“Good morning Mr Briggs …” August 14, 2007Posted by jackal in : TV , trackback
I’ve been watching Mission: Impossible again from the start in recent months, Paramount having finally begun to release the original 60s show on DVD (the first two seasons are out now; the third is coming in November). I remember the show fondly from my childhood; even then it was a quarter century old, repeated on Channel 4 each Sunday morning.
Now, spruced up on DVD, the show is 40 years old and just as entertaining. The first season is my era, with the original and, in my opinion, best cast: team leader Dan Briggs (Steven Hill), ’man of a million faces’ Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), glamorous Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain, married to Landau at the time), electronics expert Barney Collier (Greg Morris) and strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus).
Everybody remembers Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) and seems to forget his predecessor. Graves took over as team leader in season two after Steven Hill was fired, reportedly for being difficult on set and (as an Orthodox Jew) refusing to work on the sabbath, often throwing the show behind schedule. Graves is an excellent lead, but for my money, Hill is just as good on screen, always cool and understated in his performances. Once Graves took over, he stayed for the duration of the show’s run, while the rest of the original cast were gradually whittled down. In came the likes of Leonard Nimoy, Sam Elliott, Lesley Ann Warren and others, and when the show ended after 7 seasons only Greg Morris and Peter Lupus remained from the early days.
Watching those early episodes again recently, the show retains its lustre. Each episode is plotted to within an inch of its life, and while the general premise of the stories can get repetitive, the scripts - the ‘impossible missions’ themselves - are remarkably fresh. The primary cast - Hill/Graves, Landau, Bain - seem to relish the chance to essentially put on a different personality each week, as their characters go undercover in an ever-changing procession of false identities. Familiar faces frequently guest star as villains or allies: Lloyd Bridges, John Vernon, William Shatner, Mark Lenard, William Windom, John Colicos, George Takei, Diane Baker, Anthony Zerbe, James B. Sikking and more. The heavy use of the studio backlot and obvious LA location shooting to double for foreign locales does become a little tiresome, but the show overcomes its limitations through the ingenuity and pace of the action. It goes without saying that Lalo Schifrin’s driving theme tune - one of the greatest ever - is an immense asset, and the brief teaser presented during each episode’s title sequence is always a highlight.
The one thing lacking on Paramount’s DVD releases of the series is bonus material of any description. A decent retrospective documentary would have been ideal, but even a little effort spent tracking down surviving cast members for a commentary or two would have added a welcome touch of nostalgia.
Looking at the original line-up, Martin Landau is undoubtedly the best-known nowadays, as famous for North by Northwest or his Oscar-winning performance in Ed Wood as he is for this show; Steven Hill found recognition decades later as the gruff District Attorney in Law & Order throughout the 90s; Barbara Bain is still on-screen too, most recently in a brief guest spot on CSI. I was curious about series stalwarts Greg Morris and Peter Lupus, though, neither of whom went on to anything significant.
Unfortunately Morris died in 1996, but it turns out that Lupus, now owner of a health supplements business, is still going strong - literally. In 2002, at the age of 70, Lupus set a world record for weight-lifting endurance, shifting a total of 76,280 lbs in under the alotted 30 minutes (27 to be exact) and immediately promised to come back on his 75th birthday and break the record again. True to his word, he did exactly that: during a birthday celebration held at a California gym last month, family and friends including his old co-star Martin Landau, together with numerous TV crews, watched the 75-year old break his own record, lifting 77,560 lbs in 24 minutes and 50 seconds. I tip my hat to the guy.