With its combination of Cold War villains and James Bond-like techno-gadgets, Mission: Impossible
was an instant hit when it premiered on September 17, 1966. Airing Saturday nights at 9:00 on CBS, the series was the brainchild of creator/producer Bruce Geller, whose formula for seven successful seasons included a well-chosen ensemble cast, noteworthy guest stars, and a flexible premise that inspired clever plots twists and a constant variety of "international" locations (mostly filmed on a studio backlot). This seven-disc set includes all 28 episodes of season 1, the only season to feature Steven Hill as Dan Briggs, leader of the top-secret counterintelligence team known as Impossible Missions Force (IMF). As the no-nonsense Briggs, Hill (better known for his later role on Law & Order
from 1990 to 2000) began each episode by sneakily retrieving the dossier and recorded instructions (voiced throughout the entire series by uncredited actor Bob Johnson) for the IMF's latest assignment. "Your mission, should you decide to accept it" and "this recording will self-destruct in five seconds" quickly became pop-cultural catch-phrases, as Briggs routinely selected his preferred teammates based on their mastery of practical skills. With "special appearance" billing for M:I
's first three seasons, Martin Landau played master-of-disguise Rollin Hand; his off-screen wife, Barbara Bain, played top-model and undercover seductress Cinnamon Carter; Greg Morris brought hip coolness (and racial diversity) to his role as electronics expert Barney Collier; and Peter Lupus played handsome hunk Willy Armitage, adding IMF muscle to Briggs' brainy strategies.
As a Desilu production based at Paramount Studios, Mission: Impossible shared guest stars, production personnel, locations, and even occasional sets with the original Star Trek. Fans of both shows will enjoy spotting these crossover details (including George Takei's appearance in "The Carriers," a first-season highlight), and this season's other stand-out episodes include the "Pilot" (featuring Wally Cox as an ace safe-cracker), "Operation Rogosh," "A Spool There Was," "Action!," "The Train," and "The Traitor." Whether they were toppling dictators, rescuing doomed prisoners, foiling despots, or framing Mafia kingpins, the IMF agents were consistently blessed with taut, well-written plots, many unfolding with minimal dialogue and highly visual schemes that demanded (and rewarded) the viewer's close attention. Although Steven Hill eventually left the series (as an Orthodox Jew, he preferred not to work on the Jewish Sabbath, as M:I required), his single season set the stage for M:I's long-term popularity, with Peter Graves (replacing Hill as "Jim Phelps") leading the IMF from 1967 to 1973. And while Paramount has again neglected to offer DVD extras with this set, the episodes look and sound just about perfect, with a parade of guest stars including Carol O'Connor, Simon Oakland, Fritz Weaver, Nehemiah Persoff, Barbara Luna, Vic Tayback, and a host of other '60s TV regulars. Your mission--and you shouldn't hesitate to accept it--is to enjoy this classic series all over again! --Jeff Shannon
The classic Impossible Missions Force lineup made its debut in Mission: Impossible's sophomore season (1967-1968), which is preserved in this essential set for classic TV fans. Gone was Steven Hill as Dan Briggs, and in his place the supremely confident and smooth Peter Graves as new team leader Jim Phelps, whom most viewers identify with the series. Carrying out the missions assigned from a pre-recorded voice on the self-destroying tape recorder was magician and master of disguise Rollin Hand (Martin Landau, who moved up from guest star to regular cast member with this season), top model Cinnamon Carter (Landau's real-life spouse Barbara Bain, who won three Emmys for her work on the show), electronics genius Barney Collier (Greg Morris), and all-purpose strong man Willie Armitage (body builder-turned-actor Peter Lupus). Among the 25 adventures carried out in this seven-disc set: "The Seal," in which the IMF uses a trained cat to assist in the recovery from an important statue from thief Darren McGavin; "The Town," with Phelps discovering that Communists have overrun an entire hamlet; and "The Slave," in which the team tangle with a Middle Eastern slavery ring. Guest stars include Anthony Zerbe, Paul Winfield, Fritz Weaver, and Sid Haig, but it's the team itself that shines the brightest, especially Landau and Bain, who exude the breezy charm of the series itself (though both would depart the show by the following season). Sadly, the second season set includes no extras. -- Paul Gaita
Season 3, should you decide to accept it (and you definitely should), was Mission's most accomplished. It garnered six Emmy nominations, and an Emmy for Barbara Bain, her third consecutive win, probably for "The Exchange," one of her finest hours, in which, breaking series format, her character is captured and psychologically tortured to discover for whom she works. As always, the first five minutes of any Mission: Impossible episode are the coolest: the lit fuse signaling Lalo Schifrin's indelible theme song, the opening-credits montage teasing the action in the upcoming episode, and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), in some nondescript location, receiving his covert mission (usually to some nonexistent, but real-sounding country as Povia or Costa Mateo), on that self-destructing tape. It always seemed a waste of time for Phelps to go through the dossiers of possible Impossible Missions Force agents for each mission (and he does that less this season) as he invariably chose the same ones: model beauty Cinnamon (Bain), master of disguise Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), electricians expert Barney Collier (Greg Morris), and strongman Willie Armitage (Peter Lupus).
Mission: Impossible didn't delve into the team members' private lives: it was all about the mission, and together, the IMF foils any number of domestic and international villains. Some missions (foil a coup, rescue a dissident) have more at stake than others (restore boxing's good name), but there's that great moment in almost every episode when the team's target discovers that he or she has been royally IMF'd. "Don't you see?" the warden of a so-called escape-proof automated prison protests in "The Glass Cage," "they thought of everything!" He's not kidding. Not even "Q" on his best day would have come up with that faux briefcase that secretly dispenses exact replicas of the prison's towels. Mission: Impossible today does seem a little low-tech, especially when compared to the special effects-laden feature films. And for anyone who has seen Airplane, it may be difficult initially to keep a straight face whenever Peter "Do you like gladiator movies?" Graves is onscreen. But with its clever and complex stories, impeccable ensemble, and fun-to-spot guest stars (that's John "Dean Wormer" Vernon torturing Cinnamon in "The Exchange"), Mission is impossible to resist. --Donald Liebenson
Foil the invasion of a democratic country? No problem. Rescue members of a royal family from their would-be usurper? Piece of cake. Replace the irreplaceable Martin Landau and thrice-Emmy-winner Barbara Bain, who departed Mission after its third season? Now that’s impossible! But in this classic series’ fourth season, the veteran and rookie members of the Impossible Mission Force still put on a good show. The most prominent new addition to the IMF dossier is Leonard Nimoy as Paris, magician and master of disguise. Lee "Catwoman" Meriwether appears in several episodes as Tracey. Other guest stars make less of an impression; Alexandra Hay makes her only appearance on the show in the season opener as Lynn, who, in the course of an elaborate plot to shatter an alliance between two would-be dictators is caught, strip-searched, and thrown into prison (she disappears mid-episode and is never seen again; viewers never do get to see her sprung). An unintentionally hilarious moment that would have made Mad magazine proud comes in the three-parter, "The Falcon," in which IMF leader Jim Phelps’ (Peter Graves) dossier of agents at his disposal includes the eponymous trained animal! Lending Mission: Impossible its international intrigue are the villains from such exotic sounding countries as Nueva Tierra. Great character actors, including John "Dean Wormer" Vernon, Harold Gould and Pernell Roberts portray accented bad guys to the hilt. Each bafflingly complex mission unfolds precisely to plan. Everything must go like clockwork, and usually does, even a lame bit in "The Falcon" in which strongman Willy (Peter Lupus) disguised as a peasant, delays a priest from a coronation by transporting him via horse-driven cart in a roundabout route. Like the previous season’s "The Exchange," one mission hits closer to home. In "Death Squad" electronics expert Barney (Greg Morris) is arrested by a brutal and corrupt police chief who also happens to be the brother of the man who was killed while attacking Barney’s girlfriend (Cicely Tyson, by the way). Mission: Impossible has yet to self-destruct, but this season doesn’t exactly deliver on Paris’s promise to his audience to deliver "excitement you haven’t seen before." We have seen this before, but watching the IMF in episode after episode pull off the impossible is still smart and suspenseful fun. --Donald Liebenson