Tag Archive: series


One to Watch, in 2015

Gotham TV series

In a week that saw Fox’s “Gotham” achieve its best-ever ratings on US television, here’s a link to my article at the Xtreme Entertainment Network, reviewing the show’s first season, for UK audiences.

Dark Nights, in “Gotham”

Oh, and best wishes for 2015. Hope it’s a good year, for all of us.

Peace.

Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo is a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, and the central figure in a mystery television film series created by William Link and Richard Levinson.

The show popularized what’s come to be known as the inverted detective story format. There’s no “whodunit”, here; the perpetrator’s identity is already known to the audience. The plot revolves mainly around how he or she will finally be caught and exposed.

The Man

Columbo is a friendly, chatty, disheveled police detective who is consistently underestimated by his suspects. They’re initially reassured and distracted by his rambling speech, then increasingly irritated by his pestering behavior. Right up to the point where he nabs them, for murder.

Though the name “Frank” can often be seen relatively clearly on his police ID (badge number 416, if you’re interested), Columbo’s first name is never explicitly mentioned, during the series. When asked, he always emphatically answers “Lieutenant”.

The character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television-anthology series “The Chevy Mystery Show”, entitled “Enough Rope”. This was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story “May I Come In”. This teleplay is available in the archives of the Paley Center for Media, in New York City and Los Angeles.

The first man to portray Columbo, Bert Freed, was a stocky character actor with a thatch of gray hair. Freed’s Columbo wore a rumpled suit and smoked a cigar, but otherwise had few of the other now-familiar Columbo mannerisms.

In 1968, the same play was made into a two-hour television movie on NBC. The writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role of Columbo. Cobb was unavailable, and Crosby turned it down. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Peter Falk, who wanted the role, would be ideal – even though he was much younger than what the writers had in mind.

Columbo’s wardrobe was provided by the actor himself; they were Falk’s own clothes, including the high-topped shoes and the shabby raincoat which made its first appearance in 1968’s “Prescription: Murder”.

Columbo’s unsettling, uneven-eyed stare was due to Falk’s own visual impairment; he had a glass eye in his right eye socket. It remained a mystery for 25 years whether the character had one as well, until 1997’s “Columbo: A Trace of Murder”, where he jokes: “You know, three eyes are better than one.”

Falk would often ad lib stuff like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence and discovering a grocery list, asking to borrow a pencil, or becoming distracted by something irrelevant in the room at a dramatic point in a conversation. He inserted these into his performance to keep his fellow actors off-balance, and to help make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo’s antics more genuine.

Here’s a YouTube compilation, to give you a bit of a character study:

His Method

Columbo reversed the format of the standard “whodunit”.

In almost every episode, the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning, and knows the identity of the culprit. The murder isn’t always premeditated, but in each case the killer attempts to hide their crimes, creating a false scenario of how the death occurred, often trying to implicate a false culprit. The killer will drop numerous pieces of misleading evidence, and have a water-tight alibi for the murder.

The beauty of these tales lies in the way Columbo finds and follows the clues that lead him to the truth, and the tricks he uses to obtain information, or even a confession. The story unfolds in parallel, from the point of view of Columbo and the murderer, as they play cat and mouse.

In the first part of each episode, the soon-to-be murderer is introduced, and their professional or lifestyle setting is explored. Other characters (including the soon-to-be victim) are introduced through their relationship to the murderer.

As the premise and motivation for murder becomes apparent, the killer typically puts into motion a well-arranged plan, involving the death of the victim and the establishment of a viable cover story.

The second part begins with Columbo’s appearance after the discovery of the body, and usually opens at the scene of the crime, some time after the arrival of the police. So in some cases, Columbo doesn’t appear until halfway through an episode.

When he does, the murderer is usually keen to demonstrate a desire to assist Columbo in his investigations, and to be available for questioning. Which is the Lieutenant’s cue to pop up at all hours, with deceptively shrewd observations and follow-up questions.

Columbo generally maintains a friendly relationship with the murderer, apologizing repeatedly for taking up their time, even as his true suspicions become increasingly apparent.

As more and more evidence is revealed, Columbo shares with the killer his thoughts on the case, pointing out contradictions between the new evidence and the killer’s stated version of events in his bumbling, amiable style. Columbo’s formidable eye for detail and relentless approach, though apparent to the viewer, often become clear to the killer late – too late – in the story line.

During the final act, Columbo drops any remaining pretence of uncertainty, and shares with the killer details of his findings and his arrival at the conclusion of the killer’s guilt.

The killer’s reaction varies, with some conceding in a friendly manner the error that closed the case, and others becoming aggressive or despondent. After this, the episode generally ends, with no following or concluding scenes.

His Caseload

Originally a one-off TV-Movie-of-the-Week, 1968’s “Prescription: Murder” had Falk’s Columbo pitted against a psychiatrist (Gene Barry). Due to its success, NBC requested a pilot for a potential series be made, to see if the character could be sustained on a regular basis.

The 1971 film, “Ransom For a Dead Man” had Lee Grant playing the killer. The popularity of this second movie prompted a regular series on NBC. “Columbo” premiered in the fall of 1971 as part of the wheel series, NBC Mystery Movie rotations: McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and other whodunits.

The network arranged for the “Columbo” segments to air once a month on Wednesday nights, to allow for Peter Falk’s other commitments as a motion picture star.

“Columbo” aired regularly from 1971–78 on NBC. The series was revived on ABC between 1989 and 2003 for several new seasons, and a few made-for-TV movie “specials”.

His Legacy

Despite solving numerous murders over several decades, in Falk’s last appearance as Columbo in the 2003 cable-TV movie “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, the detective is still a lieutenant.

To his senior brass, Columbo is the preferred investigator for high-profile crimes – a dedicated case officer who’s something of a legend, and thus has a powerful position within the police force.

Obviously doing something right.

Peter Falk died on June 23, 2011, aged 83.

That’s it, for this one.

Hope you’ll join me, for our next installment.

Till then.

Peace.

Albert-Campion

Albert Campion is a fictional character in a series of some 19 detective novels and over 20 short stories by Margery Allingham. Supposedly created as a parody of Dorothy L. Sayers’ aristocratic ‘tec, Lord Peter Wimsey, Campion established his own identity, and a considerable following, as the series progressed.

After Allingham’s death her husband Philip Youngman Carter completed his wife’s last Campion book, and wrote two more before his own death.

Meet Mister Campion…

Here he is, courtesy of YouTube, as portrayed by actor Peter Davison, from the BBC Television series of 1989 and 1990:

According to the literature, Albert Campion is the pseudonym used by a man born in 1900 into a prominent British aristocratic lineage. Early novels suggest that he was part of the royal family, but this reference is dropped in later works. In “Mystery Mile”, his true first name is said to be Rudolph, while his surname begins with a K.

Educated at Rugby School and the (fictitious) St. Ignatius’ College, Cambridge, he assumed the name Campion in his 20s and began life as an adventurer and detective.

Campion is a thin, blond, bespectacled fellow, often described as affable, inoffensive and bland. His deceptively blank and unintelligent expression hides a man of authority and action. In some stories, he lives in a flat above a police station at Number 17A, Bottle Street in Piccadilly, London.

… a.k.a. Mornington Dove…

Campion uses many other names, in the course of his career.

“Mornington Dove” (or “Mornington Dodd” in the 1988 Avon edition (page 72) of “The Black Dudley Murder”) and “the Honourable Tootles Ash” are mentioned in “The Crime at Black Dudley”.

“Christopher Twelvetrees” and “Orlando” are mentioned in “Look to the Lady”.

…and His Friends

A study of the Allingham books suggests that Campion’s father was a Viscount, already dead at the start of the series.

In “Sweet Danger” it’s mentioned that his brother was “still unmarried”, and Campion is therefore likely to “come into the title some day” – although there’s no suggestion in the books that this actually occurs.

His sister Valentine Ferris plays a central part in “The Fashion in Shrouds”. In that book, it’s revealed that both are estranged from most of their family.

In the short story “The Meaning of the Act”, Campion explains that the secret of his success is to “take a drink with anyone, and pick your pals where you find ’em”. This includes having acquaintances on both sides of the law.

From “Mystery Mile” onwards, Campion is usually aided by his manservant, Magersfontein Lugg – an uncouth street tough who used to be a burglar.

Campion is also good friends with Inspector (later Superintendent) Stanislaus Oates of Scotland Yard (who is as by-the-book as Campion is unorthodox), and later with Oates’ protégé Inspector Charles Luke.

After Campion’s intelligence work during World War II, he continues to have a connection with the secret services. He also has many friends and allies, seemingly scattered across London and the English countryside – and often including professional criminals.

After a doomed passion for a married woman in “Dancers in Mourning”, Campion eventually meets Amanda Fitton, who first appears in “Sweet Danger” as a seventeen-year old, and later becomes an aircraft engineer. In that story, her brother Hal recovers the family title of Earl of Pontisbright, and Amanda becomes Lady Amanda, as the sister of an Earl. She and Campion eventually marry, and have a son called Rupert.

The Adventures

The Campion stories are generally adventures, rather than true mysteries. They rarely feature puzzles that the reader has a chance of solving; it’s the characters and situations which move the story along.

The Adaptations

Two stories were adapted by the BBC in 1959 and 1960, with Bernard Horsfall as Campion and Wally Patch as Lugg. Each story was shown in six, 30-minute episodes.

In 1968, “The Case of the Late Pig” was adapted for television, with Brian Smith as Campion, and George Sewell as Lugg. It was part of the BBC Detective series (1964–1969), which was an anthology featuring adaptations of popular detective stories.

In 1989 and 1990, the first eight of the novels (excluding “The Crime at Black Dudley”) were adapted over two seasons, with each story shown in two hour-long episodes. Peter Davison played Campion. Professional wrestler turned actor Brian Glover was Magersfontein Lugg, and Andrew Burt played Stanislaus Oates.

In the show’s second season, actress Lysette Anthony featured as Campion’s lady love, Amanda Fitton.

Peter Davison sang the title music for the first series himself. In the second series, the song was replaced by an instrumental version.

I’d best be whistling off, myself.

Till next time, then.

Peace.