Watch Peter Falk in the Oscar-winning Doc “Scared Straight!” and “A Constant Forge”

“These teenagers are going to prison.”

That’s the first line (excluding a warning about language) spoken by Peter Falk, who passed away yesterday, in the Oscar-winning 1978 documentary “Scared Straight!” Out of context it would sound like “Columbo” had solved a case involving youths, and Falk’s famous TV role is likely why he was hired to narrate (and momentarily appear in) the introductory part of Arnold Shapiro’s legendary film. Really the teens are going to Rahway State Prison for a three-hour “sentence” to be, yes, “scared straight” by a number of threatening, foul-mouthed (hence the language warning) inmates.

Even if you haven’t seen the original doc, you’ve likely seen any one of the many parodies it inspired, such as a recent one on “Saturday Night Live.” And if you have seen the doc, you might have seen the Apted-like revisited version hosted by Danny Glover which shows us what’s happened to those teens in the 20 years since the film was made. I would embed this version as it’s on YouTube, but due to copyright issues the video is silent, which means you can only see Falk, not hear him. But you can check it out with sound now at or rent the whole DVD from Netflix.

Falk is of course best known for “Columbo” and a number of movies such as “A Woman Under the Influence,” “Husbands,” “The Princess Bride,” “The In-Laws,” “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” “Murder by Death” and “Robin and the 7 Hoods.” He also played “himself” very memorably in both “The Player” and “Wings of Desire,” which is akin to appearing in documentaries.

And he did a bunch of those too. He can be seen in a lot of TV productions and making-of films, logically, related to Hollywood and also specific people he worked with. Such as John Cassavetes, to whom he pays tribute in the docs “Anything for John” and “A Constant Forge” (plus the non-Cassavetes-specific independent filmmaker celebration “Edge of Outside”). You can see Falk in “Forge” in the clip below (and rent the full film from Netflix):

Falk’s final film appearance also seems to be a documentary about the craft of acting. Titled “Char-ac-ter,” it features Falk with longtime friends Dabney Coleman, Charles Grodin, Harry Dean Stanton and Mark Rydell plus an appearance by Sidney Pollack. The doc sounds interesting, but I can’t seem to find a copy anywhere. Hopefully that will change.

R.I.P. Peter Falk (1927-2011)


About Christopher Campbell
I am a blogger for Documentary Channel and, where I write the Doc Talk column. I prefer real stories to fake ones. I tweet here: @thefilmcynic

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