As magnificent as Peter Falk was in the role of Lieutenant Columbo, the show’s enduring appeal owes just as much to the stellar contribution of that most revered group of guest stars: the Columbo killer.
The original 70s’ series provided us with some sizzling killers. The cherished and quintessential trio of Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp and Patrick McGoohan cast the longest shadows, but the quality of the supporting menagerie of murderers the show offered up is almost too good for words: William Shatner; Robert Vaughn; Ruth Gordon; Leonard Nimoy; John Cassavetes; Anne Baxter; Ross Martin; Ray Milland; Dick Van Dyke; Janet Leigh; Johnny Cash and so many more.
These were household names, and the contributions made by these star performers is a big reason why the lustre of the 70s series remains undimmed to this day. There are very few Columbo baddies that you’d willingly replace, that’s for sure. But had there been just a few more episodes, or another cheeky series snuck in to the 70s run, I do sometimes ponder who might have been drafted in to be pitted against the doughty Lieutenant.
“The contributions made by the cast of Columbo killers is a big reason why the lustre of the 70s series remains undimmed to this day.”
It’s been a debate I’ve had a few times with fellow fans on social media, and the list of names put forward has been varied and well reasoned. Some cracking suggestions include Roy Scheider, Bette Davis, Anthony Perkins, Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Maggie Smith, William Windom, Max Von Sydow, Deforrest Kelly, Louise Fletcher, Roscoe Lee Browne, Robert Forster, Elliot Gould, Natalie Wood, James Earl Jones and dozens more.
It’s always a fun topic to discuss, so I’ve put forward a few candidates who I’d personally love to have seen play a 70s’ Columbo murderer. I’ve tried to ensure these are realistic choices, rather than just straight wishful thinking, and selected hypothetical guests who really might have appeared if circumstances were different. Read on!
Beautiful, smart and sexy, Diana Rigg could have played a femme fatale par excellence. Although known primarily at the time from her catsuit-clad role in The Avengers and as a Bond Girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Rigg was much more than just a pretty face.
As her career developed, she created multiple opportunities to show her range on stage and screen, and was rarely been found wanting. Not only all that, but her tigerish fights behind the scenes to raise her Avengers wage to an acceptable level would likely have earned her a nod of approval from Peter Falk, who was famously known to put the studio through hell when it came to renegotiating his annual deal. The two combined would have hit it off on screen beautifully.
If there’s one thing Columbo really lacked, it was a black actor playing a murderer. In hindsight it seems to be a major oversight and there’s no compelling argument for why it never happened. Sammy Davis Jnr was allegedly on the hit list for producers, but for whatever reason it didn’t come together. So why didn’t they turn to Jimmy McEachin? He twice appeared as in support roles in Columbo (in Etude in Black and Make Me a Perfect Murder), he was an established TV lead in his own right (albeit in the short-lived Levinson & Link created Tenafly) and he could have delivered both the intensity and, when required, the affability to play a very convincing Columbo killer. I really consider him one that got away.
Some of Columbo’s greatest hits featured him squaring up to ultra-smooth criminals like Jack Cassidy, George Hamilton and Robert Vaughan. Roger Moore would have slipped into such a role as naturally as a certain spy slipping between silk sheets with a leading lady. His refined British accent and eyebrow-cocking expertise would have helped to differentiate him from the rest, too. Now you’ve thought about it, you’d have to agree that he’d be a great choice, wouldn’t you? He’d have needed to appear in the first couple of seasons, of course, before James Bond blasted him to mega stardom.
It took me a while to buy into the idea of Gena as a Columbo killer – no doubt because I was prejudiced by the fragility she showed as wheelchair-bound Elizabeth Van Wick in Playback in 1975. In hindsight, that was doing her a great disservice because Rowlands was a wonderful actress with an amazing range. Equally importantly, she and Falk were a sensational partnership. Go and watch A Woman Under the Influence for proof of that.
She could have brought anything to the role of murderer: instability, vulnerability, sensitivity. But she could also be tough, as she showed in 1980’s Gloria. Any episode featuring her as a lead would have made for fascinating viewing.
Ol’ Blue Eyes’ reputed association with the mob, not to mention his excellent relationship with Peter Falk (his co-star in 1964’s Robin and the Seven Hoods), would have made this mash-up solid gold. Swan Song gave Johnny Cash the chance to show his credentials as singer Tommy Brown in 1974, but I see Sinatra as playing a much harder character, possibly linked to the underworld, who could have believably portrayed a killer with no conscience, and whose belief in his power and connections would classically lull him into a false sense of security. In my mind, this would be one of the most popular of all episodes and known to just about every classic TV fan who ever drew breath.
And by the way, if you’ve never watched Peter Falk’s hilarious performance as Columbo in the 1977’s ‘Frank Sinatra Celebrity Roast’, please do so the second you’ve finished reading this article. View it here.
Pam Grier is and has been ultra-cool for decades, but was at her sassy, sexy peak in the 70s and would have been an electric leading lady for Columbo.
Perhaps cast as a slightly less ferocious Foxy Brown-type who is seeking to make the world a better place and clear some trash off the streets, A Grier-infused Columbo could have been an exciting departure, dealing with big issues and presenting us with a sympathetic killer unlike any other in the series.
A few years after her unforgettable turn as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, Anne Bancroft was on a break from her film career and I can totally picture her as a Columbo killer in the early 1970s. She’d have brought a powerful sense of sultriness to the role – a step beyond that shown by Lee Grant in Ransom for a Dead Man – which would have been a very modern take for the series, and would no doubt have left the bashful Lieutenant hot and bothered and continually at a loss for words. And that could never be a bad thing.
A gaggle of horror legends could conceivably have been cast as Columbo killers (including Christopher Lee and Vincent Price), but Hammer’s finest, Peter Cushing, would have been my pick by a distance.
Playing a coldly calculating villain of high intellect, his clipped English delivery would have been an aural joy and he would have convincingly conveyed a chilling menace, despite advancing age and a slender build. Yes, a most delicious confrontation would have been on the cards, and for Cushing it would have been excellent practice for the role of the wicked Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars a few years later.
The big question, though: could viewers have handled the giddy thrill of Columbo essentially being pitted against Sherlock Holmes? Perhaps the 20th century wasn’t ready for that…
Man mountain Welles could have easily steamrollered his way through an episode – and he’d have been one hell of a proposition for Columbo to handle. Welles’ resonant voice, full beard and massive physical stature – like Theo Bikel on growth enhancers – would have made him an awe-inspiring presence alongside the diminutive Lieutenant.
In my mind he’d play some sort of media mogul (a bigger, angrier, less vulnerable version of Death Lends a Hand‘s Arthur Kennicut, perhaps), whose wealth and political connections would make him almost untouchable, and whose bluster and bark would have had most mortals scurrying for cover. He’d rattle Columbo, perhaps as much as Mrs Peck. But Columbo would still take him down after a gargantuan mental tussle.
Billy Dee Williams
Before the world discovered Lando Calrissian, Billy Dee could have won hearts and minds as a cool black killer in the later 70s’ series of Columbo. A rising star in his own right at the time, he would have been absolute dynamite as a smooth, new money lothario, who would be on a charm offensive to all around him – even the Lieutenant, at first, who’d he’d be a supreme contrast to in every conceivable way.
He’d have to be a love rat, of course, and would doubtlessly have committed a despicable crime of passion, but the charisma, million-dollar smile and manicured good looks brought to the table by ‘Mr Colt 45’ must surely have brought joy to millions. He’d have won ‘Best Dressed Columbo Villain’ by a mile, too, if I’m any judge! I like this idea so much I’m slightly sad every day that it never happened. When time travel is invented, I’m hoping this is a wrong that will be put right.
Billy Dee Williams would have been dynamite as a smooth, new money lothario.
I would love to hear your thoughts on who you think would have been a great adversary for the Lieutenant in the 1970s. Please leave me a comment below with your suggestions! If this article is a hit, I might even do a follow-up about possible killers for a Columbo reboot, which would be an entirely different conversation.
As always, I really appreciate you taking the time to read this article. Have a great day…
How about Marc Alaimo? That would have been amazing! Or Andrew Robinson … ok, I admit it, my love for DS9 makes me dream – but they are good dreams 😉
Another thought: I can only imagine what a nightmare it would have been for everyone involved if Klaus Kinski had been offered AND accepted a role as a “Columbo” killer! Oskar Werner would have seemed like a very agreeable chum compared to him …
Eric Braden. He was almost always cast as a crafty villain before his VICTOR NEWMAN days. Lloyd Bochner while he did appear in a small part in that chess episode would have made a great foil for COLUMBO. How about Craig Stevens? He could have played a detective that went bad. I could see some people… Peter Gunn is a bad guy now. Johnathan Frid. Could have played the role of a murderous doctor.
Carolyn Jones would have been superb a a villaness.
A few more since this topic has resurfaced:
Mary Tyler Moore
Senator Bob Dole
Peter Falk (double role)
I still can’t understand casting Vincent Price in an episode and not have him play the murderer. Oh what could have been…
• Peter Cushing
• Max Von Sydow
• George C. Scott
• Oliver Reed
• Andy Griffith (he was quite evil in 1957’s Face in the Crowd)
• Rutger Hauer
Billy Dee and Cushing are genius castings. You shoulda been a studio exec. Welles is so on the nose that it’s hard to say whether he’d be the best or worst Columbo villain ever.
Sinatra another choice with high potential as long as he committed to playing it straight — no ironic self-parody.
I’ve often thought about adding more Actors of Color would have really been something! For one, I can’t see any of us doing this:
Following Columbo around trying to “help” him do his job.
Answering his countless whodunnit questions.
Revisiting the scene of the crime to hide evidence.
Killing stupid people over an inheritance.
Reading an obituary today for Orson Bean, a comic actor with a light, whimsical touch who did a lot of American TV in the 1970s, reminded me of the original screenplay for the episode that turned out to be “An Old-Fashioned Murder.” That one was supposed to feature Burgess Meredith as a character modeled on Richard III. If it had been produced that way, I think it would have been a disaster. Meredith did a lot of very good work, but he spent a lot of time in the 1970s shamelessly chewing scenery, and that script was full of invitations for overacting on a scale that would have made his performance as The Penguin on the Batman show look like something you’d see in a Pinter play. Now, if Orson Bean had played the role, it might have been very good indeed. When he’s trying to fool the other characters into thinking he’s harmless, he could draw on a couple of decades playing happy-go-lucky eccentrics; when he’s revealing his malice to the audience, and ultimately to Columbo, he wouldn’t have to do much to establish a contrast with that persona that would shock us.
I always considered it a shame that James Mason never was bothered by Lt. Columbo in a single episode. As someone suggested above, Robert Shaw would have been an excellent killer as well. Lee Van Cleef would have been an interesting choice. I don’t know what killer occupation he would have fit, but he would have been quite intimidating in a scene vs. Columbo. I would also point out at least thee guest stars that should have been promoted to the main villain, Vincent Price, Kevin McCarthy, and Leslie Nielsen. I can only imagine the power of an episode with Columbo squaring off against Price the murderer.
John Dehner was great as the victim and he appeared in another episode briefly. He would have made and excellent villain.
Julie Newmar would have been a great female villain. At least she was in an episode however.
Agnes Moorhead and Elizabeth Montgomery would have been decent villains since they both had good range.
Peter Haskell was all over TV back in 70’s and was good at playing bad guys. He was the victim in one of the 1990’s versions.
We love him as Coach Hayden Fox but Craig T Nelson might have been great as a COLUMBO foil as he was often a bad guy in many soaps back then.
Neat article. I think Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Davis, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, and Barbara Stanwyck would all have made excellent Columbo killers. As for the men, I think Joseph Cotten, Richard Burton, Walter Huston, Peter Lorre, and Marlon Brando. As much as I do like Bogart, Grant, and Stewart, I think they would not have pulled off as villains on Columbo.
I was just taking to a friend who’s also a big COLUMBO fan as well.
Here are my picks for killers that never were:
He was all over TV back in those years and would have made an excellent COLUMBO foil. Perhaps he just didn’t have time to play one.
He was a very versatile actor that could easily play good guys or very smooth and sinister villains.
He was great at playing villains but for whatever reason, they never cast him as a killer. He was in an episode but not as a bad guy.
He had a long proven record of playing villains but perhaps IRONSIDE kept him too busy at the time.
Sadly he passed away suddenly in 1972 otherwise you know he would have made an excellent COLUMBO villain.
I think of what Dick Van Dyke did in Negative Reaction, evoking the ultra-likable character he had played in The Dick Van Dyke Show to ensure that one of the least sympathetic villains would be watchable, and it occurs to me that other 1960s sitcom stars could have done the same thing. In particular, I would suggest that Bob Crane of Hogan’s Heroes would have been a terrific Columbo murderer. Among the episodes that were actually made, I can see him in place of William Shatner in Fade In to Murder. Shatner does a good job projecting a feeling of guilt, and that gives the episode its emotional center. But if they had wanted to build it around a more gleefully sinister villain, Crane could really show you a man taking relish in working out a diabolical scheme. He would also have given a lighter touch to The Most Crucial Game than did Robert Culp, though I wouldn’t want to downgrade Culp in any way.
Michael Caine would be my top choice. Always great value as a villain. Just watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels again, and tell me he wouldn’t have been great in Columbo.
Oliver Reed would be my second pick for a similar dastardly Brit vibe.
For a fantastic female killer I’d have to go with Shelly Winters. So entertaining in everything I’ve seen her in.
Think Christopher Plummer, John Vernon, Joe Don Baker, and Stephanie Beacham all would’ve been great too.
Roger Moore would’ve been truly awesome. Did you know that he actually appeared together with Peter Falk in a 1965 episode of “Trials of O’Brien”?
Some of my choices:
Marcello Mastroianni – in a spectacular “Columbo visits Italy” episode!
Telly Savalas – he was brilliant as Blofeld, would’ve made an awesome “Columbo vs “Kojak”” episode
Christopher Walken – in a 1990s episode
William H. Macy – in a 1990s episode
A bunch of others I’ve come up with since yesterday:
Jeremy Brett – the “real” Columbo vs. Sherlock Holmes episode!
Burt Reynolds – before he became a big star
Lloyd Bochner – after his brief stint in “The Most Dangerous Match”
Malcolm McDowell – either as his younger self in the 1970s, or as his usual villanious form in the 1990s
Mark Hamill – in a 1990s episode
John de Lancie – in a 1990s episode
Ving Rhames – in a 1990s episode
Udo Kier – in a 1990s episode
A great list. Nice shouts in the comments too. Would totally love to have seen Robert Mitchum too.
In “Forgotten Lady” Columbo tells Diamond about gangster movies: “Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmie Cagney — Edward G. Robinson” and later, that maybe that was the reason to become a cop. Peter Falk told us that Eddie Robinson maybe was the reason for becoming an actor. Robinson died 1973. Eddie Robinson would have been a gusto piece of it’s own.
Another suggestion: Bob Mitchum. For the part in “Night of the Hunter” director Charles Laughton wantet a pure asshole. Mitchum: “Present”. Watch him in “Cape Fear”: Robert de Niro is a nice guy in the remake compared with him. He would have blown Jack Cassidy away. But similar to Poitier: Too expensive.
No. Robert De Niro wouldn’t have worked. He’s lousy doing accents and in his real voice, he sounds like Peter Falk. Also, Pacino and Keitel wouldn’t have worked for the same reason.
Sidney Poitier. Somebody else had him on first place. Close your eyes and imagine Virgil Tibbs versus Columbo. With a perfect script it would have been dynamite! Too bad.
Frankie Boy is nonsense; his best parts were victims (From Here to Eternity; Man with the Golden Arm).
Elizabeth Taylor would’ve made a great villainess.
The more I read about Hollywood agents, the more I think they had a significant role in who got the part of the villain. And I’ve wondered if some of them discouraged their client from taking a role that would impact future roles. I’d have liked to see Angela Lansbury (suggested by a commenter) however it would definitely impact her Jessica Fletcher image.
On the other hand, it was an honour to play the villain in Columbo, so perhaps my theory about agents isn’t correct. Considering that several actors got the role repeatedly, it could just be that there weren’t enough episodes to accommodate the long line to get into the show.
Then again, maybe the agents’ having a hand in it isn’t too far-fetched considering the lack of talent in Murder in Malibu, a great story with a talentless villain.
In the case of Angela Lansbury, not necessarily. She plays a nasty piece of work in “The Manchurian Candidate.”
A few more who I think would have been terrific.
Lee Grant was already a murderer, in the second pilot episode, Ransom For A Dead Man.
I’ve not seen that episode in a very long time, and I totally forgot Lee was in that!
Robert Wagner, John Gavin. Yes!
Max Von Sydow
DeForest Kelley would have been an awesome guest!
Other actors I think would have been excellent as possible Columbo guests:
James Earl Jones
Alan Hale Jr
How about O.J. Simpson? No, wait, he really was a murderer!
When it comes to the right time frame the late great Robert Hardy would have been my first choice. He was a character actor who could play a villain with an aura of invincicibility only the likes of Columbo or Sherlock Holmes could peal off.
If Columbo would have been broadcast nowadays I’d always vote for Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Spectre) because I sometimes believe the man must be pure evil to play his parts the way he does.
My guess for why they didn’t have black killers was probably because at the time they were right off the civil rights movement so they were probably nervous that having black killers would cause some big mess. That doesn’t explain the later series but I can see that being the reason in the 70s. Now myself included plenty of black folks wouls dig it but there are those loud minority that would’ve complained about it. If I had to choose what black stars of the 70s I would choose I would so love John Amos, Nicole Nichols, Sidney Portier, Richard Roundtree, Sherman Hemsley, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Lou Gosset Jr. And the wildest would be Reds Foxx Idk how that would’ve worked but I could imagine how interesting it’d be to see Falk Vs. Foxx lol
Redd Foxx would have been fantastic! So much of the energy of Columbo comes from seeing the working-class cop overcome a smug upper-class killer that it would have been very hard to have an African American killer- no matter how rich you are, if you’re black in America the white cop is always going to have an edge over you. But Redd Foxx, he would have blown the doors off that show, that would have been fantastic.
Well,Walter Matthau would be my choice.
The best killers always need to have that special fun chemistry with Falk
My choices would be:
Definitely James Earl Jones and Frank Sinatra
One choice I’m shocked no one has ever thought of is Charles Grodin. He would’ve been a perfect blend of affability and conniving deception.
Robert Guillaume would’ve been a very good choice. He played a murderer on the first episode of Diagnosis Murder and was in an episode of Perry Mason.
To my mind, if he wasn’t on the original Perry Mason, that isn’t really Perry Mason.
Hehehe…you make a good point. I don’t mind the second series, but it could have done without Malansky’s excessive running all over the place and exaggerated out-of-breath scenes. Once, he was locked up in a small room in a house…when he was released, he emerged from the room out of breath. Lol lol…
The original Perry Mason TV show is my all-time favorite. To be more accurate, the second Perry Mason was the New Perry Mason, which didn’t include Raymond Burr, and I had previously quoted this excerpt from an article from Ayn Rand,
Ayn Rand’s article, “Perry Mason Finally Loses,” published in The Ayn Rand Letter, dated July 30, 1973.
The Perry Mason article describes the original TV series, ending in 1966, and the striking contrast to the “new” version (which was very short lived). Near the end, the article observes:
“By some ineffable osmosis of their own, the makers of the new “Perry Mason” sensed which human characteristics their masters — today’s intellectuals — want men to lose: firmness, self-confidence, and any trace of a moral tone, as well as any touch of dignity. To say that the new Perry Mason is an anti-hero, would be to flatter the show: he is just a slob. It is the image of the real Perry Mason that today’s cultural leaders want to eliminate from people’s consciousness, as a vision, a hope, an inspiration, or even a possibility. So much for their view of man and for their concern with education, the enlightenment, the happiness of “the people.”
I remember watching a few of the Perry Mason made-for-TV movies, but the difference was like the difference between the original Columbo and the new version, and I don’t really remember any of the shows, and so your reference to the character, Malansky, doesn’t ring a bell.
That’s a good write-up about the “new” Mason show. I’ve never seen it though. “Perry Mason Returns” is the one I was referring to. They put a chase scene in every episode, if I remember correctly. First, Della’s son in real life acted as Paul Drake Jr., then when he left the show, William Moses got the part as the investigator, his name was Ken Malansky. They both were always getting beat-up, chased or knocked out, and they were always running through the street or up stairways and such, in pursuit of a witness or someone who had information about the case.
Well, when I did a web search of ‘Perry Mason Malansky’, it indicated that they were all TV movies.
I see that ‘Perry Mason Returns’ was just the first of said TV movies.
Yes, they were the made-for-TV movies…about 22 or so were made. Raymond Burr died before they were all made. “Perry Mason Returns” was the first episode where Della was framed for murder and he resigned from the bench to represent her.
I’m sooo glad Columbo didn’t fall prey to chase scenes and fights. I like both the old and new Columbo series.
30 films, Burr starring in the first 26,
Before I read past the title, I was going to mention folks who’d been the hero of an ‘80s TV show as killers for the ‘90s episodes: just picture a self-assured George Peppard, and a Smugger-Than-Jack-Cassidy Dirk Benedict, showing up like Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner before them; and picture Tom Selleck, maybe in the vein of Robert Conrad playing an affable guy who sure knows he’s in terrific shape for his age; and so on.
But the one who came to mind for that — and who also fits if we limit this to ‘60s types getting tapped for this in the ‘70s — is Bill Bixby. After all, his signature schtick *later* in the decade was playing a cerebral guy who convincingly explains away stuff in an amiable fashion while his situation gets increasingly desperate; so why not have him warmly showcase that here, *first*?
Quite late to the game, but here’s a few thoroughly unrealistic picks. 70s episodes only.
– Sterling Hayden / Robert Ryan (for years I thought they were the same guy)
– Peter Finch
– Ben Gazzara
– Louise Fletcher
– Cloris Leachman
– Lee Marvin
– Robert Shaw
– Michael Moriarty
– James Garner
– more Nicol Williamson, the one guy I think would match Cassidy, Culp, and McGoohan
Never too late to join this game! Thanks for your suggestions. I’ll have to look up some of them…
Some inspired choices there especially Louise Fletcher. I agree that Nicol Williamson was up there with the best. The episode he was in wasn’t the greatest but he played his role well, he could be very cold.
You mean Sterling Hayden and Robert Ryan AREN’T the same guy?
I have confused Jessica Walter and Suzanne Pleshette, but only recently did I realize that Peter Bonerz and Sam Melville, who played several villains on the original Hawaii Five-0, were not the same person. I thought that through a combination of makeup and great acting, Bonerz played a much darker character as a villain, as opposed to the happy-go-lucky dentist on The Bob Newhart Show, Jerry Robinson.
I just realized, while watching one of the last episodes of the original Perry Mason, The Case of the Avenging Angel, that Joyce Bulifant is not Sue Ane Langdon.
Well, one thing lacking in Columbo was a really unsympathetic female villain. Where was Joan Collins when you needed her. I think she would have made a terrific arrogant murderer. I would have used her rather than Vera Miles.
Not that I expect a murderer to be ‘sympathetic’, but I’d say that, by far, the most unsympathetic female murderer was the one in Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo, hence, my ‘criticism’ of that episode.
It has always saddened me that Vincent Price appeared in an episode, so had a connection to the series, but was never cast as the villain – what a tragedy, what a waste! An episode of him sparring with Falk would have been so enjoyable.
Here’s a varied selection of British actors who I think could’ve made interesting Columbo killers:
Angela Lansbury (provided it was pre-Murder She Wrote)
Wow, every one of those on your list would have been marvelous.
Burt Reynolds, Christopher Walken and Robert Hardy
also if Columbo were to be updated Pierce Brosnan would be a first class opponent. Maybe a blog on contemporary kiillers for a Columbo reboot?
Robert Hardy was my choice as well. If we’d start a blog on killers for a Columbo reboot, I’d LOVE to do one on who should play Columbo as well…. or will everyone start shouting Blasphemy! now?
Good choices. I always wondered why there weren’t more POC or Black people as the killers. Don’t get me wrong, I do get tired of seeing it on regular old police procedurals but on a mystery show like this it’s a whole different ballgame though. I would have loved to have seen Diahann Carroll as one, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Harry Belafonte, Gregory Hines. The list goes on. Oh well, opportunity lost.
Love some of the suggestions, but keep it close to reality. George C.Scott and Mia Farrow were two of the biggest movie stars of the seventies, so of course their not going to be in a Cloumbo episode, neither is Marlon Brando. Though Sinatra may have done it, especially after Contract on Cherry Street. Love the Yul Brenner idea and the Raymond Burr idea. I also think Henry Silva would of been great. Especially if he played his signature role of Mafia hit man. Telly Savalas (before Kojack). Michael Parks would of been a good killer. And I go back to the victim I wish the most had been the killer, Martin Sheen.
Christopher Lee Peter Cushing and Roger Moore for me would have made great adversaries however George C Scott would have played a killer old blood and guts
I like your list, especially Roger Moore and Orson Welles. Welles as a killer magician or film director is an idea that practically writes its own script. (Ooh! Welles in the Nicol Williamson role from “How to Dial a Murder”! Super meta!)
To this, I would add Michael Caine (watch Deathtrap or Sleuth to see him own the “devious but charming sleazeball” role) and Adam West (to complete the ’60s camp set they began with the leads from Star Trek and The Wild, Wild West).
Dare to propose Lino Ventura.
This came up on another forum: Patrick Macnee! One of the few ’70s villains that I didn’t enjoy was Richard Basehart, badly miscast in Dagger of the Mind. But Patrick Macnee, who later had a supporting role in Troubled Waters, could have played that part, and it would have reunited him with his Avengers co-star Honor Blackman. What a missed opportunity that was!
Interesting choices … it occurred to me that it might have been just a little too cute to have Raymond Burr go back to his film roots as a heavy and play a killer. Perry Mason a killer?? Well, why not? Tragg and Burger certainly suspected him often enough!
Yul Brynner. Between his regal bearing (“The King and I”), his Russian ancestry, his penetrating stare, and his penchant for dressing entirely in black, he would have made a formidable Columbo foe. I see Brynner playing a Russian concert pianist, on a concert tour in the U.S. but also secretly intending to defect. (This is in the ’70’s after all.) He strangles a KGB agent (pianists have very strong hands) who learns of his plans and tries to blackmail him. Columbo nails him after discovering that the pianist changed his concert repertoire following the murder to a concerto that placed less of a strain on his (now slightly sprained) hands.
Was this an idea you pitched to Universal way back when? Sounds like a great idea to me.
If only Universal took pitches from teenagers, who knows how differently things might have turned out.
Not to mention he’s just plain sexy!
Interesting topic. As I was reading it, I had Peter Cushing instantly in my thoughts, so I’m pleased to see he made your list. A pre Dallas Larry Hagman would also have made a good villain to my mind.
As for ladies, Joan Collins could surely have brought an interesting performance, as would the young Mia Farrow.
One actor that it’s a real shame never sparred with the Lieutenant, especially considering his friendship with Falk and the fact he directed a couple of episodes, is Ben Gazzara. Those two squaring up could have been classic.
All excellent suggestions, thanks for your comment. I’d never considered Gazzara to appear as an actor! I guess I think of him as being too chummy with Peter to amek it work. Cassavetes was, too, but he had a dangerous / sinister element to him.
Watch Gazzara in Road House.
Some great suggestions there, especiall Cushing. How about Richard Chamberlain? He could be a smooth, charming playboy character, but Columbo would instantly spot the coldness within!
I hadn’t considered Chamberlain, but now you mention it he’d have been a good fit, and a realistic one too.
I don’t really like to go for the super well known faces, although I agree that some would fit well, but it *is* tough to come up with folk for this one! Love the idea of Billy Dee Williams! I’ll think of a load later, I’m sure, but this one springs to mind:
I know that he appeared in two eppys as a guest star, but I think that Sorrell Brooke would have made an intriguing villain. The early Columbo shows were less silly, so it wouldn’t have likely been an OTT Boss Hogg sort of turn, but seeing him play the lovely but world-weary Bertie in ‘Bye Bye SHIQMC’ I can really imagine as softer sort of killer, in the same vein as Adrian Carsini. Put upon, acting out of either necessity or duty, with a sympathetic slant. Brooke was a great actor and he would have fit perfectly.