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 ½ 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 class.
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
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 board slipcase.
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
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 chauffer, 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.