Jewish World Review June 29, 2011 / 27 Sivan, 5771
Just One More Thing …
By Paul Greenberg
We never learned the fictional Columbo's first name, or if he had one -- I think it was Lieutenant -- but I definitely envied him his beat-up old car, a classic
For the same reason, I've always yearned for the kind of crumpled linen suit of indeterminate shape that
Columbo himself sported a nondescript raincoat from maybe the '50s, It might have been hanging in a closet -- the back of a cramped closet -- for the intervening decades gathering wrinkles, absorbing grease spots, becoming eminently forgettable, and generally acquiring character.
I've got a hat like that and love its every well-earned crease and smudge. A friend calls it my "Go to Hell" hat, and it looks as if it's been there and back.
Columbo's trademark phrase was always reserved till the end of some crucial interview with the slick villain, who should always have been played by Louis Calhern at his oiliest. Offered in the manner of just an offhand afterthought, Columbo's phrase prefaces the question that will unravel the killer's well-planned alibi.
"Aaaaah … Just one more thing," Columbo would say, turning around after he'd already started to leave the suspect's mansion/luxurious hotel suite/hunting lodge. Then he'd throw out the key question like a hunter putting out a bear trap. Or like some congressional investigator making casual conversation. ("I didn't know you had an interest in birding, Mr. Hiss. Did you ever happen to see a prothonotary warbler?" Or, in more contemporary times. "Sir, would you remember if
In Columbo's case, the "just one more thing" would come across as but another sign of his disheveled, absent-minded and generally inept persona. And therefore completely disarm the suspect. For how could a slob like that pose any threat to a clever villain?
Columbo was the kind of gumshoe who would reach into a tattered pocket for a telling piece of evidence … and fish out last week's shopping list. Steady viewers weren't caught off guard, but for some reason the bad guy always was. (Maybe he was too cultured to have watched much television.) The, aaaaah, just one more thing would always prove the thing. And just as inevitably, our shabby hero would emerge triumphant in the last scene.
The prosthesis only added to
The actor came by his fictional persona honestly, having been a cook in the merchant marine and generally the kind of hard worker who makes his talent seem natural. The result was that, whenever
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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