Monday, July 4, 2011

Just One More Thing

"I'm Lt. Columbo," he says near the beginning of "Etude in Black" to famous conductor Alex Benedict. "I'm a big fan of yours. A really big fan." What makes this line totally delicious is that it was delivered to the great John Cassavetes, playing Alex Benedict. Peter Falk was a friend and colleague to Cassavetes, but as much as that, he was a longtime fan. "Every Cassavetes film is always about the same thing," Falk once said. "Somebody said, 'Man is God in ruins,' and John saw the ruins with a clarity that you and I could not tolerate." I don't know what that means, but it sure sounds positive.

When "Etude in Black" was made, in 1972, Falk and Cassavetes had acted in an Italian crime picture together, 1969's Machine Gun McCain, which is apparently where they met. Then the two starred in Cassavetes' 1970 film Husbands. So the Columbo episode was early on in their partnership; afterward, Falk appeared in Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence and Big Trouble, and the two starred in Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky, which is supposed to be awesome, if Mark Lerner is to be believed.

Although Cassavetes is best remembered these days as a director, he was a fairly busy actor as well, getting an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for The Dirty Dozen and playing Mia Farrow's husband in Rosemary's Baby. As I understand it, he took acting roles until he had enough money to finance one of his own pictures, then went and made his movies. He's great in the Columbo episode, and shows that he always had very underrated hair.

The question I have about that Columbo episode is: Did Cassavetes direct it? The credited director was Nicholas Colasanto - yes, the old Coach himself. Colasanto was an in-demand TV director at the time, helming episodes of Starsky and Hutch and Bonanza as well as the Columbo with Johnny Cash. But IMDB describes Colasanto's work on "Etude in Black" as "credit only," and claims that not just Cassavetes but Falk as well were the uncredited directors.

Does anyone know what's going on here? I'd really like to know.


  1. I know that episode quite well, and my vibe is always that Colasanto (who was a go-along sort of guy) allowed a collaborative thing. Also, unless I'm wrong (and I am not), Cassavetes' final words to Falk are, "Goodbye, genius." Terrific.

    (Every time someone recalls Colasanto as "Coach," I remind them that he's also a very serious man in "Raging Bull." And this practice makes me incredibly annoying at parties.)

  2. That Emerson quote (from the essay "Nature") is "A man is a god in ruins"--it blows my mind Peter Falk was in the habit of quoting Emerson during conversations about Cassavetes, but I guess Lt. Columbo is the essence of self-reliance.

    You're a big fan of "The In-Laws," I bet. It seems like a quintessentially Tom movie.

  3. The In-Laws might be my favorite movie of all time.

  4. Hi, I just got here by my daily Google search for "if Mark Lerner is to be believed." Love the blog, keep up the good work.

  5. My favorite line from "The In-Laws":

    ARKIN: Beaks. Flies with beaks.

  6. I haven't seen "The In-Laws" in about 25 years. I should watch it again, if only because I don't remember Cassavetes being in it at all.

  7. Great, Tommy. It was better when we stayed exactly on topic and only the two of us posted comments. (Also, "helming"? What are you, Nikki Finke now?)

    And just to be even more annoying, I'll add that another great line is, "There's no reason to shoot at me! I'm a dentist!"

  8. Now, if they'd made a "Columbo" in which Redford played Death, watch out!