Friday, October 14, 2011

Five Favorite MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Episodes

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 re-signed. Not a pretty story. If true.

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 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.


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


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


  1. Yvette, it's been years since I've watched MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, though I loved it when I was a kid. Your very entertaining ranking of your favorite M:I episodes have me eager to revisit them now that they're available on DVD/Blu-Ray! For that matter, I think I should mosey on over to Classic Film and TV Cafe to catch up with their M:I episodes, too; you can never have too much of the IMF! :-)

  2. It is funny how much you noticed how MI "cheated' by recycling the same set and opening scenes! Like you said, Yvette, they never would have imagined the show being watched in close succession through online streaming.

    I always liked Martin Landau - and I agree he was under utilized as an actor.

  3. Wonderful post, as usual!

    My mom keeps talking about Mission Impossible. It used to be one of her favourites from her childhood/early teens. I bet she'd recognize at least some of these episodes. She was also a big fan of The Man for UNCLE, Star Trek, Danger Man (known in the US as Secret Agent, I think); etc. Quite the fan of adventure, thriller, action she was and continues to be.

    I guess that's why I love the latest crime shows more than drama or romance. I get it from her!

  4. Dorian: Oh you should definitely play catch-up. The first three years especially are so much fun. They way they kept sneaking Barney into 'unspecified' countries in all sorts of contraptions. In one episode they even smuggled him in as part of a table!!

    Netflix has all the seasons on streaming if you're interested.

    Always a pleasure to hear from you, kiddo. :)

  5. Pat: I was a big fan of the show and Martin Landau was a BIG reason. I always liked him. I'm so glad he finally won as Oscar. For playing Bela Lugosi of all people. He is wonderful. :)

    I was baby sitting my granddaughter last evening. First time. Tons of fun. But I am exhausted! :)

  6. willow: It must be in the genes! My own mom never liked these sorts of shows, she never could get over the idea that somehow it was all real. :)

    Mission Impossible was really a terrific concept show. Loved it.
    I'm a Trekkie too. :)

  7. I was a teen when this originally aired and what I loved most were the bizarre disguises, especially those masks Rollin Hand made. The fact that he could make a mask that would mold to the face and - BAM! - suddenly he literally became the person he was impersonating. Hysterical! And the unmasking part was also fun to watch the reactions of the villains who were duped.

  8. Don't really remember much of this series, which I liked, except for the cast, especially Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. She was more than cool.

  9. John: Well, better late than never. Ha! Your comment must have taken the long way around.

    The rubbery faces were part of the show's charm for me. Total willing suspension of disbelief. I just went with the flow. :)

    It was a blast seeing these shows again after all this time.

  10. Kathy: Barbara Bain was the epitome of cool under pressure. She and Martin Landau were reasons enough to watch the show. :)

  11. Cue "Twilight Zone" music-- Denis and I have been having our own MI marathon, and we're just about to finish up. "Hawaii Five-O" may be next. Hey... Denis keeps me up on old British TV, so I return the favor!

  12. Great minds think alike, Cathy! The M.I. vibes must have been twirling about. :)

  13. Steven Hill is an Orthodox Jew who refuses to work on the Sabbath. This caused production problems so the producers decided to replace him at the end of the second season.

  14. I have to tell you about an obscure running gag that the did on Mission: Impossible, particularly in the first three years.

    In that weekly scene in Brigg's/Phelps's apartment, where he's going through the dossiers to pick out whom he's going to use that week, you've probably that he tosses aside some B&W photos of various nondescript individuals, before finally settling on the usual three guys and a gal.

    Those pictures of mainly of behind-the-scenes people on the series.
    Bruce Geller, the creator-showrunner, was probably the most frequent rejectee.
    But there vwere a couple of others whom I recognized from extensive reading about the TV business:
    On at least two occasions, Phelps considered and rejected Michael Dann, the chief programming executive for CBS-TV.
    And in one episode, Phelps tossed aside a picture of -
    - wait for it -
    - the Chairman of the Columbia Broadcasting System, William S. Paley!
    (I wish I could recall the specific episode; I think it was in season 3.)
    I do recall reading that Paley had been in military intelligence during WWII, which is neither here nor there, but anyway ...

    ... well I think it's interesting, anyway ...

  15. Thanks for the info, Michael.

  16. Mike, I think it's interesting too. I kind of always wondered who those people were. I never did recognize any of 'em though. :)

  17. Great choices, especially "Miklos"! I just watched all 7 seasons! I find a different charm for Season 5 with Lesley Ann Warren and Leonard Nimoy. Not that Martin and Barbara weren't great...they were! I like "The Deal" (S7) and "The Innocent" (S5)

  18. Okay, okay you talked me into it, Mark. (That was quick.) I'll go watch the two episodes you recommend. But I make no promises.:)


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