About Columbo / Opinion

What were Peter Falk’s favourite Columbo episodes?

Peter Falk's favourite Columbo episodes

Debating the merits of favourite Columbo episodes with a fellow fan is one of the most enjoyable pastimes ever. But have you ever wondered which episodes Peter Falk liked most?

If so, your sleepless nights are at an end! Because Falk did outline his four favourite NBC-era episodes (1971-78) for the A&E television network sometime in the early 1990s. In a series of special presentations entitled ‘Columbo’s favourite Columbos’, Falk delivered a personal introduction to each episode, outlining his recollections about each one. These segments were filmed in Falk’s own art studio.

Alas I have never seen these intros, which I believe aired once and once only. I can’t find any evidence of them on YouTube either, so if you happen to know where they can be viewed online please let me know. You’ll bring delight to thousands of fans.

Without further ado, here are Peter Falk’s favourite Columbo episodes, and a precis of his opinions on each. These come from a variety of sources, including ‘The Ultimate Lieutenant Columbo Site‘ and Mark Dawidziak’s The Columbo Phile.

“If you happen to know where these intros can be viewed online please let me know. You’ll bring delight to thousands of fans.”

4. Identity Crisis (Season 5, 1975)

Columbo Identity Crisis

Patrick McGoohan’s second appearance as a guest killer in this bonkers spy romp was poles apart from his Columbo debut in Season 4’s By Dawn’s Early Light. There, his restrained turn as Colonel Rumford is so far removed from the eccentric turn delivered here that it could almost be two different actors at work.

McGoohan’s Nelson Brenner appears to be much closer to the heart of the man himself, and that sense of fun and quirkiness seemed to infect the Columbo character, too. As well as being the headline guest star, McGoohan also had directorial duties on this episode, and Falk seems to have absolutely reveled in the immersive experience.

Speaking about Identity Crisis, Falk said: “The scenes between Columbo and the murderer are, in my judgment, among the best we ever did. They have that perfect balance between being both compelling and amusing. And that’s what we always strive for – that’s the trick in those scenes, keep ’em tense and keep ’em funny. And a great deal of credit for that goes to Patrick McGoohan.

“I’ll always remember how much fun I had playing ’em, and to this day I get a kick out of watching ’em.”

For his part, McGoohan was just as enamoured with the process. Falk and series producer Everett Chambers had essentially given him a carte blanche to put his stamp on the episode – and it shows.

In an interview with Mark Dawidziak for The Columbo Phile McGoohan recalled: “I was wary about directing an American television show, but I was given total control by Peter and Everett Chambers. They had a classy story. It needed some work, but Peter was a wonderful actor for a director.

“Peter is a meticulous man. He is a very careful actor. My association with Columbo continued because Peter liked me and I liked him.”

Indeed the association would last a further 25 years, with McGoohan repeating his double act as murderer/director in two further epsiodes (Agenda For Murder in 1989 and Ashes to Ashes in 1998), as well as additional stints as a director in Last Salute to the Commodore (1976) and Murder With Too Many Notes (2000).

3. Now You See Him (Season 5, 1976)

Columbo Now You See Him

Airing three months after Identity Crisis, the magic-fuelled Now You See Him represented Jack Cassidy’s third and final appearance as a Columbo killer. It was also one of his very last screen roles as he died tragically in a house fire just 10 months later.

“The new raincoat made him very uncomfortable and self-conscious. It was a brilliant idea.”

During his intro to the episode, Falk fondly recalled ‘the terrific running gag’ about Columbo’s hatred of the new coat his wife had bought him and his efforts to rid himself of it – including instructing Dog to look away if someone tried to steal it from his parked car.

Falk had earlier praised the same plot point in an interview for The Columbo Phile, saying: “The new raincoat made him very uncomfortable and self-conscious. It was a brilliant idea.”

Falk’s other episode highlights included him volunteering to assist The Great Santini on stage during his live stage show – a scene similarly cherished by fans – and he spoke warmly about what a fun time he had playing alongside Cassidy.

2. Forgotten Lady (Season 5, 1975)

Columbo Forgotten Lady

Another from Season 5 – this time the season opener – Falk recounted how much he enjoyed working with Janet Leigh and enthused about how the writers Bill Driskill and Peter S. Fischer ‘really outdid themselves.’

He was particularly pleased with the quality of the clues Columbo picks up on during the course of his investigations that indicate to him murder, not suicide, was the cause of Dr Henry Willis’s death. The initial investigation scene was used as a model for future episode writers on how such scenes should be put together.

The episode also stood out in Falk’s memory as a ‘real rarity’ in that Columbo allows the killer to go free given her inoperable brain aneurism means she has only a month or two to live.

Although he described it for the TV cameras as ‘one of our better efforts’, Falk was slightly less effusive in 1989’s The Columbo Phile, telling Mark Dawidziak: “We had all kinds of problems getting that one to two hours [running time].”

1. Any Old Port In A Storm (Season 3, 1973)

Port 6

The shared respect between Carsini and Columbo helped Any Old Port stand out as Peter Falk’s number one Columbo outing

Here is one example where Falk and the viewer appear to see entirely eye-to-eye, with Any Old Port perennially topping polls of fans’ favourite episodes, including from a poll on this very site.

The mutual and genuine admiration that grows between the two leads is what helped Any Old Port stand out for Falk, who recalled this as the first episode in which Columbo developed such an emotional attachment to the murderer.

“I’m very fond of that episode,” Falk recounted in The Columbo Phile. “Columbo liked the Donald Pleasence character a lot. That character had the same obsession with excellence that Columbo had.

“Columbo might have been a slob with clothes, but he had respect and admiration for excellence. The job had to be done properly. Columbo was delighted by that guy. He admired him.”

The presence of Vito Scotti – a six-time guest star in his first appearance on the show – was another plus point for Falk. “Vito Scotti is a good friend and a terrific actor,” Falk said. “We were glad to use him whenever we could. He was terrific as the waiter, the old bum, the funeral parlour director.”

“The mutual and genuine respect that grows between the two leads is what helped Any Old Port stand out for Falk.”

Analysis

It might come as a surprise to fans that pivotal episodes Etude in Black and Murder by the Book don’t feature here – particularly Etude, which starred Falk’s BFF John Cassavetes.

Etude car

Sorry Maestro, no room at the inn for you…

Instead, all of Falk’s personal favourites come from Seasons 3 or 5, when the show was more firmly established. Notably, three of the four are from Season 5 alone. What does this tell us? Well for one thing it suggests that Falk was at his happiest in the crumpled raincoat once he had a couple of full seasons under his belt.

We must remember that Season 1 was marked by Falk’s continual run-ins with the studio about his desire to direct an episode. It was a stressful time for star, studio, cast and crew, which perhaps explains why he doesn’t include any Season 1 episodes amongst his favourites – despite most fans naming at least one of Murder by the Book, Suitable for Framing or Death Lends a Hand amongst their top picks.

“We must remember that Season 1 was marked by Falk’s continual run-ins with the studio about his desire to direct an episode.”

Not only had he completely mastered every nuance of the character, but by Season 5 Falk was an absolute Hollywood power player, increasingly calling the shots on who he was happy to work with and the amount of time dedicated to getting each episode signed off to his exacting standards.

Falk was also earning a King’s Ransom by that time, which doubtless contributed to him considering these years as a Golden Age in his career. He earned $100,000 per episode in Season 3 – and this leaped to $132,000 for Season 4 (the equivalent of $660,000 today!). Figures for Season 5 are not available, but undoubtedly kept on the upwards trajectory. It was certainly a great time to be Peter Falk…


How do Peter’s favourite episodes compare to your own? Any surprises there? Let me know in the comments section below.

Don’t forget, you can vote for your own very favourite Columbo episode here. Thousands have already done so! 

Stitch Columbo end

Gee whizz, I had to think hard to whittle down my favourites to just four…

 

48 thoughts on “What were Peter Falk’s favourite Columbo episodes?

  1. I actually read all the posts. To some I agree: “Try and Catch Me” tells us as much about Columbo as “Forgotten Lady” about Peter Falk. And stunning, marvellous giant Ruth Gordon… One of my absolute favorites.
    “By Dawn’s Early Light” shows the best work of Patrick McGoohan in his whole career.

  2. Ok. I actually found this now and it makes me really happy. “Forgotten Lady” is my favorite and Peter Falk ranked it second; coooool! Why? Janet Leigh and John Payne are excellent, the supporting cast is perfect. The clue is the moment, when Columbo leaves the villa after his first visit and talks to Diamond about gangster movies: “Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmie Cagney — Edward G. Robinson” and later that this maybe was the reason for becoming a cop. Peter Falk told us that Eddie Robinson maybe was the reason for becoming an actor. A tribute for his great idol, that died some years befor. For my opinion THE HIGHLIGHT MOMENT of the whole series. With wonderful John Payne, my favorite support. No more, no less.

  3. I just watched “Forgotten Lady”, working my way through a DVD set. I think it is undercut by almost definitely the weakest “gotcha” moment in the series to date. The big gotcha is that the 1 hour and 45 minute movie that Grace was watching ran for over 2 hours, which leaves at least 10 minutes unaccounted for even after Grace spliced the reel, which means that she must have killed her husband. Only problem is that Grace could have done, well, anything else…she could have gone to use the toilet, she could have gone to get a cup of tea. She could have dozed off on the couch and not noticed that the reel failed. Very weak solution.

    That of course has to be weighed against that incredibly moving ending and a brilliant, powerful Janet Leigh performance. The show definitely had that going for it.

    • This character never would go to the toilet or would pee very fast. cup of tea? Unbelievable! Doze off watching herself? She’s a crazy narziss!

  4. It seems like these are not necessarily his favorite episodes, but rather the ones he most enjoyed acting in. Thus, it is quite expected that he would pick one each with his two greatest guest performers, McGoohan and Cassidy, and the one in which he got to work with an old movie superstar actress. The fourth choice is the only one he truly seems to have picked because of the show’s quality, and not unexpectedly it is indeed one of the top classics.

  5. I enjoy it also for the quirks and funny scenes, but it is far from one of the greats. First of all, the mere fact he cannot touch the murderer takes away from the satisfaction. Second of all, so much of the show is taken up by the CIA connection, leaving far less time for the actual Columbo aspects. Finally, the murder plot is mediocre, and solving it is only so-so. McGooohan’s superb acting is part of what saves it, but his others are far better.

  6. I am watching “Agenda for Murder” and have to say that Patrick McGoohan’s performance is one for the ages in TV series. Elevates the episode.

    • I will be watching that episode again on ME-TV later tonight, and although I admire McGoohan as an actor, including on The Prisoner, I’d say that his two episodes in the later Columbo were vastly inferior to those from the original series.

      • I do not understand your affection for this episode, especially if you consider it better than McGoohan’s original two episodes, especially By Dawn’s Early Light.

  7. Pingback: What’s YOUR ultimate favourite Columbo episode? Vote now! | The Columbophile

  8. For me ALL Columbo Episodes are
    timeless masterpieces. I have complete collection on DVD and every 2 or 3 months I watch them from first to last episode. There will be Only One Colombo!

    • I would differentiate between series like Perry Mason and the original Hawaii Five-0, which had episodes of consistently high quality, and series like Columbo, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, which although they were of overall high quality, had episodes of wildly different quality, from excellent to average or below.

      • The old Columbos were pretty much high art across the board. The new Columbos were pretty much camp across the board. Death Lends a Hand and Murder by the Book are examples of sheer brilliance. The murder, the macabre, and the circumstantial evidence that eventually dooms the murderer. Columbo is a force of Nature that each murderer must confront…and lose. The new Columbos could have been Matlocks and not miss a beat…there’s nothing upbeat about a show dealing with murder.

        • If Columbo was restricted to the original series, I would largely agree with you, although I think that there are a few episodes which are average, at best.

        • @DARRIN RYCHLAK After decades of watching “Murder By the Book”, I am still unable to detect any “sheer brilliance” in that script. There are some things that really bother me, but maybe you can help me. I can’t ignore the weakness of the so called clever first murder! Let’s face it: It’s a poor idea. “The only good one I ever had,” Franklin says. Well, sorry Ken, but even this one ain’t good. What if Jim had called out “Ken, what the hell…?!” on the phone? Joanna would have told Columbo and Ken would have been incriminated from the very first moment on. Why can’t Columbo check with the telephone company that there hasn’t been a call from the office at that time? And most of all: How can an expert on mystery plots be so stupid to believe, the police would fall for the pretence of a professional kidnapping? Which professional killer would shoot his victim during a phone call? The other person on the phone would naturally call the police immediately as Joanna did. Right away the police would rush to the office within minutes, and there would be no time at all for a killer to devastate the office and to remove the body. And even if there was enough time, it would still be a hard thing to do to remove the body out of that high office building in broad daylight without being seen by anyone. Why does Columbo hail such a weak murder plan as a clever crime?
          Sure, the young director turned the poor script into an enjoyable movie, and Jack Cassidy is a type of villain par excellence, but as the plan is far from perfect and the gotcha as well, I can’t understand why so many fans can ignore these flaws and choose to name “Murder by the Book” when it comes to pointing out the highlights of the best series of all time.

          • As previously stated, I wouldn’t consider Columbo to be close to being the best series, as its episodes are of wildly varying quality, unlike, for example, Perry Mason and the original Hawaii Five-0.

  9. I think It’s all in the game was the best and I don’t think one person mentions it. Faye Dunaway won an Emmy and I believe Peter Falk wrote it.

    • True on both accounts. But for me Its all in the game is not one of the best ones because it doesn’t really bring out the qualities that I like in the character of Columbo. Besides that, her character doesn’t do the the sensible thing: by romanticising Columbo she brings suspicion on her instead of away from her. She’s not a smart killer, no challenge for Columbo at all.
      Still, it’s not the worst episode with plenty to enjoy, especially Faye Dunaway. Winning the Emmy for her performance says it all.

    • I definitely do not like It’s All In The Game, as the ‘romance’ between Faye Dunaway and Columbo is ridiculous, especially when it causes him to let her daughter go free.

  10. i must say im not a fan of any old port in a storm and even if it was faklks favoriite i still ddont place it very highly dont get me wrong its a good episode but i just dont know why its liked so much , also forgotton lady could say the same for hoe it was one of his favourites i dont know.

  11. i am surprised he didn’t include try and catch me as its such a classic , he would would have enjoyed starring with the old lady (Ruth Gordon) given her age and the great relationship they build throughout the episode , could also say the same for negative reaction as for identity crisis its one of my favorites its a blockbuster and patrick mc goohan was my favorite Colombo killer.

  12. These four episodes are 4 of my fav. episodes besides Etude in black etc. My very favourite being the one episode everybody seems to hate, Last salute to Commodore which was so unusual and almost Orson Wellesian. It was so off the wall and laid back, and he got the wrong suspect for a change.

  13. I HAVE EVERY EPISODE ON DVD!MY FAVORITES ARE THE ROBERT CULP ONES! HOW DID MR FALK LIKE ACTING WITH HIM? HE PLAYED A GREAT SUSPECT!DID YOU KNOW DUEL WITH DENNIS WEAVER WAS STEVEN SPEILBURG’S(1971) FIRST MOVIE & THE EPISODE WITH MARTIN MULNER & JACK CASSIDY WAS DIRECTED BY STEVEN SPEILBURG IN SEASON ONE?

  14. Falk’s choices were undoubtedly limited by A&E’s programming requirements. They aired those Columbo episodes with his introductions as prime time movies and no channel was airing 90-minute programs in prime time when they did. So we can agree these four were Falk’s favorite 2-hour episodes, but we still don’t know his overall favorites.

    • First, your assertion is completely arbitrary, with no evidence to back it up, and then second, it is contradictory, you state that no channel was airing 90 minute programs and yet all four of Falk’s choices were two hour episodes.

    • You might well be right, interesting point. That would still have opened it up to inclusion of fan favourites Troubled Waters, Swan Song, Exercise in Fatality, A Friend in Deed and Etude in Black, so it’s interesting stuff regardless. But, yes, that would explain why none of the shorter ones were there. Shame.

    • When A&E was running Columbo in the early 1990s, along with Banacek, McCloud, and McMillan & Wife, they had slots for two-hour episodes, and slots for a pair of 90-minute episodes back to back. It was kind of confusing, so fans pretty much had to subscribe to the free A&E magazine to get the program guide and see which episodes would air.

      It was a great time to be a fan of ’70s detective series. They did not air any of the other NBC Mystery Movies in that slot (and I badly wanted to see Tony Curtis’s McCoy!), but they were also showing an anthology of entertaining one-season flops like City of Angels, Ellery Queen, and the controversial Mrs. Columbo.

  15. I’m always surprised when someone names Identity Crisis as one of their favorites. This is one of the episodes I watch with an eye for things to appreciate about it: Leslie Nielson, the amusement park, etc. because it ISN’T a personal favorite of mine.
    I like McGoohan’s By the Dawn’s Early Light much better; favorite McGoohan episode is Ashes to Ashes.

  16. The favorites that he has a mostly mine my favorite is favoritest is murder under glass I’ve been in love with Peter Falk since I was a kid and he was the greatest. I miss him very much and I miss all the Columbo but I do own most of them from the 70s to the 80s. But I really love most of them.

  17. That’s really a surprise! Not one of my Top Ten’s is among Peter’s Top 4. His favourites currently rank in my list on place 23, 18, 64 and 28.

  18. Peter Falk loved “Any Old Port in a Storm” before it aired. Falk appeared on The Tonight Show on October 5, 1973 (2 days before its debut) & implored viewers to watch the episode because of Donald Pleasence’s performance. He emphasized the challenge Columbo faced in having empathy for the killer.

  19. Thank-you for this post, and the opportunity to comment. I absolutely love Peter Falk! I recently discovered that he was married to one of his co-stars. I have a hard time picking my favorite. I love them all!

  20. I like the Columbo episode where the supposed villain lock the man in the safe because he killed her niece he got what he deserved and I felt sorry for the old woman in the end

    • That’s why we have government, so that people don’t take the law into their own hands. “A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—i.e., under objectively defined laws.” – Ayn Rand

      • I do agree with your statement but after all it is a television show fictional so more power to the old woman LOL

    • This is one of the best episodes, also Ashes to Ashes and Columbo Goes To College. I felt sorry for the lady in Try And Catch Me, I hope she got off. 🙂

  21. I’d say Peter’s choices of Any Old Port, Forgotten Lady and Now You See Me were also very strong ones for me and are only my list of favorites along with Death Lends a Hand, Murder By The Book, Troubled Waters, Negative Reaction, A Stitch in Crime and number 1 of all time Try and Catch Me.

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