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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I purchased the first season of "Columbo" at Best Buy a few weeks
ago on sale for $20. It was a great deal since I ended up with nine
entertaining movies that averaged out to a little over $2 per film.

As I've mentioned many times before, for an actor to be fondly remembered
and garner a cult following, they need a 'defining role'. Occasionally more
than one. Peter Falk will always be associated with 'Lt. Columbo', the quirky
off beat TV detective. He's so closely linked to this role that many people assume
he's Italian when in fact he's of Slavic ancestry (Polish, Hungarian, Czech).
When Falk was three he got cancer of his right eye and they had to sugically
remove it. The glass eye that replaced it gave him a vacant stare
which fit well into this character who pretends to be absent minded and
incompetent to put the suspects off guard but is really brilliant and crafty.
The wrickled trenchcoast combined with his short stature (5' 6")
and run down car add to the illusion.

Columbo was an accidental series that developed over several years. It
started as two made for TV movies, "Pescription Murder" (1968) and "Ransom
for a Dead Man" (1971). They were popular enough to adopt into a series...
or should I say a sort of series in 1971. NBC created a new format called
"The NBC Mystery Movie" which was a rotating wheel of different shows
that alternated each month. Columbo was one of them, the others included
"McMillan and Wife" and "McCloud", neither of which I liked then or now.
But I did enjoy the Columbo episodes when they were first broadcast.
Seeing them again decades later projected on my DLP, they held up
nicely. They were all photographed in 35mm by classic studio cameramen
so they have a slick look with vivid colors and set design. The sound is
mono and a bit hissy at times but otherwise acceptable in these dialogue
driven narratives. The opticals tend to be gimmicky in the style of the era
with freeze frames and blur ins for transitions which is the only element that
dates the movies a bit. Like all TV labwork, those shots tend to be grainy and
contain dust on them. Otherwise the images are clean and in very good shape.

My first surprise was discovering the director of the series premiere was
Steven Spielberg in the episode "Murder by the Book". Following the trend
of the two TV movies, Columbo only investigates high profile killings made
by the wealthy celebrities in Hollywood. This gave the producers the excuse to hire
notable actors to appear as guest villains and contain
excellent production value shooting in or around mansions of the rich and famous.
The guest stars in this first season include Robert Culp, Eddie Albert,
Jack Cassidy and Roddy McDowall. All of them look like they're having
a great time and the contrast between their surroundings and the rumpled
detective is part of the fun.

Just one more thing...

There's something that really bothers me...

This series is classified as 'mystery movies' but they aren't.
You know up front who the murderer is. The thing to watch for
is what minor mistake they made that Columbo traps them with.
They are really 'police procedurals' like "The French Connection" but with an
upper class setting. And if you wanted to nitpick, much of the evidence Columbo
pins on them would probably not hold up in court. All of the shows
are fun to watch and Falk is very amusing in the title role. After the series ran
it's course, Falk returned in his old age to make some more TV movies playing
the character then finally retired from the role.

In summary: Picture A-, Sound B, Cinematography A, Performances A, Music B,
Story and Screenplays A-
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