Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Graves, RIP

Last fall director JJ Abrams gave an interview to Collider in which he talked about his plans for the next Mission: Impossible feature, which he plans to produce. While the discussion was mostly in the abstract, one thing Abrams did mention was his desire to have Peter Graves appear in the film and perhaps redeem his character of Jim Phelps, the suave, silver-haired Impossible Missions Force leader. Sadly, with Graves' passing away yesterday at the age of 83, that opportunity will never materialize.

It would have been a welcome victory lap for Graves, whose distinctive voice and magnetic presence assured him the kind of immortality that few screen stars enjoy. After originating Phelps in the seminal spy series' 1967 TV season (replacing original lead Steven Hill), Graves played the role for the duration of the show's run, reprised it in a late-80s remake, and was then replaced by Jon Voight in 1996's Mission: Impossible film, in which the character turned traitor and was killed off. It was an ignominious end for one of television's most iconic characters. Phelps deserved better, and so did Graves.

Of course, the depth and breadth of Graves' career was much greater than just Phelps (as evidenced in this extensive interview -- his last, it turns out -- from October) but the curse of originating an icon is that it's hard to ever fully escape its shadow. Thus it was that other than hosting the Biography program in the '90s, Graves' greatest post-Mission success was perhaps his turn as Clarence Oveur, the befuddled airline captain in two Airplane! movies (1980 and 1982), where deadpan humor was put to great use in lampooning his serious screen image (not to mention immortalizing the line, "Do you like movies about gladiators?").

As someone who watched and loved the original Mission: Impossible as a kid (and has continued to enjoy and appreciate it as an adult now that it's been released in its entirety on DVD), I'd been heartened to hear that we might yet see the real Jim Phelps back on the screen once more. While that opportunity is now lost to the ages, Peter Graves leaves a career behind him that any working actor can be proud of. Mission accomplished, Mr. Phelps.

1 comment:

The Mad Swede said...

It is sad indeed.

I enjoyed the 80s show (primarily) in my youth and what little I've seen of the original show later on, but I only watched the first of the films and didn't really like it all that much. To me, it was just another attempt at doing Bond in some sense, and one of the things I liked about the real M:I was that it wasn't the ├╝ber cool agent who saved the day, it was a team.

Making Phelps into a crook and turning Tom Cruise into Bond Light seemed to me like completely missing the point of the show. Sad that Graves won't be in any future ventures, but let's hope Abrams at least does the show honour if he does another film version of it.