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Chevy Mystery Show: “Enough Rope”

Chevy Mystery Show: “Enough Rope”
April 1, 2021 - 4:00 pm

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Media scholar Amelie Hastie, author of the forthcoming book, Columbo: Make Me a Perfect Murder, will join Television Archivist Mark Quigley for a post-screening conversation about all things Columbo.

Chevy Mystery Show: “Enough Rope”

U.S., 7/31/1960

In an acclaimed career that included major parts in films by notable directors, including John Cassavetes, Academy Award-nominated actor Peter Falk will be forever best remembered as “Lieutenant Columbo,” one of the most beloved characters in the history of television. For over three decades, Falk was indelible as the disheveled, genius detective, with the actor’s own persona often seemingly indistinguishable from the eponymous role for which he would win four Emmy Awards. As intimately inseparable as Falk and the character of Columbo would become, Falk, surprisingly, did not originate the iconic part on television. That distinction belongs to character actor Bert Freed in the Chevy Mystery Show episode, “Enough Rope,” an NBC “living color” production that was broadcast some seven years before Falk would first don Columbo’s trademark raincoat.

In creating “Enough Rope,” writers Richard Levinson and William Link employed an anti-whodunit structure that would serve as the template for the long-running Columbo TV series, wherein a sophisticated murderer is revealed early in the first act with the ensuing drama revolving around how a working-class detective, seemingly a supporting player, would give the criminal “enough rope” to implicate themselves. Levinson later recounted that during the production of “Enough Rope,” the deceptively small but central role of Columbo caused one of the drama’s leads to proclaim that “the cop was stealing the show.” As a result, the character was toned down, though Freed conveys glimpses of the bemused, sly sensibility that Falk would later fully illuminate.

In 1962, Levinson and Link would adapt “Enough Rope” into a stage play, Prescription: Murder, starring film veteran Thomas Mitchell (It’s a Wonderful Life) as the second actor to play Columbo before Falk. Levinson and Link once again adapted the work into a 1968 NBC telefilm (also titled Prescription: Murder), ultimately casting Falk in the role of his career. Ironically, however, the actor was not the creative team’s first selection for the Columbo television series. In a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Falk noted that “their first choice… was Bing Crosby. Thank God, he liked to golf.”

Digital, color with b&w commercials, 60 min. NBC. Director: Don Richardson. Screenwriters: Richard Levinson, William Link. With: Richard Carlson, Bert Freed, Joan O'Brien, Barbara Stuart, Duncan McLeod. 

Preserved from the original 2 in. videoreel. Commercials added from an original 16mm kinescope of a 1961 re-broadcast. Video transfer at DC Video. “Enough Rope” courtesy of Jaffe Partners and Retro Video. Extra special thanks to Bill DiCicco and Ian Marshall.

Program curated and notes written by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Archivist.