I just read with genuine sorrow that Peter Falk has died. It’s not very often that the death of a celebrity causes me to feel real emotion after all we don’t really know these people, do we? But Peter Falk was is an exception. He wasn’t just another celebrity, in fact the man himself tended to shy away from the kind of attention and adulation that many of today’s media stars seem to court.
I first became a fan when I was a kid and I started watching old Columbo films when they were repeated on BBC1 each Saturday teatime. These films were old even then, the best of them having been made in the seventies, but they always seemed fresh because of the strength of the central character, the quality of the production and, most importantly, the portrayal of Columbo by Peter Falk. That character was humble, modest, and fallible but also clever, perceptive and brilliant. Columbo was so ordinary on the outside and yet such a genius on the inside and this dichotomy fascinated and entertained viewers for more than three decades.
Because I’d loved Falk in Columbo I started watching his films whenever they were shown on TV and found that he was an actor who could play many different kinds of role. Most impressive to me were his parts in John Cassavetes movies. These are low budget art house type films which are sometimes challenging to watch but are usually amazingly powerful. If you think that Peter Falk was basically only capable of playing Columbo, go and watch Husbands or A Woman Under The Influence (unbelievably superb performances in both!).
It was painful to hear of him being afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease recently and those shots of him confused and distressed were so upsetting. He shouldn’t be remembered that way because that was so far from the Peter Falk that I’ve seen in so many great films. Better to remember him as he is in the photo above. And of course for being Columbo. I think the reason he was so great in all his roles but particularly in that one was that he endowed the shambolic cop with kindness and humility as well as brilliance. I suspect he was able to do this so convincingly because these were qualities which he himself also possessed. Agony to think that he won’t be coming back through the door saying “…just one more thing…”
REST IN PEACE PETER FALK.