Life and times of the man in the dirty raincoat.
Actor Falk’s distinctive persona is so familiar that it’s impossible to read any of this whimsical autobiography’s many bite-size chapters without hearing the man’s raspy mumble; that’s the principal source of charm here, perfectly complementing the digressive (read “unfocused”), no-big-deal account of the various jobs and colleagues that have marked Falk’s haphazard path. His career, which includes the iconic television role of Columbo (the deceptively brilliant detective—Sherlock Holmes in dumb-schlemiel drag) and stints with John Cassavetes and Neil Simon, is impressive, but Falk describes the work in a manner so unpretentious and offhand that he undercuts the justification for writing an autobiography in the first place. One wishes for a more in-depth account of, say, the making of Cassavetes’s seminal Husbands, but Falk is content to call the auteur a genius and leave it at that. He is reliably witty on his early career as a diffident government bureaucrat, and his indomitable independent streak is good for a number of anecdotes involving arrests in foreign lands. The Columbo sections are amusing, as Falk describes developing the detective’s mannerisms and appearance—the actor reveals much of his technique in these passages, and it is surprisingly beholden to the “outside-in” approach associated with classically trained actors, rather than the Method style suggested by the tortured improvisations that characterize Cassavetes’s work. But these insights are largely incidental. Falk admits at the outset that he fears his story will bore the reader, and his strategy is to set it down in easily digestible chunks with weirdly funny titles, such as “The Raisin Story” and “On the Role Overcoats Play in an Actor’s Career.” This approach indeed makes for a painless read, but underscores the general impression of inconsequence.
Like a couple of hours with Columbo, minus the genius—inessential, but still pretty good company.