Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A very sad story, if true: Peter Falk's daughter claims her dad is suffering from Alzheimer's.

There are a lot of performers I admire, but on my short list of absolute, absolute favorites, Peter Falk has a special place. Comedy, drama, whatever, Falk is the best of the best. He gave one of the greatest comic performances of all time in The In-Laws, and was absolutely heartbreaking as a good man cracking under pressure in A Woman Under The Influence. He's done great character work in films like Murder, Inc., All The Marbles, Lakeboat and Undisputed.

Then there's Lt. Columbo.

I'll accept no arguments here: Columbo is simply one of the greatest things in the world. I've been actually meaning to write about it for some time, but for now, let me just say that, of its many pleasures, the greatest by far is Falk's sterling work as the wily homicide detective. He's the main reason the show is endlessly rewatchable: No matter how many times you've seen an episode, it's always a treat to try pinpointing the exact moment Columbo knows the murderer is guilty, and when he knows he's caught him. Though the character is rather broadly conceived and written (he never changes his clothes!), Falk's performance is always sublimely subtle, always keyed to the rhythms of his co-stars. He can be angry or petulant or sympathetic. Sometimes, he's even a bit of a jerk. In every case, Falk provides a layer of humanity only hinted at by the scripts.

Within the confines of a somewhat formulaic TV series (though a brilliant, elastic formula), he created one of the finest characterizations any actor has ever done. If his current condition is such that he can never work again, he'll still be remembered for this. And that will do just fine.