Ahh, Banacek. A short-lived series, only 16 episodes and
a pilot were made over two seasons, but this was one of my
favorite detective shows since I was first baffled by the
mysteries 35 years ago. Staring George Peppard as the unflappable
Polish detective who was proud of his heritage and featuring
mysteries that were down right impossible (or so they seemed) this
program is just as engaging and mind-boggling as it was when it
first aired. Previously released as two season sets, the complete
series is now available in one handsome 5 disc set.
Thomas Banacek (George Peppard) is a cool, smooth, and slightly
arrogant freelance insurance investigator. When some valuable
coins or a test car turn up missing, and neither the cops nor the
insurance company can locate it, they call in Banacek. For a mere
10% of the insured value he'll find anything. It may not sound
like much, but when you're talking about a cool million in cash
that disappears from a Vegas casino or a 2 million dollar coin
collection that evaporates from a vault, pretty soon he's pulling
down some serious cash.
Running from 1972-1974, this detective show aimed to set itself
apart from the countless other shamus programs that were
populating the airwaves and it accomplished that with locked-room
type mysteries that seemed virtually impossible. The show wasn't
so much as a who-dunnit as a 'how the heck was the crime even
committed.' The first show that aired set the stage for the rest
of the series. In the middle of a televised NFL football game, a
star running back is tackled. As the referee pulls the other
players off he discovers that the running back has disappeared!
He's not at the bottom of the pile, and only his helmet is left to
testify that he was ever there. With no secret tunnels or the
like, how could someone just vanish in front of a million fans
watching on TV?
One of my favorite episodes is equally mysterious. Banacek is
called in when a very expensive main-frame computer disappears.
It's the size of a room, and is contained in a smallish building
that is surrounded by a barbed wire topped electric fence and
state-of-the-art alarms. Even if someone could get past the
security, how could they ever dismantle and move a gigantic
computer without the guards noticing?
Now you see it... now you don't.
While the conundrums that Banacek comes across are the main draw
to the show, his personality is what makes the program so fun to
watch. He's not only suave and wealthy (he drives around in a
beautiful '41 Packard when not in a chauffeured limo and lives in
a tastefully decorated townhouse filled with antiques and art,)
but he's very confident of his abilities to the point of being
arrogant. This irritates the investigators who are salaried
employees of the insurance companies to no end, and it is
marvelous fun to watch them sizzle.
Banacek is also very proud of his Polish heritage, something that
was a little unusual, but very refreshing. Back in 1974 Poles were
often the butt of jokes and characterized as being dumb and dirty.
(Ahh, the good old days, back before evil political correctness
made it unacceptable to make fun of someone's nationality or race.
[end sarcasm]) In almost every episode Banacek would come up with
some outrageous "old Polish saying" that made little sense, at
least until he explained them. Some of my favorites include "If
you're not sure that it's potato borscht, there could be orphans
working in the mines" and "Read the whole library, my son, but the
cheese will still smell after four days."
Then there were the ladies. Every episode includes a run-in with
some gorgeous babe peripherally associated with the case. They're
all drawn to Banacek and after some amazingly brief
double-entendre filled flirting more often than not end up jumping
into bed with the detective (off screen of course.) Viewed today
these scenes are very dated and make Banacek look like a sexist
pig, which, I suppose he is.
With few regulars in the show, the program had to be carried by
George Peppard and he does so marvelously. He has a regal bearing
that fits the character like a glove. Peppard also make the
investigator more confident than arrogant and has him come across
as smart and refined while not being elitist. In short, he has
The second season does add a reoccurring character, Carli
Kirkland (Christine Belford), an investigator who is on salary for
an insurance company and tries to beat Banacek to the solution and
thereby save her company a lot of cash. She never does, and
there's a mutual (though grudgingly given) respect between the
two. There's also a tad of sexual tension that works well.
If there's one problem with the show, it's the pacing. These were
originally broadcast in hour and a half long time slots, so with
commercials removed they run a little over 70 minutes. Though
there are suspects and motive that are examined, the clues are
fairly sparse and rarely identified as such. (This is so Banacek's
revelation at the end pretty much comes as a total surprise.) This
show doesn't slowly piece the puzzle together, in the last moments
it's reveled to be complete. Because of this the middle sections
can drag a little and occasionally feel padded. There's often a
long scene that doesn't have much to do with the mystery thrown in
(in one episode Banacek flies from Vegas to LA and back just to
interview one witness. The travel time took up a good five
minutes.) They elevated this problem to some extent in the second
season with the introduction of Carli.
The show would have been a lot tighter if it was only an hour
long, which ironically was the original intention. George
Peppard's contract called for him to appear in a weekly one-hour
show, but it was changed to an hour and a half show every three
weeks before it started and appeared as part of the NBC Wednesday
Mystery Movie (the other shows it rotated with were "Madigan" and
"Cool Million," neither of which were renewed.) Oddly Peppard's
contract was never changed, so when he wanted to leave the show at
the end of the second season, it was extremely easy for him to
The entire 16 episode run of Banacek comes on five DVD that are
housed in two single width DVD cases. These two fit into a thin
The show is presented with a two channel mono soundtrack that
sounds fine. There was some very slight distortion in one segment,
but aside from that there wasn't anything to complain about. The
dialog was clean and easy to hear and the music sounded fine,
though with a limited range.
The full frame video is about what you'd expect from a 1972-74 TV
show. The colors aren't bright but still strong and the image is
fairly tight. There are assorted dirt marks, scratches, and spots
on the print that pop up every so often, but they are never
distracting. Overall the producers did an adequate job.
There isn't much in the way of extras. With George Peppard having
passed away in 1994, it's not too surprising however. What viewers
do get is a photo gallery, a set of TV Guide crossword puzzles in
pdf format, and finally, the series pilot, a 2-hour (with
commercials) special where Banacek has to find out what happened
to an armored truck that just vanishes along a stretch of deserted
highway in the middle of the desert. It's a nice show and
introduces Banacek's chauffeur, among other characters.
I really enjoyed watching this series once again. The mysteries
are still baffling, Banacek is still smooth and cool (if a little
sexist) and his old polish sayings are just as amusing. Though the
show is a bit dated, especially when it comes to the roles of
women, it holds up better than I was expecting. Well worth the
price, this set gets a strong recommendation.