Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Columbo, Petrovich, and Socrates

I was saddened a few weeks ago to hear about the death of Peter Falk. He did some excellent comedies (check out him and Alan Arkin in The In-Laws), but he was always be remembered as the slovenly, disheveled homicide detective Lt. Columbo. In every episode of the show that bore his name, Columbo investigated murders committed by brilliant people who thought they had committed the perfect crime. At first, the lieutenant seems to be a totally bumbling buffoon, but bit by bit by bit by bit by bit, he methodically destroy their alibis and subterfuges, almost always using his famous tagline “Oh… there’s just one more thing.” (A great clip of him investigating real-life friend John Casavettes can be found here).

I recently read a review of a television production of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in which the reviewer contemptuously derided the portrayal of the inspector as being a “second-rate Columbo.” I laughed out loud. I once read an article by William Link, one of the creators of Columbo. He said he’d been inspired by Dostoevsky’s work from the 19th century, particularly the investigator Porfiry Petrovich from the novel—you guessed it—Crime and Punishment.
If that’s not enough self-reference for you, one commentator pointed out that both Columbo and the other inspector have a forebearer dating back to earliest antiquity: Both use a method originated by Socrates in classical Athens in the 5th century BC.

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