Peter Falk’s first nomination for an Academy Award came for his third performance in a feature film in 1960’s “Murder, Inc.”. The very next year he produced a comedic turn as a similar character and received another nomination for Best Supporting Actor in “Pocketful of Miracles”. Not a bad start to a very long career.
It was not a shock, nor a surprise to hear of Peter Falk’s passing on June 23, 2011. But much like my sister’s response when I told her, I too gasped when I first heard the news, saying, “No!” I couldn’t believe it. Of course everyone knew the day was coming. Falk was 83 after all, and had reportedly been ill, having lived with Alzheimer’s disease for some time. Still, I just didn’t want it to be true. I mean he was Columbo! He was Grandpa in “The Princess Bride”! And in between, before and beyond, Peter Falk gave us so many memorable roles, it’s hard to believe they all came from one incredibly talent man.
Like many people, I first discovered Peter Falk on TV in re-runs of “Columbo”. There was a time in college when I use to race back to my San Francisco apartment late Sunday nights after a weekend visit at home in Santa Cruz just so I could catch the midnight airings on some local station. I had seen episodes when I was younger, but I didn’t fully appreciate the character until I was older and could understand the brilliance behind the complexity of what appeared to be a simple detective. I simply love the character, and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen an episode I can watch every one over, and over, and over again, even the not so great ones from the 80s and on. I know I’m not alone here.
I also love all of Falk’s other work. Admittedly, I haven’t seen everything, but what I do know so far is if Peter Falk is in it then it is something worth watching if only for Peter Falk’s performance. My favorites include Frank Capra’s last film; “Pocketful of Miracles” where Falk is one of Glenn Ford’s henchmen, frustrated by his boss’ goodie-two-shoe attempts to help out an old panhandler. Another favorite performance comes from a “Twilight Zone” episode where Falk is the dictator of a Latin country who kills off every one of his advisors while in the throws of ever-increasing paranoia. Then, of course, there’s the Grandpa in “The Princess Bride” who lovingly reads to his sick grandson the story of a wildly adventurous fable.
I’m leaving out a lot of stuff, but these few rolls alone demonstrate the mind-boggling range this man had. I honestly believe Peter Falk could have played any role and would have been great in it. And a quick glance at his imdb.com listing makes it look like he almost did. Throughout his career, Falk remained busy and continued to try new and challenging roles, working with such art house directors as John Cassavetes (“Husbands”) and Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire”), as well as major A-list directors such as Stanley Kramer (“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”) and Blake Edwards (“The Great Race”). Undoubtedly, Falk had one of the most enviable careers any character actor could hope for.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Peter Falk at a local Hollywood video store where he was signing copies of his autobiography, “Just One More Thing”. He was a gracious and funny man, telling tales of his life in and out of pictures, and taking the time to greet each fan as they approached for a moment with the man of so many faces. I don’t remember what he wrote in my book (I’ve got it around here somewhere), but I will always remember him holding my hand after he shook it, and how he listened as I told him how much I loved his work. He cocked his head back real quick and said, “Thank you so much” before kissing my hand. All I can say now is, right back at ya, Peter. How I wish there was just one more thing.