Thursday, 9 July 2015

Columbo: Identity Crisis

I find that this is only the second episode of Columbo I’ve blogged about here, and for the same reason I wrote about the first: for the sake of the guest villain, in this case Patrick McGoohan. I realised I hadn’t seen any of the Columbo episodes in which McGoohan guest stars, and found the box set for a song. In case I should be seen to damn with faint praise, perhaps I had better just observe that I rarely watch Columbo, so the fact that I have made a point of writing about two episodes for the sake of the guest stars, isn’t really an indictment of the series, more an indication of my interests.
I am very interested to see how McGoohan – notorious for being temperamental, overpowering and difficult – plays his part in this episode. I started off thinking that he would be overpowering, just by his sheer presence in the opening scenes in comparison to Leslie Nielsen, himself no bit-part actor. As the episode goes on I was relieved to find McGoohan becoming more subtle in his portrayal and even taking a back seat in comparison to Peter Falk. I would be interested to know how an American would see McGoohan’s accent in this show. As an Irish-American he was of course capable of speaking English with a number of different accents, and to me as a British English speaker, his accent here sounds to become more transatlantic as the show goes on. At the beginning he sounds like Number 6, and ends up sounding like John Drake in the more American-leaning Danger Man episodes. Of course this is only how it sounds to me, which is why I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions.
He even says ‘Be seeing you’ once. I find it interesting that I have found several references to the Prisoner-esque overtones of this show. To me they are confined to that one phrase, McGoohan’s accent at the beginning, and the mere fact of him being in this. Perhaps by this time he was so heartily sick of people chewing over The Prisoner ad nauseam that he willingly agreed to this act which is almost saying, ‘Look! We’ve got The Prisoner character playing a baddie!’
Plot-wise, I would say avoid this or don’t watch the first few minutes if you want to work out who did it yourself. If you’re a fan of police procedurals you may like this, although given the show’s premise that the audience knows who did the murder, I think it will be fairly obvious who did it. The things which ultimately give the game away are to my mind plot weaknesses in actual fact. An intelligent man setting up a crime should not leave the obvious clues which give it away: in fact there is no clear reason given why he should have murdered his colleague at all. I like the way McGoohan plays a powerful character, who tries to intimidate Columbo with his connections and overtly tells him that his reasonable detective work is harassment. Obviously these attempts at intimidation are not going to work!
So all in all, an interesting take on McGoohan’s ability as an actor, and an opportunity to see him in a very different role from the angry Prisoner character, but to my mind one for the real Columbo fans.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

I loved him too! He actually says, "Be seeing you" twice!

Cult TV Blog said...

Ah, I stand corrected, and am relieved that what I missed reinforces the impression I got! Glad you liked the show.

James Jumper said...

Says "Be seeing you" twice, wears a jacket much like No.6 had in Village, and the walking across the beach scene by Nielsen was also a Prisoner kind of thing.

Mike Doran said...

Chicago Calling (Hello again!):

Shopping around on your sidebar, I noted that you've written up Columbo a time or two. I just read the top one (I'll get to the other one later), and I have a question:

Are you aware that there were actually two separate runs of Columbo - one in the 1970's, and a later one in the late '80s-early '90s?

All told, Patrick McGoohan appeared in two of the '70s shows (this one was the second), and two in the '80s, four total. Additionally, he directed another '70s Columbo in which he didn't act, as well as both the '90s shows in which he did.
Information I have says that Peter Falk and Patrick McGoohan became tight friends from the outset; by this time, Falk had assumed almost full control of the Columbo production (to the extreme discomfiture of MCA-Universal), and he "clouted" for McGoohan throughout all his appearances.
On one of his Johnny Carson appearances, Falk lauded McGoohan to the skies, saying that if left to him, McGoohan could take over the whole show (words to that effect, anyway). It wouldn't have been that hard - this was about the time that McGoohan had permanently repatriated to the USA - but NBC, Columbo's original carrier, changed management not long after, and ended the '70s run.
When ABC brought Columbo back in the late '80s, Falk was in the driver's seat from the start. McGoohan was reducing his own career at that point, but he always found time for his old friend Falk.
My favorite of McGoohan's Columbos is from the ABC run; he played a Washington DC lawyer who was trying to maneuver a crony into the Vice-Presidential nomination. This was in 1990, between two US Presidential races; given the current scene, you can imagine how this plays over here now (or maybe you wouldn't want to ...).
But that's another story ...

Throughout both runs of Columbo, Peter Falk tried to surround himself with old friends on both sides of the camera, and never more so than when casting the villains; he felt that the cat-and-mouse angle was what the audience was buying - and the long run seemed to show that he was right about that, at least.
We're back to Major Gets here: Columbo's included John Cassevetes, Oskar Werner, Janet Leigh, Maurice Evans*, Nicol Williamson, Ruth Gordon, Vincent Price*, Martin Sheen*, George Hamilton, Faye Dunaway, Rod Steiger* - not all of these MGs played murderers (the starred ones were bystanders), but the show and Falk were enticements in themselves.
I seem to have wandered off the point here, so I'll stand down and regroup for next time.

John said...

And welcome too.
I have to confess I did know that about Columbo! Bizarrely I think I know more about Columbo than The Avengers, purely because my mother had a pash for Peter Falk!