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Character changes

Lets see what you guys think of this...

After watching a few old tapes of Columbo it seems to me that the character of the good lieutenant changes quite a bit over the years during the origional 1971-78 run. When we first meet him he is humble and quite eccentric but by the end of the run he is more bumbling and overtly eccentric. He becomes more and more a caricature of himself - particularly in the seventh season.

For example, take the little tings that happen in the seventh season, like the by now diabolical state of Columbo's car and his preference to refering to his wife only as "Mrs Columbo".

In the first season Columbo's car is still a wreck but there is still an element of believability that someone of Columbo's rank could own such a car. However, by the seventh season it is so dilapidated it just seems silly that he would be allowed to drive such a thing by his bosses. In some epsidodes the car's roof even seems to have been deliberately damaged to add 'characterisation'.

And why does he call his wife "Mrs Columbo" and not (as he does in the earlier episdoes) "my wife"? this just sounds plain weird to me and makes Columbo seem more like a caricature of the character introduced in in 'Precription Murder' - after all, no one would really call their wife by their married name, would they?

Please don't get me wrong folks, I think Columbo is fantastic and the seventh season even has one of my favourite epsiodes ('How To Dial A Murder') but I just wish that Peter Falk had remained more truthful to the origins of the character.

Let me know what you think!

Re: Character changes

Yeah, the subject is referred to quite frequently here. That's why in my book, Columbo was two distinctly different series. In fact, because of it, Season 5 will be my final DVD purchase, and even in that one, there's episode (or two) I can do without.

It's not that they were inhererently bad, it's just that I couldn't stand the arrogant demeanor of a Godfather-like cop the size of a large child.

Re: Re: Character changes

I'm interested in what you mean by calling Columbo "arrogant". Can you give me some examples? I always thought the longer the series went on, the less openly confrontational he became (remember the tamtrums he threw in 'A Stitch In Crime' and 'Exercise In Fatality'?) so I'm not sure where the arrogance would come in...!

Re: Character changes

Yes it has been discussed...but craig you made an excellent point that I had not noticed before.
You say how originally Columbo would refer to his wife as 'my wife'....and then later as 'Mrs. Columbo'. As I say, I hadn't noticed that before. And yes it is a bit creepy and weird for him to refer to her like that! I know if my husband ever did it, I'd hit him over the head! (lovingly of course )

Re: Character changes

I understand the basis for saying that Columbo became more caricatured, more gnome-like, even somewhat cartoonish over the years. As I've said before, I think this is absolutely realistic: if you've ever known a brilliant man as he grew older, I bet you would agree that over the years, he began testing the limits of his schtick, and ultimately became a parody of himself, and was probably no less effective for doing so.

What I honestly don't understand, is the notion repeated in several recent posts here, that Columbo became more "arrogant" ovr the years. I'm not being argumentative -- I'd be very interested if someone can cite some examples.

What could be more arrogant than Columbo's behavior in the very FIRST episode, "Prescription: Murder", when he gets in Susan Hudson's face and sneers that he will hunt her down forever until he breaks her, and she makes his case for him? Columbo is openly diabolical in this episode. And some of you think he actually got worse?

Columbo usually maintains a humble facade, but I think that his pride of professionalism has never been far below the surface. He bides his time, then bares his fangs. He is nice as a person, but absolutely relentless as a cop. And he was always thus.

Re: Re: Character changes

There were deviations from Columbo's normal personality during Season 7.

In "Try and Catch Me," Columbo responds to Abigail Mitchell by saying "Don't count on that" after she gives him the compliment that he is nice. He even repeats himself. I always disliked that line.

Columbo goes a bit overboard in the final scene of "Murder Under Glass" when he tells Paul Gerard "I respect your talent. I don't like anything else about you." However, this is somewhat compensated for with the immediate and rather humorous subsequent line of "The dressing is perfect."

It is even borderline at the end of "Make Me a Perfect Murder." After Kay Freestone claims that she understands upon Columbo having solved the crime, he responds by saying, "I'm sure you do, ma'am."

Perhaps these types of charcter bits were nowhere to be seen during Season 1. However, Season 7 contained decent episodes and "How to Dial a Murder" was the best of the five.

Re: Character changes

Let he or she among us who has not evolved be the first to cast the absolute judgement.
The only episode I really didn't like was No Time for Murder(much discusssed previously on this forum by many.)
It's fun to watch Prescription Murder then watch Columbo likes the nightlife.
I wonder what discussions the writers went through and what constraints, and parameters they had to live with for scripts to be accepted and used. I wonder what got bargained or ordered or cajoled.

Re: Character changes

Ted 2 excellent points.
Columbo was never ever more arrogant than when he was in Prescription: Murder. When he is yelling and ranting at Joan Hudson it is so nasty! Truthfully, I really don't like that scene at all. It makes me uncomfortable. It is one of the rare scenes where I am not rooting for Columbo, but rather I feel sympathy for Miss Hudson.
And the other point about how a person who is obviously a genius becomes sort of a caricature of themselves as they grow older...I totally agree with that. It happens in real life. They rely on all the characteristics that have made them who they are and they seem to go over the top with them. But as you pointed out, these traits and manners are no less effective.

Re: Character changes

David, thanks for the interesting points for discussion. Here are my reactions to each:

1) "In "Try and Catch Me,' Columbo responds to Abigail Mitchell by saying 'Don't count on that' after she gives him the compliment that he is nice."

In this episode, Columbo takes the opportunity, at the ladies' luncheon speech, to explicitly say something we have always seen: that sometimes Columbo really, personally likes the murderer -- but, he still hates the crime they have committed. This speech was a great piece of writing, that lets Columbo make an entertaining speech while, on another level, he is telling Abbie, "I know you are a sweet old lady, and I love ya -- but it's still my job to solve the murder, and I will."

The conversation you mention -- I forget whether it comes before, or after the luncheon -- is more great writing, enhanced by great acting. In just a few spoken words, Columbo and Abbie are having a much more detailed conversation: Abbie is saying "I know you like me, and you know I'm basically a sweet old broad who had a really good reason to kill this creep, so what's the harm if you just let me slide?". And Columbo in effect replies, citing the time-honored cop's creed, "It's true that I like you, and I know you're not a bad person, but my job as a cop is just to solve the crime -- it's somebody else's job to judge the punishment."

I think that Falk's delivery prevents me from hearing that line as arrogant -- he's gently reminding her that he has a job to do, at the same time admitting that he does like her.

This is all great "Columbo" stuff, and I appreciate the chance to examine it, but I don't see it as arrogance.

2) "In the final scene of 'Murder Under Glass'...he tells Paul Gerard 'I respect your talent. I don't like anything else about you.'"

I agree that this is jarring, and seems out of character -- I think Columbo also says, "Funny how we agree about so many things, considering we don't like each other very much."

Which is an unusually blunt thing for Columbo to say, no doubt. But it's just the other side of the coin from Abigail Mitchell -- here, Columbo is dealing with a guy that he really dislikes, on a personal level. And the writer generously reveals this rare look at Columbo's negative emotions on the job.

This raises an interesting side-issue -- the fact that, in my opinion, Columbo really wants and expects to be liked, and has a bad reaction when somebody doesn't react according to his expectation. Columbo really, privately is a nice man, but I believe that Columbo, as a cop, makes use of this quality in a rather cynical way -- he is determined to make his niceness a strength in dealing with murderers, instead of a weakness. And it burns him when people are too nasty (or too smart!) to react, as he expects, to his niceness.

In this case, of course, Columbo is extremely justified, considering that Gerard is trying to MURDER him !!!

So I agree that it's a disturbingly blunt thing for Columbo to say, but I wouldn't call it arrogant under the circumstances. It's just a great denouement to the "cat and mouse" game, where everybody knows the game is over and they lay it all out.

3) " the end of 'Make Me a Perfect Murder. After Kay Freestone claims that she understands upon Columbo having solved the crime, he responds by saying, 'I'm sure you do, ma'am.'"

Another sophisticated post-"cat and mouse game" conversation. He's giving her credit for knowing the game is over, which I would not call arrogant. At least he calls her "Ma'am," eh?

Re: Re: Character changes

Columbo was calm at the entrapment of Vivian Dimitri despite trying to murder Mrs. Columbo and Columbo himself.
Compared to the hounding of Miss Hudson in Prescription Murder and the judgemental speech in Ranson for a Dead Man, the arrogance and hardness of Columbo seems more geared to the killers' reactions in later episodes than to a simple evolutionary explanation.

Re: Character changes

I have characterized him in the past as changing from "humble and mildly eccentric" to "arrogant and goofy". When he yells at people like Joan Hudson and Dr Barry Mayfield, I don't view that as "arrogance", I would rather characterize it as anger or frustration. When I say he became arrogant later on, I am referring to this extremely patronizing tone he develops, and which he has almost throughout the entire program such as "Make Me a Perfect Murder". It is like he is saying "I am the great Lt Columbo and I am going to cut you to pieces". In earlier ones, he seems less sure of himself and he shows greater "respect" (as it were) for his opponent. It is that persona that I like the most. I also like it on the rare occasions he gets angry because it makes him more human.

In addition, making Columbo a gourmet in "Murder Under Glass" is TOTALLY out of character with the chili and hot-dog loving Lieutenant we grew to love in the earlier programs.

I do not reject, however, all the episodes from Seasons 6 and 7...."Fade Into Murder" and "The Conspirators" are quite good and Columbo reverts to being humble in them.

Re: Character changes

You beat me to it YM. I too, don't see Columbo's hounding of what's-her-name in "Prescription Murder" as arrogance. She was suspected of murder. Guess it depends on your definnition of arrogance. I don't see his outbursts in "Stich of Crime" or "Exercise in Fatality" as arrogant either.
I liked his "don't count on it ma'am" line in "Try and Catch Me". I saw it as a kind of gentle warning, even an apology that he had to do his job.

I was interested to hear how he stopped referring to his wife and started caling her Mrs Columbo. That is a subtle change and reminded me how much better it was when he did call her his wife.

Did Columbo get more arrogant as the series progressed? It's a good question. Perhaps, in accentuating the kooky side to his nature, in being a slightly more lighthearted (even at times whimsical)Columbo, he doesn't seem as earnest, as genuine, and appears slightly more arrogant, more self assured.
He bungs it on with his forgetfulness and whole schtick but now it seems even more contrived.

I guess he seemed to be more making fun of his suspects in the newer eps, patronising them more often with a wry smile and a wink to the audience that to me suggested a more arrogant Columbo.

Re: Character changes

I have no idea what Chief Clifford is referring to. I don't see arrogance to anywhere near the degree he described at all.

I actually like the scene with Kate Hudson in Prescription Murder. Miss Hudson is young, naive, and is being used by Dr. Fleming, but she also participated in a murder, and is covering for it. I think Columbo's outburst is justified and is an attempt to break the spell Dr. Fleming has over her; an attempt to appeal to her conscience, and the line "that woman would be alive if it weren't for you" is true, so I would say it's very justified. It's also a piece of superb acting which is enjoyable to watch!