5 best moments from Columbo Publish or Perish

Columbo Eddie Kane
There ain’t no party like a Jack Cassidy party, right Eddie?

Although it’s often regarded as the lesser light of Jack Cassidy’s three Columbo outings, I actually think Publish or Perish is the uber-villain’s finest hour.

With a host of side-splitting comic moments, an intricate and fiendishly plotted double murder and a magnificent cast in depth, Publish or Perish is full of rewards for the observant viewer. But just what are its very, very finest scenes? Here’s what I reckon…

Publish or Perish is full of rewards for the observant viewer.”

5. But WHO? WHY?

Columbo Riley Greenleaf
Columbo’s prime reason for suspecting Greenleaf was surely his response to Mallory’s demise

Amidst some hot competition, the prize for ‘Least Convincing Display of Grief‘ upon learning that a dear friend / loved one has been slain goes to our mate Riley when hearing that Allen Mallory is dead.

Hungover after spending a night in the drunk tank due to challenging police officers to a rumble, Greenleaf is informed of his protege’s demise when Columbo plays a tape recording that appears to capture the moment Mallory was gunned down.

When Columbo confirms Mallory is dead, Greenleaf’s response of “But WHO? WHY?” was loud enough to rattle window panes right across the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area – and it never fails to raise a titter with keen fans.

4. The sleazy side of publishing

Columbo Publish or Perish

Greenleaf Publications seems to be the Mills & Boon (or worse) of the Columbo universe, with its chief export being ‘naughty’ novels going by titles as varied as Modern Aztec Courtship Practices and My Home Was a [presumed whore] House. Highbrow it ain’t…

Waiting for an interview with Greenleaf, Columbo wanders about the premises and looks on at a troubled photography shoot, where a swooning maiden in Hawaiian garb is complaining about the aroma of her co-worker’s costume. “His t-shirt smells? YOUR T-SHIRT SMELLS?” rages the irritated photographer, as Columbo raises an eyebrow in bemusement. Upon meeting Greenleaf, the Lieutenant asks what sort of book the shoot was for. “Anthropology,” is the publisher’s deadpan response.

So, a very entertaining scene that lays out bare (excuse the pun) the smutty world that Greenleaf operates in. And, who knows, perhaps King of Sleaze Sean Brantley, the murderous naughty photographer from 1990’s Columbo Cries Wolf, earned his stripes here on an internship? I rather hope so…

3. Sparks will fly

Columbo Publish or Perish Eddie Kane
Eddie Kane: one of the few US soldiers to thoroughly enjoy his Vietnam experience

Publish or Perish literally gets off to an explosive start as we encounter sinister bomb specialist Eddie Kane wreaking havoc at a garbage tip. He’s met here by chief protagonist Riley Greenleaf, where it becomes quickly evident that Kane has been hired to take out a hit at Greenleaf’s request.

Interspersed with freeze frames of a variety of meaty KABOOOMS, the effective opening succinctly outlines the intricacies of the crimes ahead, as well as giving us a good first-hand look at the criminal collaborators.

Most chilling, perhaps, is Kane’s immediate transformation from ice-cold killer to grinning, placated puppy dog when learning that Greenleaf will publish his book on bombs. This guy has a serious screw loose, making him an extremely unstable component. We’re left in no doubt that sparks are going to fly in this one!

2. I forgot to add the ice tea…

Columbo Publish or Perish
The arrest and thrashing of the snooty waiter wasn’t shown, BUT CERTAINLY HAPPENED

Columbo catches up with publishing duo Jeffrey Neal and Eileen McRae at fashionable Chasen’s restaurant, where the hungry detective finds the uppity options on the menu not quite to his taste. So instead he requests a bowl of chilli, along with an ice tea – much to the disgust of the stereotypically snooty French waiter.

After swiftly polishing it off over a quick conversation, Columbo ups and leaves and is stung by the high price of his order – a princely $6. “I think there’s a mistake,” he stammers. “I had the chilli and the ice tea.” The waiter corrects the bill, but the price has gone up, not down. “$6.75?” mourns Columbo. “I forgot to add the ice tea,” replies the waiter.

It’s another rib-tickling scene, the great joke being that Chasen’s was revered for its chilli, which was a favourite amongst Hollywood luminaries. The scene also works well in entertainingly delivering key information to the Lieutenant, notably that Mallory’s incomplete novel had already been picked up by Universal as a Rock Hudson vehicle, necessitating a re-write of the final chapters, because “For $100,000 you don’t kill off Rock Hudson.” It’s the info that will ultimately do in for Greenleaf.

Plus, Mariette Hartley in a red stetson? Mrrrrroooow!

1. Riley on the rampage!

Columbo Publish or Perish Jack Cassidy
“Here, go buy yourself a personality!”

Interspersed over 14 minutes of innovative split-screen editing, Riley Greenleaf’s faux drunken shenanigans as he aims to both incriminate and exonerate himself from the killing of Allen Mallory is some of the most enjoyable television ever recorded. Lurching from shambling aggression and outright rudeness to wicked fun, this is Jack Cassidy doing what he does best.

Among the highlights of his drunken spree are him tossing money at a barkeep and suggesting he buys himself a personality. Better is to follow as he accosts lily-livered ‘Ralphie’ in the bar car park and delivers a glorious riposte to the nagging wife: “Madame, in your condition I should call a plastic surgeon!” He later challenges police officers to remove him from his illegally parked car – a challenge they happily accept. Every moment is GOLD!

The joy of these scenes is that Cassidy delivers the lines with a mischievous smile on his face throughout. He’s clearly having a blast, and that sense of fun is absolutely contagious. And that’s really the chief take-out from Publish or Perish: the unforgettable sight of Jack Cassidy in full flight.

View some highlights of Riley’s rampage below…

“Lurching from shambling aggression and outright rudeness to wicked fun, this is Jack Cassidy doing what he does best.”

If you need a more detailed reminder of the excellence of Publish or Perish, read my full episode review here. You can also find out where Riley Greenleaf ranks in my list of favourite Columbo killers here. SPOILER: he’s highly rated!

As always, I invite opinions of your personal highlights of this episode, so do bust a comment below and let’s continue the conversation. Until next time, BOMBS AWAY, EDDIE!

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Columbo Publish or Perish Mariette Hartley
Ride ’em cowgirl!
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