What was Peter Falk’s best role?

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He was best known for playing Lt. Columbo, the rumpled and inquisitive detective who always managed to find the last piece in the puzzle. Of course in a half-century acting career, Peter Falk, who died Thursday night in Beverly Hills, also starred in dozens of movies. With the actor’s passing, we present some of his better-known roles and ask which was his best.

‘Wings of Desire.’ He was never given a name, and he could seem almost out of place as he wandered the streets of Berlin, a former angel who chose mortality so he can dwell in this world. But Falk’s presence as a film star in Wim Wenders’ 1987 classic gave the film a splash of color and cleverly played off his own image of the grizzled Hollywooder.

‘The In-Laws.’ A classic buddy comedy in which Falk plays the wiseacre CIA operative (or is he?) opposite Alan Arkin’s tightly wound dentist. His tall tale about baby-napping tse-tse flies is a classic, as his is plea (clip below) for a Central American warlord to avoid shooting the pair to save the bridgework of New York’s Latino community.

‘Mikey and Nicky.’ Falk and a buddy again get into trouble, but this time Falk is the helpful do-gooder, always bailing out his mob-running friend (John Cassavetes). Elaine May’s film, shot unconventionally, showcased Falk’s improvisational skills.


‘Husbands.’ As stagnating suburban husband Archie in a film Cassavetes directed, Falk is off to London, where he and two pals (Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara) try to shake things up, but their attempts at an affair don’t quite work out as planned. Falk showed a dramatic side in the 1970 cinema verite experiment.

‘A Woman Under the Influence.’ Falk continued the drama as Nick, who reluctantly commits his wife to a mental institution and takes over the full-time parenting of their children. Falk demonstrated a vulnerability in this Cassavetes film that marked one of the more ambitious movies of his career.

‘The Princess Bride.’ He didn’t get much screen time in Rob Reiner’s fairy-tale comedy. But for a generation of filmgoers, Falk will forever always be reading a children’s book to Fred Savage.


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Photos: Columbo, Shaft and other fictional detectives

-- Steven Zeitchik