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Television series
German title Columbo
Original title Columbo
Country of production United States
original language English
Year (s) 1968–1978,
1989–2003 (TV films)
length 70-100 minutes
Episodes 69 in 10 seasons ( list )
genre Crime , comedy
production Richard Levinson
William Link
First broadcast February 20, 1968 on NBC
first broadcast
October 11, 1969 on German television

Columbo is an American crime series by Richard Levinson and William Link , which was broadcast regularly in the USA from March 1968 to May 1978 - and between February 1989 and January 2003 as an evening television series.

The main actor was Peter Falk as Inspector Columbo (in the English version as Lieutenant Columbo ), who works for the homicide squad of the Los Angeles Police Department . Falk played the character between 1968 and 2003. He also directed (Monument for Eternity) , wrote the script for the episode The Dead in the Electric Blanket and from 1989 also acted as (co-) executive producer of the series. Other producers included Edward K. Dodds (22 episodes), Dean Hargrove (20 episodes) and series inventor William Link (17 episodes).

As directors were among others Vincent McEveety (seven episodes), James Frawley (six episodes), and Patrick McGoohan (five episodes) are used. McGoohan, who was very involved in the series, also served as a performer (four episodes) and as a co-executive producer (two episodes). Important authors of the series were Jackson Gillis (eleven episodes), Peter S. Fischer (nine episodes) or Steven Bochco (seven episodes). Dick DeBenedictis wrote the music for 23 episodes, Bernardo Segall for ten episodes, and Patrick Williams for nine.

History of the series

The character Columbo first appeared - played by Bert Freed  - in 1960 in the series The Chevy Mystery Show in the episode Enough Rope . Based on this episode, the stage play Murder after a recipe was created in 1962 , in which Thomas Mitchell played the Columbo with great success. The model for the figure was the examining magistrate Porfirij Petrovich from Dostoyevsky's novel Guilt and Atonement .

At first Thomas Mitchell was supposed to play the role of Columbo on television, but he died of cancer a little later. Then the character was designed for Bing Crosby , who declined the role. Only after a third actor, Lee J. Cobb , had canceled, Peter Falk was engaged for the lead role. At almost 40 years of age, Falk was actually too young for the role. Ultimately, the television film Murder According to a Prescription was made , which was broadcast on NBC on February 20, 1968 and in which Columbo was first portrayed by Peter Falk (no other actor has played the character since). In Murder by Prescription , Columbo faced a murderous psychiatrist (played by Gene Barry ).

The character's huge popularity led NBC to make it a regular series that premiered on September 15, 1971. Columbo first ran as part of the NBC Mystery Movies and was an instant hit with US ratings ( Nielsen Ratings ). In the first year of the series, Peter Falk won an Emmy Award for best series actor for his role . He also won this award in 1975, 1976 and 1990. He was nominated for him six more times.

The series initially ran for seven years with mostly five or six episodes per year. While other crime series usually ran with a season of 26 episodes per year, relatively few episodes were produced for Columbo. But they are longer than the usual 45 minutes of other TV thrillers and are often feature-length. Unlike other series, Columbo has neither a uniform opening and closing credits nor title music. Rather, the opening and closing titles always run over the first and last scenes of the film. The consequences are accentuated by rather subtle music.

The last Columbo episode ran in May 1978. Various reasons were given for the discontinuation of the series: On the one hand, Peter Falk's fee demands are said to have been too high, on the other hand, it has become increasingly difficult to find good scripts for the series. From the beginning of 1989 to the end of 2002, individual television films were again produced for ABC in loose succession .

There are a total of 69 Columbo episodes , the last of which (The Last Party) was broadcast on January 30, 2003 in the USA and on September 14, 2004 in Germany. After that, the series was discontinued because Peter Falk was of the opinion that at the age of 75 he would no longer be able to credibly embody the role in the future. Some are of the opinion that the reason for the attitude was that Falk had Alzheimer's disease. This speculation can be refuted, however, by the fact that after the last Columbo film, Falk was seen in several leading roles and essential supporting roles in cinema and TV films, most recently in 2007 in the action film Next . Only after the US premiere of this film was the disease made public through his agency.

Concept of the series

The Columbo figure

A Peugeot 403 Cabriolet as used by Columbo

Columbo is a member of the homicide division of the Los Angeles Police Department and appears as a disorderly, often somewhat dumb-acting police officer. In the 1970s a middle-aged man, in the episodes produced later he is already over 60 and then even over 70. He is often described as a "strange man" or as an "inspector with a wrinkled coat and wrinkled face", is short and usually moves in a poor, bent posture.

Columbo is of Italian descent and is almost always polite and courteous. He's obviously valued by people who have known him for a long time - for example, from snack bars with whom he exchanges friendly small talk, or from a veterinarian with whom he plays a board game.

Columbo smokes a cigar, has a tangled hairstyle and is often unshaven. If he is called to the crime scene early in the morning or even at night, he has not had enough sleep and can only concentrate on his work after he has had a coffee. It also happens that when he arrives at the crime scene, he takes an egg out of his coat pocket as an improvised breakfast in order to strengthen himself. In many people who are confronted with him for the first time, he clearly arouses astonishment. His colleagues also repeatedly meet him with incomprehension because his investigative methods are too unorthodox. Columbo conducts particularly meticulous crime scene investigations and usually comes across apparently unimportant evidence and irregularities that his colleagues do not attach any importance to.

In fact, Columbo is a highly intelligent, extremely thorough criminalist with great experience. The inspector is interested in the smallest details and contradictions and impresses with his power of observation and his knowledge of human nature. Columbo usually heads the investigative teams and exchanges information regularly with police officers and other officials, but he is a loner. When he is assigned an overzealous young officer to accompany him, he does everything possible to avoid him. While the protagonists of other crime series can be found regularly in their offices, Columbo is rarely seen in his office or at a police station . He is also rarely seen in discussions with his superiors. An exception is the episode My Dead - Your Dead , in which, however, the inspector's superior is also the murderer he has to convict.

As a result, no trace is certain , Columbo persuades a suspect to accompany him to a meeting with a woman and to assess her behavior during the conversation: "Three eyes see better than one." This is an allusion to Peter Falk's glass eye, because that The figure of Inspector Columbo can see with both eyes.

The perpetrators and the investigation

The perpetrators are predominantly members of the apparently “better society”, middle-aged or advanced-age people who are successful in their work, are cultured and eloquent and are intelligent enough to come up with complicated plans for murder. The perpetrators include: doctors, lawyers, business people, writers, conductors, wine wholesalers, art critics, chess grandmasters, military men, musicians, actors, diplomats. They are usually described as particularly unscrupulous or pathologically ambitious.

The murderers lay false leads in order to divert suspicion and use elaborate arrangements to create seemingly secure alibis. Through complicated manipulations, they try to create the impression that there was no way they could have been at the crime scene at a certain time. Some perpetrators are particularly well versed in technology and are therefore initially superior to Columbo, who has clear deficits in this area. They regularly use technical devices that were new and up-to-date at the time of production - for example, highly complicated video surveillance systems (sequence playback ), video recorders (sequence murder in the bistro ) or special telephone systems with which telephone calls are manipulated (consequences money, power and Muscles, ransom for a dead ). Tapes, answering machines and cameras are also used regularly. These devices are used or manipulated in order to provide the perpetrators with seemingly secure alibis. Since Columbo initially lacks the technical understanding to understand how these devices work, he regularly consults experts and becomes knowledgeable - which enables him to see through the manipulations of the perpetrators and thus convict them. The situation is similar with the milieus in which the perpetrators operate. The killing methods or the false alibis arise in the fields of work, hobby, economic sector etc. The perpetrators are initially very self-confident due to their skills in their profession or their social environment, which is further promoted by the fact that Columbo does not know anything about them at first. In the course of the investigation, however, Columbo himself becomes an expert in the respective field and can often in the end convict the perpetrator based on specific characteristics of the specialist area. Columbo also uses the newly acquired knowledge to involve the perpetrators in the investigations and manipulate them in such a way that the mostly arrogant perpetrators often incriminate themselves decisively or provide evidence themselves, without which they could not have been convicted. For example, the franchise system for fitness studios that emerged in the USA in the 1970s (following money, power and muscles ) served as a perpetrator milieu as did think tanks (following the death symphony ), wineries (following wine is thicker than blood ), horse breeding (following strangers Bedtime companions ), medicine (consequences of creeping poison, two lives on a thread ), variety (consequences when appearances are deceiving , fatal comeback ), marketing (consequences of a thoroughly motivated death ), psychology (consequences of murder according to a prescription , sleep that never ends ) and again and again the media area consisting of print (episode write or die ), radio (episode fatal shots on the answering machine ) and television (episodes of self-directed murder, double blow, murder in the bistro ).

Most of the time, as cosmopolitans, the murderers drive models of upscale European car brands and are out and about in a Rolls-Royce , a Mercedes- Benz or a Jaguar , for example . If the vehicle in question has parallels to Columbo's car (body shape, tires, origin), he compares or praises it. Columbo's Peugeot convertible motivates the perpetrators to make derogatory remarks; in later episodes it is also praised as a rare classic car. The appearance in the old private car also triggers the perpetrator's feeling that he is not dealing with a competent or influential investigator.

Sometimes Columbo uses the condition of his car for criminal purposes: he takes the perpetrator with him in the car, fakes a breakdown on the way and uses the situation for an extensive interrogation. Or he asks to be taken by the perpetrator in his car. In episode 41, Age Doesn't Protect Against Murder , Columbo even drives the perpetrator's car, a Rolls-Royce, at his request.

The cultured, mostly well-dressed perpetrators usually treat the unkempt, absent-minded inspector patronizing, condescending and arrogant, which does not prevent Columbo from treating them with imperturbable courtesy (“I'm really sorry to have to bother you again, sir , but …"). Initially, the perpetrators often enjoy their superiority because they believe they have succeeded in luring the inspector on the wrong track. You are glad that a seemingly incompetent police officer took over the case. Hoping to get rid of Columbo quickly, the perpetrators willingly answer his often strange questions. In order to appear unsuspicious, they often explain to the inspector that his visit is always welcome, which of course is not true. Later they are so unnerved by his constant visits that they often explicitly reject him from the house.

Columbo's “conversations”, which are actually interrogations, serve on the one hand to obtain information, but on the other hand also to make the perpetrator more and more insecure and to panic more and more. Attempts to get rid of the inspector harshly or to dispel incriminating suspicions are unsuccessful, since the killer is ultimately inferior to Columbo's perseverance and keen intellect. Although the inspector is becoming increasingly a nuisance to them, the perpetrators have long been convinced that they can continue to deceive him or lure him on the wrong track.

Meanwhile, Columbo tirelessly searches for the crucial weak point in the plan or in the personality of the perpetrator, which enables him to convict him. In some episodes, the perpetrator commits a second murder to get rid of a pesky confidante. When Columbo has finally cornered the murderer, the latter, in his helplessness, often reacts with biting mockery to the inspector's statements in order to portray them as particularly nonsensical. As a rule, Columbo does not allow himself to be carried away with violent reactions. However, when he is mocked by the perpetrator (played by Leonard Nimoy ) in episode 15, Two Lives on a Thread , he slams a heavy object on his desk and, visibly annoyed, accuses him of murder.

Often the cornered killer is forced to take a thoughtless act, for example to destroy evidence. Columbo, however, foresaw this step and set a trap for the perpetrator so that he could finally be convicted. In the end, the inspector usually confronts the perpetrator with a brilliant conclusion or surprising evidence, finally breaking his resistance and getting a confession from him. In Episode 9 A monument for eternity succeeds Columbo even the perpetrator during removal of the corpse of the victim in the act to catch. Sometimes the inspector promises the already completely exasperated perpetrators that this is now guaranteed to be his last visit - which is also true, since Columbo arrested the murderer only a few minutes later.

While the inspector builds a primarily tactical and manipulative relationship with the perpetrators, he always shows genuine compassion for the bereaved relatives of the victims and appears clearly affected when they express their pain. In this context, he also ignores minor crimes (“I'm not from the theft department”) or ignores a non-existent alibi (“If my wife committed a murder, she would have a better alibi”). In many cases, the inspector also seems to have compassion for the perpetrators, as in some ways they themselves appear to be suffering victims.

Columbo never triumphs when he has solved a case, but usually appears thoughtful and melancholy. He treats the perpetrators with respect, but remains an incorruptible investigator who almost invariably brings them to justice (in “Fatal Comeback” it remains open whether the perpetrator will be held responsible in this way). Since he does not carry a service weapon himself, he occasionally calls in armed officials to accompany him during the arrest - but only if there is a risk of escape or Columbo considers the perpetrator to be dangerous. In many cases he leads the murderer himself away without any threat of violence.

Recurring elements

The series has some recurring elements, many of which are used for running gags .

The raincoat and the rest of the wardrobe

You can't overlook Inspector Columbo's crumpled beige raincoat , which he almost always wears despite the Californian climate - the original belonged to Peter Falk and was worn by him because he was cold in the very first episode. Incidentally, the coat is not a trench coat in the narrower sense and is usually referred to as a raincoat in English . The raincoat became the inspector's trademark. Under him, he usually wears an ill-fitting suit in a kind of gray-pink that also looks wrinkled and faded. In almost every episode, the cloakroom became more and more subliminally an issue. The many pockets offer a confusing jungle in which Columbo lavishly searches for his ID card, notepad, pen, matches or other things such as evidence at least once per episode in order to ultimately find what he is looking for in the last pocket. People around him, such as colleagues, suspects or murderers, are annoyed and impatient to help him out with the object he is looking for. He also likes to pocket borrowed pens and take them with him until the injured party speaks up. With an innocent look, he meekly returns the pen. In a few episodes, he also appears in surprisingly elegant evening wear, if the occasion calls for it.

Columbos footwear corresponds to the condition of his other wardrobe. The brown shoes he usually wears look dirty and scuffed, which is particularly evident when he puts his foot on the perpetrator's desk in episode 26 Money, Power and Muscles to give a monologue about tying shoelaces .

Numerous gags refer to the appearance of the inspector. For example, when he was investigating a Christian homeless mission - overtired, unshaven and in a wrinkled coat - a friendly nun mistook him for a clochard and served him a free meal. When he visits an exclusive tailor from whom he hopes to get important information, he initially pretends to have a new suit tailored; the snobbish tailor reacts arrogantly. In episode 36 If Appearances are Deceptive , he surprisingly turns up with a chic new coat that his wife gave him. After a short while he takes off the unfamiliar item of clothing (“I can't think in this coat.”) And later switches back to his usual raincoat.

The Peugeot

At the scene of the crime, Columbo always drives up with his antiquated car, a Peugeot 403 Cabriolet built in 1959. On the one hand, it is a rare, exclusive car with full equipment (Grande Luxe Cabriolet), on the other hand, with minor accidental damage, dull paint and missing attachments, it is almost ripe for scrap. Columbo says he likes the car, invests in its technology and also turns out lucrative offers to swap the car. The gray car is the cause of numerous gags - when Columbo, for example, investigates in a film studio, the vehicle is mistaken for a stunt car that is about to be scrapped.

In another episode, the inspector gets into a traffic control. The traffic police are not impressed by Columbo's ID card and hand him a long list of repairs that he has to have carried out within two weeks (for example, the wiper blade is missing on one of the windshield wipers). When Columbo drives up to a junkyard where a dead man was found, it is assumed that he wants to deliver the old Peugeot there. As the series continues, the condition of the car deteriorates (the nameplate is missing later), alleged misfires are recorded. If he has the car repaired in a workshop, he is presented with a hefty bill.

Once the inspector explains to a suspect who proudly drives a Jaguar E-Type that he himself would also drive an open roadster made in Europe. The suspect is initially impressed - until he sees the unkempt Peugeot.

Only 2043 units of the Cabriolet version of the Peugeot 403 were built. In this respect, the appearance of this car in an American series was also a surprise for the manufacturer.

Columbo is not the best driver. He causes multiple rear-end collisions and one of them is whiplashed, which means that he has to wear a neck brace. It also happens that he exceeds the speed limit or pushes other road users away due to his risky driving style.


Statues of Peter Falk as Columbo and his dog in Budapest , Hungary

The inspector's loyal companion is his basset hound called "Hund", who usually remains lethargic in the car while Columbo investigates. However, it can also happen that the basset hound disturbs Columbo's conversations by constantly barking, which gets on his nerves. The inspector then "threatens" the dog that he would give him to the animal shelter.

Although Columbo regularly scolds the dog and describes it as "conceited", for example, he obviously loves the animal very much. For example, when the basset hound is being treated by a veterinarian, the inspector is extremely concerned and worried about the animal's health. Dog therapy to strengthen the Basset's psyche fails. When the inspector talks about the Basset with experts - for example with veterinarians or dog trainers - their assessment of the animal is usually unflattering. The basset is then considered a hopeless case. It also happens that Columbo carries the lethargic animal.

As a proud dog owner, Columbo likes to explain the special characteristics of the animal ("He loves to watch the ships"). This also means that the dog does not come when he is called. According to Columbo, one of the reasons why the dog has no name and is only called "dog". He explains this to a highly gifted child in the episode Devilish Intelligence (the dog doesn't care about the name, "if he doesn't want to, he won't come anyway."). Precisely because "dog" usually ignores the inspector's commands, in episode 16 chess he gives the murderer the decisive clue to convict the perpetrator. The basset does not appear in every episode.

Mrs. Columbo and other relatives

Columbo also speaks very often about his wife, whom he sometimes calls "my wife", sometimes "Mrs. Columbo ”, which the viewer never gets to see. Occasionally he phones her, as in episode 26 (Money, Power and Muscles) , to talk about everyday matters like choosing dinner. In the course of the series, the viewer receives so much information about Mrs. Columbo, the truth of which remains doubtful. But Columbo actually seems to be married: In episode 29 (Dream Ship of Death) , the Columbo couple go on a cruise together , which promptly leads to a murder, which the inspector is investigating. This episode humorously addresses the fact that Mrs. Columbo is always where her husband is not. When looking for her, he describes his wife's appearance to the helpful ship's crew as a dark-haired person with a bun and as a little smaller than Columbo himself, whereupon the ship's crew can remember her. In episode 34 (Death on the Beach) , Columbos house is bugged by a CIA agent; the latter later reported to the inspector about the conversations he had with his wife, which he had eavesdropped on.

Inspector Columbo often pretends in his investigations in the mostly distinguished milieu that his wife is an enthusiastic supporter of the protagonist, against whom Columbo is currently investigating. Be it the books of the relevant authors or the films of greats from the television or film business, the music of musicians or composers or even just the biscuits from a suspect's biscuit factory; Mrs. Columbo is almost always an avid fan of the products of those her husband is investigating.

Other relatives who Columbo regularly mentions to suspects and whom he claims to have given him valuable information on certain topics also remain “invisible” (“You know, my brother-in-law has a car repair shop, and he told me ...”). It is not clear whether these people even exist, as figures from Columbo's private environment are never shown. The only exception is one of his nephews - also a police officer: in episode 60 (blood wedding ) , his bride is kidnapped the night after the wedding, when Columbo was also present as a guest. Through the episode Aschenpuzzle there is at least the indication that Columbo only developed this phrase with relatives to initiate an interrogation harmlessly, because here Columbo names his cousin on his father's side as a source of information about places and connections between people. In a scene a few minutes earlier, however, the viewer could see that the inspector had received this information from an ordinary taxi driver.

As a result, Rest in peace, Mrs. Columbo gives the inspector a photograph of his sister than his wife out; the viewer learns this at the end of a phone call with Mrs. Columbo.

The perpetrator hunt / The black notebook

In almost every episode, Columbo ends a conversation with the murderer and says goodbye to him, but then turns around at the door. With an apologetic remark ("Terrible, how forgetful I am ...") he explains that he has "one more small question", "nothing important ... just for the report". The perpetrator is suddenly torn from his relief and suddenly confronted with crucial information, which drives him further into a corner and panic.

To write down important information, Columbo uses a small black notepad that can be opened upwards. When talking to the perpetrator, he often finds the perpetrator awkwardly out of one of his countless coat, jacket or trouser pockets; sometimes he doesn't seem to find him at first. Then, in search of the important question that preoccupies him, he flips through the pad, often absent-mindedly, on which he apparently leaves notes in a chaotic manner. These small delays put stress on the nerves of the perpetrator, who is keen to learn what knowledge and information Columbo has. Sometimes Columbo carries a crumpled, dirty-looking paper bag with him, from which he takes evidence, which he then discusses with the perpetrator.

If the inspector has confronted the perpetrator with an open question that preoccupies him, the murderer often provides him with a seemingly plausible answer, which of course should strengthen his alibi or divert suspicion from him. Columbo is initially satisfied with the corresponding theory (“That's how it will have been”); it often seems a bit embarrassing to him that he did not come to this conclusion himself (“Why didn't I come up with it myself?”). The perpetrator's relief usually does not last long, because just seconds later Columbo presents a new finding that makes it clear that the solution that the murderer presented is not consistent.

Since the perpetrators knew of course that there would be police investigations, some of them had already prepared fake evidence before the murder, which should lead the investigators on the wrong track, for example to convince them that, for example, a burglar or a mafia -Killer committed the murder. Columbo usually sees through these diversionary maneuvers quickly.

A running gag of the series is that Columbo is called at the places where he is investigating, from other police stations that he has commissioned with certain investigations. On the phone, Columbo discusses the status of the investigation - within earshot of the perpetrator - and thereby gives the perpetrator targeted information that induces him to carry out further cover-ups, which then leads him into the trap. In the episode Two Lives on a Thread this running gag is varied, here Columbo is called out in the hospital because he is requested on the phone.

Wealth and culture

The Stahl House served as a film set for the pilot episode Murder by Prescription in 1968 .

Columbo almost always investigates the world of the successful and well-off and regularly visits the perpetrators in their feudal residences. The inspector, who looks like a foreign body in this environment, is mostly fascinated by the unrestrained wealth of the perpetrators and flatters them. He is apparently enthusiastic about the abilities and professional successes of the perpetrators, who usually occupy a prominent position in their area of ​​expertise. Conversely, the perpetrators treat Columbo mockingly and condescendingly when he tries his hand at their area of ​​expertise. In episode 27, snapshots for eternity, for example, the inspector investigates a successful photographer and presents him with shaky and blurred photos that he has taken himself. According to the photographer, these are "the worst photos [he] has ever seen".

Columbo is not at home in a cultivated environment, as, for example, his visit to a gallery shows, in which he expresses his lack of understanding of modern works of art and even considers the fan of an air conditioning system to be one. He mentions that his wife does “ painting by numbers ”, which triggers a piquant reaction from the gallery owner. The displayed naivety or down-to-earth attitude is rarely questioned.

Melody This old man

Different music is used in the individual episodes, some of them specially composed pieces, often classical music. The only constantly recurring element - at least once in almost every episode - is the melody of the folk and children's song This old man , which is often whistled by Columbo himself.

Other habits

From a culinary point of view, Columbo's taste is very simple - when shown at a meal, for example, he often consumes a serving of chilli , which he likes to eat at a dingy diner called Barney’s . Although Bert, the owner of the snack bar and a World War II veteran, likes to show him the menu, he knows that the inspector basically only orders chili, which the inspector then seems to be a bit embarrassed about. When he meets a perpetrator in a fine restaurant, he orders chili there too. Columbo also likes to eat hamburgers, sandwiches or sausages and repeatedly reveals himself to be a lover of a down-to-earth, not very refined food culture. In episode 42 Murder à la carte, however, he investigates the gastronomic milieu and takes special delicacies with great pleasure in almost every scene; On top of that, he proves to be an excellent cook who ultimately even boils the murderer and convicts him in the process.

In some episodes, Columbo proves to be an excellent billiard player, who sinks several balls in a row with a dreamlike security.

As a result, Weapons of Evil Columbo defeats the main suspect at darts, which he does not expect. Columbo explains that he often played darts with one of his superiors.

Columbo smokes cheap cigars, is occasionally unpleasant due to the special smoke development and is then reprimanded (for example in a beauty salon). When a doctor urgently advises him to give up his unhealthy habit, the inspector gives up cigars for a short time and appears depressed.

The running gags and the special characteristics of the Columbo figure were only developed gradually, which is why Columbo still looks relatively average, especially in the very first episodes. In later episodes, Peter Falk and the authors and directors increasingly emphasized the eccentric features of the inspector.

Self-irony of the production

In the episode Devilish Intelligence from 1973, public criticism is addressed for the first time and processed in film. While the advancement of technology with programmable telephones and mini-tape recorders arrived in American society, Columbo's continued use of an old notepad was criticized. In this episode, the notepad was replaced by a mini tape, and throughout the episode it was humorously demonstrated that the tape recorder is unsuitable for the type of investigation Columbo, e.g. B. when the inspector wanted to ask a suspect a question that he had spoken on the tape. Because of the sequential storage, he couldn't find the question right away and instead acted out how he scolded his dog.

Especially the late episodes (of the 90s) repeatedly show self-deprecating allusions: for example in the episode The Forgotten Dead , in which Columbo takes the criticism of the series with regard to the old-fashioned narrative style without action scenes and explosions or quick changes of perspective of the cameras and with a director , the murderer, is very reflective and almost submissive, discussing his profession and his demeanor precisely according to these aspects. The director almost raves about Columbo and his remarks about his typical criminal activities, so that Columbo becomes suspicious and chases after him. At the end of the episode, Columbo stages himself as a director when he presents the solution to the case and the conviction of the perpetrator in Universal Studios (where the series was actually shot), or in Deadly War Games, in the last shot military " sandpit " can be seen - in the midst of the tin soldiers a true-to-scale Columbo figure including a raincoat.

In the episode Ash Puzzle , the initials S. B. are entered in the victim's calendar on the day of death . Columbo asks the perpetrator what that could mean, and he then lists celebrities with these initials, including the early Columbo author Steven Bochco. The inspector is very impressed with the name, so it seems like he has something to say to everyone.

Action concept

Conviction of the perpetrator

In contrast to many classic thrillers, in which the identity of the murderer is only revealed at the end of the plot (" Whodunit "), the viewer of Columbo - with a few exceptions - receives knowledge of murder and murder at the beginning of each episode ( inverted detective story , also Howcatchem - in English How to catch him ? , also called How can you catch him? ). As a rule, the viewer is informed in detail about the life circumstances of the murderer and his motives.

Many of the perpetrators act out of greed for money (for example, to take on an inheritance) or because they want to eliminate people who have incriminating information about them or who stand in their way professionally. Since the preparations and the course of events are also described in detail, the viewer initially knows a lot more about the murder than the inspector. At Columbo, the tension does not result from the question of who the inspector identifies as the perpetrator, but from how he brings him down. The ingenious murder plans are usually designed in such a way that they initially appear conclusive to the viewer. Only through Columbo's investigations and his astute insights does the viewer then become aware of which important details the perpetrator did not pay attention to.

There are very few episodes in which Columbo lets the perpetrator escape, as in Fatal Comeback with Janet Leigh , or in which the killer surrenders even though the inspector has no proof ( The Dead in the Electric Blanket with Faye Dunaway).

Plot structure and dramaturgy

The dramaturgy of many of the episodes is laid out in such a way that the murder occurs after about a quarter of the plot time, the viewer knows the murderer and his motives and Columbo only then steps in at the beginning of the second act. In the first half of the second act, that is to say about the middle of the film, the perpetrator enjoys his apparent superiority over the quirky, often a little silly Columbo (in one episode he confuses the room door with the closet door).

In the second half of the second act, the perpetrator finally realizes that he is dealing with a highly dangerous opponent in Columbo's case and often tries - and in increasing panic - to confuse him with false leads or clues. In the third act (approximately during the last 15 to 20 minutes) the inspector then takes the final blow and prepares, for example, a clever deception that forces the perpetrator to take a thoughtless action that exposes him. Columbo is not squeamish and confronts the perpetrator with manipulated evidence in order to lure him out of the reserve.

Columbo usually suspects or knows very early on who committed the murder, and often at the very beginning comes across incriminating evidence that points to the perpetrator. In most of the episodes he therefore focuses - which is certainly not realistic, but essential for dramaturgical reasons - on the right suspect almost from the start and only has to obtain the necessary evidence to finally be able to prove the crime to him. He rarely investigates other suspects; if at all, these are only sparsely indicated.

Deviations from the scheme

Some episodes deviate from the usual pattern. There is no murder in Blood Wedding ; instead, Columbo's intervention prevents the act. In The Old Man and Death , the viewer only learns the identity of the murderer towards the end. In Whoever Laughs Last ... the murder is initially only faked to increase the circulation of a magazine, but is carried out towards the end. And in A Sparrow in the Hand someone beats the murderer watched by the audience; he himself becomes the second victim. The episode Fatal Comeback is the only one in which Columbo does not arrest the perpetrator after learning that she only has a few weeks to live. In the episode The Dead in the Electric Blanket , Columbo lets the accomplice go in return for a comprehensive confession from her mother (played by Faye Dunaway ). In the episode Murder à la carte , the viewer only learns at the very end how the murderer took the last decisive action to kill the victim.

Logic instead of action and violence

With his purely logic-based way of solving cases, Inspector Columbo is in the tradition of detectives such as Sherlock Holmes , Maigret or Köster . With the Columbo character, the filmmakers set themselves apart from crime series with the protagonist's macho attitude.

Violence in Columbo usually only occurs when the murders are carried out. However, this almost always happens outside of the picture. Physical violence or blood are hardly shown. The ruthlessness and brutality with which the killers proceed stand in sharp contrast to their cultured demeanor. Unlike most crime series, there are no shootings or fights in Columbo . Chases or other action sequences are also not part of the repertoire of the series, which is instead characterized by many dialogue scenes. Since Columbo regularly has long "conversations" with the perpetrators, there is always a battle of intellectual strength between the astute inspector and the - mostly educated and eloquent - murderers.

Unlike most crime heroes, Inspector Columbo never has to shoot or fight - especially since he is physically not particularly impressive and is also not in good shape. When, in episode 26 Money, Power and Muscles, he has to expose a well-trained fitness trainer as a murderer, the latter invites him to a short sprint, at the end of which the inspector is completely exhausted. In the same episode, he fails trying to lift a heavy dumbbell.

Columbo does not carry a service weapon contrary to the regulations, but is very rarely threatened with a weapon by the perpetrators - especially since these are never professional criminals who are used to handling firearms, but rather members of the "better society" who committed an act of violence for the first time. (Columbo almost never investigates in the typical underworld environment.) In the 7th episode, Steps from the Shadows , Columbo is threatened with a gun by the perpetrator after he has exposed her, but can persuade the woman to give up (“We have too much for that Format."). Also in episode 63 fatal shots on the answering machine , the perpetrator uses his weapon after his exposure, but does not even manage to put it on the inspector because this police colleague comes to the rescue. In episode 42 Murder à la Carte , the perpetrator wants to kill him with a poisoned wine (like the victim), which the vigilant inspector foresees.

Columbo is a bad shot ("If I stand on the bank, I won't hit the water.") And hates weapons. For more than ten years, he refused the mandatory weapon training at the police's shooting range so stubbornly that he was even threatened with suspension. To avoid gun training, he even went so far as to give a colleague his ID card and ask him to drive to the shooting range in his place. In the 30th episode, Playback , he fires a gun into a sandpit with visible reluctance. Columbo is also afraid of flying and heights and cannot see blood.

Usually Columbo remains almost imperturbably calm. Even when he is sent around the bureaucracy in money, power and muscles , he is exasperated but does not scold. Only in the early episodes Murder by Prescription and Ransom for a Dead person and in Sleep That Never Ends is it loud for a brief moment. He reacts most strongly in Zwei Leben on a thread when he hits a thermos on the table with great force in front of the laughing perpetrator.

Columbos biography

Columbo was born and raised in New York City . Located near Chinatown , the household housed the grandfather, parents, five brothers, and his sister. His parents had Italian ancestors. Columbo himself speaks fluent Italian ("Death on the Beach"). In the episode 41 Age Protects Against Murder , he tells that his parents have died. Although Columbo's information about his relatives is otherwise dubious, it is evident in this scene that he is telling the truth.

Columbo's first name is never mentioned in the series, and there was never a given name. When he is under pressure from time to time to give his first name, he says "Inspector". In the episode The Devil's Corporal , Colonel Rumford, played by Patrick McGoohan, offers him a cigar and then asks him directly if he has a first name, to which Columbo replies that it is, but only his wife uses it. With the release of the DVD version of the episode Murder under Six Eyes , the name became known: In the scene when Columbo introduces himself to the murderer Hollister, the signature “Frank Columbo” can be clearly seen on his ID card. The first name “Frank” can also be clearly read on the ID card in the episode Blood Red Dust - Columbo has to show his papers to a traffic policeman because he caused a rear-end collision in Mexico. There is also a photo of the much younger, around 30-year-old Columbo on the police ID.

He met his future wife when he was actually dating a girl named Teresa in high school. In the series, however, his wife never appears, but only in the offshoot Kate Loves a Mystery (dt. Mrs. Columbo ). In this short-lived series, Kate Mulgrew (later known as Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Spaceship Voyager ) played Columbo's wife. The promise made repeatedly that Peter Falk would make guest appearances there was not kept. The series offshoot flopped in the US and was discontinued after 13 episodes; the series was not broadcast in Germany.

After serving as a cook in the Army in the Korean War , Columbo went to the New York Police Department, where he was assigned to the 12th Police District. In 1958 he moved to Los Angeles.

In the episode Etude in Black (1972) Columbo claims to earn $ 11,000 a year.

Whether the Columbos have children remains unclear: in episode 19 wine is thicker than blood, his wife cannot come to dinner because her babysitter has no time; he also mentions that he had a picnic with his wife and child the previous Sunday. In episode 17, Double Strike , Columbo visits Las Vegas for the first time with a suspect and tells him that two years ago he talked to his wife about a trip to Las Vegas, but she decided to go to Disney Land because of the children . In episode 23, Devilish Intelligence, there is talk of two children, in episode 53, quiet, gentle, but Mrs. Columbo is told that they have none. However, they have a nephew, at whose wedding the bride is kidnapped (episode 60 Blood Wedding ).

Columbo is fluent in Italian (including Fatal Jackpot and Murder à la Carte ). When Italian native speakers explicitly ask him to speak Italian to them, he refuses. On the other hand, he helps in fluent Italian if those present are not proficient in English. He does not get involved in superficial fraternization scenes, but shows himself to be a connoisseur of Italian culture and way of life. For example, he identifies an exclusive cheese on the table next to the corpse and offers it to colleagues at the scene, cooks Italian food or talks shop about Italian wines.

Guest stars and directors of the series

The roles of the perpetrators were mostly with well-known film and TV actors like Martin Landau , Robert Vaughn , Ray Milland , Theodore Bikel , Laurence Harvey , Vincent Price , José Ferrer , Dick van Dyke , Patrick Bauchau , Richard Basehart , Louis Jourdan , Eddie Albert , Robert Conrad , Clive Revill , Richard Kiley , Robert Foxworth , Rip Torn , David Rasche , Dabney Coleman , Billy Connolly or Ricardo Montalbán . In 1974 the singer Johnny Cash played the role of the murderer in the episode Schwanengesang - also a singer - and sings several well-known songs. Leonard Nimoy appeared as an unscrupulous surgeon in the episode Two Lives by a Thread . Donald Pleasence played the murderer in the episode Wine Is Thicker Than Blood . And Oskar Werner makes a remarkable appearance as a technically extremely well-versed, but very brutal criminal in the episode Playback (one of Peter Falk's favorite episodes, as well as the aforementioned episode Wine is thicker than blood ).

The female perpetrators were u. a. by Honor Blackman (age does not protect against folly) , Trish Van Devere (self-directed murder), Susan Clark (steps from the shadows), Faye Dunaway (The Dead in the Electric Blanket), Janet Leigh (Fatal Comeback), Vera Miles ( A Touch of Murder), Joyce van Patten (Murder at the burglary), Anne Baxter (Gossip can be fatal), Ruth Gordon (Age doesn't protect against murder), Tyne Daly (A sparrow in your hand), Helen Shaver (calm down, Mrs. Columbo), Lindsay Crouse (Black Lady) or Lee Grant (ransom for a dead person) .

Patrick McGoohan has served regularly as an actor, director, and co-producer on the series. He himself appeared as a perpetrator in four episodes, in The Devil's Corporal , Death on the Beach , Murder by Appointment and The Ash Puzzle . Robert Culp is seen in the episodes Murder with the Left Hand , When the Iceman Comes and A Thoroughly Motivated Murder as a murderer and in Lucifer's pupil as the lawyer and father of the perpetrator. Jack Cassidy played the villain three times between 1971 and 1976 (the actor died in 1976). William Shatner played the murderer in Murder in the Bistro and Gunshots on the Answering Machine and George Hamilton in The Sleep That Never Ends and The First and Last Murders .

Many supporting roles were also prominently cast. Don Ameche played a lawyer in Pastel Murder . In Death Symphony , Jamie Lee Curtis was seen as a bad-tempered waitress. Leslie Nielsen starred in the episode Steps Out of the Shadows and Death on the Beach . Rod Steiger played as Vincenzo Fortelli a kind of mafioso in Stranger Bettgesellen . Dana Elcar , a Texas wine expert, appeared in the episode Wine Is Thicker Than Blood . Kim Cattrall was seen in the episode Murder by Phone as a student, Martin Sheen in 1973 in the episode A Touch of Murder as a victim. Little Richard has a brief guest appearance as a musician in Tödliche Liebe , Rue McClanahan in Das Aschenpuzzle , Walter Koenig in Mord im Bistro (in which he, known as Lt. Pavel Chekov from Spaceship Enterprise , plays a detective and that of William Shatner aka Enterprise - Cpt. James T. Kirk must help convict the murderer), and Patrick Macnee plays the captain of the dream ship of death . In Chess the Murderer , Heidi Brühl played the role of carer for the Russian chess genius Tomlin Dudek. Peter Falk's wife, Shera Danese , appeared in six episodes of the series. Bruce Kirby completed a total of nine Columbo episodes appearances, in six episodes of which he played Columbo's assistant Sergeant George Kramer. Tyne Daly joins - as do Joyce van Patten , Dabney Coleman , Ray Milland , Ed Begley jr. and Robert Vaughn  - in different episodes, once as a villain and another time in a supporting role. Actors like Fred Draper (who once - in The Old Man and Death  - even mimes the murderer), John Finnegan , Vito Scotti or John Dehner were part of the "supporting roles" inventory of the series and each played in several episodes in different roles .

Among the directors of the series was Steven Spielberg , who staged episode 3 Deadly Separation at the very beginning of his career . Later Hollywood director Jonathan Demme ( The Silence of the Lambs ) directed episode 42 Mord à la Carte . Leo Penn directed episode 19 Wine is thicker than blood . In 1972 John Cassavetes co-directed the episode Etude in Black , in which he was also seen as Columbo's antagonist. Cassavetes and Peter Falk were close friends and also worked together on several films. Falk himself staged episode 9 A monument for eternity .

Columbo in German-speaking countries

Broadcasting and synchronization

The first Columbo film Murder by Prescription was broadcast on October 11, 1969 on First German Television ; the second pilot film Ransom for a Dead followed on May 17, 1973. Uwe Friedrichsen was used as the German voice actor for Peter Falk in both cases .

Between December 1973 and March 1974, Bayerischer Rundfunk showed six films from the first season that were edited by Lingua Film GmbH in Munich. Klaus Schwarzkopf took over the synchronization of Columbo and shaped this role for the next 18 years.

The first German television broadcast the series on February 27, 1975 for the first time across Germany. By October 21, 1984, 29 of the 45 films made up to that point were shown; further films should only edit RTL . The dubbed versions were made in the Hamburg studio . Eight films had been shortened or changed by up to ten minutes compared to the original version; 21 films corresponded to the original.

In 1989, the first four films of the second phase were first published in Germany on VHS video cassettes . Hans Sievers spoke Columbo in these films.

From April 30, 1991, RTL first showed the then new films from the second phase. For the first broadcast on television, RTL had the four films originally released on video reworked and replaced Hans Sievers with Klaus Schwarzkopf, who could also be heard in the other six films broadcast in 1991. After his death in 1991, Claus Biederstaedt took over the synchronization of Columbo in three new films as well as in the 16 episodes of the first phase, which had not been dubbed by ARD until then. All dubbed versions were made in the Alster Studios in Hamburg.

As early as 1992 Columbo got another voice with Horst Sachtleben , which he kept until the end of the series. Neue Tonfilm in Munich was now responsible for editing the films . Sachtleben also spoke Falk in eight episodes from the 1970s that RTL had re-dubbed because the original ARD dubbed versions were shortened. Thus, in 1992, uncut German versions of almost all films were available. Oskar Werner , who played the murderer in Playback (30), and Heidi Brühl , who appeared in chess the murderer , received new voices through the new synchronization ( Miguel Herz-Kestranek and Eva Kinsky ). In the ARD version, both had synchronized themselves.

The series runs regularly on channels such as Super RTL , RTL Nitro , ORF eins (Austria, until 2012), ORF 2 or 3 Plus (Switzerland, until 2011) and has thus been broadcast or repeated continuously since the mid-1970s. In December 2014, the broadcast on ZDFneo began - here the new HD master was used for the first time , but broadcast in (upscaled) standard definition - as in December 2018 when the broadcast on SAT.1 Gold began . In addition, the series will be in January 2015, the Pay TV transmitter TNT series aired.

The episode Tödliche Kriegsspiele has been broadcast on German television for several years in the subsequently shortened video dubbed version with Hans Sievers and was also released on DVD. Only the ORF broadcasts the uncut version with Klaus Schwarzkopf. In other episodes, too, there are now small cuts compared to the original full versions.

speaker first phase second phase
Klaus Schwarzkopf 27 (of which 8 1 were re-dubbed with Sachtleben) 10 (to 55 "Nobody dies twice")
Claus Biederstaedt 16 03 (up to 58 "Deadly Love")
Horst Sachtleben 08 1 (RTL new synchro of shortened ARD episodes) 11 (from 59 "Deadly Jackpot")
Uwe Friedrichsen 02 -
Hans Sievers - 04 (video version, all dubbed with Schwarzkopf)

1murder privately ; 10  Etude in Black (ARD had dubbed the 70-minute version and had it slightly shortened); 11  flowers of evil ; 14  Gossip can kill , 16  chess to the murderer ; 30  Playback , 36  When appearances are deceptive , 43  Murder on your own

DVDs and Blu-rays

DVD box with all seasons
DVD publications

Between 2005 and 2012, all episodes appeared in nine season boxes (see below). Some of the individual episodes were published in a minimally abbreviated form, since the German master's was used from the third season. In this edition, it was also criticized that some scenes in the first two seasons were offered without German sound, but only with German subtitles, although a German version was available. The episode Deadly War Games was also only released in the subsequently shortened video dubbing on DVD.

  • Season 1 was released on March 17, 2005
  • Season 2 was released on October 18, 2005
  • Season 3 was released on October 30, 2006
  • Season 4 was released on February 22, 2007
  • Season 5 was released on August 21, 2007
  • Seasons 6 and 7 came out in a box on October 25, 2007
  • Season 8 was released on February 14, 2008
  • Season 9 was released on October 13, 2011
  • Season 10 was released on February 16, 2012.

The DVDs are also available in Germany in two complete boxes. The standard version is delivered in a cardboard box, while the limited version consists of a decorative wooden box with a multi-sided leaflet.

Blu-ray release

The Devil's Corporal episode starring Patrick McGoohan was released individually on Blu-ray by Koch Media . Only in Japan has the complete series by Universal Pictures Japan been released on Blu-ray as a complete box. This contains both the Japanese and English soundtracks.



Golden Globe Awards


  • 1972 Best TV Actor Peter Falk, Drama (Columbo)


  • 1971 Best Television Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1973 Best Television Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1974 Best Television Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1975 Best Television Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1977 Best Television Actor, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1990 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1991 Best Actor in a TV Movie, Drama (Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star)
  • 1993 Best Actor in a TV Movie, Drama (Columbo: It's All In the Game)
Emmy Awards


  • 1971 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1974 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1974 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Episode of a Television Series (Columbo: Double Exposure)
  • 1975 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1990 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo: Agenda for Murder)


  • 1960 Best Supporting Actor in a Solo Show (The Law and Mr Jones: Cold Turkey)
  • 1972 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1973 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1976 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1977 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo)
  • 1991 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star)
  • 1993 Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama (Columbo: It's All In the Game)


  • Armin Block, Stefan Fuchs: Columbo. The big book for fans: Everything about the longest-serving television inspector in the world. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 978-3-89602-167-0 .
  • Armin Block, Stefan Fuchs: Columbo: "Oh, wait a minute, there is one more little thing ..." Extended new edition. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-89602-767-2 .
  • Peter Falk: Just One More Thing: Stories from My Life. Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York 2007, ISBN 978-0-7867-1939-6 (English).
  • Uwe Killing: Peter Falk or the art of being Columbo. Osburg Verlag, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-95510-103-9 .
  • Michael Striss: Columbo. The man of many questions. Analysis and interpretation of a cult figure. Büchner-Verlag, Marburg 2019, 512 pages, ISBN 978-3-96317-176-5 .


  • Peter Falk versus Columbo. TV documentary, France 2015.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Falk: Columbo. In: Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Accessed April 20, 2019 .
  2. Geoff Tibballds: The boxtree Encyclopedia of TV detectives. Boxtree Limited, London 1992, ISBN 1-85283-129-4 , p. 98 (English). Note: The source writes of a "police inspector" at Dostoyevsky, but the figure is actually an examining magistrate.
  3. Columbo US Police Drama. ( Memento of August 4, 2011 in the Internet Archive ). In: - The Museum of Broadcast Communications (mbc). Accessed April 20, 2019.
  4. Uwe Killing: One more small question - How Peter Falk became Columbo. In: Spiegel Online. April 11, 2016, accessed April 20, 2019 .
  5. PENTHOUSE - November 2003. On:
  6. “People identify with Columbo.” On: Interview.
  7. ^ What Kind of Car Did Columbo Drive? On:
  8. American murder hunter with the voice of the crime scene inspector. On:
  9. Columbo in German - The Synchro History. On:
  10. Columbo. Episode guide. On: