brilliant mind at work. The show’s formula – Columbo’s initial bumbling, his seemingly innocuous questions, and the killer’s growing frustration – never grows stale thanks to the strength of the writing and acting.

Decades on, and Columbo remains a masterclass in television detective drama. Its influence can be seen in countless subsequent crime series, but none have managed to replicate the perfect alchemy of Peter Falk’s performance, clever writing, and the show’s unique structure. For mystery fans and newcomers alike, Columbo is essential viewing that continues to captivate audiences decades on.