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!
The woman Cathy Goodland is really hot. Not the adulterous bad attitude, which is unattractive, but the physical looks and defiant bossiness is attractive.
IMO Gloria West (played by Arlene Martel), steals the show. Bursting with ‘it’ but contained.
1/ Sargent Wilson needed to be in many more episodes, he is made for them but I understand that Peter Falk kept him out of the picture because he (wrongly) feared being outclassed.
2/ Arlene Martel as Gloria West gave an astonishingly glorious performance, accent, looks, part. Brilliant.
Whenever I watch Greenhouse Jungle I always rewind the scene with Columbo hurtling down that hill. It cracks me up every time. “It’s a little steep”.
I also love Columbo’s reaction when he first sees Ken and Cathy together. Falk played it perfectly.
And the just lit (by Wilson) cigar survives the fall down the slope intact in Colombo’s right hand.
“did his own stunts” Falk drove backwards on a freeway in The In Laws.
Not sure if Oliver Nelson (composer of the wonderful “Stolen Moments”) wrote that car-chase music specifically for Columbo. I heard the same piece not long ago in an episode of Ironside. Apparently the guys who write music for TV are under such pressure to produce that they have no qualms about recycling.
One plot oversight: No one seems to notice that the man who collects the ransom money in Sgt. Wilson’s photos is WEARING THE SAME CLOTHES as the victim.
YES, your right. What also bothers
me is how could they have not realized the masked kidnapper picking up the money from Jarvis was Tony? You could see right through that stocking mask. It was clear as day to me who it was. How could sgt Wilson not have noticed with his fancy camera lens??
Yes, and what was the point of taking all those photos if they couldn’t use them to identify the “kidnapper”?
Maybe Jarvis redressed Tony in a clown suit after he slew him? That would be an apt costume for the fool.
Boy, you really are down on him, aren’t you? I recommend watching the film version of The Iceman Cometh with Dillman as Willie Oban. That should redeem him in your eyes.
I have no problems with Dillman! He did a brilliant job portraying Tony as such an oaf!
Have you seen him in the 1959 movie “Compulsion”? (Inspired by the infamous Leopold & Loeb murder case.) He was great. He also played St. Francis of Assissi once, believe it or not!
Goodness, who knew? I’ve not seen any of those I’m afraid.
What a pity! Hope you will get the chance to watch them, at least “Compulsion”. Compare that with “St. Francis of Assisi” , it’s interesting to see Dillman playing two VERY opposite character types.
Great episode and hilarious write-up. Ray must be doing a great job here, as Jarvis is a character I love to hate. This is another weird Columbo family.
Milland is much calmer in his Robert Culp episode.
To see Ray young, handsome, joyful and full of humor, catch ‘The Major and the Minor’ with Ginger Rogers.
Makes me wonder what Jarvis originally planned to do with both the .32 and the loot. Framing Cathy would put both nephew and wife out of the way, so to have Gloria seemingly plant the idea in his head late in the game undermines the entire scheme to some degree.
My Wife and I were watching the hill fall scene episode a few years back and she was laughing so hard she went into labour!
Wow! What a story! Did you name the child ‘Columbo’ in honour of the scene?
I loved Ray Milland in this episode.
People who have only seen Ray Milland in his later years have only seen him as an old, obnoxious ass. In his early career he was quite the ladies man, not Errol Flynn but still different than here. For a different view of his talents (not needing a toupe) watch ‘It Happens Every Spring’ from 1949.
Columbo infuriating Jarvis as he plays pool is hilarious.
“I can’t miss!”
Columbophile, I love all of your reviews… but this one truly had me laughing out loud! I guffawed at each of your references to the stupidity of Tony, and to the obvious dumb-looking hairpiece on Jarvis. Well done!
Ha, thank you! I must admit I even smiled a few times when writing this one!
While Tony is a true ninny – the signed head shot for his wife is Exhibit A – what’s most amusing is your utter contempt for him, to the point that you have Tony in the Deserving Victim category.
I have not a jot of sympathy for Tony. He’s got less common sense than one of Jarvis’s orchids.
A little off-topic, but the fact that Arlene Martel appears in this episode makes me wonder about the fact that she is credited in Double Exposure as Tanya, but never appears.
No argument at all with the list. I’d add as an Honorable Mention a moment from the very end. Jarvis is on his way to be booked and Columbo offers Cathy a ride home. Cathy nods in such a way that says, “Yeah, and I’m sorry I was such a b…. to you this whole time.”
Yes, a good scene. Similar to how Mrs Peck allows Columbo to lead her away in Double Shock, and Helen Stewart does the same in Dead Weight – all troubling characters for Columbo.
Another scene I find amusing is when Tony’s secretary goes to visit Jarvis to tell him who she suspects of killing Tony. As she’s telling her theory, Jarvis is getting ready to take his gun out because he thinks the secretary is going to rat him out but it turns out she thinks it was Tony’s wife. He then slowly puts the gun back without her noticing. Hysterical. If only she knew….
If only! Poor Gloria, she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box…
On that note, I’ve always wondered what Jarvis would have done had Cathy awakened while Jarvis was in her bedroom.
“My dear girl, I simply must find my cattleya bulb!”
That is indeed a good question, it’s actually why I came here, I was intrigued by this almost shooting 2 more people if things had gone slightly differently, as in if gloria had accused him and if cathy awakened, and considering he pointed the gun at her I don’t see many alternatives.