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Category:    Home > Reviews > Detective > Mystery > Murder > Crime > TV > Telefilm > Banacek - The First Season

Banacek - The First Season

 

Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: D     Telefilm Episodes: B

 

 

George Peppard was a good actor with a strong screen presence who never quite made it to the front ranks of Hollywood stars.  Peppard became a leading man when he appeared opposite Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), and flirted with the A-list in 1964 when he starred in one of that year's biggest hits, The Carpetbaggers.  But The Carpetbaggers would be his career peak in feature films, and instead of becoming one of the top stars in Hollywood (as one would have predicted in the first half of '60s), his career began to fade as the '60s progressed despite him starring in some very good movies (The Blue Max, P.J. and Pendulum), all of which were under-appreciated and under-seen in their day.

 

By the beginning of the '70s, Peppard was starring mostly in B programmers.  Some, such as Cannon for Cordoba (1970) and The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972), were entertaining, but those titles, along with The Executioner (1970) and One More Train To Rob (1971), did nothing to reverse his box-office slump.  At this time, like many a fading movie star, Peppard was ready for a television series.  In September of 1972, Banacek premiered as one of three rotating 90-minute shows (including commercials) called the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie -- Madigan with Richard Widmark reprising his film role from Don Siegel's 1968 film of the same name and Cool Million with James Farentino were the other two shows to appear tri-weekly to kick off the '72-'73 season on Wednesday nights.  Columbo, McCloud and McMillan & Wife were already successfully rotating as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie

 

In what was Peppard's first of three TV series (Doctors’ Hospital and The A-Team would follow on NBC), he starred as Thomas Banacek, an independently wealthy, free-lance insurance investigator from Boston, who attained his fortune by solving intricate, ingeniously plotted robberies that nobody else could.  He would find valuable stolen items and retain a 10 percent finder’s fee from the insurance companies.  A murder usually accompanied the thefts, so each 72-minute episode would have Banacek solving a murder case along with locating a priceless item.  He'd also often find time to romance a beautiful woman he'd meet along the way.

 

Banacek was less of a tough guy than Peppard usually played.  Instead, he was a smooth-operator who used his brain rather than his fists or a gun.  Suave, worldly, well-spoken and smug, Banacek was a proud Polish-American who dressed stylishly, smoked thin cigars and traveled around in a Rolls-Royce driven by his loyal chauffeur, Jay (Ralph Manza) -- Manza and Murray Matheson as Banacek's learned book-store owning secret helper, Felix Mulholland, were the two other series regulars during the 8 episode first season. The titles of those episodes are:

 

  1. Let's Hear it for a Living Legend

 

  1. Project Phoenix

 

  1. No Sign of the Cross

 

  1. A Million Dollars the Hard Way

 

  1. To Steal a King

 

  1. Ten Thousand Dollars a Page

 

  1. The Greatest Collection of Them All

 

  1. The Two Million Clams of Cap'n Jack

 

 

 

Guest stars during the first season include Stephanie Powers, Robert Webber, Marty Ingels, Michael Lerner (what '70s cop or detective show would be complete without an appearance by Michael Lerner?), William Windom, Bert Convy, Brenda Vaccaro, Herb Edelman, Broderick Crawford, Margo Kidder, Kevin McCarthy, Pernell Roberts, Stella Stevens and Mike Farrell.  The show's first episode is directed by Jack Smight, who previously directed Peppard in 1965's The Third Day and would later direct the actor in Damnation Alley (1977).  Three other episodes from the first season are directed by Richard T. Heffron, who went on to direct Peppard in the pretty good cop movie, Newman's Law (1974).  The Banacek theme music is by Quincy Jones.

 

Banacek only lasted two seasons for a total of 16 episodes, but it's a smartly written, compulsively watchable show with top-notch, feature-film caliber production values that suggest it was more expensive to produce than the average detective show.  Universal, the studio where Peppard did much of his work over the years, has licensed the first eight-episode season to Hart Sharp Video, who have released it under the "TV Guide Presents" banner on a two-disc set.  The episodes, which haven't played a lot in reruns except for a time in the mid-1990s when A&E ran them, have aged nicely with the picture reasonably clear and the color still bright.  The only extras are a handful of production photographs and TV Guide Crossword Puzzles.

 

Banacek, just like the actor playing him, deserves to be rediscovered.  Hopefully the second season is forthcoming.

 

 

-   Chuck O'Leary


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