While Lt. Columbo was supposedly inspired by a literary character (Porfiry Petrovich in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT), that doesn’t mean he could fit into any literary setting. I think many of us wish Peter Falk never bought the rights to the Ed McBain novels which became the basis for NO TIME TO DIE and UNDERCOVER. But there were stories out there which could have been easily adapted as COLUMBO vehicles and there would have been no discernible change in tone, as was the case with the McBain episodes.
|"Oh, just one more thing...."|
I’ve written in the past of a movie from the 1940s entitled THE VELVET TOUCH starring Rosalind Russell and Leon Ames as the two most necessary components to any COLUMBO case – the murderer and victim, respectively. And as the substitute for Lt. Columbo, there is Captain Danbury (no first name given) of the New York Police Department, played by Sidney Greenstreet. (Also in the cast are Leo Genn and Claire Trevor and for a COLUMBO kick, Mike Lally as a Sardi’s waiter!) I’ll just add that there are several touchstones which should remind you of the TV series – Captain Danbury’s deference to the murderer, his hesitancy in using a folding chair (i.e., Abigail Mitchell’s antique), the use of “Just one more thing” (albeit by the murderer.) The only thing missing was a dog!
That’s not the case with my latest addition to the COLUMBO Substitutes, OBSESSION, which was marketed in the United States as THE HIDDEN ROOM (which I think is a better title.)
Here are the basics which would mark it worthy to be a COLUMBO adaptation – a wealthy, haughty, and imperious psychiatrist is fed up with his wife’s string of affairs, so he devises an elaborate plot for getting rid of the next one. He plans to kidnap the fellow, an American, and keep him prisoner in a secret location to mentally torture him until he tires of the game and is ready to dispatch his victim (in a most gruesome manner.)
But about forty minutes into the film, the police inspector shows up, regarding a different case altogether, that of the aforementioned dog. (The story was originally a novel entitled A MAN ABOUT A DOG.)
Inspector Finsbury would have made for a wonderful guide for the Rumpled One on his trip to London; they would have had so much in common with each other as they discussed their methods.
In a rare leading role, Robert Newton played the psychiatrist with a reserved demeanor, which was not what he was known for in his most famous role as Long John Silver, but it’s in keeping with the kind of murderer who made the mistake of dismissing the Lieutenant as an inferior.
Phil Brown was the intended victim, the American lover of the wife who was played by Sally Gray. (Audiences today will know Brown better as Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen in STAR WARS IV: A NEW HOPE.) And as Inspector Finsbury, there’s Naunton Wayne, perhaps best known as half of the Charters & Caldicott team first introduced in THE LADY VANISHES (a variation of which can be seen in his other famous movie, DEAD OF NIGHT.)
Finally there’s Monty, the counterpart to Dog. While much of my summary is a spoiler non-spoiler due to the COLUMBO framework, I don’t want to give anything away about Monty….
As I was watching the film, I fantasized about the casting, had it been adapted for COLUMBO. And as I usually do, I thought in terms of the show’s original NBC run in the 1970s. James Mason would have been perfect as Dr. Riordan, and maybe James Farentino as the lover. For Mrs. Riordan, I’d like to play within the established set-up for the series – bring back an actress who had already been in a COLUMBO episode. In this case, I think Susan Howard would have been perfect.
Obviously Peter Falk as the Lieutenant would replace Inspector Finsbury entirely. And no matter who they got for the dog Monty (Higgins AKA Benji passed away in 1975 so he was too old for what would be an active role), it would be that canine who could be the catalyst for Dog to save the day!
Okay, just over 700 words, too late to make a long story short. But if you’re a COLUMBO fan and you’re looking for something in the same vein, I would recommend those two movies – THE VELVET TOUCH & OBSESSION (AKA THE HIDDEN ROOM.)
And if you know of any movies which could be considered Falkless versions of COLUMBO, bring them to my attention!