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Review: Columbo – The Complete Third Season

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I was a little young for Columbo when the rumpled detective first hit television screens in the early 1970s (actually, I was three years old when the show debuted in the 1971-72 television season). And by the time I had outgrown Sesame Street and was interested in more dramatic television, Columbo wasn’t a regular feature any more. I really only knew the legend of Lieutenant Columbo and then the periodic “returns” of Peter Falk’s characters in various special movies and the like (for example, when the show was reintroduced in the late eighties).

But there’s definitely something to the Columbo mystique: the rumpled coat, the unassuming manner, the penchant for asking just “one more thing,” and the twinkle in Falk’s eye that always said, “I know you did it, I just have to prove it.” And the release of the original shows on DVD has been a cause for many mystery fans to rejoice. That rejoicing can now continue this latest release.

This set contains the entire third season. The show had won Emmys for outstanding limited drama and lead actor in its debut season, and again captured the best drama for this season as well. The principal reason for the show’s success were the taut, intelligent scripts, interesting guest performances, and Falk himself. Falk seems absolutely in his element, fidgeting, deferring, always self-deprecating, and always leading his suspects to underestimate the sharply brilliant mind obscured by the pretense of bumbling confusion.

Watching these shows today causes several disparate threads of thought. First of all, it is intriguing to see the advances in technology. In one episode, a “marketing guru” edits a film to incorporate several “subliminal cuts” to add in imagery to assist him in murdering someone attending the screening of the film. The equipment is state of the art for 1974 – it’s amazing how it can truly look “so last century.” Similarly, in another episode Columbo wants to know what the weather was like on a particular day the prior week. He’s shown asking the patrons of a bar what the weather was like and calling the local newspaper, only to be told he has to call back the next day during business hours. Today, that information would undoubtedly be available virtually instantaneously online. And let’s not even get started with the cars, the clothes, and the rotary dial phones.

The second, and more important, aspect of the shows is really how well they hold up after thirty years. In one episode, “Any Old Port in a Storm,” Columbo is called upon to investigate the death of the heir to a winery. The interplay between Columbo and his suspect is quite impressive, and the overall quality of the storylines found in each episode is a testament to the fact that technology may change, but content (that is, story) remains king. You can forgive watching the now-dated technology in these shows and largely tune that out, but it wouldn’t matter if the story stunk.

And finally, I was intrigued yet again to see how Columbo’s distinct storytelling style still resonates. The shows, as most people undoubtedly know, are not typical whodunits, because you always know that; the first portion of the show details the murder, and reveals the murderer’s identity. Instead, the shows are best characterized as an exercise in “how will Columbo catch this one?” While the shows are not fast-paced like much of today’s television (preferring the leisurely development of both the murder and the investigation), I was intrigued to see my 13-year old son enjoy them as well.

It must be admitted that the quality of the set could be a bit better – we’re talking about 10 episodes (plus a bonus episode of “Mrs. Columbo”) crammed on two discs. And other than that bonus episode, there’s nothing in the way of extras – be it commentaries or the like. But I found the image quality of the playback to be just fine (you have to realize you’re watching a 1970s TV show, after all). And any packaging or technical complaints pale beside the content itself.

The shows feature the best of television talent, from veteran directors such as Jeannot Swarc and Boris Sagal (whose daughter Katie starred as the mistress of Jackie Cooper’s murderer in one episode, and looked nothing like the woman who would later star in Married . . . With Children). Scripts were written by Stephen J. Cannell, Steven Bochco, and Larry Cohen, while Falk matched wits with the likes of Donald Pleasance, Martin Sheen, Vincent Price, Robert Culp, Jose Ferrer, Ida Lupino, and even Johnny Cash. In that regard, it makes for an excellent opportunity for hours of armchair sleuthing while Falk asks “just one more thing.”

Trailers and other information available at the Official Website.

Author’s Note: This article was originally posted at Wallo World.

Wallo World

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About Bill Wallo

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Bill,

    This is a Video editor Eric Berlin’s pick of the week. Click HERE to find out why.

    Thank you for the writing.