|Falk's first close-up as Columbo.|
|Bert Freed was the first Columbo.|
A year later, Levinson and Link expanded "Enough Rope" into a stage play called Prescription: Murder. It starred Joseph Cotten as Flemming, Agnes Moorehead as his wife, and Thomas Mitchell as Columbo. Sadly, the play never made it to Broadway, in part because Thomas Mitchell died of cancer in 1962.
Levinson and Link, who met in junior high school, dusted off Prescription: Murder again in 1968--this time as a telefilm for NBC. They originally wanted Lee J. Cobb to play Columbo. When his schedule prevented him from taking the role, they offered it to Bing Crosby. When he also declined, the part went to Peter Falk. Levinson and Link initially worried that the 41-year-old Falk was too young to play Columbo (Mitchell was 70). However, once they saw his performance, they knew it was a perfect pairing of actor and role.
|Gene Barry as the murderer.|
It takes Flemming most of the film to realize that he has underestimated his dogged pursuer. In the best scene, the two men discuss the murder in theoretical terms--though each knows exactly what happened. Flemming even offers a psychoanalysis of Columbo's tactic of masking his intelligence. At its best, Prescription: Murder is a two-character play--and I mean that as a compliment. William Windom, Nina Foch, and Katherine Justice are fine in supporting roles, but the crux of the film is the cat-and-mouse game between Columbo and Flemming.
|Columbo: "There's just one more thing..."|
|Lee Grant as the first female killer.|
Still, Ransom for a Dead Man was a ratings hit and the rest--as they say--is television history. Counting Prescription and Ransom, Peter Falk played Columbo in 68 telefilms or TV episodes over a span of 35 years.