Columbo: Season Two
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Columbo: Season Two

The genre of the mystery has been a favorite of films and television since these media became part of American entertainment. There is no doubt that one television detective stands out above his peers, Lt. Columbo. This unassuming, rumpled little man hid behind a cloud of cigar smoke while he puts together the most difficult of murder mysteries. Peter Falk built up this character to what are now almost legendary proportions, and with very good reasons. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, a man that wears his intellectual superiority on his sleeve for all to behold, Columbo would almost disappear into the background if it wasn’t for his constant, annoying questions. In his trademark disheveled trench coat, cigar but clamped between his teeth and the now famous, "just one more thing", Columbo took on the most ingenious criminals and brought them to justice.

While Columbo started on NBC as part of a rotating group of Mysteries it was such a hit that even after that rotating format was abandoned the network came out with a series of 90 and 120 minute episodes paced at about a month apart. Each episode was filmed more as if it was a theatrical film than a television show. The production values never wavered from excellent and the show was a hit because there was nothing else on television that could touch it. Part of this was the use of quality, talented guest stars. Many where well know on both the small and large screens. Included in this long list of actors where Richard Basehart, Dean Jagger, John Cassavetes and Leonard Nimoy. One actor who is used in many seasons, each time playing a different nefarious killer is Robert Culp. Each of these actors brings life to their roles; they all portray characters that are certain that they can out fox this little detective only to find that they made some tiny mistake that did not go unnoticed by Columbo.

The format of the episodes where pretty much the same. The audience gets to see the actual murder; the fun of the series is trying to see if you can pick out the mistake before Columbo gets on the case. There is also many novel twists to each episodes that kept the series fresh year after year. In this second season many variations of the typical murder mystery are to be had. In one episode a doctor, Leonard Nimoy, plots to kill his elderly partner. The weapon is surgical sutures, replacing the long lasting kind best in heart surgery with dissolving sutures. Columbo has a murder in progress to solve. In another case identical twins are the suspects. The question is which twin is guilty and which one innocent. One of my favorite all time episodes concerns a deaf chess master, Laurence Harvey, who murders his rival the night before a crucial match. Columbo must piece together the crime realizing that the only one that could have perpetrated it had to be deaf.

Our rumpled hero even gets to extend his expertise beyond his usual haunts in Los Angles. In one episode Columbo in London on a police symposium, while there a murder of a rich man backing a stage production is found and Columbo is called in to lend a hand. None of the murders is boring, there is always something new provided. Not only that but even after seeing these episodes many, many times in syndication I see loved watching them. There is a classic appeal here, one that like a favorite novel does not diminish after the initial viewing. The stories are so well constructed and the characters so well acted that this collection will be entertaining for years of viewing.

Peter Falk is one of those American actors that seem to never disappoint. This is without a doubt the defining roles of his career. While many long lasting roles on television become predictable the character of Columbo is always entertaining. Falk makes a character that the audience can identify with, we know this man with his constant stories about his family, especially his unseen wife. There are various touches that make Columbo a real, fully developed character. He sometimes finds himself at a loss, it is not like he can solve a murder with a single glance, he works for the solution. While most television shows are just meager stories padding out the time between car chases and shoot outs, Columbo is always a battle of wits. It draws the audience into an intellectual challenge making us think a bit. Just watch the reaction shots of the suspect as Columbo moves just a little too close to a piece of incriminating evidence only to move away at the last minute. The criminals here are not your average thugs, they are usually professionals, intelligent and at the top of their fields. Columbo usually causes them to start having doubts about the way they covered their tracks making a move that only the true killer would make. Its then that Columbo quietly discloses that he has solved the crime.

With material like this Universal has a winner even without the usual features many look for in a DVD set. There are no extras, the episodes stand on their own. The two channel Dolby mono is clear and does the job. The all important dialogue is crisp and every word understandable. The full screen video is very good although there are some signs of age present. A few white specks will briefly flick around the screen but nothing so major as to be overly annoying. If you are a fan of this series this is an absolute must have. Why wait around for the syndicated showings when you can call up the episode you want to see on demand and not have to put up with commercial breaks. Hopefully this DVD set will introduce a new generation to this American classic television series. It does look like Universal is committed to releasing the whole series, by the timing so far it appears that they are going for two sets per year. If you are tired of all the CSI and Law and Order shows, take a break and go back to where smart television mysteries began.

Posted 3/2/05

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