Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Action!”/”The Train”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Action!”/”The Train”

“Action!”: This is the infamous episode wherein the producers’ difficulties with Steven Hill came to a head — he balked at performing a rather simple action scene, even though he’d been game for riskier stuff in earlier episodes, and actually locked himself in his dressing room. So the producers rewrote the episode without him, and we get the unique situation of Cinnamon receiving the opening briefing, in a setting where we’d never see Dan, a beauty parlor. The dossier sequence is just shots of the folders on a table, no people to be seen. The briefing is led by Rollin in his apartment. Dan’s absence is not explained or addressed in any way.

The premise of this episode is rather unfortunate in retrospect. The idea is that Eastern-bloc filmmaker Miklos Klaar (played by Marshal McCloud‘s boss, J. D. Cannon) plans to discredit America with a fake newsreel film showing American soldiers massacring innocent villagers in Vietnam. Because of course we know that Americans are the good guys and would never really commit atrocities in war, right? Except that just one year and twelve days after this episode aired, the My Lai Massacre occurred, and a year and eight months after that it became public knowledge. So in retrospect, this episode comes off as painfully naive.

So it’s hard to evaluate this as a typical episode. Through the usual array of tricks and impersonations, they arrange to destroy the print and the negatives of the fake newsreel. Perhaps the most interesting gadget is Cinnamon’s “specially tailored skirt” that lets her take strides of exactly 30 inches, making her a human measuring tape for telling Barney how far it is through the pipes to reach the sprinkler system in the film vault and set it off. Klaar’s only option once the film is destroyed is to reshoot it, and the team sneaks in a cameraman (Tom Troupe) to document the process from the rafters. Much of the episode is shot on what I assume to be the Desilu lot, giving us a rare “behind-the-scenes” glimpse.

The most effective part of the episode is the way the plan almost falls apart. After Barney develops the incriminating film, he gets captured before he can switch it with the real (fake) film. He tries to pass it to Rollin without success. Klaar is paranoid about enemies from rival studios sabotaging his work, so he takes precautions to ensure that no one interferes with the film before it’s shown to the world press. Rollin can only watch helplessly as his mission fails. But at the last minute, the team breaks into the projection room and rolls the footage from the rafters, revealing the fakery behind Klaar’s film. So once again the day is saved, and America’s noble reputation is preserved… at least until November 1969.

Come to think of it, maybe Steven Hill was lucky he missed out on this one.

——

“The Train”: Steven Hill’s presence is minimal here. The tape and dossier scenes are stock footage; Dan appears in the mission-prep scene, but doesn’t join the mission itself. The mission: a dying European leader, Prime Minister Larya (Rhys Williams), intends to hand power over to his second-in-command Pavel (William Windom), unwilling to believe charges that Pavel plans to institute tyranny and undo Larya’s democratic reforms. To convince Larya, the team uses the help of a doctor (William Schallert in kindly-doctor mode) to convince Larya and Pavel to take a train ride to Bern for a risky, last-ditch operation. The team arranges to separate their car from the train and move it into a warehouse where, with the help of an Oscar-winning Hollywood art director, they’ve set up an elaborate system to fake a train ride with rear projection screens, shaker pistons on the car, and a bunch of sound-effects tapes. They stage a train wreck and make Pavel believe Larya has died. Larya watches from behind a one-way mirror as Pavel gloats and gives orders for mass executions and other nasty stuff.

The ending is bittersweet, for the nice old prime minister is heartbroken to learn the truth about the man he thought of like his own son. Also, the team must confess to him that the hope of a cure for his heart condition was merely part of the scam. Still, he’s philosophical about that part, grateful to the team for giving him the gift of seeing beyond his death.

It’s a fun scheme, seeing all the lengths they go to in order to set up the illusion of the train ride. For the second week in a row, we get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the equipment and contrivances used in film production. But it’s ultimately not entirely credible that the passengers would find it convincing. From where Larya and Pavel were sitting by the train windows, they would’ve been looking at the projection screens from an angle and seen the foreshortening. Indeed, from Larya’s position, given what we were shown of the exterior view, he should’ve been able to see past the edge of the screen. Also, there’s an odd bit where the train car has gotten underway but actually goes backward to get into the warehouse, and yet even though the windows are open on the real scenery at this point, nobody inside notices that they’re going the wrong way.

Still, it’s nice that they established that the team needed the help of Hollywood professionals to set up an illusion this elaborate. This is the template for other “fake journey” episodes later in the series, and I think those later episodes at least sometimes show the team doing it all themselves without help. Of course, maybe they learned all the skills from their time working with this guy.

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