A theme song that gets better with age? The action jazz of Lalo Schifrin, “Mission: Impossible”

Every time we hear it, it sets the pulse-pounding. A Latin beat, timpanis and tambalas, brass and sax, pinning us in our seats and pulling us in.

Directors and villains may change, Tom Cruise may age, but Lalo Schifrin’s propelling score drives the “Mission: Impossible” movies as sure as Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” is the lifeblood of 007. I mentioned this in my review. 

Something about the jazz of the 60s, especially as it pertains to scores, theme songs and the like, is getting better with age. Schifrin, still with us at 86, was the soundtrack of that era. “Mission: Impossible” might be his crowning glory, a thunderous, swooping rhythm that every new MI incidental music composer may tinker with, but never improve upon.


The original, from the 1966 TV series, stands the test of time. Strings and flutes, spare and packed into a swaying Argentine beat.


He did “Cool Hand Luke: and “Bullitt” for the big screen, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” too — the TV show, remember? Sound familiar?

Back when I worked in public radio hosting jazz programs, rare was the week when I didn’t trot out some big band arrangement of his themes on some new/old LP.

I even engineered field recordings of local big bands covering Schifrin’s rolling jazz thunder. The one all of them had to have in the repertoire was the Schifrin theme that was easiest to perform live, with a standard line-up big band. The TV show was generic, but the music from “Mannix,” and the way it’s used in the still dazzling opening credits, is almost enough to justify reviving that one (and not say, “Magnum P.I.”) all on its own.

We missed his birthday last month (June 21.). But as “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” blows up the box office, raise a glass with me to Lalo the Great!

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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