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With: Peter Falk, Ray Milland, Don Ameche, Lee Grant, Kim Hunter, Gene Barry, Nina Foch, Timothy Carey, Robert Culp, Eddie Albert, Kate Reid, Suzanne Pleshette, Ross Martin, Susan Clark, Jessie Royce Landis, Richard Anderson, Leslie Nielsen, Roddy McDowall, Anne Francis, Ida Lupino, Forrest Tucker
Written by: Richard Levinson, William Link, Dean Hargrove, Steven Bochco, John T. Dugan, Jackson Gillis
Directed by: Steven Spielberg, Peter Falk, Richard Irving, Bernard L. Kowalski, Jack Smight, Hy Averback, Norman Lloyd, Edward M. Abroms
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 725
Date: 18/03/2013

Columbo: The Complete First Season (1971)

4 Stars (out of 4)

One More Question...

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Columbo: The Complete First Season on DVD.

This year DVD distributors have begun to understand the demand for television series in DVD box sets, mostly based on nostalgia. There's a huge buying frenzy, followed by disappointment as viewers realize that very few of these old shows tend to hold up. But out of the ever-increasing discard pile, three have made their way to the top, "The Simpsons: Season Four," "Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One" and "Columbo: The Complete First Season."

"Columbo" succeeded so well not because of its brilliant detective stories or its twisty mysteries -- in fact, the show's M.O. included showing the criminal committing the crime in the show's opening minutes. Very often the criminals spent the entire show acting guilty.

No, the show worked partly because of the wealth of talent involved, from wonderful directors like Steven Spielberg, character actors like Ray Milland and Don Ameche and cinematographers like Russell Metty (Touch of Evil).

But most of all it worked because of Peter Falk. It's difficult to imagine anyone else playing this role. Falk's gruff but warm voice, slightly mumbled, and his shifty eyes looked at home in that rumpled raincoat. His method involved becoming friendly with his suspects, then becoming a pest, but always remaining polite. His most successful technique came when he was seemingly finished questioning a suspect; he reaches for the doorknob, waits for the suspect to breathe a sigh of relief, then: "Oh, one more question if you don't mind, ma'am."

That Falk made this joke work over and over again is part of his charm. He doesn't appear to know how silly or effective he is. He just goes about his day, trying to be himself. (The series was apparently made in the days before irony.)

Universal's excellent new DVD set comes with nine "episodes," including two feature-length movies, the very first Columbo, Prescription: Murder (1968), and Ransom for a Dead Man (1971), starring future Oscar winner Lee Grant. These "movies" both run about 90 minutes, while the other episodes run about 75 minutes apiece. (The entire set runs about 12 hours.)

The set also includes Steven Spielberg's episode, Murder by the Book, which shows the young filmmaker experimenting with the medium and attempting to use wide shots in place of the usual close-ups. Not surprisingly, the young Spielberg's work has aged much better than some of the veteran directors' work, which now looks showy and hippie-ish, using odd special effects, filters and lighting schemes.

DVD Details: The "Columbo" box set comes with no extras, but there's a lot of meat within the nine episodes, so it doesn't really need any.

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