September 17, 2016

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 50TH

Mission Impossible made its television debut on this day in 1966! Produced for CBS during the height of the Spy Boom, the program featured an interesting shift away from the standard formula. Instead of following the exploits of a single hero, or two buddies, MI focused on a team of operatives. Each episode began with the controller (Briggs in season one, followed by Phelps), who would visit a dead-drop location to learn about his assignment from an anonymous (self-destructing) recording and packet of photographs. One memorable location was a photo booth, where the instructions were hidden in a locked grill near the floor (see images below from Photo Booth). The screen would then cut to the controller's modern apartment, filmed from a high angle, where he would flip through his roster of spies to find the right talent needed for the mission. Another convention of the series was its dynamic credit intro (see example below); A lighted match! A burning fuse! And then key scenes of the episode- all to the sound of Lalo Schifrin's iconic theme. Mission Impossible is one of my few favorite US television series from the 1960s. Actor Martin Landau (Space 1999) did a brilliant job portraying his various cover identities. The show also followed the conventions of suspense and heist films, in that the facts around each case were laid out in detail and the viewer would then be on the edge of their seat, waiting to see if the IM force could succeed. In a world oversaturated with explosions and gun battles, the series offered a refreshing approach: the team's aim was to sabotage the enemy, and to get in and out undetected. One of the great qualities of MI was also its tendency to focus on eye contact and silent communication between the characters. These guys didn't need heavy armament- or even much dialog. Their professionalism and cool reserve under pressure made them the most unique spy characters from the era. In my favorite episode from season one, The Carriers, George Takei (Star Trek) was brought in to go undercover in a village set up to train enemy spies to infiltrate the west. Mission Impossible ran from 1966-1973 and was brought back for two seasons by ABC in 1988. Tom Cruise began his action film adaptations in 1996, in which he focused mostly on the adventures of his character, Ethan Hunt. But there has been nothing like the original. Happy 50th! Below: Examples of season one credits and various images from the early days of Mission Impossible. Enjoy!













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