Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Graves, Mission Impossible, and All That

"Peter Graves" (March 15, 2010)

"Peter Graves, who died on March 14 aged 83, appeared in a multitude of films and television shows during a career which spanned nearly 60 years, but will be remembered principally for his roles as a spymaster in the TV series Mission: Impossible and as a pilot in the spoof disaster movie Airplane! (1980)."

"In 'Mission: Impossible' he was Jim Phelps, leader of a special unit of spies and saboteurs. Each episode began with agent Phelps listening to a tape-recording of instructions which detailed his unit's latest mission; if any member of the team were captured, it said, the government would 'disavow any knowledge of your actions'. The tape self-destructed within seconds of being played...."

I was (and am) a fan of "Mission Impossible." It'll never eclipse, say, the works of Shakespeare in English drama: but it was fun to watch.

Peter Graves was on the screen or the voice we heard quite a bit: from Winning Your Wings (1942) to Darkstar (2010). That's according to the filmography of Graves.

I've seen him in earlier films: in one (I saw it well over 40 years ago, and the thing was best forgotten) he displayed some of the least-plausible and inspired acting I've seen. That may have been the direction. The impression left in my mind by the film is that it was one of those cinematic works with a budget just a little over what the studio executive spent on a night out, and about a week to slap the thing together.

Don't get me wrong: I think Peter Graves was a pretty good actor. Which may help explain how long he managed to stay in the business. Six decades is a long career.

Obituaries don't, as a rule, say bad things about the deceased. Even allowing for that, though, it sounds like Mr. Graves was easy to work with. In an industry with a reputation for being infested with self-centered, demanding, irresponsible prima donnas - and primo uomos - that must have been refreshing.

I suspect that Mr. Graves' willingness to take parts that weren't terribly fraught with artistic worth and social relevance may have helped him, too.

Somebody's got to make those pot-boilers, you know.

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