Peter Falk died at age 83 amid memories of his iconic role as the rumpled detective in the raincoat known only by his last name “Columbo.” Peter Falk, like Carroll O’Connor, achieved tremendous fame as a result of shrinking down to size to fit on console televisions throughout the country in the 1970s, but also like O’Connor he appeared in a number of films before achieving that fame. Unlike the man who would be Archie Bunker, however, Peter Falk managed to head back to the big screen in a number of successful films after finding himself tied forever to a single character.
The titles say Introducing Peter Falk even though he’d already appeared in a number of low budget movies by this point. Falk plays Abe Reles in “Murder, Inc.”, a real life contract murderer, and Falk received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his gritty portrayal of this psychotic thug.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Falk’s next notable movie role took him from the back alleys and .38 specials of the underworld to a cast that included just about every funny actor alive at the time. Despite being surrounded by actors considered much greater comedic heavyweights, Falk manages to walk away from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” as one of the most memorable characters. He doesn’t come into the plot until near the end and his taxi driver plays a central role in the climax of this greatest epic comedy of them all.
Robin and the Seven Hoods
Peter Falk plays a gangster at a higher level in “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” Many younger audiences are familiar with the Rat Pack today as a result of the remake of “Oceans 11” but “Robin and the Seven Hoods” is actually a far more entertaining Rat Pack movie if only as a result of Falk’s presence.
The Great Race
In “The Great Race” Peter Falk once again finds himself in an epic comedy surrounded by heavyweights like Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Lemmon and Curtis don’t quite manage to hit the heights they achieve in “Some Like it Hot” but they come pretty close and Falk is right up there with them as the ratty sidekick to Lemmon’s Professor Fate.
Falk made a number of films with his buddy John Cassavetes. These movies set the stage for the American New Wave of the 70s and filmmakers from George Lucas to Martin Scorsese all pay a debt of gratitude to these breakthrough experiments in film. “Husbands” is often considered the best of the lot, though many are put off by its loosely structured improvisational style.
Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective
Within the span of two years Peter Falk appeared in two murder comedies that often get confused in the minds of movie fans. “Murder By Death” is the one that collects a bunch of different famous detectives who have been fictionalized: Falk plays Sam Diamond rather than Sam Spade. “The Cheap Detective” has Falk once again parodying a Humphrey Bogart character, but this time the movie is all about his detective even though it is a mashup of “Casablanca” and “The Maltese Falcon.”
“The In-Laws” is one of Peter Falk’s best movies and one of the funniest movies of the 1970s. He is paired brilliantly with Alan Arkin as a potentially delusional psycho who may alternately be an actual CIA agent. You’ll have to watch this movie to find the truth and even if you don’t care about the truth, you’ll enjoy the time spent watching a movie that proves some flicks just should never be remade.