Columbo - Complete Series

Columbo - Complete Series

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The perfect antidote to slick contemporary cop dramas, Columbo is perhaps the world's most successful detective franchise, spanning a total of 68 episodes and translated into 31 languages. Centred on Peter Falk's iconic detective, with his shabby raincoat, his ailing French car, his persistent nicotine habit and brilliant mind, it featured, in assorted episodes, many of the greatest stars of the era. From Jamie Lee Curtis to Faye Dunaway, Leslie Nielsen to Vincent Price, they play carefully crafted roles with skill and often self-deprecating humour. William Shatner does a turn as a self-obsessed actor whilst his Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy is a brilliant surgeon determined to dispose of a colleague. Patrick McGoohan, a great friend of Falk's, turns up several times in impeccable suits in episodes referencing The Prisoner, and even takes a (not entirely successful) stab at directing.

At the cente of it all, always, is Falk. Rarely has any actor immersed himself so completely in a role. Amicable, humble, and apparently absent-minded, Columbo is a man who approaches crimes like crossword puzzles yet who is always endearingly human. Through him, even in the most stylised episodes, we are re-sensitised to the horror of murder. The stories may be similar - in almost every case he identifies the murderer early on and simply spends the rest of the episode figuring out how things were done - yet they remain engaging thanks to Falk's charisma and some first class scripting.

Later series, admittedly, are not as strong as the early ones, but there are still a few gems. And whilst the quality of direction and production work may vary, the slightly shabby look of some episodes rather suits Columbo's style. He has been celebrated as a working class hero, uncovering the crimes and misdemeanours of the sort of people who wouldn't usually notice he exists, and part of the series' appeal is the focus on the little guys - the household servants, waiters, bartenders and groundskeepers whose insights tend to be ignored by other such dramas. They're not only people with stories to tell, they're rounded characters and we get a sense that they lead full lives beyond what makes them convenient to the plot.

Some people will never get Columbo, but for those who do, it's a treat.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2011
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The iconic adventures of a humble detective with a shabby raincoat and a brilliant mind.
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Director: Various

Writer: Richard Levinson, William Link, Jackson Gillis

Starring: Peter Falk, John Finnegan, Bruce Kirby, Patrick McGoohan, Robert Vaughn, William Shatner, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Ricardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, Faye Dunaway

Year: 2011

Runtime: 600 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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