Mission: Impossible (1968) – The Contender: Part 1, and Part 2

Phelps’ (Peter Graves) and his IMF team go undercover to bring down a crooked fight promoter, Charles Buckman (Ron Randell), who not only has some serious control over the boxing ring, but is planning on spreading his influence over other sports as well, as part of a move by organised crime.

The story ends up being a two-parter with the first epiode originally airing on 6 October, 1968. Written by William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter, the opening scene sees Phelps interacting with series creator Bruce Geller.

The team recruits a former boxer with damaged hands, Richy Lemoins (Ron Rich), to help coach and train Barney (Greg Morris) who will pose as Richy thanks to some makeup work by Rollin (Martin Landau). Barney is put through a serious training regime overseen by Richy and aided by Rollin and Willy (Peter Lupus), all of it designed to draw the attention of Bruckman.

Phelps poses as a former con, who gets recruited into Bruckman’s organisation, working in the betting office. Cinnamon (Barbara Bain), meanwhile, works as a seductress in order to get close to Bruckman.

The first episode concludes with the announcement of a test bout between Barney and someone Richy feels could take beat him easily – but the team has a plan.

It’s an entertaining episode, and it takes its time with its storytelling, and Barney gets a number of training sequences to show the work he’s putting in to get into shape and look and act like Richy. But if Barney is front and center, that means Phelps is going to be taking on the tech-man’s usual fare, including fixing this first bout with the aid of some gas which leads us right to a To Be Continued when he is about to be discovered by the baddies (including famed boxer Sugar Ray Robinson).

The second part of the story, also written by Woodfield and Balter, aired on 13 October, 1968.

After Barney wins his demonstration bout, Rollin gets him positioned to become a contender for the title, and flirt with danger in his interactions with Bruckman. The rest of the team continue to carry out their assignments, but all of it will culminate into a climax that will see the team taking Buckman down.

But before it can all come together, Barney is going to have to go the distance in a boxing match that Bruckman wants fived, and no matter how it plays out sees him going toe to toe with the brutal pugilisitic style of Ernie Staczek (Robert Phillips).

Will Barney last the bout while the rest of the team closes the noose around Buckman, setting him up to put him down once and for all. The team takes some serious risks in this episode but also allow Richy to claim a title that should have been his, and put the baddies away.

There’s still a lot more to come as I keep taking Mission: Impossible assignments as I explore The Complete Series on blu-ray, available now from Paramount Canada.

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