Lieutenant Frank Columbo, hereafter referred to simply as Columbo, is a sterling example of one of the most weirdly specific character archetypes in crime fiction. That of the painfully, almost comically weird detective who is somehow always right and spends about 90% of their time wandering around like a drunken bumblebee, intermittently solving crimes and pissing everyone off. He’s also the subject of a rather fierce fan debate about whether or not he actually has a functioning set of eyeballs.
Described and portrayed as a slobbish but deceptively brilliant detective with an almost unerring knack for solving crimes and badgering confessions out of rich smarmy assholes, Columbo is one of televisions most beloved crime-solving eccentrics. However, what makes Columbo such a compelling character is that is unclear how many of these eccentricities are genuine aspects of his personality and how many of them are a ploy to lower the guard of potential suspects by tricking them into thinking he’s just some random asshole in raincoat full of eggs and not a hard-boiled detective who’s gonna finger them for big crime they committed earlier that episode.
To explain, it’s established throughout the show that Columbo is, to put it lightly, full of shit and that he frequently just makes things up about himself to ingratiate himself with suspects. For example, Columbo has spoken fluent Italian in one episode only to later claim to be wholly unfamiliar with the language in a later one. Likewise in another episode Columbo claims to have no affinity for music only to later absolutely melt some faces with a kick-ass tuba solo.
Perhaps the greatest example of Columbo’s innate mysteriousness though is the fact that at no point in his almost 50 years of regular TV and movie appearances is his first name ever confirmed or said out loud by any character he interacts with. For the curious, his first name is shown on things like I.D. in brief blink-and-you’d-miss-them shots, which reveal he’s called Frank, but for half a century this information (along with many other aspects of his life and personality) were a complete mystery.
Which brings us to his eyes.
You see, one of Columbo’s most iconic traits is the piercing, you’re a piece of shit who better start telling me everything stare he lays on suspects when he’s giving them the business.
Now this distinctive, withering look was a direct result of actor Peter Falk only having one eye in real life. Specifically his left, with his right eye being an ocular prosthetic that gave the actor a naturally puzzled expression whenever he furrowed his brow. A quirk of Falk’s that quickly became one of Columbo’s most iconic traits.
The problem is, at no point during the show does Columbo ever mention having a prosthetic eye. Something we imagine at least a portion of our audience will respond to by saying something like well “The actor playing him has a glass eye so naturally the character should too, right?”. Which we’d like to counter with this official press image of Scarlett Johansson in character as Motoko Kusanagi.
Anyway, another issue is that the reality of the show wouldn’t allow for Columbo to only have one eye. As a fan site for the character notes (yes, that exists and we’re quoting it because it feels like the authority on this weird detective gremlin) Columbo would have never made it onto the force with one eye and if it was actually the case that he lost it after joining the police due to an accident or something, he would have either been fired, made to ride a desk or put on disability almost instantly. Because let’s be real here, any case Columbo made would be shot to pieces like Peter Weller in the opening 10 minutes of RoboCop by any half-competent lawyer the moment this information became public.
However, the things get a little murkier because there is an episode of the show where Columbo jokes about having one eye. Though again it’s really unclear if he was being honest or if, like the aforementioned fan site suggests, this is merely a nod to the well-known fact Falk himself only had one eye.
Either way, this argument has gone on for years and will likely never end. Which is great because it means clips of Columbo giving rich people shit and touching their stuff to annoy them will continue to proliferate the internet for years to come.