When valuables disappear in rooms full of witnesses, call Appellate Judge James A. Stewart. He can't recover them for a 10% commission, but his Scottish proverbs run just a hundred apiece.
"If it weren't impossible, Mr. Banacek wouldn't be here."
In 1971, The NBC Mystery Movie premiered with three detective dramas in rotation: Columbo, McMillan and Wife, and McCloud. Over the years, they tried adding quite a few others, but didn't find a hit until Quincy, M.E. appeared in 1976.
The also-rans didn't disappear entirely, though, as you know if you stayed up late back in the days when broadcast TV still ruled. The CBS Late Movie didn't just rerun the classic Mystery Movie staples; it also kept the ones like Banacek from being forgotten, introducing them with teasers like: "Tonight on The CBS Late Movie, a daring theft leads to danger for…Banacek!"
In case you have forgotten: From 1972 to 1974, Banacek featured George Peppard (The A-Team) as a suave, wealthy insurance investigator who solves impossible thefts for a 10% commission.
Banacek is now out on DVD—and the first season's release somehow did well enough to justify Banacek: The Second Season.
Facts of the Case
Tonight on DVD Verdict, summaries of eight 72-minute episodes on three discs of…Banacek: The Second Season! Also: the pilot episode.
"If Max Is So Smart, Why Doesn't He Tell Us Where He Is?": Max, a medical diagnostic computer, runs the length of a wall and is under maximum security. Make that ran and was. Carlie Kirkland's having a "morning after" with Banacek when she gets the assignment, so naturally he tags along. Anne Baxter plays Max's hypochondriac owner.
"The Three Million Dollar Piracy": Carlie's engagement to Boston Insurance executive Henry DeWitt kicks off with a romantic trip to see a $3 million jeweled wedding coach loaded onto a ship—and discover it missing. Banacek investigates, in between attempts to break up the lovebirds.
"Horse of a Slightly Different Color": When $5 million racehorse Oxford Don disappears from a track in front of witnesses, the horse's new owner wants Banacek on the case. It's bye-bye Boston as Banacek flies to sunny L.A. to join the horsey set. Anne Francis guests.
"Rocket to Oblivion": As soon as Carlie appears at a scientific expo, a rocket engine disappears. Called in to investigate, Banacek runs into a woman from his past. Linda Evans and Dick Van Patten guest.
"Now You See Me, Now You Don't": An amateur magician makes a surprise disappearance while performing Houdini's "Metamorphosis"—just in time to evade police looking to arrest him in a $1.7 million securities theft. Banacek flies to L.A. to conjure up the missing magician—and disappears himself.
"Pilot": In a 96-minute bonus episode, Banacek finds a link between a deceased town drunk and the disappearance of an armored car carrying $1.6 million in gold near a Texas town.
The writers of Banacek seem to have prided themselves on unpredictable mysteries. Too bad they couldn't have come up with dialogue and characterizations to match.
The character of Banacek (his first name, rarely mentioned, is Thomas) is the sort of suave, swinging detective who returns home after a long day to find a beautiful woman asleep on his couch. She's there to provide information on a case, true, but she can't resist and wants more: "Are you going to get undressed or what?" she asks. While Banacek's bantering with her, another woman turns up. Carlie Kirkland isn't as friendly (she works for an insurance company), but once Banacek kisses her, she warms up a lot.
Whenever they're together, Banacek and Carlie speak in a language of double entendres that leaves anyone around wondering. The fight scenes tend to involve some guy who thinks Banacek's getting too close to his girlfriend, although there are a few where Banacek tangles with the actual villains. Since those come later in the season, I suspect someone at NBC sent a memo or 10.
Throw in Carlie's close-but-no-cigar mistaken solutions, Banacek's chauffeur who really comes up with far-out solutions ("It's the old trick pedestal number"), a boss who can't stand the cocky crime solver, and a bookseller friend who checks out info in between dalliances with beautiful women, and you've got a by-the-numbers 1970s detective series. And there's one more Banacek trademark: the "Polish proverbs" that Banacek rattles off, such as "Only the centipede can hear all the hundred footsteps of his uncle." Huh?
Peppard does okay, but Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and James Coburn—to name a few—have done the suave bit better. I also wished that Christine Belford's Carlie Kirkland had made a stronger sparring partner for the cocky Banacek. At times, guest stars sound like they're reading from a Teleprompter, although a good guest turn from an Anne Baxter or a John Saxon can liven things up. Where's Patrick McGoohan (a Columbo favorite) when you need him?
The show is stretched to 90 minutes (72, actually) with lingering shots of, say, a band playing just around the corner as Boston-based Banacek has a picnic with Carlie, a farmer's market, or a fishing trawler. While there's a lot of local color, it looks like the show only did a small amount of filming in Boston. The fact that Banacek always goes either to Los Angeles or to a nondescript small town when he leaves Boston is a clue.
The mysteries are usually based on illusions, and they get easier to solve as you get into the Banacek formula; I figured out most of the hows, but there was usually an extra culprit involved that I missed. While a detective who never gets led astray by red herrings may be cool, it makes things easier to figure out and a little tedious.
The pilot, at 96 minutes, is stretched out even more than the subsequent episodes. It does explain why Banacek went into freelance "restorations"; it seems his father was a mathematician for an insurance company—until he was replaced with a computer. It seems, then, that Banacek's mission in life is to annoy insurance company execs.
The picture here is faded, with lots of flecks and lines. There's also some flaring from bright reds, which comes up a lot with the red sets in "Rocket to Oblivion." One particularly weathered episode ("Now You See Me, Now You Don't") has some snow on the screen and a shadowing effect in places (this episode's problems could be just my screener disc, I will note). The theme and incidental music, with a 1960s flavor, is superb; the sound here is adequate.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Give it a break! It didn't elevate your heart rate like 24 does, but this was an earlier era. Television worked at a slower pace back then. This is nostalgia. It's also the second season set, so someone must have liked the first batch.
Banacek is a cool idea for a show, and the Rube Goldberg-like mysteries (most likely styled after the less-surreal stories on The Avengers) are cool ideas as well. The execution, however, is only average. It's not unwatchable, but the 72-minute stories were padded and the overall result feels flat.
When I watched this one on The CBS Late Movie, I must have been half asleep—and the episodes must have been trimmed somewhat.
I didn't hate Banacek, but an okay show that could have been great is a disappointment.
Guilty of not living up to its potential.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Arts Alliance America
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