I commandeered (well, absconded with) this idea from Rick over at CLASSIC FILM AND TV CAFE who posted his favorite Mission Impossible episodes a few weeks ago. Please use the above link to see his five excellent picks.
I've been indulging in my own Mission Impossible Mini-Marathon over on Netflix - streaming episodes from one season after another. Not watching them all, obviously (who has time?) but watching enough. And I've come to one HUGE conclusion: After Season 3, the show rapidly went down hill. Can't put it any clearer than that. It is especially obvious when you see the shows in a bunch.
Something else I noticed while watching shows by the bunch, they kept using the same red-tiled white walled, mission style estate in the California Hills to represent everything from a monastery to a dictator's palace to whatever was needed that week. The same place just kept showing up.
Also, the familiar openings with the 'Good morning, Mr. Phelps' we were so used to - those beginnings were used more than once, recycled, but with different assignments and different pictures of villains edited in. I guess they didn't figure that anyone would, at some time in the future, be watching the shows en masse.
Just little things I noticed.
I didn't watch the newer series, reprised in the early 80's which starred Peter Graves with a different cast of characters. Don't think I ever watched it even when it was first on so let's pretend it never happened.
In the first year of the show, 1966, Steven Hill, of course, starred as Mr. Briggs, the guiding hand of the Mission Impossible Force.
When Hill was replaced after Season 1 by Peter Graves (with no explanation, I might add) it was a bit jarring, but Graves quickly grew into the role. And by the way I finally found out why Stephen Hill was not resigned. Not a pretty story.
Barbara Bain and Martin Landau (husband and wife) left M.I. after Season 3 and, in my view, the series never recovered. I'm not sure why they left, maybe they wanted more money, that's usually the reason. Or maybe they were just tired. I know they went on to star in some silly science fiction show which was a total waste of their talents.
The original Mission Impossible series that went on from there for another four seasons was never again as strong or, to my mind, as watchable. They began to tinker with the original winning premise. None of the actresses they brought in could hold a candle to the intelligence, the cool, the sang froid and the acting talent of Barbara Bain. None of the men could match Martin Landau for acting excellence and complete immersion in every M.I. role he was recruited to play.
In Season 4 they brought in Leonard Nimoy to take the place of the two missing stars. He wasn't bad, but he was no Martin Landau. He would have been better as a Mr. Phelps sort. They never did 'replace' Barbara Bain. Leslie Anne Warren? Lynda Day George? I don't think so.
At any rate, my Five Favorite M.I. Picks are from the first three seasons, because everything I saw after that didn't quite make the grade for me.
From Season 3: THE MIND OF STEFAN MIKLOS
1) THE MIND OF STEFAN MIKLOS stars Steve Ihnat as Stefan Miklos, a brilliant enemy agent (from an unspecified Iron Curtain country) with a photographic memory, who pits himself against Phelps' ingenious plan to mislead him. The agent must be tricked into concluding that the incorrect information handed over by undercover agent Walter Townsend (Jason Evers) is true.
Steve Ihnat and Jason Evers.
This ploy to make someone believe the opposite of what is true was used over and over on M.I. over the years but this time it is worked out especially ingeniously because the plot hinges on Phelps' counterpart's brilliance. Phelps and the M.I. Force have left a trail of rather obscure clues, assuming that Miklos will eventually put two and two together. In the end he does and goes back to his country unknowingly thinking he has won the day, when in reality, it is the M.I. Force who has done him in.
Edward Asner (of all people) plays another enemy agent, a whistle-blowing rival of Townsend's.
From Season 3: THE EXCHANGE
2) THE EXCHANGE
In this episode, Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), nearing the end of a successful mission in another unspecified country, is captured. She is imprisoned and aggressively interrogated. The enemy uses psychological torture and drugs to find her weak point and force her to reveal the names of her fellow agents.
Barbara Bain is excellent in these harrowing scenes, as she breaks down, little by little.
In the meantime, the M.I. Force is working against the clock to save Cinnamon by breaking an enemy agent out of a western prison, tricking him out of the information he has so far refused to reveal and then exchanging him for Cinnamon. The usual.
Prolific character actor John Vernon starred as Colonel Josef Strom, the cold-blooded interrogator in charge of Cinnamon's dehumanization.
From Season 2: THE TOWN
3) THE TOWN stars Will Geer (Grandpa on The Waltons) as Doc, the local head of an enemy spy network of Americanized agents which have taken over a small town in the California hills. When Jim Phelps, on his way to meet Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) at a resort lodge, stops in the town for gas, he inadvertently sees something he isn't supposed to.
He is captured and given a drug by Doc, who makes Jim appear to have suffered a stroke. In the meantime, a couple of agents have been sent to the city (unspecified as usual) to commit a political assassination.
When Rollin realizes that Jim has disappeared, he backtracks and finds him at Doc's house, incapacitated. The prognosis isn't good. Doc and his 'nurse' have Rollin hoodwinked until Jim is able to send Rollin a Morse code SOS by blinking his eyes.
Immediately Rollin springs into action and ingeniously calls in the other members of the team to save Jim and stop the planned assassination.
I love the 'gathering of the troops' aspect of this particular show. Those foreign agents didn't know who they were messing with.
Gunnar Hellstrom and Barbara Bain.
From Season 1: THE LEGEND
4) THE LEGEND stars Gunnar Hellstrom as a Nazi with dreams of bringing the Third Reich back to life. In this endeavor he has the support of Martin Bormann who is apparently alive and bed ridden on an estate in a South American country (unspecified).
The M.I. Force flies down to Rio (or wherever) to infiltrate the Nazi enclave and put a damper on their scurrilous plans. But when they get there, they're in for a major surprise.
This is the show that gave rise to the infamous line: Is that you, Rudd?
Martin Landau is chillingly good when called upon to impersonate Martin Bormann.
Since the first episodes of M.I. take place in the early sixties, there would have still been Nazis left here and there to be dealt with. The war having ended less than 20 years before.
From Season 3: THE CARDINAL
5) THE CARDINAL stars Theodore Bikel as Iron Curtain thug, Captain Casimir Zepke and Paul Stevens as his prisoner, Stanislaus Cardinal Souchek. Stevens also plays Anton Nagorski, an actor who has had plastic surgery so as to double for the Cardinal.
The Cardinal is being held prisoner at the same white walled, red tiled estate I mentioned earlier - the locale of several episodes. This time the house is a monastery where the Cardinal's double will make an upcoming speech to the world press announcing his support of the odious Captain Zepke to head the government.
After the speech, Zepke plans to kill the real Cardinal. To that end, the entire monastery is staffed with his men and women disguised as nuns and monks.
The I.M. Force must allow Rollin, as a fellow Cardinal to be captured and placed alive in a deadly sarcophagus from which there is no escape.
One additional thing I never understood: What was Phelps doing keeping that black leather dossier embossed in gold with the Mission Impossible Force logo, containing pictures of all the agents, lying around in his apartment? I thought it was supposed to be hush-hush. Just askin'.
Peter Graves, Greg Morris, Martin Landau, Peter Lupus, Barbara Bain