BANYON: WALK UP AND DIE. NBC World Premiere Movie, 15 March 1971, Monday at 9-11pm. NBC World Premiere Movie / Warner Brothers Television. Cast: Robert Forster as Miles C. Banyon, Darren McGavin as Lieutenant Pete Cordova, Jose Ferrer as Lee Jennings, Anjanette Comer as Diane Jennings, Herb Edelman as Harry Sprague, Ann Randall as Linda. Written and Produced by Ed Adamson. Executive Producer: Richard Alan Simmons. Director: Robert Day.

BANYON Richard Forster

   NBC World Premiere Movie began in 1966 as a means for the network and the studios (it was an idea of Universal Studios) to profit from pilots for possible television series. When Banyon aired in 1971, the movie series had all ready produced twelve series for NBC, and even the failures were profitable for their studios in syndication.

   A note about the title: the movie was called Banyon, but in syndication to separate it from the series it was also known as Banyon — Walk Up and Die.

   The problem with TV Movie pilots is telling the best story is not the primary goal. Instead you need to establish premise, setting and characters for the possible weekly series while hopefully providing an entertaining drama or comedy.

   For example, several scenes were forced into this story to establish the series’ comedy relief in the form of Banyon’s secretary. Banyon’s office was down the hall from Peggy Revere’s secretary school. Banyon “confesses” his passion and love for the much older Peggy (Hermione Gingold). She is not sure if he is kidding or needs a psychiatrist. They have an agreement for him to use one of her students whenever needed. This gave the young secretary-to-be some experience, and Banyon got his secretary for free.

   The opening titles attempted to establish the time (1933-1938) with newsreel photos and art. The theme by Leonard Rosenman (Combat) sounded more generic 70s than something suitable for a hardboiled PI mystery set in the 30s. However it was better than the series theme by Johnny Mandel (M*A*S*H) that only reminded us the series was a Quinn Martin Production. (Quinn Martin had no involvement with this TV movie pilot, but more on that later.)

   Irene (Deidre Daniels) is told her ex-boyfriend, mobster Victor Pappas (Ray Danton) is out of prison. Because of her involvement in sending him to jail, she fears for her life. A friend sends her to a guy who can help her. She has to introduce herself to the guy who pulls out a gun and kills her. The killer leaves, removes the fake sign on the door that had covered the office sign of Miles C. Banyon, PI.

   Meanwhile, Miles finishes another case and is sulking because he hates his job as a PI. He enters his office and finds Lieutenant Pete Cordova (Darren McGavin) waiting with the dead body. Miles barely reacts. Cordova notes the murder weapon was Miles’ gun. The Lieutenant is ex-cop Miles’ former partner and tries to play nice, but Miles still holds a grudge against Cordova and offers him no help.

BANYON Richard Forster

   A few years before, Miles had gone undercover as a cop-on-the-take to get the evidence that convicted Pappas. But there had been a political mess involving the department at the time and Miles had been picked to be the fall guy. Worried about how he would support his family without his job, Cordova had helped the department frame bachelor Miles.

   Miles arrives at home only to find his best friend and legman Harry (Herb Edelman) drunk and asleep. Harry is avoiding his wife Ruthie (Leslie Parrish). Before Harry and Ruthie married, she had dated Miles. Now Harry is convinced she wants Miles because he is a broke loser working for others as a legman and Miles is a disgraced ex-cop turned sulking PI. And all three know Harry is right.

   Miles sends Harry home, has some China tea (he doesn’t drink liquor) and begins to work on the only thing that makes him smile, his erector set. Sadly, he is interrupted by a phone call from Pappas who invites Miles to his place to talk. Miles agrees to meet with the man who swore revenge against him and others who had put him in jail, others such as the dead ex-girlfriend Irene.

BANYON Richard Forster

   Miles finds no one in the apartment. He looks around and finds and plays a record with music (“Remember When”), followed by the voice of powerful radio gossip Lee Jennings (Jose Ferrer) informing his listeners he is upset over Pappas parole and brags about his role in getting the mobster behind bars, then the record cuts to Pappas’ voice threatening Miles.

   The cops arrive and haul Miles off to the police dungeon where Cordova takes away Miles licenses to be a PI and carry a gun.

   Miles is summoned to meet the all-powerful Lee Jennings who wants Miles to find Pappas and stop him from killing anyone else (especially him). Banyon says no and humiliates the bully in front of his lackeys and his popular wife (with all the men).

   Miles is not afraid of Jennings because he had nothing that Jennings can take…except Harry. When Jennings threatens to ruin Harry, Miles agrees to work for Jennings. After another killing or two, Miles, with the help of Harry, finds Pappas.

   Banyon was the creation of writer Ed Adamson who had written the script specifically for actor Robert Forster. Adamson had written in radio for several series including That Hammer Guy (Mike Hammer). In TV his resume featured such series as Richard Diamond, Wanted Dead or Alive, and Mannix.

BANYON Richard Forster

   Adamson’s script had its flaws, the most serious of which was it lacked any reason for the viewer to care about Miles C. Banyon. On the plus side the movie has a final act that makes Banyon — Walk Up and Die worth watching.

   The Oscar-nominated actor Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) is a rare disappointment. Usually the highlight of anything he does (Kate Sisco, Hollywood Harry, Alcatraz), he played the self-pitying Miles with a dull disinterest through most of the movie. He does redeems himself in the final act as he finally brings Miles to life.

   With the focus on Miles, the story, and setting up the weekly series, there was little time left for developing the rest of the characters. The cast did what they could with their clichéd one-dimensional characters.

   Director Robert Day (The Avengers, Murder by Natural Causes, The Man with Bogart’s Face) made some odd choices, most noticeably during the scenes of violence. Twice, Banyon knocks out someone while the camera focused on another character’s reaction. All deaths took place off camera. Perhaps caused by Congress continued pressure on the networks over violence on television, but this visual style soft-boiled the hard-boiled PI.

   The vintage clothes, the use of 30s music and radio shows such as Fibber McGee and Molly, as well as vintage automobiles driving a few feet along the studio lot 1930’s street gave Banyon — Walk Up and Die less a sense of the real 30s and more a 1930s movie feel.

BANYON Richard Forster

   While I was unable to discover what exactly was on television opposite of this TV Movie, ABC was scheduled to run ABC’s Monday Night Movie, while CBS was scheduled to air Mayberry RFD (9pm), Doris Day (9:30pm) and The Carol Burnett Show (10pm).

   NBC liked this pilot and considered ordering it as a series for a possible 1971 -72 mid-season replacement. Someone else liked the movie, Quinn Martin. QM Productions was one of the top independent TV Production companies of the time and had never had a series on NBC. NBC offered Banyon to Quinn Martin, creating a behind the scenes turmoil between Ed Adamson and the QM people forced on him.

   The first episode of the NBC series aired September 15, 1972 and had a ratings share of over 30 and finished 31st out of 65 shows. Broadcasting (September 25, 1972) sampled reviews of the first episode from various critics who were near united in their disappointment.

   The next week’s episode dropped to low 20 shares and from then on the series would finish each week in or near the bottom ten. It aired Friday night at 10pm opposite CBS Friday Movie and ABC’s Love American Style.

   On October 2, 1972, Ed Adamson (58) died of a heart attack. His dream TV series Banyon would soon follow with its last original episode airing January 12, 1973.

For more information about the series, check out this post on The Rap Sheet blog.

For a updated link to sample the book Quinn Martin, Producer by Jonathan Etter:

Other source: “Broadcasting” Magazine