Categories
Novels Television

Van der Valk

Van der Valk 

Van der Valk first appeared on British television in 1972. The series was based on the novels written by Nicolas Freeling, although individual episodes were created by other authors. In the books Nicolas Freeling allows Van der Valk to talk and think in untranslated French, which can be a challenge for non-French speakers, and his views can come across as bombastic and opinionated at times. Sceptical and cynical about bureaucracy and officialdom, Van der Valk also has compassion, especially for the young who find themselves in trouble.

In the television series Barry Foster took the lead role as Commissaris “Piet” van der Valk and he was supported by Michael Latimer, who played Inspecteur Johnny Kroon. Regular characters also appeared in the series; however, these characters were played by a variety of actors because Van der Valk had three incarnations: the first series, of six episodes, was aired in the autumn of 1972 and a second series of seven episodes followed in 1973. The second incarnation was produced four years later when twelve episodes were broadcast in the autumn of 1977. A break of nearly fourteen years then ensued before Van der Valk was revived once more, this time in the form of four two-hour episodes, broadcast in January and February 1991, and three two-hour episodes, aired in February 1992. Personally, I think the first series and the last two films are the highpoints of Van der Valk’s run.

Van der Valk highlights a perennial problem for authors – what do you do with the detective’s spouse. Quite often the detective is male and the spouse is female and she is left with the role of cooking dinners for the detective that he has no time to eat because he is too busy crime-busting. A solution to this problem is to ensure that the detective-spouse relationship develops over the series and that the non-detective character has a strong part to play in the emotional and/ or criminal aspect of the story. This engages the character in the series and the readers with the character. To its credit at least Van der Valk gave its detective a family background, which is after all closer to reality than many of the detectives portrayed in film and literature.

Categories
Movies Television

Columbo

Columbo

Created by Richard Levinson and William Link, Columbo is one of the most popular of all television detective shows and is a classic example of the inverted detective story. From the outset the murderer is known to viewers so the delight comes from watching Columbo as he wears down his prime suspect. This suspect is usually rich, influential and believes that he is smarter than Columbo. However, over the course of the programme Columbo first annoys then breaks down the murderer’s alibi, discovering a vital clue, which is often something minor.

The murderer, the guest star in the series, was played by a number of leading actors, including Gene Barry, John Cassavetes, Anne Baxter, Dick van Dyke and Robert Vaughn. Some actors – Robert Culp, Jack Cassidy and Patrick McGoohan – appeared, as different characters, many times in the series and Patrick McGoohan also directed a number of episodes.

Columbo first appeared in The Chevy Mystery Show in 1961 in an episode called ‘Enough Rope’ where the detective was played by Ben Freed. That episode was adapted for the stage as Prescription: Murder, which opened on the 15th January 1962 in San Francisco with Thomas Mitchell as Columbo. The play was adapted for television in 1968 with Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby favoured for the role of Columbo. However, neither actor was available and, although initially considered too young, Peter Falk landed the part.

Three years later NBC commissioned a second pilot, ‘Ransom for a Dead Man’ and the series proper started in September 1971 with ‘Murder by the Book’, an episode written by Steven Bochco and directed by Steven Spielberg.

Columbo alternated with McMillan and Wife and McCloud in a Mystery Movie series, though Columbo was by far the most popular of the three. Seeking to capitalize on its success, NBC considered a weekly series. However, Peter Falk sensed that over-exposure would kill the series and refused to play ball. His wisdom ensured that the series retained its integrity and that production standards remained high.

The show ran for seven seasons, until May 1978, and was resurrected in 1989. Over these series Peter Falk was Columbo with his shabby raincoat – the actor’s own – a battered car and a sad-looking basset hound. Seemingly bumbling and ineffectual, apologetic, with always one more question up his sleeve, Columbo’s persona concealed a sharp, perceptive, analytical mind. Peter Falk was born to play the part and he made it his own.

Columbo

Peter Falk as Columbo

Columbo developed into an affable, friendly character, a man you would welcome as a friend. However, in the 1968 pilot and play, Prescription: Murder, Columbo had a harder edge and would often become angry. That anger appeared occasionally in later episodes, but was always well placed and effective. Humour also played a big part in the series, though the jokes worked best when they flowed naturally, rather than when the writers made Columbo behave like a clown, for a clown he was certainly not.

Constant references to Mrs Columbo, the detective’s wife, whom we never see, provided an in-joke to the series. Ill-advised, the producers gave Mrs Columbo a series of her own. Starring Kate Mulgrew as a newspaper reporter, that series commenced in February 1979 and ran for thirteen episodes. However, after only five episodes the producers recognized their error and dropped all references to Mrs Columbo. Instead Kate became Kate Callahan, but by then the series was lost.

Many quality detective series have been made over the years, but surely Columbo must rank in the all-time top five.