Saturday, April 24, 2021

Mission Impossible: A Cube of Sugar

Tragically, there were reasons the stereotype of the jazz musician as drug addict took hold so firmly in the 1950s and 1960s. It was so widely accepted, the Communists of an unspecified Iron Curtain country are able to weaponize it against an American spy with a jazz musician cover. He happened to steal a strategic microchip and memorize the code to unlock it, so the IMF (not the International Monetary Fund) must rescue him and it in “A Cube of Sugar,” which airs tomorrow as part of the Mission Impossible (TV) weekend binge on Decades.

This is still the first season, when the
Law & Order guy was leading the team, instead of Peter Graves and long before Leonard Nimoy joined the cast. However, Space: 1999’s Martin Landau and Barbara Bain already had well-established roles as master of disguise Rollin Hand and femme fatale Cinnamon Carter. She will be assuming the identity of the wife of the imprisoned Deane, whom the sinister Senko Brobin has hooked on narcotics to justify holding him in a classic Communist mental hospital.

Honestly, the original
MI TV series was a bit formulaic, with a number of common elements showing up in each operation. “Cube” is no exception. What makes it interesting is the fresh music composed by Don Ellis. The trumpeter-composer’s style straddled progressive big band and experimental electronic jazz, which was perfect for the trippy, freak-out scenes. He is probably best-known for the French Connection soundtracks (which share a kinship with his MI music), but he also penned the groovy score for Hammer’s Moon Zero Two (as seen on MST3K). Alas, he never appears in the episode, but he gives it a distinctive sound (and poor doused up Deane, played by Jack Denbo is only seen on stretchers and in padded cells). Of course, Lalo Schifrin’s classic theme kicks off the episode and drives the climatic action.

Regardless, it is still fun to watch Landau and Bain do their capery things. Unfortunately, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus spend most of the episode thanklessly digging through concrete. Francis Lederer also chews a good deal of scenery as the villainous Brobin, which helps too.

Ellis was an underappreciated artist, who left behind a rich and diverse body of work. “A Cube of Sugar” is a highly accessible entry point to his music. It is also a highly representative episode of the Steven Hill era. Recommended for fans of the franchise and those who appreciate somewhat more adventurous “spy jazz,” “A Cube of Sugar” airs tomorrow afternoon (4/25) as part of Decade’s
Mission Impossible weekend binge.