Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Peter Falk, R.I.P.

One more thing. There was always just one more thing with Peter Falk.

Twice he was nominated for Academy Awards for Supporting Actor (Murder, Inc. and Pocketful of Miracles). He could have continued as a supporting actor, he could have made a career of playing the heavy. He was nominated for two Emmys for guest-starring roles in early 60s television, wining one. He could have been a terrific television character actor. His first television series, a lawyer drama called The Trials of O'Brien, was cancelled after one season. He could have hopped from one series to another, ala McLean Stevenson and Robert Urich.

All of these things could have happened, but there was always one more thing.

There was Columbo. This will be his crowing achievement, one of the greatest television characters of all time, with plots that were worthy of his talent, and guest stars who were bigger than the featured stars of most series. The story is that Bing Crosby turned down the chance to play Columbo because it would interfere with his golf game. Bing Crosby would not have done justice to the role, not in the same way that Peter Falk did. It was so successful that, after the original series ended, he came back a few years later and launched another version, and it was a hit, too.

This would have been enough for some actors, but there was always one more thing. He didn't stop making movies. He made The In-Laws with Alan Arkin, and everyone who's seen it seems to have a favorite scene.

Now, a lot of TV stars are able to make a good movie or two - ask Helen Hunt. But there was one more thing.

He had a charming appearance in a very strange movie, Wim Wenders' wonderful Wings of Desire, playing himself as an angel  Yup. But it worked.

He played the grandpa in The Princess Bride. A lot of memorable scenes in that movie. Falk was content to stay in the background. But would there have been a story without him?

As I say, there always seemed to be one more thing with Peter Falk. Just when it would have been easy to remember him as he was, to look back in appreciation at what he had done, he came up with something new. And so, when it came out a year or so ago that he had Alzheimer's, it was a bitter pill: not just because of the personal tragedy, but because this time there wouldn't be one more thing, he wouldn't come back to add another memorable moment to his terrific career.

And so when Peter Falk died last week, it was the end. But, of course, it was also the beginning. Because when you look back at what Peter Falk did, the guest apperances and the movies and Columbo and the rest, you realize that as long as that work exists, as long as you can bring it up on your TV or DVD or laptop, there will always be, after all, one more thing.  

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