For Columbo fans who didn’t pick up any of the previous DVD releases of the character’s cases, Universal has gathered them all together in Columbo: The Complete Series. This 34-disc set includes Peter Falk’s first appearance as Lt. Columbo in the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder; the 1971 pilot “Ransom for a Dead Man;” the seven seasons of the series, which ran from 1971 to 1978 as part of the NBC Mystery Movie; and the 24 television movies, which aired from 1989 to 2003.
For those that don’t know the memorable character and the series he appeared in, a group that is growing considering how many young people had no idea who Sir Paul McCartney was at the 2012 Grammys, Lt. Columbo is a homicide detective with the L.A.P.D. Created by Richard Levinson and William Link, the character was previously played by two other actors, Bert Freed on TV and Thomas Mitchell on the stage. But it’s Falk’s captivating performance, earning him four Emmys over the years, which is the series’ main draw and turned the character into an icon.
Columbo is a bit of an actor, pretending to be a befuddled fellow and poor investigator, using an old raincoat as his costume and a cigar as a prop. He gets suspects to let their guard down by distracting them with his seemingly aimless talk and pestering them with multiple visits. He becomes the focus of the mystery because the great majority of episodes aren’t whodunits as the crimes and culprits are shown to the audience. Instead, they are about how will Columbo solve the case.
The episodes, especially those from the ’70s, are filled with many familiar faces to TV fans of the era. Actors Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, and Robert Vaughn are part of a group who appeared multiple times in the series, though they played different characters. Behind the camera, writers Steven Bochco and Stephen J. Cannell and directors Steven Spielberg and Jonathan Demme would all go on to become great successes in their field.
Just one more thing, there are a few bonus features. The sets for Season Three, Four and Five all come with an episode of Mrs. Columbo, starring Kate Mulgrew from a short-lived spin-off that pales in comparison. Disc 3 of the Mystery Movie Collection 1989-1990 contains the countdown show America’s Top Sleuths from the Sleuth channel, which now goes by the name Cloo. Lt. Columbo appears high on the list, though I was surprised to find Thomas Magnum ahead of him.
Fans of the series should enjoy having all 69 Columbo episodes at their fingertips. Mystery fans should enjoy the series, as Columbo is one of the most entertaining detectives in the genre thanks in large part to the late Peter Falk.