Sunday, August 10, 2008

Banacek (1972-1974)

"I love it when a plan comes together." Mention that phrase to nearly anyone my age and Col. John "Hannibal" Smith from The A-Team springs to mind. Most kids at the time were caught up with the antics of tough-guy Mr. T or "Howling Mad" Murdock, but my money was on cool, commanding Hannibal, played by George Peppard in the now iconic role. Hannibal was a leader with a genuine sense of fun, a grin that conveyed mischief and an ever-present cigar.

Peppard was born in 1928, the same year as my father, and looking back at clips of Hannibal mowing the enemy down with M16s and jumping out of helicopters, it’s hard to imagine my old man making those same maneuvers at that age.

I recently watched Peppard as Thomas Banacek, a suave Polish-American insurance investigator living in the exclusive Beacon Hill section of Boston and solving locked room mysteries. Banacek was an egotistical yet likeable character, smoking fine cigars and flaunting an expertise on the more elegant things in life, and Peppard played the character to precision.

The most memorable moments of the show are when Banacek spouted off in every episode, "There's an old Polish proverb that says..." and then continued with such pearls of wisdom as: “...a truly wise man never plays leap frog with a unicorn,” or “...only someone with nothing to be sorry about smiles at the rear of an elephant...”

The show was a success, but interestingly, Peppard quit because of the entanglements from a divorce, not wanting his ex-wife, Elizabeth Ashley, to get a chunk of his earnings. And with that, as quickly as it began, Banacek was over.

My charmer and I were hoping to follow this up with more Peppard, but there aren’t a whole lot of choices. The actor made a strong film debut in The Strange One and early roles like Home from the Hill, but he seemed to peak with 1961's classic Breakfast at Tiffany's.

His preference for rough and tumble roles in big budget films resulted in him being eclipsed by large ensemble casts, and scheduled blockbusters like The Blue Max, Tobruk and Damnation Alley never quite took off. Also, Peppard's battle with the bottle sidelined him for a number of years while filming a string of forgettable clunkers.

Still, with credits like Tiffanys, Home from the Hill and The A-team, Peppard had a good run. Maybe it’s time to return to Peppard's most famous role. I can still quote the opening from heart. In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped...


Barbara Martin said...

I loved George Peppard in Banacek, and his other movies and television parts. For a time, we corresponded: I sent him travel brochures on the Rockies and he'd reply with short handwritten comments.

David Cranmer said...

Oh, that is so cool. I bet that would be an interesting post to read sometime if you decided to write about your correspondence. I've always enjoyed his acting, and when he died, I cut the article out of the paper which I hardly ever do. I think Banacek was his best role and I just wish it had lasted a little bit longer. Thanks for commenting.

tjr said...

I agree. all those years later and Banacek was an understated triumph. That's the sign of a man who knows his talent.