“ Genre: Television - Columbo / Theatrical Release: 1977 / Director: Bernard L. Kowalski, James Frawley, Jonathan Demme, Leo Penn, Robert Douglas / Actors: Peter Falk, William Shatner, Bert Remsen, Alan Manson, Lola Albright ... / DVD released 2006-11-14 at Universal Studios / Features of the DVD: Box set, Colour, Dolby, DVD-Video, Full Screen, Subtitled, NTSC „
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Lieutenant Columbo is a policeman who appears to be almost half-witted, looks scruffy, but has the determination to cling on until the bitter end of a case, catching many a criminal out. This particular box-set contains both series 6 and 7, which add up to 8 episodes in all. The cases are all very different - although the chances are that if you often catch Columbo on the television on a Saturday afternoon that you have already seen a few of them. Nevertheless, if you are a fan of the series, it is worth purchasing the box set - particularly when you consider that each of the episodes is more or less feature film length.
What makes Columbo stand out from many other detective shows is that we know exactly who the murderer is. At the beginning of each show, we see the crime being committed. Then Columbo appears on the scene and, although seemingly incompetent, he hounds the person he suspects until he has found out exactly how he has done it. This could be very boring - many a writer has tried this style of fiction before and after and it hasn't worked out well. In this case, the stories come together so well that it really doesn't matter that we know who is the murderer and somehow it doesn't become at all repetitive. I think it also helps that the episodes are written and directed by a team of people, rarely the same ones each time.
Columbo is played by Peter Falk and it is really hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Falk gives Columbo just the right amount of annoying clinginess to his victims and tenacity at solving the crimes that his methods, even if they ought to be unbelievable, are just right. As a character, Columbo really doesn't develop much during the course of the series, or indeed any of the previous ones. We know that he is married, but never see his wife, and he never discusses his private life. All we get to see is his rather beautiful Bassett Hound, who is truly adorable. Yet this lack of character development doesn't do the series any harm - simply because, although Columbo is an important character, each episode has other, important characters and it is they that add much of the colour to the show.
There are a number of famous actors that appear in the episodes. William Shatner appears as a soap opera actor who kills his blackmailing producer. Jamie Lee Curtis appears in a couple of the episodes as a minor character. Kim Cattrall plays the girlfriend of the murderer in an episode where a man commits murder by giving voice commands to his dogs over the phone. Nevertheless, there seem to be fewer well-known actors than in previous series - however, it could be that they are household names in the US rather than the UK. To be honest, I preferred this - it can be distracting trying to place a face while trying to concentrate on the story.
The quality of the episodes rarely seems to vary between series, and this series is no exception. All of the episodes are great and can be watched time after time, because something new comes to light each time. My favourite episode is 'Try and Catch Me' in which a famous author of crime novels (played by Ruth Gordon) decides to murder her nephew and pass it off as an accident. Ruth Gordon is particularly good as the rather eccentric author and she certainly seems to be the last person that would have committed a murder. I thought the crime was particularly well done and would work almost as well today. I also really liked 'Old-Fashioned Murder' in which a family who own a museum come to blows when one of them wants to sell it off.
Probably my least favourite episode is 'The Conspirators', but I suspect this is largely because it involves an IRA terrorist who is masquerading as someone who is very much against the violence in Ireland. I think I much prefer the more traditional, Agatha Christie style murders, which are committed for personal reasons, rather than political ones. Also Clive Revill plays the terrorist and speaks with a thick Irish accent, which was a little off-putting. The actor is actually from New Zealand and apparently often takes on 'ethnic roles'. I think his accent is good here (although am not an expert in Irish accents), but it is a little over-done, as was the drinking Irish Whiskey, singing Irish songs, spouting of Limericks. It was still a good episode, but should have been a little more subtle.
The episodes were first shown back in the late seventies and, being thirty years old, there are a number of police methods that meant crimes could be committed that today would have been traced much sooner. Two of them are related to phone calls, which, had they been traced, would have placed the murderer under immediate suspicion. Others involve tape recorders, allowing people to be apparently somewhere else at the time that the crime was committed. However, because we know from the start how the protagonist committed the crime, this doesn't really matter all that much - the fascination is watching Columbo, who isn't exactly technology-savvy, work out how they did it.
It goes without saying that the episodes, based around murder as they are, are not going to be appropriate for very young children. Nevertheless, there is nothing graphic or gory shown - we never see the wound or any blood and even the face of the victim is kept hidden. There is a PG rating on the box set, so it is up to parents to decide whether to let children watch or not - frankly, I can't imagine many being all that interested anyway.
The box-set is nicely packaged, with the episodes spread over three DVDs. Series 6, which is made up of just three episodes, is on one disc, then three episodes of series 7 are on another, with the final two on their own disc. I presume that the decision to merge series 6 and 7 is simply because series 6 was relatively brief in comparison to other series - it does mean there is a lot of watching time, but that can only be an advantage. Unfortunately, there aren't any extras with the set, apart from a TV advert. This is a shame, because I know other series have extras with them - but perhaps the distributors thought 8 episodes was plenty.
I thoroughly enjoyed this series, even though I've seen all but two of the episdoes before. It provided a number of hours of entertainment and it is good quality all the way through, even if there were a couple of episodes I preferred over the others. Columbo is really a very sweet character and his foibles quickly become endearing. If you like detective shows, then it is certainly worth giving Columbo a try - whether you start from series one or not doesn't really matter because each episode is stand-alone and there is no private life of Columbo to follow. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £14.99. If you can play Region 1 discs, it is quite a lot cheaper at £8.99.
Running time: 10 hours, 10 minutes