Country: United States
Director: Paul Stanley
Starring: Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Paul Stevens, Vincent Gardenia, Nick Colasanta, Paul Lambert, Vic Perrin, Joan Staley, Stuart Nisbet, Robert Phillips, Eduardo Cianelli
Mission Impossible Theme: Lalo Schifrin
Music: Jerry Fielding
The poster above is a bit of a jib. It is a poster from the 1969 Mission Impossible movie, Mission Impossible versus the Mob. It just so happens that the two-part episode The Council made up a portion of the film and the images are appropriate to the story. But before we get to the review, I have some sad business to attend to. Obviously I have written this review to commemorate the passing of Peter Graves. With the refurbishment of the PtK website I have fallen a little behind in my writing, but many of the COBRAS have posted then own moving obituaries to Peter Graves, so I don’t feel that that moment has passed without the attention it warranted. Like most spy fans I am terribly saddened by the passing of Peter Graves. Graves was a charismatic actor with a resonant voice (and a great sense of humour which is borne out by his role in Flying High/Airplane – ‘do you like Gladiator movies Johnny?’). He brought authority and conviction to his roles – which made him the perfect actor to play authority figures or team leaders. His most popular character was Jim Phelps, team leader of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) on the classic television show Mission: Impossible.
Over the three years that Permission to Kill has been running I haven’t written up too many episodes of Mission: Impossible (three, I think). The show is routinely difficult to write up. But therein lies the beauty of the show. The structure is one, which deliberately keeps a few parts of the IMF team’s plan hidden, so there are a few twists at the end. A linear deconstruction of the plot is almost superfluous; short of noting every occurrence in sequential order, which would subsequently spoil the show for potential viewers.
Therefore my reviews are stripped down to a brief overview of the mission and a look at some of the exploits that the team get up to. The Council, parts 1 and 2, were the eleventh and twelfth episodes of the second season of Mission: Impossible – the second season was the first to feature Peter Graves as IMF Team Leader Jim Phelps (the first season featured Steven Hill as team leader Dan Briggs).
As the episode begins, Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) pulls up outside a recording studio in his blue convertible. He goes inside, up the stairs to a deserted recording studio, wherein he finds a newly pressed vinyl record. Jim drops the needle and the familiar voice of Bob Johnson rings out: “Good Morning, Mr. Phelps!”
The target is a mobster named Frank Wayne (Paul Stevens), who is described as the Number One man in the Syndicate (even as Number One, it appears that Wayne has superiors). But Wayne is responsible for handling the Mob’s finances and has managed to arrange for ten-billion dollars to be shipped off shore into Swiss bank accounts.
Jim’s mission — should he choose to accept it — is to retrieve Wayne’s financial records and hand them over to the appropriate authorities. And of course, bring Wayne’s whole organisation down.
Back at his apartment, Jim goes through his regular routine of sifting through the photos of IMF agents and then from this group, selecting the best agents for the mission. The astute viewer may note that the general rule is that Jim discards the black and white operatives and chooses the ones in colour. The ones with colour photos happen to be Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), Cinnamon Cater (Barbara Bain), Barny Collier (Greg Morris) and Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus). Newcomer to the team is Dr. Emerson Reese (Stuart Nisbet) who is a plastic surgeon.
In this episode, Jim takes on the role of Carl Daley, who is the Senate Committee’s new Chief Investigator, and as such, is a man who is dedicated to bring down the mob. When we first meet Jim (as Daley), he gatecrashes Wayne’s country estate, armed with a search warrant. With Barney tagging along as a state Marshall, they begin to tear Wayne’s house apart looking for incriminating evidence. Jim’s charade gets right under Wayne’s skin – – but he stops short of violence. After all, he is well connected. Within minutes, Wayne’s attorney, arrives with a court order overturning the warrant. The judge who signed it happens to be in Wayne’s pocket. Jim and Barney are forced to leave empty handed.
Although Jim and Barney’s incursion has been disruptive it doesn’t stop Wayne from getting down to business. A small time mobster named Jimmy Bibo (Nick Colasanta) wants a council with Wayne and several other heads of the Syndicate. The task that Bibo is frequently assigned by the Mob, is to travel to Switzerland with their monthly payments and deposit them in the bank. But over the last year the payments have been short by around one-quarter of a million dollars. Bibo isn’t too bright and has been skimming a little money off the top for himself. Of course this doesn’t sit well with Wayne and the other bosses, and Bibo is sentenced to death.
The mob’s method of disposing of traitors is pretty cold-blooded. Wayne’s number one henchamn, Johnny (Robert Phillips) walks Bibo out to a secluded corner of Wayne’s estate. Johnny throws Bibo a shovel and tells him to start digging. Bibo goes to work digging his own grave. Once it is deep enough, Johnny knocks Bibo down into the ditch and then starts shovelling the sand back in, even though Bibo is still alive. One Johnny is done, Bibo is left to suffocate.
Luckily for Bibo, Jim, Barney, Willy and Dr. Emerson are all on hand, hiding behind the trees. Once Johnny has departed, the IMF team rush over and dig Bibo up, and with the Dr. Emerson’s help, manage to revive him.
Alive again it doesn’t take much to convince Bibo that he should help the IMF team to bring Wayne down. After all this chicanery, we haven’t even got to the IMF’s main ruse yet — and the reason that they need Jimmy Bibo. It appears the Bib has been a life-long friend of Wayne’s — they grew up on the same street together. Bibo knows everything about the way Wayne moves and talks. He is the perfect man to teach Rollin how to impersonate the mob boss — and you know what that means folks? Yep, Some of those life-like rubber masks that the show has become so famous for.
The first part ends with an elaborate scheme where Rollin slips into the shoes of Wayne. In the process, and into the second part, Barney is shot, Willy is slugged, and Jim is tailpiped and blown to smithereens. The only one who comes off relatively unscathed is Cinnamon, but even she has a hairy moment where the mob want her silenced. As you’d expect, over the length of part 2, all the disparate elements come together, with a swag of deviations and plot twists, which cause the viewer to ask, ‘is this part of the plan or has it all gone horribly wrong?’ And that’s the beauty of Mission: Impossible – you never know until the end!
Over the past year or so, fans of spy cinema and television have lost quite a few shining lights – Patrick McGoohan, Joseph Wiseman, Tony Kendall (of Kommissar X fame), Richard Whyler, Ken Clark and I sure a few I haven’t mentioned. Each of these actors have affected me in some way. But Peter Graves wasn’t just an actor for a spy geek like me. Mission: Impossible was such a huge show, that the terms used in it, have passed into our cultural vernacular. The other day, I was playing a golf video game with my son – the commentator said ‘your mission, should you choose to accept it’. I know, it’s completely un-related, but that’s the strength of the show – the phrases, the music, and even the style have permeated popular culture so much, that sometimes I am sure younger people do not even know where it originated. And the reason that the show has become so ingrained with popular culture is down to one man, Peter Graves. And I for one, will miss him. Goodbye Mr. Phelps.