Banacek: Season One (Part 2)

Concluding my look at the first season of Banacek, the ’70s series about the insurance investigator who specialized in solving impossible thefts. Part One is here.

“A Million the Hard Way” by Stanley Ralph Ross (who also wrote one of the best Columbos, “Swan Song”). What seems to happen: A Las Vegas casino keeps guess-how-much in cash in an unbreakable display case as an attraction (“Have your picture taken with a million dollars!”). A distraction causes everyone in the vicinity of the case to look in another direction for a few seconds; by the time someone looks back, the money has disappeared.

Clever, but I’m not convinced the vanishing method would work so smoothly in real life. In retrospect, it’s hilarious how low-rent the casino looks compared to the glitzy palaces they have in Vegas nowadays.

“To Steal a King” by Stephen Kandel. What seems to happen: the owner of a collection of ten rare coins locks them in a hotel safe overnight; when he opens it again in the morning, the coins are gone. It’s a time vault, so no one could have opened it as he slept.

An impossibility with a solution you have probably seen before, but may still fail to recognize till Banacek explains all. A very enjoyable episode.

“Ten Thousand Dollars a Page” by Paul Playdon (who wrote some of the best episodes of the 1960’s Mission: Impossible). What seems to happen: a rare book vanishes from a vault despite security cameras being on it the whole time. 

Like “Project Phoenix” in Part One, this one has an overcomplicated solution that failed to dazzle me.

“The Greatest Collection of Them All” by Theodore J. Flicker (co-creator of Barney Miller). What seems to happen: a collection of paintings is loaded into a panel truck, but when the truck arrives at its destination, only one painting is still inside.

Another echo of “Project Phoenix” – in this case, because again something disappears from a vehicle during a nonstop journey – but with a completely different and much neater solution. 

“The Two Million Clams of Cap’n Jack” by Stanley Ralph Ross, Shirl Hendryx (who wrote a top-notch Columbo, “A Stitch in Crime”), Pat Fielder and Richard Bluel. What seems to happen: a security guard, carrying a satchel containing two million in stock certificates, enters an elevator. When the car stops on another floor after an uninterrupted ride, the satchel is still there, but the guard and certificates aren’t.

I’m a sucker for a good elevator-based impossible crime, but seeing that four people wrote a screenplay gives me a bad feeling – too many cooks, and all that. Well, I don’t know why “Cap’n Jack” needed so many writers, but this is one of the best Banaceks, with an awesomely simple solution. The first season ended on a high note.

I will get to the second and last season eventually…


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