Watching Peter Falk’s performance in Wings of Desire is one of the many reasons I come back to the film. I remember being so impressed with the idea of Falk playing himself as a fallen angel who happens to meet another fallen angel while filming and episode of Columbo in Berlin. To me, the Peter Falk character is an integral aspect to the film, so it was quite interesting when years later I learned his character was a last-minute addition. During the initial contact from the Wenders crew, Falk was informed that his character — in addition to being himself — was also a fallen angel. He paused and replied, “How did you know?” Even without a proper script or any idea as to what his actual part would be, Falk signed on play the role.
But experimenting with film concepts wasn’t new for the seasoned actor. His work with friend and sometimes enemy, John Cassavetes, features some of his best performances and a clear dedication to the art. The pair met by chance and being familiar with each others’ work, started talking about projects. Falk had a script he liked (Mikey and Nicky) and was thinking about Cassavetes for the other male lead. At the same time, Cassavetes was writing the script for a film (Husbands) and had thought of Falk as a lead character. The rest, as they say, is history.
Among the many projects the pair worked on together, Falk’s performance in Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence is one of a kind in his career, and perhaps my favorite. The film is quite depressing and not for the ADD generation, but anyone interested in drama or the art of acting for that matter are pretty much required to see it. Gena Rowlands delivers what is probably my favorite performance of all time.
Falk was always confused and challenged by Cassavetes’ approach to film making. Husbands, for example, was the film where the two really bonded. Falk and Cassavetes along with co-star Ben Gazzara would have long meetings to discuss their characters and the script was revised as they went along developing their characters. The film was exceptional in its creation and the performances were incredibly real as a result. Nevertheless, it was met with less than exceptional reviews, a trend that would plague the later Cassavetes’ films.
Peter Falk left us with an amazing body of work. From his role as the Grandfather in The Princess Bride to The Great Race to his work with Cassavetes, the man was just incredible and he will be missed.