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Mission: Impossible (1966)
Keep 'em Coming!
Having just finished viewing the boxed DVD set of the second season, I can hardly wait to see the next offering. The Town seemed to be as good on second viewing as it was when it first was aired. I'm especially anxious to see season three, which probably was the best of the series. Unfortunately it was the last year Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were with the show. I remember thinking at the time they left that they would never be able to replace them. In my opinion, they never did, even though I remained an IMF addict until it went off the air.
Watergate was the death knell of the show. Nixon's plumbers' antics struck a little bit too close to home. By the final season, I think the plots had become a bit tired.
As far as I know, the murder of the show's producer, Barry Crane, has never been solved. I was a tournament bridge player at the time the show was on the air, and he was rated the top bridge player in the country. I met him when the ACBL Summer Nationals were played in Minneapolis. Crane was a very fine person. At the time, there was speculation that the LA police didn't try as hard as they could to solve his murder because he was gay. If anyone has ever heard anything more about the case, I would like to hear about it.
It's hard to believe that the two finest TV series of the sixties were both from Desilu. Star Trek and Mission Impossible were the two benchmarks that have never been surpassed. And how can anyone of my generation not get a lump in his/her throat to see the wonderful limo-sized gas guzzlers that showed up in the show?
Mission: Impossible: The Town (1968)
One of the most unusual and best of the IMF series
A great departure from the usual opening, and you expect to see Jim going somewhere to pick up his new mission. Instead he stumbles upon an international assassination plot and becomes a prisoner of the ringleader and his band of merry followers. This one generates great tension all the way through and some nice surprises. The only quibble I have with it is the perfunctory way the IMF deals with the bad guys' plot. I think the producers could easily have turned this into a fantastic two-parter. Even so, this is probably the best episode of the second season, perhaps of the entire series. Grandpa Walton, Will Geer, as a villainous doctor really steals the show. A real must see for any action/adventure fan.
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The Scariest Movie I Ever Saw
I was fifteen years old when I first saw this movie in a theatre. I didn't know what to expect, but what I got was to see the scariest movie ever for me. I had seen many others, Dracula, Frankenstein, all the wolfman movies (they creeped me out). All were good horror movies, but Robert Mitchum was the scariest villain ever and much more frightening than the monsters in his sheer evilness. There is one scene that shows the children in a rowboat with night sounds and pictures of nocturnal animals. It is absolutely gorgeous. Then you see Robert Mitchum riding his horse outlined against the night sky. He's singing Leaning on the Everlasting Lord and the children shrink into the boat in fright. It gave me goosebumps. Mitchum's opposite number is Lilian Gish and her innate goodness is essential to keeping the movie from being unremittingly black. The scene where she and Mitchum sing Bringing in the Sheaves together is unforgettable. A must-see movie for every adult. But make sure the kids aren't watching. It is many times spookier than any of the Halloween or Friday the 13th movies.
The Best Movie Ever Made
It's hard not to repeat others when commenting on the movie that many people consider to be the best of all times. The Film Institute ranks it number two behind Citizen Kane. I like Citizen Kane very much, but I do not think it is anywhere near as good as Casablanca. It is simply the finest blend of script, sets, characters, casting, music and photography that Hollywood has ever produced. Who can forget the shadow of the dancing woman on the wall? Has there ever been a funnier straight man than Claude Raines? Or an oilier villain than Peter Lorre? The scene where Paul Heinried leads the audience in the Marseillaise is rightfully one of the most touching in the history of the cinema. But what impressed me is how the French National Anthem blended with the German song the Nazis were singing, so well that it sounded like a round. As much as I liked the movie itself, I never appreciated it as much until I bought the VHS version showing the making of the movie. How many viewers realize that the writers didn't know which of the lead characters Ilse would go off with until literally the end of the movie? How many know that three different directors worked on various parts of the movie? Or that it was one of the most brilliant success stories of a movie put together by committee? Not too many years ago, the favorite trivia "factoid" was that Bogart never said "Play it again, Sam." He actually said, "Play it, Sam." I still get misty-eyed every time I hear As Time Goes By. It's very unusual that I remember the theme from a modern movie by the time I leave the theatre. Only the Ring Trilogy has come close to matching Casablanca in so many different ways. But who wants to watch something for ten hours when you can get the same effect in an hour and a half?
A Christmas Story (1983)
The movie that comes the closest to Showing my own childhood
I took my son to see A Christmas Story. Mostly because he insisted. My wife and I weren't so sure, especially after seeing the mean Santa Claus kick the kid down the slide. I'm sure glad I didn't judge the movie by the trailer. My son loved the movie, but I'm sure I loved it more. I can remember seeing Christmas toys in the store windows in Dayton's Department Store (now Target Corporation.) I never pushed my face against the window like Ralphie's brother, but I sure saw a lot of other kids do that. I still can see the frozen snot. And that was just one of the scenes from the movie. They went on and on, and every one so dead right on that I sometimes found myself sniffling. The school could have been my elementary school in south Minneapolis. The neighborhood bully was a neighbor kid. I beat him by not fighting. It absolutely drove him crazy. But I sure cheered Ralphie on when he beat up Skud Farkus. I had a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, even though Tom Mix and Jack Armstrong usually got my dime. The house where Ralphie lived was exactly like so many of the houses I visited. The attention to detail was marvelous. And the scene where Ralphie puts down the toilet seat and Mom lifted the lid on a pot on the stove was mind-bogglingly funny. By the end of the movie I was heartbroken it was over and I immediately started to send or take my friends. Everyone had the same opinion. It was a classic. That's probably why I've watched it about a hundred times over the years. I expect I'll see it a hundred more before I go.