This is another of those rare occasions when I hand over Columbo duties to a guest writer and this time it’s someone who sees the show from an entirely different perspective.
Outrageous as it sounds, writer Kat Johnson had never seen a single episode of Columbo until the Covid lockdown of 2020. Yet she swiftly became an ardent fan, not only of the series, but of the charms of its leading man. And while I’m no stranger to extolling the virtues of Peter Falk’s earthy brand of rugged handsomeness, one thing I’ll never be is a red-blooded woman able to identify why particular Columbo scenes are hotter than others.
That’s why it’s my pleasure to hand things over to Kat to share her very hot takes on Peter Falk’s sexiest Columbo moments…
If there were a pie chart on how I’ve spent the pandemic, a truly embarrassing section would be devoted to Columbo. Discovering Columbo in quarantine was a balm, then a white-hot obsession. It actually became a little unsettling, like being possessed by the ghost of Mrs Columbo. Except Mrs C is definitely way too cool to spend any time making a list like this, and besides, there would be 80 other guys tied for first.
“Discovering Columbo in quarantine was a balm, then a white-hot obsession.”
Though I’m a married woman myself, let me state that my love for Columbo is not platonic. With my humble thanks to Columbophile, and advance apologies to my husband, I am honored to offer this utterly subjective list of 10 times the Lieutenant was at his most drop-dead gorgeous and charming. Ready? Let’s go!
NB – Please note, this list is in no particular order.
1. Troubled Waters
I’m firmly of the opinion that the raincoat and suit are an impeccable ensemble, but as you’ll see on this list a few times, when Falk sheds layers, it’s never a bad thing.
He had great hair, which doesn’t get talked about enough, and when crazily wind-tossed on the deck of this ship (errr, boat?) it just proves the point: he is TOUSLED AF, all languid and asquint, and his gold watch, cigar, and off-duty button-down look as timeless in 2020 as they did in 1975. Bonus points for, elsewhere in this episode, wielding a microscope and testing for fingerprints in the most handsome way those two things have ever been done anywhere by anyone.
2. Forgotten Lady
In this episode, not only do we get Falk in a tux, but he makes his entrance in it in the humblest, and thus coolest and most Columbo-like, way possible.
I read that in life, Peter Falk was a lot more cultured than Columbo, which makes a ton of sense. Sometimes I think (stay with me here; I was reading a book about mushrooms when I first fell down the Columbo rabbit hole) of Falk and Columbo as a lichen: a perfectly entangled organism whose symbiotic relationship is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure which one’s the algae and which one’s the fungi, but here I feel we are seeing a little more Falk come through in the structure, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
3. By Dawn’s Early Light
When I went looking for a still from By Dawn’s Early Light, I knew exactly which scene I wanted, but this episode served up a lot more competition than I remembered. In the dining hall (right before he pockets the roll), Columbo’s hair and bemused expression are shockingly good, and of course he’s the original “I woke up like this” nonchalantly gorgeous person.
This episode presents, to my mind, the platonic ideal Columbo. His scruffiness is exquisitely offset by the strict military setting. But what we have to talk about are the undershirt scenes. Columbo looks fit! But not too fit, and with an au naturel ’70s sheen of sweat and stubble. When he reminisces with the cadet about his high school girlfriend, who he found out hung onto his identification bracelet years later, and he smiles proudly and kind of waits (in vain!!) to be affirmed, it’s actually the purest thing in the entire world, and exactly the sort of thing we need more of in 2020.
4. Murder by the Book
You know that scene in The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case where Columbo tells a 14-year-old girl that she’s as pretty as she is smart? It’s such a cringe moment that it nearly ruins the entire episode for me. I also have to skip the part in Identity Crisis where he watches the belly dancer for way too long in the bar.
Thank goodness there are scenes like this one, in Murder by the Book, when the Lieutenant gently takes the victim’s widow by the arm and says: “I think you had a terrible experience in there, and I think I ought to drive you home. Let’s call it a night.” Then he takes her back to her place and makes her eggs. Are you kidding me? You can inject this entire sequence directly into my veins because it is basically the Columbo equivalent of a Klonopin, and also extremely hot.
5. Prescription: Murder
In his debut outing as the Lieutenant in 1968, Falk is almost too polished and pretty, too conventionally attractive to rank among later, more adult and complex iterations of the character. But combined with his voice, which is the velvetiest and earthiest thing I’ve ever heard outside a Lord of the Rings film, the effect is spellbinding. Perhaps it’s a bit on the nose when the doctor calls him a sly little elf, but it’s also one of the best lines in the whole series so I have to let it slide.
6. A Deadly State of Mind
You know the meme, “If you don’t love me at my ____ then you don’t deserve me at my ____.” That’s Columbo here vs. in Prescription: Murder. Except with Columbo, bedraggled = best, so fortunately some men do want to look like an unmade bed.
In A Deadly State of Mind he ably holds his own against two of the show’s most ravishing suspects, but this particular scene is the connoisseur’s choice. He hasn’t slept, so he’s extra grumpy and dishevelled, which makes it all the more thrilling when he opens one of his crumpled brown bags to reveal not a hardboiled egg but a pristine Gucci pump, followed by a rare sighting of him losing his patience and saying “I’m asking YOU about a murder” so authoritatively I could faint. Then he starts shaving right on the docks and confronts George Hamilton with zero of the usual niceties.
11/10 would watch again… and again… and again.
7. A Woman Under the Influence
Part of me understands that this is not a Columbo episode. It is a ground-breaking independent film by John Cassavetes and I refuse to leave it off this list.
Peter Falk not only starred in it (opposite the earth-shattering Gena Rowlands, also divine in Playback), he used half a million dollars of his own Columbo money to fund it because the studios claimed no one wanted to see a movie about a “crazy, middle-aged dame.” Well then, I proudly identify as such, because I have never felt as seen by any movie as I have by this one. If Mabel is “crazy,” it’s a sane reaction to the impossible and paradoxical demands of being a wife, mother and woman in a patriarchal society.
Setting aside the character’s desperate fear and violence, Falk looks as good here in a grubby blue bathrobe as he does in Troubled Waters, and my greatest wish for us crazy middle-aged dames is to have a partner who looks at us the way Nick looks at Mabel, who says “just be yourself, be yourself” and means it. Although we’d probably be too tired to notice, unless, of course, that partner was Peter Falk.
8. Dead Weight
Falk is clearly in his aesthetic prime in this episode, but the cherry on top is the brotherly relationship he forges with Suzanne Pleshette’s easily swayed murder witness.
Long before phrases like “believe women” and “gaslighting” entered the popular lexicon, Columbo displayed a powerful understanding of these concepts when he trusted Helen’s convincing account over the sketchy story of a powerful man and, later, gave her a pep talk for the ages by saying: “You know what strikes me? You’re the one that downgrades yourself. One dinner with General Hollister and you begin to doubt your senses.”
Solving crimes and exposing toxic behavior, all while looking excruciatingly handsome doing it. Well played, Columbo, well played.
9. Candidate for Crime
I am so jealous of the chemistry between Columbo and Vicki Hayward in this scene I can hardly stand it, that’s how good it is.
First there’s a flurry of fervent whispering about menswear—Columbo knows his stuff, as befits someone who understands the iconic power and good sartorial sense of a uniform as well as he does—and then they sneak off together under an umbrella, where he whacks a watch against a pole and she seizes the opportunity to grab him and hang on for dear life.
Meanwhile, Nelson Hayward keeps stealing glances at them, and it’s definitely not just clues he’s worried about her revealing. It’s nice to see him getting a taste of his own medicine, even if it has to come at the price of my forever envy.
10. Columbo Likes the Nightlife
Falk remained as gorgeous as ever as he aged, but I feel like this is a safe space to acknowledge that Columbo himself went through a bit of a weird phase. The title of this final episode threatens perhaps an overly spicy appearance from the Lieutenant—and it does feature him in a feather boa—but Falk saves the day from the minute he appears on screen with his totally natural performance and hair color.
In the club scenes, he is a beautiful, crumpled (koi) fish out of water, and as someone who might have been somewhere near this scene back in this era, I should have been so lucky as to run into this handsome daddy and offer him my glowsticks for evidence. In all seriousness, the man is 75 in this episode. He looks fantastic. He sounds fantastic. You can 100% tell he smells fantastic. RIP, King. At least we know you make a beautiful angel.
Kat Johnson is a writer with a background in publishing, fashion and travel, and an interest in all things nostalgic and cozily macabre. She is an editor by day, Columbo obsessive by night and crazy middle-aged dame at all times. You can find her super sporadically tweeting things at @katbhandari.
If you’re still reading and haven’t swooned away by now, do join this red-hot debate by sharing your own favourite moment of Peter Falk hotness. All are welcome to share opinions, and shouldn’t be shy in doing so because Peter was a gorgeous chap by anyone’s reckoning who deserves to be appreciated and celebrated as such.
I’ll be back on writing duties very soon, likely next weekend when I’ll bring you the review of Season 9’s fifth outing Uneasy Lies the Crown. Until then, don’t do anything Mrs Columbo wouldn’t do!