On Saturday evening, September 17, 1966 at 9 pm, CBS-TV aired the pilot for a series that was to become one of the most successful in television history. Over seven seasons, ending in 1973, its 171 episodes followed a set format yet, like a chess game, seemed to have infinite options. Each week the Mission Impossible crew were recruited for a cat and mouse skirmish against clandestine forces and dangerous criminals threatening the United States, a sobering reality in an era still boiling in the decade’s cauldron of confrontation called ironically, The Cold War.
In the pilot’s opening scene Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) exits a freight elevator, walks into a shop, and asks the young woman standing at a file cabinet about a specialty phonograph recording. The proprietor enters, dismisses her, and asks Briggs, “Exactly what recording were you looking for?” Briggs replies, “Pavanne in G by Ernest Vaughn and the Pan Symphonic Orchestra, 1963.” The man gives him a red parcel, then leaves, closing the door behind him. Briggs unwraps and places a vinyl disc on a nearby player. Music begins. He moves the tone arm toward the center, resets it and listens:
Good morning, Mr. Briggs. General Rio Dominguez, the dictator of Santa Costa, makes his headquarters in the Hotel Nacional. We’ve learned that two nuclear warheads furnished to Santa Costa by an enemy power are contained in the hotel vault. Their use is imminent. Mr. Briggs, your mission, should you decide to accept it, would be to remove both nuclear devices from Santa Costa. As always, you have carte blanche as to method and personnel, but of course, should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your action. As usual, this recording will decompose one minute after the breaking of the seal. I hope it’s “welcome back,” Dan. It’s been a while.
Continue reading ‘John Alton: Cinematography’s Outlier, Part Three’