If badly bewigged men bellowing in monotone for 75 minutes is your idea of a good time, you’re gonna LOVE Greenhouse Jungle!
Yes folks, Season 2’s second outing hit the airwaves on 15th October 1972, following hot on the heels of the uber-popular Etude in Black. A tough act to follow, perhaps, but with Ray Milland leading the supporting cast, and Peter Falk now owning every inch of the crumpled mac, anything seemed possible.
Is Greenhouse Jungle a pathetic African Violet, or a $1200 orchid of an episode? Read on and find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Jarvis Goodland: Ray Milland
Sergeant Wilson: Bob Dishy
Tony Goodland: Bradford Dillman
Kathy Goodland: Sandra Smith
Ken Nichols: William Smith
Gloria: Arlene Martell
Directed by: Boris Sagal
Written by: Jonathan Latimer
Score by: Oliver Nelson
Episode synopsis – Columbo Greenhouse Jungle
TRUE IDIOT Tony Goodland needs cash fast to win back his cheating wife’s heart, so hatches a harebrained scheme with bellowy uncle Jarvis (Ray Milland, bewigged) to fake a kidnapping and nab a colossal ransom fee.
Heading out to a remote location, the pair fake Tony’s kidnapping by firing a bullet through the window of his much loved Jag, then pushing it over a ravine. Tony then goes into hiding in a woodcutter’s hut as part 2 of the plan kicks in.
This all-action opening sequence means that Lieutenant Columbo is on screen within 9 minutes, meeting up with the energetic Sergeant Freddy Wilson at the crime scene. Wilson is an officer of the ‘new breed’ – well versed in the latest crime-fighting techniques after 2 years away with Mahoney, Sweetchuck, Hightower and the rest of those lovable boobs at the Police Academy.
In what proves to be one of the single greatest TV scenes of all time Columbo plunges down the hill to the crashed Jag to cast an analytical eye over the scene, plucking a bullet from the head rest of the driver’s seat. Wilson then reveals that he has been assigned to work with Columbo on the case. The Lieutenant doesn’t seem keen, but a drop of flattery wins him over, Wilson revealing that Captain Ritchie has described Columbo as “fast becoming a legend in the department”. That’s what collaring a best-selling novellist, a concert maestro and a revered US war hero will do for you…
As Wilson heads off to the lab with the bullet, Columbo heads off to update Tony’s wife Cathy, who’s hanging out at home with Jarvis. Although hardly rolling out the welcome mat to Columbo, they do let him in on a little secret: they’ve received a ransom note demanding $300,000 for Tony’s safe release. Of course they don’t have that sort of money lying around – but they can get it by breaking Tony’s trust fund!
Columbo smells a rat. Any why not? Didn’t he bust open a similar scheme just a year before when besting Leslie Williams in Ransom for a Dead Man? The Goodlands evidently haven’t done their homework on the crumpled detective and his track record of excellence…
After securing the cash from the bank, Jarvis heads to his opulent mansion home, only to find the Lieutenant rummaging around in his solarium, which is home to a priceless collection of orchids. Columbo’s even brought a plant of his own with him – his wife’s ailing African Violet, which Jarvis quickly writes off as a ‘pathetic specimen’.
In one of the series’ most delightful put-downs, Jarvis describes Tony as “a wife-ridden weakling whom I’ve despised for years.”
Columbo has questions about the case, and it’s not long before Jarvis is bellowing away – even threatening to report him to his superiors as early as the episode’s 25th minute! But the heat finally goes out of Jarvis as he reveals his true feelings towards his nephew. In one of the series most delightful put-downs, Jarvis describes Tony as “a wife-ridden weakling whom I’ve despised for years.”
So, armed with the cash, Jarvis receives a fake ransom call (from Tony) and heads out to the drop-site – tailed all the way by Columbo and Wilson. At a distant location in the hills, the transfer takes place. Wearing a stocking over his face (but still 100% recognisable), Tony lollops down a hillside to snatch the bag from Jarvis, who drives off.
As the police photograph the switch site, Jarvis collects Tony on the other side of the hill. The floppy-haired fool folds himself into the car trunk and they ride off into the darkness, eventually returning to the hideout where Tony literally cuddles the cash in delight. His joy, however, is short-lived…
Now Jarvis has got what he wanted – the cash for himself – he’s able to finally put that imbecile Tony out of misery forever, gunning him down on the spot. Tony died as he lived – with a look of confused simplicity on his face.
Now it’s officially a murder case, Columbo’s suspicions are multiplying fast. How did the kidnappers know so much about Cathy’s spending habits and personality? How come Tony’s sports car was caught by a slower, heavier vehicle? And if they fired at Tony through the car window, how come he wasn’t killed outright as the trajectory suggests he ought to have been?
“Tony died as he lived – with a look of confused simplicity on his face.”
He also grills Jarvis about an incident in his solarium the year before, when he was required to fire upon an intruder. Jarvis missed, harmlessly firing into soil, and claims he can’t remember where he’s put the gun. He recognises that Columbo considers him a serious suspect, though, so enacts the next stage of his fiendish plan – framing Cathy.
In a scene of Hitchcockian splendour, Jarvis breaks into Cathy’s home, plants the murder weapon in her Imelda Marcos-rivalling shoe collection, then enters her bedroom as she tosses and turns to steal her own gun from a dresser drawer. How does he know she even kept it there? Not our problem, folks…
He turns over the ‘clean’ gun to the impressionable Sergeant Wilson, whom he coerces into conducting a search of Cathy’s house. The planted gun is (eventually) found, and before you can say “Step on it, Grover”, she’s on her way downtown. Jarvis’s hold on the $300,000 looks rock solid.
But wouldn’t you know it, he’s fallen into the time-honoured trap of underestimating the good Lieutenant. Returning home, Jarvis is disturbed by another commotion in his solarium. It’s Columbo again! He’s been waiting for Jarvis to return and has been indulging in a little modern policing himself.
“It’s going to be difficult for Jarvis to explain how the gun he admitted to firing in his own home ended up in Cathy’s bedroom.”
Redirecting a confused Wilson and resigned Cathy to join them, Columbo puts on quite a show. He’d borrowed one of Wilson’s ‘new fangled’ metal detectors to conduct a sweep of the greenhouse, eventually finding the bullet in the soil fired by Jarvis the year before. He’s had it run over to ballistics and has the report delivered to him live. And it’s a game-changer…
The bullet is a match for the one that killed Tony, and also the once taken from his car seat. It’s going to be difficult for Jarvis to explain how the gun he admitted to firing in his own home – now established beyond doubt as the murder weapon – ended up in Cathy’s bedroom.
Finally deflated, Jarvis knows he’s been outmanoeuvred. Flinging his wig to the floor and clip-clopping his furious hooves on it (dramatisation – may not have happened) he barely allows Wilson to escort him off the premises. Just before departing, Columbo remembers his wife’s African Violet. Now in full bloom, he lovingly scoops up the plant and turns to leave as credits roll…
Greenhouse Jungle‘s best moment – the hill fall
Peter Falk showed he’s an ace at physical comedy in Greenhouse Jungle‘s legendary hill fall scene. Directed towards the ‘quickest way down’ to the crash site by eager beaver Sergeant Wilson, Columbo’s perplexed look at the steep slope is hilarious in its own right, but it can’t compare to the mad capering that follows as the Lieutenant careers down the hill and ends up in a near neck-braking heap at the bottom. “I’ll tell ya – it was the quickest way down,” he concedes.
The film doesn’t appear to have been sped up, and the different camera angles in play clearly reveal that Falk did his own stunts. Whether this was another of his famous ad libs has never been made clear. Either way, what a performance! Not just the highlight of this episode, then, but one of the entire series’ standout moments. View it in all its glory below (if you’re impatient, skip straight to 1.00 mark).
My thoughts on Columbo Greenhouse Jungle
There comes a time when a man is at the absolute peak of their powers. In terms of his portrayal of Columbo, Greenhouse Jungle could represent Peter Falk’s very finest hour.
After a full season to flesh out the raincoat, Falk had now achieved mastery over every nuance of the character. It makes Greenhouse compelling viewing for the serious fan – even if it is one of the weaker mysteries the series has delivered up to this point.
“After a full season to flesh out the raincoat, Falk had now achieved mastery over every nuance of the character.”
Unlike Etude in Black, which took itself perhaps a shade too seriously. Greenhouse delivers just the right mix of humour to make the most of Falk’s comedic talents. Giving Columbo a sidekick was a flash of inspiration. Being shackled to the keen yet green Sergeant Wilson (played by one of Falk’s best pals, Bob Dishy) allows Falk ample opportunities to exercise his funny bone – and he does it brilliantly.
From their first moments together, where Wilson speaks at Columbo for several minutes before the Lieutenant even asks him his name, to his pleasure at being described as a ‘legend in the department’, and his appearing to feel ‘past it’ as Wilson whips out the latest equipment and talks up the hottest Academy techniques, Falk’s performance is SOLID GOLD!
The partnership between Columbo and Wilson is an intriguing one. In many ways it mirrors that of Jarvis and Tony Goodland: a superior mind being encumbered with a lesser one, whom they just want to be rid of. Only Columbo manages the process in a much more humane way.
He gives Wilson just enough leeway and rope to hang himself, but at least he makes it a learning experience for the young rookie, and gives him credit where it’s due along the way. It’s Sherlockian in a way. Holmes often needed Watson as a foil to draw out his best thinking. Columbo employs just such techniques here to crack the case.
“Bob Dishy is delightful, too. His Sergeant Wilson is as keen as a puppy and pretty impressed with his own abilities.”
What’s most interesting is that Falk, along with co-producers Richard Levinson and William Link, had railed against giving Columbo the human sidekick that the studio was baying for. And yet with Dishy as his foil, Falk delivered his finest performance to date. I’m sure the irony wasn’t lost on the studio, who would have to wait 3 seasons for the return of Wilson.
Dishy is delightful, too. His Sergeant Wilson is as keen as a puppy and pretty impressed with his own abilities, especially when Jarvis stokes his ego and sends him off to search Cathy’s house. Wilson’s sense of shame when he realises he hasn’t got his woman is palpable. His best bit, though? Tough-talking the bumbling Sergeant Grover, who has fobbed off checking all of Cathy’s shoes with the metal detector – missing the gun in the process. Which brings us to…
New game: Blame Grover!
Grover (pictured) is clearly a liability at any crime scene. So any time there’s an incident in Columbo where the policework appears sloppy, it can be blamed away on the hapless Grover.
Who checked the equipment sheds at Bo Williamson’s horse track and missed the dead body? GROVER!
Who failed to notice the exceedingly visible carnation on the floor of Jennifer Welles’ house? GRO-VER!
Who neglected to look up the chimney in the Sigma Society where the umbrella was hidden? GRO-VEEEER!
The shame appears to have worn Grover down to the extent that he changed his name by deed poll to ‘Vernon’ by the time we meet him again in Candidate for Crime. He was, however, still bungling, as proved by the fact he failed to notice the gun in Nelson Hayward’s jacket as he thoughtfully hung it up in a closet. Oh, Grover…
Back to business!
Apologies for that aside. Where were we…? Ah yes, let’s talk about Ray Milland. If you’ve read my article on the best ever Columbo guest star appearances, you’ll know that I rate his turn as media mogul Arthur Kennicut in Death Lends a Hand extremely highly. There he delivered power, vulnerability and subtlety to a role that could have been one-dimensional. Yet his Jarvis Goodland is a cardboard cut-out.
His default setting is angry bellowing and if looks could kill, everyone within a 20 yard radius of him would keel over within miliseconds. He may be the basilisk of Columbo bad guys, but there’s not enough depth of character to make him a truly memorable adversary. All he does is shout in monotone. His talent is wasted.
And is it me, or do Columbo and Jarvis not get nearly enough screen time together? There’s some nice interplay in the solarium, and when Columbo shoots some pool on Jarvis’s table, but they have scant time to build the sort of rapport that we see in the very best episodes.
Plot-wise, Greenhouse Jungle is choppy. Tony is far too stupid to be believable. Just how did he think he’d be able to keep hold of the cash after the fact and not arouse his wife’s suspiscions – or avert a jail sentence for fraud? How did he not see his own demise coming when it was so clearly signposted? And why on earth did he autograph a photo of himself for his own wife? He’s a special kind of weird, so no wonder Jarvis would want shot of him. I find him one of the most deserving victims of all.
Similarly, Cathy Goodland is an odd character. She’s confident and unrepentant despite playing around with lover boy Ken Nichols, but she treats Columbo icily throughout for no good reason – as if she’s daring him to disapprove of her lifestyle. He’s just doing his job, ma’am.
With Jarvis hating on both Tony and Cathy, we have an important trio of characters that don’t evoke any sort of viewer sympathy. I couldn’t care less what happens to any of them. On the plus point, this frigidity does give Milland the opportunity to deliver some nice put-downs at their expense – usually about Cathy’s spendthrift ways, and Tony’s weakness of character.
“With Jarvis hating on both Tony and Cathy, we have an important trio of characters that don’t evoke any sort of viewer sympathy.”
Elsewhere in the cast, Arlene Martel is cute as Gloria, Tony’s sort-of love interest, who runs Ray Milland close in the worst wig stakes. And ‘professional sunbather’ Ken, as the hunky love interest of Cathy, beefcakes about until Columbo drops him in it by mentioning he was willing to take $50,000 from Tony to disappear.
Presumably Cathy ditched him 5 seconds after Columbo left, as he was last seen on Bicep Beach, trying to pick up chicks and having his style cramped by the Pink Panther (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, visit YouTube and see for yourself).
I also have a problem with the crucial clue. Yes, there’s good detective work from Columbo to find the bullet in the soil to tie it to the murder weapon, but it’s a clumsy clue overall – almost desperate, in fact. It isn’t nearly damning enough either, so makes for an anticlimactic gotcha – as we can see from this transcript from the subsequent court case:-
- Lawyer for the Prosecution: Mr Goodland (smug voice), how do you explain the murder weapon appearing at Cathy Goodland’s house?
- Jarvis Goodland: Well my good man (fixes with withering stare, starts bellowing), I lent it to that wife-ridden weakling Tony, who was worried that a muscular ski instructor was going to steal his wife away. When he returned it a fortnight later, he must have given me the wrong gun!
- Lawyer for the Prosecution: Ahhhh… ummm… errrrrm…
- Jarvis Goodland: *nearly pops eyes out they’re staring so hard*
- Lawyer for the Prosecution: (weakly) No more questions your honour.
- Judge: Mr Goodland, you’re free to go!
And one more criticism… I’m unsure of Jarvis’s motive. Columbo, as a show and a character, is big on motive. I can see why Jarvis would want to bump off his dolt of a nephew for the good of humanity, but why bother when he could just ostracise him instead? Jarvis clearly wants the $300k, but it never appears like he needs it. He lives in a giant mansion with a greenhouse full of priceless orchids – hardly an indication that he’s short of a bob or two.
It would have been easy to fill this motive gap – just a throwaway line or two about how Jarvis has gone broke through his orchid obsession would’ve done nicely. The lack of a clear motive would give old Jarvis yet more wriggle room in the court of law.
And if all this frivolity makes it appear I’m not taking this episode seriously, please forgive me. Rather like Etude in Black, this is an episode I want to like more than I actually do. The saving grace is that Falk’s performance goes a long way to compensate for the episode’s shortcomings.
So even if Greenhouse Jungle is Columbo not quite hitting all the right notes, it’s still better than most TV you’ll come across, and every watch offers up something more to treasure in Falk’s performance. As a result it really stands up to repeat viewing – and will always retain a special spot in my heart.
PS – it also includes this wonderfully melodious jazz-infused theme by Oliver Nelson. One of the best and most recognisable of all Columbo themes – so check it out now!
Did you know?
Greenhouse Jungle was the first episode in which Columbo appeared before the murder was committed. Although infrequent, this also occurred in several other episodes for various reasons, including Candidate for Crime, Troubled Waters, Case of Immunity and Make Me a Perfect Murder.
How I rate ’em so far
The strength of Falk’s performance elevates Greenhouse Jungle beyond the sum of its parts and above classic outings Blueprint for Murder and Ransom for a Dead Man, although at this early stage in the series’ lifetime it still only finds itself mid-table. Certainly not a pathetic African Violet, then, but not one of Jarvis Goodland’s very best orchids, either.
- Suitable for Framing
- Murder by the Book
- Death Lends a Hand
- Lady in Waiting
- Prescription: Murder
- Etude in Black
- Greenhouse Jungle
- Blueprint for Murder
- Ransom for a Dead Man
- Dead Weight
- Short Fuse
How do you rate Greenhouse? Let me know in the comments section below, and if it’s your numero uno, do vote for it here in the favourite episode poll!
Next up in our trek through Season 2 is The Most Crucial Game, which can be summed up in four key words: Robert Culp. Handlebar moustache. Can’t wait…