Columbo – the name conjures up images of Peter Falk in his beige trench coat as he solves crime in the City of Angels. The show is probably one of the most iconic and beloved television shows of all time and it’s easy to see why.
The set up is simple: a crafty murderer plots and carries out the “perfect crime” and 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 usually knows the killer from the get go.
In a way it’s miraculous that Columbo ever took off at all. Falk first appeared in the role in 1969 in a tele-movie, but the series wasn’t picked up until 1971. What makes Columbo stand out in the detective genre is that it’s more of a “how done it” rather than a “whodunnit“ with the identity of the killer being revealed at the start of the show. The audience enjoys how Columbo lures the killer into a sense of having the upper hand in the situation only to be shocked when the scruffy detective reveals his true motivation. It is this inverting of the genre that captivates the viewer and makes the show so appealing. The obvious talent and craft of the show can only be highlighted further when you learn that a young Steven Spielberg directed one of the first movies.
Although forever typecast as the raincoat wearing cop, Peter Falk had a very successful career on Broadway and he had a long association with independent director and actor Jon Cassavetes, as well as starring in The In-Laws with Alan Arkin. The actor was also nominated for multiple awards including an Oscar.