If there’s a lesson to be learned from Season 2’s second episode, The Greenhouse Jungle, it’s never to trust an angry orchid fancier in a bad wig.
Ray Milland’s short-tempered but green-fingered Jarvis Goodland double crosses and slays idiotic nephew Tony after the two fake Tony’s kidnapping to secure $300,000 from the family trust. With the dubious help of recent Police Academy graduate Sergeant Wilson, Columbo literally has to dig deep (chuckle) to crack the case.
It’s perhaps not quite a vintage episode, but I’m on record saying that Greenhouse Jungle is arguably Peter Falk’s single-best performance in the rumpled mac and his stunning, humorous turn here really rewards repeat viewing. But just what are the episode’s stand-out moments? Here’s what I think…
“Greenhouse Jungle is arguably Peter Falk’s single-best performance in the rumpled mac.”
5. A fool and his money…
Following Jarvis’s sham handover of ransom cash to a masked Tony on a remote hillside road, the conniving double act return to Tony’s hideaway, which appears to be little more than a woodcutter’s hut from fairy tales of yore.
Here, Tony literally cuddles the cash in delight, his hair flopping fiendishly as he lolls excitedly about. 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 his misery forever, gunning him down on the spot. Tony died as he lived – with a look of confused simplicity on his face. It’s an apt end for one of the series’ most deserving victims.
4. Columbo bursts beefcake’s bubble
Conan stunt double Ken Nichols has a neck thicker than a boab tree and a physique so chiseled it makes granite seem like jelly. That notwithstanding, there’s only going to be one winner when Columbo leaves Ken in the lurch with lover Cathy Goodland at the start of what’s supposed to be a jolly day out boating.
The canoodling couple have been treating Columbo like an enemy, almost daring him to disapprove of their relationship. But the wily detective has the last laugh. As he bids the pair farewell, Columbo lets it slip that Tony’s UNIDENTIFIED love rival (i.e. Ken), said to be a ‘professional sunbather’, had agreed to accept $50,000 from Tony to clear orf and get out of Cathy’s life for good. The Lieutenant then slips away with a cheery wave, leaving Ken to an uncertain fate under Cathy’s wilting glare…
3. The stinging rebuke
He may be rather too one-dimensional to be considered amongst the show’s great killers, but Jarvis Goodland is the KING of Columbo put-downs.
He seems to hate everyone, including Cathy, who he continually chastises for her spendthrift ways. But it’s his stinging critique of Tony that lives longest in the memory.
After an irritable exchange with Columbo in his greenhouse, Jarvis reveals his true feelings for his only living relative. “I don’t mind revealing that my nephew isn’t worth a sack of peat moss. He’s a wife-ridden weakling whom I’ve despised for years.”
Ray Milland’s clipped delivery makes this one of the most delightful aural treats of the entire series. Jarvis may be a pompous oaf, but he’s absolutely got the measure of the man when it comes to Tony.
2. Jarvis’s jaunt across town
With $300,000 in cash on him to pay off Tony’s ‘kidnappers’, Jarvis is forced to play a game of phone tag across town, heading from home to a gas station phone booth before being ‘directed’ to a dusty track through the hills, where he hands over the loot to a stocking masked-Tony who’s masquerading as a kidnapper. Skipping over the hill to meet the car on the farside, Tony then folds his lanky frame into the boot (or trunk to US readers) of Jarvis’s Rolls Royce to complete his escape.
All the while, the police are tailing Jarvis (absolutely conspicuously), with Sergeant Wilson’s dedication to cutting edge police techniques leaving Columbo looking decidedly past his sell-by date.
This is all fun enough in its own right, but the secret joy of this extended scene is the magnificent, jaunty score by Oliver Nelson. Big Olly only scored a single Columbo episode but got it SO RIGHT, creating one of its most iconic and toe-tapping themes. Bravo maestro! Enjoy it below…
1. The quickest way down…
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-breaking heap at the bottom. “I’ll tell ya – it was the quickest way down,” he concedes as Wilson helps him to his feet.
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’ most memorable moments – and one that is universally cherished by fans.
It also introduces us to the naive but endearing Sergeant Wilson (Bob Dishy), who will return to the series 3 years later in Jack Cassidy’s magical vehicle Now You See Him. GOLD!
“The hill fall is not just the highlight of this episode, but one of the entire series’ most memorable moments.”
So there we are – five cracking scenes that go a long way to lifting Greenhouse Jungle above the average. If your favourite scene isn’t here, please enlighten me to it below. And if you’re craving for more Greenhouse goodness you can catch my full-length episode review here.
Thanks, as ever, for reading!