Paramount // 1968 // 1254 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino // December 5th, 2007
The fuse is lit. Again.
You're given the mission to stop a dictator from seizing power in a small South American country. Any normal spy would just march down there and shoot the guy, right? Well, sure, you could do that if you wanted to start an international crisis! Clearly, this is a job for the Impossible Missions Force...because only they have the gumption to march into the dictator's mansion and pretend to be doctors, diagnose him with a fake disease, and then fill his house with strange mirrors and projectors to make him think he's hallucinating so that he steps down from power and goes into a mental home.
There's the easy way of doing things, and there's the impossible way of doing things...guess which is more interesting.
That cunning team of IMF agents are back in the third season of the popular late-'60s spy drama Mission: Impossible. Led by the fearless, broad-shouldered Jim Phelps (Peter Graves, Airplane), the team receives their orders from exploding cassette tapes and spring in to action.
The key players all return this season: the big Italian strongman, Willy (Peter Lupus); the femme fatale, Cinnamon (Barbara Bain); the gadget-making, vent-infiltrating, jack-of-all-trades, Barney (Greg Morris); and the man of a thousand faces, voices, and statures, Rollin Hand (Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors). Together, this team thwarts the unnamed Communist super power, fools South American dictators, and dethrones crooked gang leaders. Here's the episode list:
* "The Heir Apparent"
* "The Contender" Part 1
* "The Contender" Part 2
* "The Mercenaries"
* "The Execution"
* "The Cardinal"
* "The Elixir"
* "The Diplomat"
* "The Play"
* "The Bargain"
* "The Freeze"
* "The Exchange"
* "The Mind of Stefan Miklos"
* "The Test Cage"
* "The System"
* "The Glass Cage"
* "Live Bait"
* "The Bunker" Part 1
* "The Bunker" Part 2
* "The Vault"
* "The Interrogator"
The first two seasons of Mission: Impossible were an excellent blend of '60s espionage and highly stylized theatrics; however, because of the switch from Steven Hill to Peter Graves as the lead man, the show felt like it was starting over from scratch. Sure, the format remained the same, but the character chemistry was completely different. The third season of Mission: Impossible is a solid continuation of the Peter Graves IM Force, and becomes even more ambitious than past seasons.
Now that the cast of the show is sured up, the producers streamlined things a bit. Mr. Phelps still spends the first few minutes of every episode finding tape recorders in obscure locations, but he no longer sits and ponders about who to bring on board for the mission. Instead of flipping through his folio of agents, and eventually picking the same crew, Phelps dives right in to the planning stages -- which still provide just enough information to make us curious, but not give anything away.
The missions this time around are about as challenging as they were in previous seasons, but the actual plans that the IM Force enact get extremely complex and elaborate. The fun of watching the show comes in the inherent suspense and tension as you try and guess the scheme the team as worked up, and whether or not it will work. Usually these plans involve creating elaborate fabrications, which in turn cause the villains to somehow destroy themselves. This season, the IM Force really goes out of their way to get the job done. In "The Execution" the team creates a fake gas chamber and pretends to carry out an execution in order to get an assassin to talk; "The Cardinal" finds the team infiltrating a monastery in South America and impersonating priests in order to halt the rise of a brutal dictator; and then there's the most outrageous plan of all: in "The Freeze," the team convinces a convict that he has a terminal disease, then they create a fake laboratory and make him believe he is being cryogenically frozen, and then they wake him up and make him believe it's the future! It's completely over the top, and yet they pull it off so believably that you almost feel bad for the villains.
The show has had some great two-part episodes in the past, and this third season is no exception. Mission: Impossible's two-parters always offer more plot development, larger schemes, and more satisfying climaxes. Basically, they are what the Tom Cruise movies should have been. One of the best in this set is "The Contender," which finds Barney training to go undercover as a former-heavyweight championship boxer. The episodes feature some great pre-Rocky training sequences with some excellent new music from Lalo Schifrin.
Mission: Impossible is so episodic and formulaic (in a good way) that it always runs that risk of becoming old hat; and yet, thankfully, Season Three stays as exciting as ever. This is mainly because the producers and writers find ways to break the mold that the show set in the first two seasons. The best way to shake things up is to have the Force fail. The most satisfying episodes are the ones in which a member of the team screws up in the beginning, and the story then becomes how to save him or her. In "The Exchange," Cinnamon gets captured behind enemy lines, and the rest of the crew has to convince the Russians to trade her for another captured spy. Episodes like "The Exchange" (and then again later in the season with "Nicole") remind the audience that the IM Force is certainly fallible, and that the characters do have some emotional depth to them.
This third season has some of the finest acting yet for the series. Peter Graves is fully comfortable in his role as the leader, and caretaker, for the team. His character has grown and it becomes clear that he has a personal stake in every member of the Force. While they're all very good, Landau continues to be the high point of the show. He pulls off hundreds of different characters (even when they cheat and overdub his voice) and manages to look completely crazed in every episode. The only thing the show could really use is some more variety in its villains, the bulk of which are either white, rich, businessmen or angry generals from somewhere in the Eastern bloc. The show goes out of its way not to name names or pick on countries (after all, we were in the middle of the Cold War when this was filmed), but some episodes and plots blend together in a haze of suits and khaki pants.
The incredible jazz music and stylized visuals also evolve in this third season. The show always had an excellent score, most of which was created by Lalo Schifrin (Enter the Dragon). There are some nice new variations on the Mission: Impossible theme, including the awesome montage music during the "The Contender" training sequences. This new 5.1 surround sound transfer certainly improves on the original television versions. Adding to the great sound are some very theatrical visuals. Each episode is framed like it was a big budget film. The show employs subtle camera pans and zooms which enhance the intensity and intrigue of the plot. There are some especially impressive extreme close-up tracking shots used in the casino episode, "The System." Director Robert Gist practically sets the camera on the poker tables, and employs some lens trickery to give us very clear images of gigantic cards, hands, and poker chips. It's a very strange technique that really makes that episode stand out stylistically. The actual quality of the visuals seems to have improved from previous seasons, although there are still occasional shots that appear rather grainy.
While Paramount has done another fantastic job with the packaging for this show, they have still neglected to provide any extra content whatsoever. There are no commentaries, making-of docs or deleted scenes. It's a shame, but given the pace in which old shows like this are being released, I suppose we shouldn't come to expect anything.
The third season of Mission: Impossible finds the series stretching its legs. The show has settled in to its formula, as well as a stable cast, and is now free to expand the plots -- and in some cases, break their own rules. This season is consistently thrilling and suspenseful, and always technically impressive.
Guilty of ruining the psyche of villains with elaborate, yet exciting, schemes set to peppy jazz music.
Review content copyright © 2007 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 1254 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* GnuDawn Mission Impossible Fansite