Could Mark Ruffalo crack the case as the new Columbo?
Published 23/07/2014 | 12:50
Nobody but the great James Garner, who died this week aged 86, could have played Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files.
Universal, the company that made it, discovered this to its cost when a pilot for a projected new series starring Dermot Mulroney as the Los Angeles private eye with a tight streak and an overriding instinct for self-preservation was judged to be so bad it was never aired.
Mercifully, plans to make a film version starring the insufferable Vince Vaughn as Rockford also seem to have stalled.
It wasn't just that Garner was born to play Rockford (which he unquestionably was) but that the character was born to be played by him. Co-creator and producer Roy Huggins, who was behind the actor's previous hit TV series Maverick, dreamt up The Rockford Files with Garner, and Garner alone, in mind.
It seems just as sacrilegious to imagine any actor daring to step into the shoes of the late Peter Falk as Columbo... at least until you consider the actor looking to do just that is the extravagantly talented Mark Ruffalo.
Hollywood is buzzing with rumours, so far neither confirmed nor denied, that Ruffalo is eager to bring the dishevelled detective, whose muddled mannerisms and seeming absent-mindedness, conceal a razor-sharp intellect, to the big screen.
Movie versions of popular TV series usually inspire dread, for the simple reason that the vast majority of them are indeed dreadful. Starsky & Hutch, I Spy, The A-Team - terrible, terrible, terrible films all of them. Even Tom Cruise's wildly profitable Mission: Impossible franchise has moved so far away from the original concept that it's now M;I in name and theme tune only.
But Ruffalo as Columbo? As someone who grew up watching and loving the series, I think I might just go for that. Not convinced? Well, consider the evidence.
One, Ruffalo has the requisite untameable curly hair. Two, as he showed in films as diverse as Avengers Assemble and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he's very good at affecting the same air of faint distraction and confusion - as though his brain is trying to get to grips with a problem just out of reach - that Falk employed to such brilliant effect in Columbo.
Third, and this may be the most important consideration, Ruffalo has previous form when it comes to wearing a mac, which he did much of the time as real-life cop Inspector Dave Toschi in David Fincher's superb film Zodiac, about the hunt for a serial killer who terrorised San Francisco in the 60s and 70s.
Actually, it's his performance in that film that gives the strongest clue to why he could make a terrific Columbo. Even though he's sharing screen time with heavy-hitting co-leads Jake Gyllenhaal and that incorrigible scene stealer Robert Downey Jr, as well as an enormous supporting cast, Ruffalo is the one that commands your attention the most.
He never overplays, never showboats. And yet, whenever he's in a scene he's magnetic, the absolute centre of attention. Just, in fact, as Peter Falk was when engaging in a duel of wits with Donald Pleasance, Patrick McGoohan, John Cassavetes (a close friend of Falk's) or any of the other renowned guest stars who appeared in Columbo as arrogant murderers who imagined themselves the intellectual superior of the short, shabby cop with the cheap cigar.
If Mark Ruffalo is ideal casting for a movie, the ideal director would be Steven Spielberg. After all, he began his career by directing episodes of Columbo. Fate is knocking.