Mission: Impossible: The Original TV Series [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (28th December 2020).
The Film

Decades before the overblown, seemingly never-ending Tom Cruise movie franchise, Mission: Impossible was a modestly-budgeted Cold War artifact in which the absurdities of its formulaic spy operations – including some low-tech versions of rubber face-ripping identity reveals – were played straight to the point of parody (just look at Peter Graves' post-series career) – nevertheless garnering generations of fans in its original run and many, many syndicated airings. Created by Bruce Geller (Mannix), The formula is set forth in the pilot episode with IMF team leader Dan Briggs (Steven Hill's Law & Order) receiving his mission ("should you choose to accept it") via a self-destructing recording, sifts through personnel files to assemble a team of regulars and specialists (with onscreen "guest star" credits over their photographs after the title sequence proper), the group meets up, they discuss the steps and procedures of the operation, and then something goes wrong during the execution requiring them to adapt. The budget and shooting schedule precluded shooing on location in the foreign settings, but the same Southern California shooting locations familiar from other network shows of the period gave the show a cozy feel, turning the exciting action show of youth into comfort food. The charismatic Hill departed the show after one season and was replaced by Graves as agent Jim Phelps for the duration of the show. Although billed as guest star throughout the first season, Martin Landau (Ed Wood) as master of disguise Rollin Hand was a regular recurring presence, and in some instances the show seemed to downplay the iffy prosthetics of Dan Striepeke (The Island of Dr. Moreau) with the surprise of casting Landau in a dual role as the person he was meant to impersonate. Hand would be replaced in the fourth and fifth seasons by magician The Great Paris (Invasion of the Body Snatchers' Leonard Nimoy). The other original regulars included muscle Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus, who probably got more dialogue in six episodes of Police Squad than seven years of this series), tech genius Barney Collier (Vega$' Greg Morris), and fashion model Cinnamon Carter (Space: 1999's Barbara Bain) whose "feminine wiles" were part of her toolset. Carter would be replaced in the fifth season by actress Dana Lambert (Clue's Lesley Ann Warren), and Lisa Carey (Pieces' Lynda Day George) would fill in during seasons six and seven as both the bombshell and the mistress-of-disguise. The latter seasons also saw a number or revolving regulars in addition to the usual guest stars, among them Sam Elliott (Frogs) as Dr. Doug Robert, Barbara Anderson (Ironside) as parolee Mimi Davis, and Lee Meriwether (Barnaby Jones) as Tracey. Casting was not the only upheaval in the series as it progressed, with the latter seasons focusing on domestic settings and homegrown villains including drug dealers and the mafia. Seasons five and six added teasers before the familiar title sequence while season seven returns to a front title sequence, with the added novelty value of episode-specific montages of action underneath the opticals. The show was rebooted for the 1988 television season in the form of hastily-rewritten scripts due to a writer's strike, and the new series ran for two seasons and… the rest is history.

Season One Highlights: The team's first adventure takes them to the Latin republic of Santa Clara where they must remove two nuclear warheads from under the nose of dictator General Rio Dominguez (Landau in a dual role). The team must then depend on an alcoholic stage performer with a photographic memory (The Manchurian Candidate's Albert Paulsen) when they allow themselves to be captured in an Eastern Bloc country to trick the government into believing that one of their own fervent officials (William Keene) is actually a traitor. In the series' first multi-part story, IMF teams up with trapeze artist Crystal Walker (Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley) to infiltrate an Eastern European country as a traveling circus to free an imprisoned elderly cardinal (The Night of the Iguana's Cyril Delevanti). The team play baccarat to break the bank of a casino-owning prince (The Wrong Man's Nehemiah Persoff) who plans to use his fortune to wage war against a neighboring country, and then Briggs and his team are forced to capture a witness in a high-profile trial when the accused (Papillon's William Smithers) abducts the daughter of Briggs' friend. The team then must prevent four Nazis from claiming Hitler's fortune to found a Fourth Reich and then infiltrate a top secret meeting of Nazis in South America to capture a German war criminal. Returning to the Eastern Bloc, the team must sabotage a propaganda film project by studio head Miklos Klar (Cool Hand Luke's J.D. Cannon) that supposedly depicts American troops committing war atrocities.

Season Two Highlights: Jim Phelps takes over as leader of the Impossible Mission Force as the team attempts to turn two partners (To Kill a Mockingbird's William Windom and Elmer Gantry's Joe Maross) in the heroin trade against each other. The team then go after bank president Belzig (Planet of the Apes' James Daly) who preys on Germans eager to escape to the West in order to amass a fortune to launch a new Reich while Barney must pose as a slave in a Middle Eastern nation that is running a slave market. The team then target a philanthropic couple (Demon Seed's Fritz Weaver and The Masque of the Red Death's Hazel Court) who use charity money to amass a fortune in platinum, and then Rollin impersonates a mobster (The Mask's Paul Stevens) whose operations are destabilizing the U.S. economy. Barney creates a computer program to help Rollin take on a chess grandmaster (My Bloody Valentine's Don Francks) who is plotting to steal a fortune in gold (twenty-eight years before Gary Kasparov beat Deep Blue). When a U.S. bomber crashes behind the Iron Curtain and its failsafe device fails to detonate, the team must get to it before a defected U.S. scientist can dismantle it for the enemy.

Season Three Highlights: Barney trains as a boxer to infiltrate the operation of a crooked, mob-connected fight promoter in the season's opening two-parter (featuring supporting bits by Sugar Ray Robinson and The Wild Wild West's Robert Conrad), Rollin impersonates another imprisoned cardinal in a mission behind the Iron Curtain, and Cinnamon tries to distract a youth-obsessed female dictator (The Baby's Ruth Roman) with a fake rejuvenation procedure. Back behind the Iron Curtain, the team takes to the stage to sabotage an anti-American propaganda play staged by a country's Minster of Culture (The Changeling's John Colicos). Phelps poses as a cryogenics scientist to try to fool a paroled armored car robber (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's Donnelly Rhodes) into believing that he is sick and divulge the location of the missing money. While an industrialist (Ice Station Zebra's Alf Kjellin) negotiates the sale of a hydrogen bomb, the team attempt to substitute a dummy unit under his nose, and then they all go undercover to rescue a scientist (Get Smart's Milton Selzer) who is being forced to develop a long-range missile by a totalitarian government holding his wife (Lee Meriwether in a role before her later recurring part) hostage.

Season Four Highlights: Paris replaces Rollin as master of disguise to play two conspirators in a planned coup against each other, and Tracey joins the team as they try to fool a military dictator plotting his return to power into believing that World War III has already occurred. Phelps and agent Meredyth (Operation Petticoat's Dina Merrill) pose as defecting U.S. scientists to sabotage the development of a mind control drug being developed behind the Iron Curtain, while Barney and Willy put their smarts together to swap perfect counterfeit currency before it can be used to claim a gold reserve. The team attempt to manipulate a former S.S. officer (No Way Out's Stephen McNally) into revealing the whereabouts of Nazi gold and fool a nation's deputy premier (It Takes a Thief's Malachi Throne) who has covered up the death of the premier and substituted him with an actor to endorse his own successorship. The team then poses as a medical team to switch the leader of an Arab nation with his own imprisoned twin brother (Get Mean's Lloyd Battista). In the season's three-parter, the team must rescue a prince (Joseph Reale) whose death has been faked by the country's military general (Savage Streets' John Vernon) who plans to put himself up on the throne.

Season Five Highlights: Phelps returns to his childhood hometown when someone starts killing his old friends, Dana is kidnapped by a government security forces while the team is trying to thwart a military coup, and Paris is brainwashed and programmed to kill Phelps. In Japan, the team tries to exonerate an American businessman framed for murder, and an amateur spy (Licence to Kill's Anthony Zerbe) stumbles upon an IMF operation in his country. Paris and Dana go undercover to turn a drug kingpin (Eyewitness' Albert Paulsen) against his heir apparent, and Paris ends up being kidnapped by rebels while posing as a wealthy American. Investigation into the murder of Barney's brother leads to the discovery of a high-tech organized crime group, and the team must reach an impregnable island to sabotage a country's missile guidance system. Phelps and Dana infiltrate a group of bank robbers using their loot to fund anti-American activities, and then the team attempts to rescue a captured African revolutionary leader and teach the racist military leader (Patton's Lawrence Dobkin) a lesson with a chemical color change.

Season Six Highlights: Phelps allows himself to be temporarily blinded to pose as a washed up federal agent who might have some information tempting to an FBI mole, and the team recruit a cast of thousands to convince a cold case murder suspect (Star Trek's William Shatner) that he is reliving the day of the crime over again. Barney poses as a fugitive to infiltrate the operation of a criminal (The Thing's Donald Moffat) who employs a scientist (The Boys in the Band's Leonard Frey) to brainwash fugitives to commit assassinations. Lisa rehabilitates the reputation of the alcoholic wife (Windows' Elizabeth Ashley) of a mobster (Rituals' Lawrence Dane) to force a mob hit on him. Barney and Willy play mind games to manipulate a confession out of a music producer ('s ) who got away with the murder of one of his singers, and the team take up off-track betting when the syndicate move in on the sport. Lisa plays dead to frame a money launderer (Barney Miller's James Gregory), and the team must infiltrate a corrupt mental institution to free a wrongfully-committed witness (Dallas' Susan Howard) in the trial of an underworld boss (Paths of Glory's Bert Freed).

Season Seven Highlights: The team fake the aftermath of another nuclear war to trick a rogue scientist (Humanoids from the Deep's Vic Morrow) into divulging the location of a cache of nuclear material, and then create a conflict between two rival mobsters (Scrooged's Robert Goulet and The Thing from Another World's Dewey Martin) to rescue a captured federal agent. The team go into the movies for a "the play's the thing" variation when the syndicate takes over its own movie studio, and Barney poses as a criminal to help extend the prison sentence of a syndicate operative (Moonrise's Dane Clark) serving just a year for tax evasion. The team go up against another chessmaster (The Dead Are Alive's Alex Cord) who also happens to be a killer for hire, and then try to gaslight a woman (Hellfighters' Laraine Stephens) who has murdered her mobster husband (Killer Fish's Charles Guardino) and is blackmailing his colleagues with incriminating documents.


Following its original CBS run, Mission: Impossible has been in regular syndication through the years, and a run of two-episode volumes were available on VHS through the Columbia House subscription program in the nineties, and the series was released as individual seasons on DVD in 2006, followed by a forty-six disc complete series set in 2009 and then a fifty-six disc set in 2012 which added the two-seasons of the 1988 reboot series. Coming out simultaneously in America, France, Germany, the Blu-ray complete original series set mirrors the forty-six disc DVD set with the same arrangement of episodes on each disc, and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfers looks quite good overall, with vibrant, saturated colors (skintones sometimes look a bit pink or a bit orange depending on the episode and the scene), and good detail in close-ups while black levels are a bit variable between studio settings and location exteriors as we have come to expect from high definition presentations of television series of this period. Although I cannot claim to have paid attention to the look of the show in syndication and have not consulted the DVD edition, I can say that there is nothing distractingly revisionist in the grading and did not notice any egregious compression or authoring issues in my later sampling of episodes.


The DVD sets featured both English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 original mono tracks, but the Blu-rays have included only the remix in DTS-HD Master Audio along with French and German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono dubs. The 5.1 tracks fortunately are not gimmicky and seem faithful to the original mixes with much of the material concentrated towards the front with some spread given to atmospheric effects (although those are pretty sparse in general apart from crowd scenes, party scenes, and action sequences), while the theme of Lalo Schifrin (The Amityville Horror) and the episode scoring – featuring contributions from Hugo Montenegro (The Farmer), Gerald Fried (Survive!), and Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch) among others – gets perhaps the most in terms of a sonic workout. Optional English SDH, French, and German subtitles are also included.


As with the DVD editions, there are absolutely no extras. One would have hoped that they might have found room for the DVDs of the reboot series or the episodes as SD extras on Blu-ray discs.


Paramount's disastrous packaging of complete series sets continues. Here, instead of large keepcases with multiple discs on single hubs, we get seven fold-out cardboard sleeve holders with six or seven discs, the combined weight of which is too heavy for the thin cardboard box which can tear along the bottom (one may want to dispense with the box altogether). The authoring of the discs is also annoying in that each disc is preceded by the CBS logo, a menu language selection screen, and unskippable warning and DTS-HD Master Audio logos which add about two minutes to get to the main menu upon loading each disc.


Although devoid of extras and the original mono tracks, the Mission: Impossible complete original series set on Blu-ray was a nice surprise release of HD masters of a catalogue series. If only Paramount and other studios would toss some of their other HD-mastered old television series onto complete series Blu-ray sets (how about it Universal, you've got Emergency! in HD?!)


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