Monday, February 26, 2024

Tonight's TV: Columbo (1972): "The Greenhouse Jungle," "The Most Crucial Game" - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

My latest COLUMBO Blu-ray viewing was a pair of 1972 episodes from Season 2.

Both episodes, "The Greenhouse Jungle" and "The Most Crucial Game," featured returning guest stars from Season 1's excellent second episode, "Death Lends a Hand."

Ray Milland plays the murderer in "The Greenhouse Jungle," while Robert Culp is the villain of "The Most Crucial Game."

Although I'm familiar with older TV shows re-using guest stars multiple times, I was nonetheless a bit surprised to discover Milland and Culp returned so quickly, given there were only a handful of episodes each season. That said, it was a pleasure to watch them.

Before going further I'll pause to note that, as always, the murderers' identities are made clear at the beginning of each episode, but anyone not wishing to read spoilers should watch the episodes and then return to read this.

In "The Greenhouse Jungle" Milland plays Jarvis Goodland, who conspires with his nephew Tony (Bradford Dillman) to set in motion an elaborate kidnapping plot, which will have the effect of freeing up money from Tony's trust fund to pay the ransom.

Tony has not counted on the fact that Uncle Jarvis wants the ransom money for himself, and Jarvis kills his nephew in cold blood once the ransom is paid.

Kidnapping isn't Detective Colombo's typical line of work, but he's on the case from the moment the crime is reported, aided by the earnest Sgt. Wilson (Bob Dishy). Columbo is suspicious of Jarvis from the early going, constantly annoying Jarvis by popping up in the greenhouse where Jarvis grows orchids.

One of the things I really noticed in this episode is how nice Columbo is. Another character might be impatient with the overeager Sgt. Wilson, but Columbo just nods and encourages him, thanking him for his help.

In both these episodes the murderers yell at Columbo with exasperation, but he never loses his cool. He simply keeps pressing forward and "pushing their buttons," drawing out the truth bit by bit.

"The Greenhouse Jungle" was directed by Boris Sagal and filmed by Harry Wolf. The screenplay was by Jonathan Latimer.

I especially enjoyed "The Most Crucial Game," although oddly John T. Dugan's script never really explains the murderer's motivation!

This episode has some great locations, including the Los Angeles Coliseum and LAX. One of the best moments in the episode for me was Columbo walking down a hall at LAX filled with pay phone booths. Talk about a relic of a bygone era!

Culp plays Paul Hanlon, who manages the business interests of wealthy Eric Wagner (Dean Stockwell). That includes serving as general manager of the pro football team owned by Eric.

Paul engineers a "brilliant" killing to take place during the first half of a football game. His technique includes beaning Eric in the head with a block of ice while he's swimming. The murder weapon melts away!

When Columbo arrives on the scene he notices there is water all over the patio which doesn't smell of pool chlorine. Where did it come from, and what does it mean?

This episode has a great cast, including Susan Howard as Eric's widow, James Gregory (previously seen in "Short Fuse") as a football coach, Dean Jagger as a family attorney, and Valerie Harper as a woman of, shall we say, questionable reputation.

We're never quite clear what drove Paul to murder. Was he carrying on with Eric's wife and wanted her and the money? We're left to guess that part, but the episode is nonetheless great fun and one of my favorites thus far, as I continue to thoroughly enjoy this Blu-ray set from Kino Lorber.

"The Most Crucial Game" was directed by Jeremy Kagan and again filmed by Harry Wolf.

Previous COLUMBO posts: "Murder By the Book" (1971), "Death Lends a Hand" (1971), "Dead Weight" (1971), "Suitable for Framing" (1971), "Lady in Waiting" (1971), "Short Fuse" (1972), "Blueprint for Murder" (1972), "Etude in Black" (1972).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this collection.


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