Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “The Frame”/”The Trial”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “The Frame”/”The Trial”

“The Frame”: Finally we get a briefing sequence that isn’t recycled from earlier in the season. The message is hidden in a career aptitude test delivered via filmstrip and taped instructions, and Dan accesses the message by giving the wrong answers to two very easy multiple-choice questions. (Which leaves me wondering what would happen if someone had come in to take the test before Dan and had just been really stupid. After all, the lady administering the test clearly wasn’t in on the secret.) But the dossier sequence was clearly stock, I think from the pilot episode, since Dan’s hairstyle is distinctly different.

This is the first episode to do something that became standard in later seasons: sending the team up against stateside organized crime rather than something espionage-related. The last time they did a mob-related episode, “The Ransom,” it was an unofficial mission. This time, it’s the prototype for the later years of the series: the bad guy is someone conventional law enforcement can’t touch (though it isn’t explained why), so the team has to bring him down.

Syndicate leader Jack Wellman (Simon Oakland) has been assassinating legislators in arranged accidents, in order to put mob-friendly replacements in power. He’s having a dinner meeting with three other top mobsters, intending to give them all their annual bonuses, and the team goes in as caterers to steal the money from his safe and make it look like he’s welched on his colleagues so that they’ll turn on him. Conveniently, we see that the other three mobsters are uneasy with Wellman’s ambitious agenda, preferring to leave government officials alone and, apparently, settle for the kind of organized crime that doesn’t really hurt anybody much. (???) The episode goes to great lengths to reassure us that once Wellman’s taken care of, the other three will be pussycats by comparison. It gets somewhat repetitive.

The elaborate methods Barney and Willy use to break into Wellman’s wine-cellar vault — drill holes in the concrete above it, insert explosive charges, muffle them with big blocks of foam pressed down with an air piston, use a radio trigger so the blast goes off just when a flambe main course is ignited to conceal the sound — are perhaps more interesting than what’s going on with the characters. It’s certainly an elaborate caper, and it depends in part on the mobsters believing “waiter” Rollin is deaf so they’re free to talk about crime and such. Which almost backfires when Rollin inadvertently reacts to something he hears and one of the gangsters tests his deafness by setting off a gun right by his ear. Rollin exercises great self-control to convince them he really didn’t hear it, but his ears are ringing badly and he’s in considerable pain. It’s effective at first when they let us hear what he’s hearing — severe tinnitus and muffled voices — but it’s resolved way too quickly, with the ringing shutting off instantaneously after a few moments. They should’ve extended it so that we weren’t sure Rollie’s hearing would be okay until the end of the episode.

One problem here: the gangsters were all talking openly about Wellman’s role in the assassinations while Rollin was in the room. Instead of staging this elaborate caper, why not just have a wire on Rollin? Record their conversation, take it to the DA, get him arrested. I guess it ties into the claim that Wellman was “untouchable” by the law. They had to get his gangster buddies to kill him. But why? Okay, maybe he had some judges as well as politicians in his pocket, but still, the whole “untouchable” thing is hard to rationalize.

A more technical problem occurs when the plan calls for Rollin to spill soup in the lap of “old country” gangster Scalisi, so that he’ll go upstairs to change and discover Cinnamon in the role of a ladyfriend Wellman is supposedly keeping hidden away (who “turns out” to be his accomplice in stealing the money, though in reality he knows nothing about it). The problem is, when Scalisi hears a noise and draws his gun before going in to find Cinnamon, we get a clear look at the front of his trousers, and there’s not a drop of soup on them.

And when Barney and Dan get into the vault and take Wellman’s money — allegedly 4 million dollars in what are supposedly $100,000 bundles — you can see that the prop bills are actually singles!!

So an interesting idea, a clever caper, but with flaws in the concept and the execution. One high point is Arthur Batanides as Tino, a restaurateur who’s often catered to Wellman before but is working for the IMF team this time. But even though he’s on the good guys’ side, he’s very much not a seasoned agent, just an ordinary guy who’s nervous and scared about pulling a fast one on a murderous mobster. Kind of a refreshing contrast to the seasoned professionalism of the others.

One thing I keep wondering: at the end, we see the team drive away with the stolen $4 million. So what do they do with it? I assume they don’t get to keep it. I’d like to think it went to the families of the murdered congressmen and such.

——

“The Trial”: This time the briefing is delivered in an architect’s office, on some kind of strange recording device I can’t even identify. At first glance, it looked like some kind of phonograph, but instead of a flat disc, the recording medium seems more like a rotating drum — not like an Edison cylinder, but something that’s read on the flat face like a record, but considerably thicker and perhaps unremovable. I didn’t see any grooves, though there did seem to be a stylus or reader of some sort. Some kind of early magnetic storage medium, perhaps? A dictation machine for recording short, erasable messages? I don’t know. It’s the second time this season I’ve seen a recording device of a totally unfamiliar type.

An unusual team this time, just Dan, Rollin, and Willy. The mission: warmongering Eastern European secret police chief Col. Varsh (Carroll O’Connor) wants to frame an American for a serious crime and use a public show trial to stir up anti-Western sentiment. To keep an innocent person from falling victim, Dan convinces Varsh that he’s an actual saboteur and gets himself arrested. However, his alibi is Deputy Premier Kudnov (David Opatoshu), a Western-sympathetic leader whose power they want to support while bringing down Varsh. They’ll discredit Varsh by getting Kudnov to testify and Varsh to try to kill him to prevent it (believing it’s a ploy to bring him down).

It’s an interesting idea, but there are credibility problems in the execution. For one thing, this episode elevates latex mask technology to the magical level that became routine later in the series, totally abandoning earlier episodes’ attempts to acknowledge its limits. The Dan Briggs mask from the pilot returns, with Rollin impersonating Dan to play the saboteur at the same moment the real Dan is with Kudnov setting up his alibi. At least they don’t have Rollin doing Dan’s voice perfectly; it’s Landau’s voice dubbed over Hill. And he refuses to take a drink, presumably to preserve the makeup. But the visual impersonation is flawless, right down to Dan’s height, which is maybe 3-4 inches less than Rollin’s. Later on, to sneak Kudnov into the courtroom past the assassins, they have Rollin (as the defense attorney) apparently come into the courtroom and take the witness stand — only to take off a Rollin mask and reveal he’s actually Kudnov! How he lost his paunch and mimicked Rollin’s younger, svelte build goes unaddressed.

Also, the premise of the episode is hard to swallow in the context of the broader series. I’ve wondered how celebrities like famed actor Rollin Hand and supermodel Cinnamon Carter can operate as spies without being recognized. That’s more plausible overseas, since media culture wasn’t as global in the ’60s. But here we have Dan and Rollin showing their faces for days in a show trial that’s being televised all over the world — and it’s a cinch the shocking moment where Rollin’s face is peeled off to reveal Kudnov’s is going to get a lot of coverage. How could these two ever go unrecognized again after this?

Kind of a nice touch is when Rollin convinces Kudnov of the threat to his life by using an old Sherlock Holmes ploy — a small statue revolving on the phonograph with a lamp behind it shining on the shades serves as a decoy which Varsh’s assassin shoots at. But it’s rather a coincidence that Varsh’s man actually happens to be there at that moment, and that he’s so incompetent as to take a shot at an unconfirmed target and leave without verifying the kill. I would’ve found it more plausible if they’d had Willy be the one taking the shot, rather than depending on the unwitting participation of the actual assassin.

There are also some violations of proper courtroom procedure (attorneys asking leading questions and giving testimony and argument during examinations, exhibits being presented to witnesses before being formally entered into evidence, objections going unruled upon), but I can live with those since this is a court in a Soviet-bloc country and the judge is in Varsh’s pocket anyway, so it makes sense that the rules would be looser. And it’s no worse than you’d see in most any other television courtroom drama.

The high point of the episode is Carroll O’Connor’s performance as Varsh. The first time I saw this episode, I didn’t know at first that it was O’Connor. I knew the actor looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. I never would’ve associated this resonant-voiced, charismatic, (fake-)bearded fellow with Archie Bunker. Once I found out, I was truly impressed with O’Connor’s versatility as a character actor. It’s an excellent performance.

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  1. February 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    I just watched the frame and thought it was a good episode overall. I didnt quite get the minutia about Barney’s safevault breaking so I appreciated your explanation. I thought Simon Oakland acting was, as always, spot on. He’s a very interesting actor to watch and a strong personality. Also, while cut short, as you said, the temporal deafness of rollin was superbly acted, he’s the best actor of the lot IMO. On the opposite direction, we have steven hill’s poor acting (and I like him a lot.. usually) when confronted by the mobster.

  2. April 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I assume all the IMF’s captured booty goes into a slush fund for Briggs/Phelps to use to pay for some of their more elaborate cons. The amount of money spent on some of their more way-out bamboozles must be astronomical.

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