The sad news of the passing of acting legend Peter Falk is another turning of the page in Hollywood. The legendary actor was able to turn the tragedy of losing his right eye to cancer at the age of just three into a major asset by establishing himself as a great character actor. While perhaps best known for his COLUMBO role, as the plodding detective who stumbled into the truth to arrest those who committed heinous crimes, Falk was also brilliant in many more roles. Falk could play in comedy such as IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, or as a tough and devoted soldier in movies like ANZIO backing up the like of Robert Mitchum. In movies like MURDER INC., and other crime films, Falk seemed right at home as a strong presence on the screen.
On the small screen, Peter Falk was important presence as well. He appeared in such classic TV shows as a guest actor in HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL, THE UNTOUCHABLES, WAGON TRAIN and BEN CASEY. But, one great showcase for the talent of Peter Falk was in the October 20, 1961 “The Mirror” episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, where Falk played South American dictator Ramos Clemente who took over a nation after a revolution. But, soon after shooting his way into power, Clemente began to see images of his friends attempting to undermine his power and attempting to assassinate him in a mirror in the presidential palace. Eventually, Clemente shoots the mirror in anger, which actually leaves him dead. A priest observes the dead body of Clemente, noting how dictators, “Never learn”. Like all TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, this episode proved to be a powerful morality tale about how dictators who seize power are so suspicious of those around them attempting to undermine them that they live a tortured and paranoid life that is often self-destructive. Produced only two years after Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, this episode was a powerful commentary on the American frustrations of having such a violent and murderous personality like Castro ruling Cuba. Falk was brilliant in this role.
But, it was COLUMBO that really established Peter Falk as a great TV legend. Falk brilliantly played homicide detective Lt. Frank Columbo who managed to plod along in each episode into eventually catching the suspect for a homicide. The show really helped to act as the grandfather for the modern detective show such as the LAW & ORDER franchise and certainly influenced other crime shows as well. COLUMBO had a long 69 episode run as well as some TV movies as a run.
Peter Falk greatly enriched both the big screen as well as the small screen. But, it was on the small screen that Falk painted some of his greatest characters. Falk leaves us a great legend and a major presence in TV history.