Friday, June 24, 2011

Oh, There's Just One More Thing...

So, Peter Falk is dead. Maybe that means very little to you other than it's sad that anyone dies. But to me, I just can't imagine a world without Falk in it.

I grew up with a Mystery loving mom, and she has raised an even bigger fan of the genre. One of the shows/characters that got me into my longest running obsession (if you will) was Columbo. The character first appeared in 1968 with a couple of TV movies and then became a part of a television show from 1971-1978 as part of the NBC Murder Mystery Movie rotation which also included McMillian and Wife and McCloud. The characters was then revived in series of television movies on ABC in 1989 and continued through 2003.

1989 was when I was first introduced to the character (I remember thinking what's the guy from Princess Bride doing) and the later movies are perfectly fine, but due to the new rise in popularity A&E started showing the older episodes, and then I became hooked. Such a simple switch on the mystery genre (we know who the killer is from the opening sequence in most of the movies) created such a new and addictive formula. Of course this wouldn't work if it you didn't care about the character solving the mystery, and that character wouldn't work if you didn't have an amazing actor, and Falk nailed it on every level. Watching Columbo do his thing to figure out who the killer was (usually by amusingly annoying the piss out of the suspects) and how the murder was accomplished is what makes the whole thing work. That look in Falk's eyes when Columbo figured out who his man was is the definition of "Priceless." He is my all-time favorite character on television, and I rank him right up there with the most iconic characters in film like Indiana Jones, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, etc.

If you've never watched an episode and you have any love of mysteries or just great storytelling you have to check it out immediately. My two favorite episodes are "Murder by the Book" directed by a very young Steven Speilberg and "Swan Song" with a suprisingly good Johnny Cash as the murderer. The entire original run is available on Netflix streaming, and you really can't go wrong with any of the episodes; I would just start from the beginning and keep on trucking.

But while Falk was mostly known for his role as the quirky detective he was also great in quite a few other things. His friendship with John Cassavettes produced some great team-ups like Cassavette's own films, Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence; they also worked on an episode of Columbo together and a little seen but great film called Machine Gun McCain. And even though I've never been the biggest Neil Simon fan, I loved Falk's Sam Spade esque turns in the mystery comedies, Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective. Falk was nominated for an Academy award in the fun gangster film, Murder Inc. He was also in the original version of The In-Laws with Alan Arkin, and it is so much better than the crappy remake with Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas from a few years back.

Of course, most people from my generation know him best as the storyteller in the brilliant Princess Bride, but in that same year he had a masterful turn in Wim Wender's wonderfully fantastical Wings of Desire.

In the past decade, Falk was still working hard. His last memorable role was in 2001's Made where he had a lot of fun as an aging mobster. He was far and away the best part of the film which also starred Jon Favreau (who also directed), Vince Vaught, Donald Faison, and Sean "Puffy" Combs. He also popped up in Walter Hill's underrated Undisputed, lent his voice to the animated Shark Tale, and was apparently in the Nicholas Cage sci-fi dud Next (but I can't remember very much other than hating that movie).

I hope those that have not seen much of Falk's work will now seek some of it out. As for those that are as big a fan as me, let's light up a cigar (maybe even don a trench coat) and watch our favorite Falk moments.


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