By Clint Zavodny
It’s no mystery that orchids are synonymous with mystery.
But in the 1972 “Columbo” episode “The Greenhouse Jungle,” orchids are involved in a mystery.
Well, sort of. Let’s just say the villain is an orchid aficionado. But “The Greenhouse Jungle” differs from most Columbo episodes in that no murder takes place in the opening scene. Typically Columbo episodes begin with a murder, and the remainder of the program details the steps Columbo took to crack the case (as he always gets his man).
In this episode, and an uncle and a nephew plan an elaborate kidnapping scheme to get their hands on the nephew’s trust fund cash. The nephew, Tony (played by Bradford Dillman), thinks his expensive wife is straying, but believes money will bring her back. However, most of his massive inheritance is in a trust fund that can only be accessed in extraordinary circumstances. Tony’s uncle Jarvis (played by Ray Milland) proposes a plan – he will help Tony fake his own kidnapping, which will allow Tony to gain a good portion of his trust fund unsuspected. What Tony doesn’t realize is that Jarvis wants that money for himself. What Jarvis doesn’t realize is that he’s going to have to deal with Columbo.
The opening scene begins with Jarvis in his orchid nursery, placing a ransom call to Tony’s wife. When he hangs up, Tony enters the room and the two of them leave to push Tony’s yellow Jaguar off a cliff.
Columbo arrives on the crash scene the next morning, investigating a possible homocide as there was a bullet hole inside the window. After questioning Tony’s wife and then Jarvis, he then learns of the ransom note. Jarvis tells the detective that he will handle everything himself, but Columbo assures him he won’t get in the way. And after awhile, even the “boys at the station” are curious to why Columbo, a homicide detective, is staying on a kidnapping case. Columbo offers them no answers other than a few puffs on his cigar, but he knows something is wrong with the case. Everything is set up too perfectly. So when Jarvis eventually double-crosses Tony, it doesn’t surprise Columbo at all. But he lays low in the background and lets his new ‘tech-savvy’ partner play into the obvious clues that Jarvis has planted, patiently waiting for it to all unravel.
There are a number of scenes filmed in Javis’ orchid nursery – or “sanitarium,” as he is quick to correct Columbo when he calls it a nursery. The orchids create the dark backdrop of the opening scene, and make a much brighter appearance again 20 minutes later.
Jarvis enters his sanitarium and is startled to find Columbo poking around in the nursery, weaving in and out of the rows of orchids.
“I’m sorry sir, the man outside, I believe he is your gardener, well anyway, he said it would be alright if I waited for you in here,” Columbo says, playing his usual blubbering self. “But I’ve got to tell you what, I’m glad I did because I’ve never seen so many beautiful flowers in all my life.”
“Orchids, detective,” Jarvis answers, acting annoyed. “One of the finest collections in the country even if I say so myself.”
Columbo then goes on to mention something about his wife and her African violets. Later he shows up at the nursery with an almost dead violet, asking for greenthumb advice from the suspect as an excuse to gather crucial clues.
The entire closing scene to “The Greenhouse Jungle” takes place in the orchid sanitarium, with Columbo digging critical evidence out of Jarvis’ bed of potting soil. As all of the other involved parties gather around, Columbo walks up and down the rows of orchids and he explains how he solved the case.
“The Greenhouse Jungle” (1972)
Season 2, Episode 2
Run time: 1 hour, 13 minutes