1 9 6 6 – 1 9 7 3 (USA)
171 x 50 minute episodes
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try to get Lalo Schifrin’s pulsating theme music out of your head once you start humming it . . .
Paired with images of a lit fuse. its suspenseful, jazzy urgency epitomised the promised action to come.
The Impossible Missions Force (IMF) were an elite group of secret agents under the leadership of Jim Phelps (Peter Graves).
Their dangerous missions usually involved the rescue of a foreign diplomat held prisoner by a fictitious communist power or the recovery of secret documents.
Each member of the IMF had their own particular talent, Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) was a master of disguise, Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain) was the female seductress, muscle was supplied by Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus), and Barney Collier (Greg Morris) was the electronics wizard.
Bob Johnson’s voice was heard on the weekly tape laying out the mission for the elite agents.
Gadgetry and special effects featured heavily in the series which won Emmys for Outstanding Dramatic Series in 1967 and 1968. Surprisingly Landau and wife Barbara Bain were unceremoniously sacked over disputes over money.
Landau’s tenure on the show was unusual from day one. He’d started as a guest performer (the original leader of the MI team was Daniel Briggs, played by Steven Hill) but even after he moved up to lead character status, he refused to sign the standard five-year contract that would’ve allowed the studio to lay claim to his time.
So when MI hit the Nielsen top 15 in Season Two, he was free to negotiate for what he thought he was worth, as was Bain. They aimed high, Paramount aimed low, and the actors lost.
Lawsuits flew – and when Bain stepped up to the podium in 1969 to accept her third consecutive Emmy for her work on the show, she glared at the cameras and said: “There are many I would like to thank. There are a couple of people I’d not like to thank – but since they each know their names, I won’t call them.”
Thus continued the spin of the revolving cast door, which saw the quick entrances and exits of Sam Elliott, Lesley Ann Warren and a post-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy.
Graves stuck it out until the show left the air in 1973, as did Greg Morris and Peter Lupus.
When asked about his feelings on the cancellation in 1973, the low-key Graves avoided the dramatic and was appropriately philosophical: “I think it may have been the right time,” he said. “Nothing lasts forever . . . except possibly Gunsmoke.”
A brief 36-episode revival in 1989/1990 was filmed entirely in Australia to avoid the American Writers’ Guild strike (although set in locations all over the world). In a technological update, the details of each mission were now given to Jim on a self-destructing laser disk.
In 1996 a Hollywood blockbuster version of Mission: Impossible – starring Tom Cruise – was released. Although it was big on action, it lacked the magic and charm of the original series . . . as have many blockbuster sequels.
Martin Landau died in July 2017. He was 89.
The Great Paris
Lesley Ann Warren
Lynda Day George
Mission Briefer (Voice)