Mission: Impossible

(Sound: Only background noises. No FX.)

  • WIDE AERIAL SHOT: Car park bathed in sunshine from bright blue sky. Pale blue open ’65 Ford wafts towards toll booth, gently comes to halt.
  • CLOSEUP, GROUND LEVEL: White-haired single male occupant pays attendant (out of shot). Car moves forward.
  • RETURN TO AERIAL & PAN: Drives between rows of similar Detroit Americans. Goes directly to empty slot. Stops. Gent in perfect Worsted-Tex suit gets out.
  • CLOSE ON DOOR: Door clicks shut under firm hand.
  • OVER SHOULDER: Enters empty phone booth. Searches for a while without bending down. Pulls miniature reel-to-reel tape deck and A4 envelope from under desk.
  • CLOSEUP HAND: Presses PLAY and opens envelope, fans b/w photos for camera (PROPS : head/shoulders guerilla leaders)
  • CLOSE UP SPINNING TAPE REELS FOR DURATION OF VOICE VOICE (featureless baritone, mid-Atlantic accent): “Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to discover the number of Colonel Fernandez’s Swiss bank account before election day. As usual, should you, or any member of IMF be caught or captured, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in ten seconds. Good luck, Jim…”

An incredible 171 fifty-minute episodes of this television series were made between 1966 and 1972. Quite how it has missed the award of cult status I don’t know, but when I asked around for info on it, the reply was “What? That crap TV series?”. So how could a program which always repeated the same great opening line, followed through with an ingenious and dedicated crew of specialists fighting subversive elements (and always winning out) be, in my opinion, such quality trash?

ACTING – NONE. Perfectly dressed and shaven, driving clean cars (slowly), facial expressions kept to a minimum. Perhaps a hint of a knowing smile on Jim Phelp’s (played by Peter Graves) face the only concession to acting. Leonard Nimoy, as Paris, is perfectly at home here!

UNDERLYING MESSAGES – NONE. It could easily have been used to reinforce the triumph of American ‘values’ and ‘freedom’ over inferior citizens of banana republics and Balkan states. Most of the bad guys stole nuclear secrets, embezzled the funds of some poor third world nation, or rigged elections. Fair game really!

PLOTS – LUDICROUS. I mean, honestly, convincing an enemy agent that he has slept for three years and failed his mission (“Operation Rogosh”), convincing a nuclear scientist that it is now the year 2000 to learn where he hid dome plutonium (“Two Thousand”) or that World War III has started (“The Numbers Game”) do stretch credibility just a little bit. My fave concerns putting a maritime criminal into a submarine mockup and pretending the war is still on (including making him look 30 years younger) and that they are all about to be killed when the sub is depth-charged. One by one the IMF team leave by the torpedo tubes or hatches and walk to a waiting car. The guy cracks!

STARS – William Shatner, Robert Reed (star of “The Brady Bunch”), Roddy McDowall (“Fright Night”) and, of course, Leonard Nimoy (his first major part after “Star Trek”).

TRADEMARKS – Safebreaking, impersonation, electrical wizardry and split second timing. How about breaking in from BEHIND a safe to fit a false back, alerting the guard to open the safe while being watched by a remote camera to record the combination, and, when the General turns up to investigate the apparent theft, ensuring that his superiors arrive simultaneously, the combination is now in his drawer and the contents have returned to the safe. So you can’t catch him embezzling money, but for a frame-up that no court would believe, the IMF never fails! Throw in a perfect vocal impersonator (Rollin’ Hand, played by Martin Landau), rubber masks that instantly transform his face into that of anyone else, an electronics expert, Barney (Greg Morris) and a selection of 60’s beauties (Barbara Bain, Lesley Warren) and you have a Mission Impossible.

MUSIC – The music just has to be my favourite of the TV themes; the tense alarm-like ringing, confident brass and wickedly hooky achromatic melody are combined to perfection (it says here). Do check out the James Taylor Quartet EP “Mission Impossible” for the worst rendition of this (or indeed any) TV theme I have ever heard. Well rehearsed? Get outta here!

All in all then, a fabulous escapist series that somehow managed to pull off the most far-fetched plots, stretch the credibility of the viewer while keeping tongue planted firmly in cheek. Perhaps the fact it was entirely free of car chases, gun battles, helpless blondes and the standard devices of other TV series didn’t help!