June 26, 2011

"Just Pull a Columbo...."

For some actors, it's tough to do them justice when they pass - take the recent passing of Peter Falk, for example.

No matter how someone may want to focus on his other work - his stage work, In Cold Blood, his numerous movies with director John Cassavettes, only one role remains - Lt. Columbo.

Admittedly, Columbo's a character that now seems quaint, and antiquated, and quite frankly, old fashioned - and of course, you can provide the obvious "modern-quirky-character-whom-Columbo-has-influenced", but there's a lot more to Falk's work than that.

First, Columbo is from a much different time in broadcast television - a time when an expanded 90 minute movie about a character could be shown on one of the "big three networks". (In fact, there was only "the big three networks"). Quirky detectives were quite the rage in the 1970s, but focusing on a guy who solved "inverted mysteries" (where the viewer knows the outcome, but doesn't know how the perpetrator will get caught) didn't exactly scream "ratings winner."

But what made these mysteries popular was Falk's performance - although people easily saw the "bumbling" Columbo, there were times when the detective lost his cool. (Check out the last fifteen minutes of the 1968 pilot, "Prescription: Murder" on the Columbo - The Complete First Season DVD set). But it was Falk's ability to show the sharp mind - and possible deviousness - of the character beneath that "bumbling" that made it stand out.

There's also personal resonance for me - as many of you know, I have training in counseling, and have some diagnostic skills in that area. (I'm like Hugh Laurie on House, MD only without the Vicodin. Or the limping). One of the biggest skills I learned when working with clients was to "just pull a Columbo" when unsure about something. Crudely, it was looking at small inconsistencies within a client's story and gently confronting them. (This is a gross understatement, admittedly, and having not worked directly with clients for years, I may be misremembering). But it was that ability to "observe, rather than see" that put Falk - and Columbo - in the same realm as another great detective, Sherlock Holmes.

We may never see an actor like Falk - or a character like Columbo - again

Oh, and just one more thing.....

We actually are losing a character this week who is quite like Columbo. I'll write more about him - and his accompanying franchise - tomorrow.

No comments: