Mission Impossible: Recovery (1967)

Country: United States
Director: Robert Totten
Starring: Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Bradford Dillman, Emile Genst, Peter Coe, Peter Hellmann
Theme: Lalo Schifrin
Music: Jerry Fielding

Recovery is the last episode from Season Two of Mission: Impossible and it features Bradford Dillman as a brilliant American scientist who has defected and is now working on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Even though the character is painfully underwritten, Dillman excels at characters like this…essentially slimy bureaucrats. My favourite performance by Dillman is as Sergeant McKay in the third Dirty Harry film The Enforcer (here’s a seven pointed suppository!), but he also appeared in other espionage related material like The Man From UNCLE movie, The Helicopter Spies.

The episode starts with Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) receiving his mission briefing, this time in a carpark attendant’s booth. Here he learns that a SAC B52 has crashed behind the Iron Curtain, but the fail-safe mechanism has failed to explode and destroy all the top-secret information on board. The wreckage is taken to a scientific institute for examination – and the possible extraction of the top-secret information. The man behind the extraction is an ex-US scientist named Shipherd (Bradford Dillman). Jim’s mission (should he choose to accept it) is to retrieve the Fail Safe mechanism and bring Shipherd back to the United States.

The first part of the scheme involves Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) and Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), posing as man and wife – Charles and Janet Langley – at an Embassy party in the un-named Iron Curtain country. At the party, the Langley’s meet Shipherd briefly. The meeting seems short and particularly unremarkable – except Rollin has sewn some seeds about his employment history, which of course become more relevant as the story goes on.

Jim Phelps has multiple roles to play in this role. The first is as the pilot of the B52 that went down. As ‘Hayes’, with dark, dyed hair, Jim allows himself to be captured, knowing full well that Shipherd will interrogate him, hoping to learn some of the secrets of the Fail Safe system. Jim (as Hayes), under interrogation says that the only people who can disarm the Fail Safe mechanism are the boffins at Duluth, who created the device.

Coincidentally, earlier, Rollin (as Langley) suggested to Shipherd that he worked on top-secret projects in Duluth. Shipherd makes the connection and invites Langley, as a guest, to visit the Institute.

Jim’s second role in this episode is as a service technician – with trademark silver hair this time – who is called in the repair a paper shredder at the Institute – a paper shredder that has been disabled by Barney Collier (Greg Morris). Meanwhile Shipherd has kidnapped Cinnamon (posing as Langley’s wife) and uses her to blackmail Rollin into opening the safe.

The character of Shipherd is somewhat clumsily written. He claims to have defected because he is sick of his scientific research being used for militaristic ends, but yet his new employers seem to be utilising his talents for the same purpose. Furthermore, he proves to be a rather unscrupulous character when he is prepared to ‘blow-up’ Cinnamon in order to crack the Fail-Safe. So any political posturing by the character is quickly made redundant by the plot contrivances. It’s here, where Dillman’s almost patented ‘slimy bureaucrat’ schtick actually works for the story. As it stands, Recovery is not one of the great Mission: Impossible episodes, but it is serviceable and very enjoyable – and this is primarily to do with Dillman who proves to be an entertaining foe for the IMF team.

Mission Impossible: Recovery (1967)

Mission Impossible: The Council (1967)

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.

Remembrances of Peter Graves:
• Double O Section
• Una Plagia De Espias
• Spy-Fi Channel
• Mister 8
• Bish’s Beat
• Spy Vibe
• Quantum of Bond

Mission Impossible: The Council (1967)

Mission Impossible: The Killer (1988)

Directed by Cliff Bole
Peter Graves, Thaao Penghlis, Antony Hamilton, Phil Morris, Terry Markwell, Bob Johnson, John de Lancie, Virginia Hey, Vince Martin
Mission Impossible Theme by Lalo Schifrin

The Killer is the first episode in the revived Mission: Impossible series. Revived? In 1988 there was a writer’s strike and no new product came out of Hollywood. ABC’s answer was to recyle old scripts and they decided to remake the Mission: Impossible series. To confuse matters even further they decided to make the series in Australia. The first year was filmed in and around Melbourne, whilst the next two seasons were filmed on the Gold Coast in Queensland. One of the shows biggest assets is that they were able to acquire the services of Peter Graves to reprise his role as Jim Phelps. Graves is so indelibly linked to this show that his participation indicated that the new series intended to continue in the spirit of it’s predessesor. This episode details how Phelps is called back into action.

The show opens at an ultra-swank cocktail party behind held in an upper level of a multi-storey appartment complex. Amongst the guests is IMF operative, Tom Copperfield (Vince Martin). Copperfield is investigating a shady terrorist, known only as ‘Scorpio’. Scorpio knows that the IMF are on his trail and he wants Copperfield dead. To carry out his dirty work he has enlisted the services of a professional hitman, Michael Drake (John De Lancie). Drake is also at the party with his sights firmly set on Copperfield. What makes Drake such an effective and unpredictable assassin, is that he performs each hit in a completely different fashion. At the party, Drake chooses to use a hallucenegenic dart to bring about Copperfiled’s demise. He fires the dart at Copperfield who then begins to believe he is on fire. Fearing that he is going to be burnt alive, Copperfield runs out onto the balcony and then hurls himself off into the void.

Copperfield happened to be Jim Phelps protegé and friend. His death prompts Phelps to be re-instated as an IMF team leader. His mission, if he chooses to accept it, is to continue Copperfield’s investigation into the mysterious and deadly Scorpio. The only lead that Phelps has is Drake, and he sets up an operation based around the hitman. But first he has to assemble his new IMF team to carry out the mission.

The first member is Nicolas Black (Thaao Penghlis). Black moonlights as a drama teacher and naturally he is a master of disguise. Next is the beautiful Casey Randall (Terry Markwell). She is a fashion designer and the group’s femme fatale. The we have the muscle, Max Harte (Antony Hamilton), who is an ex-soldier. And rounding out the team is Grant Collier (Phil Morris). Collier is a technical whiz, and just so happens to be the son of Barney Collier (Greg Morris), who was a part of Phelps’ IMF team in the 1960’s and 70’s. Once Phelps has his four man mission team, he is ready to engage in the mission.

Sometimes the 80’s seem like the decade that taste and style forgot, and as such, many of the television shows from that era can be hard to watch today. Thankfully, stylistically, Mission: Impossible didn’t deviate too far from the classic template set in the 60’s and 70’s. Sure, there’s the odd poncey hairdo, and dated musical cues, but this show holds up quite a bit better than many of it’s contemporaries – and to be honest, it’s a lot better than I thought it would be.

Mission Impossible: The Killer (1988)

Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street (1984)

Original title: Zuijia paidang zhi nuhuang miling
Country: Hong Kong
Director: Tsui Hark
Starring: Sam Hui, Karl Maka, Sylvia Chang, Peter Graves, Richard Kiel, Jean Mersant, John Sham
Music: Lynsey De Paul

Now dear reader, I warn you that this film is subtitled Our Man From Bond Street, so during the course of this review, I am going to be laying on the Bond references thick and fast. This film prides itself on how many Bondian references it can squeeze into it’s 81 minute running time, and in the course of detailing what this movie has to offer, I’ll be regurgitating them back for you.

What does Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street have to offer? Well, like previous instalments in the Mad Mission series it provides plenty of outrageous stunts and a swag of movie in-jokes. It is also a film from Hong Kong – made during the 1980’s. For me, one thing defines 80’s Hong Kong action cinema – and that’s broken glass. After a decade of cars, bikes and stuntmen crashing through so many panes of glass and windshields, I’d suggest that Hong Kong went into the 90’s as a windowless city. I am happy to report that Mad Mission III continues the window smashing legacy – it may seem tame compared to Jackie Chan’s Police Story, but I am sure the glaziers had there work cut out for them.

This instalment opens with international Jewel thief Sam Hong Kong (Sam Hui) checking out the tourist attractions in Paris. Near the Eiffel Tower he sets up a piece of equipment on a tripod (I have no idea what it is). As he scans the area with a telescopic sight, a black leather clad babe sets up a rocket launcher behind him. As he swings around, he girl fires the rocket. He leaps out of the way at the last second, and then chases the girl on foot. The chase leads them to the river, and as they wrestle on the shore, a speedboat moves into towards them. Inside the boat is a Harold Sakata (Oddjob from Goldfinger) look-a-like. Like Oddjob, this guy has a killer steel-rimmed hat, which he slings at Sam. The flying hat is deflected by a metal suitcase and then returns to it’s master. The distraction gives the girl time to get away, and she makes her way to the Eiffel Tower.

Now folks, the scenes I am about to describe may seem familiar to fans of the Bond films, especially those that remember A View To A Kill – but this film was released in 1984, a year before the afore mentioned Bond film. The chase continues, and Sam enters one of the elevator carriages on the tower. Inside, waiting is a seven foot tall giant, named Big G – played by Richard Kiel who Bond fans will immediately recognise as ‘Jaws’ from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. As Sam is menaced by Big G, the elevator rises to the first level. The lift stops and the doors open. Then Oddjob’s deadly hat flies into the carriage, followed swiftly by it’s owner. This Oddjob is different to the Bondian one though. This fellow has a steel hand that can crush anything within it’s grasp. Now with two Bond villains after him, Sam decides it’s time to flee and smashes out a glass window and crawls out onto the roof of the elevator carriage. He is followed out by Big G who arrives on the roof with a parachute strapped to his back. Fearing nothing from the diminutive Sam, Big G removes the parachute and tosses it to the four winds. Sam, seeing his only chance of escape flying through the air, leaps off the carriage and catches the parachute mid flight. He straps it on, pulls the cord and drifts down towards the Seine. Above the river, he cuts himself free and falls into the dirty green water.

Poor old Sam’s problems don’t end there, I’m afraid. Next, underwater, he is chased by a giant mechanical shark. He tries to outswim it, but he is soon overtaken and swallowed by the mechanical beast. Inside, he finds himself in a hi-tech submarine, and confronted by James Bond – or at least, a Sean Connery look-a-like. But Bond is not an actual enemy. He in fact wants to recruit Sam. It seems that the Queen of England has lost her crown, and they need the master thief to re-acquire it from the security vault that it is being held in.

Sam agrees to the mission, but if he is going to return to a life of crime, even if it is for the Queen of England, he wants an alibi. His choice is his old sparring partner, Detective Kodyjack (Karl Maka). Sam arranges to meet Kodyjack at a restaurant. Knowing that Kodyjack fancies himself as somewhat of a lady-killer, Sam arranges for his assistant on the mission, Jade East to meet them at the restaurant. While Kodyjack ingratiates himself on Jade, Sam slips out to pull off the heist.

Adding to the plot convolution is the actual Man From Bond Street, secret agent Tom Collins – played by Peter Graves. As you’re no doubt aware, Graves played Jim Phelps in the Mission: Impossible television series – and yes, there is a joke about an self destructing message. Agent Collins is in Hong Kong on the trail of a gang of jewel thieves whose members specialise in impersonating the Conneryesque secret agents and the Queen.

This instalment in the Mad Mission series is a great deal of fun, but it is also extremely juvenile. But if you don’t mind lowest common denominator humour paired with outrageous stunts, then Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street is a passable Bond parody.

Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street (1984)

Mission Impossible: The Submarine (1970)

Director: Paul Krasny
Starring: Peter Graves, Leonard Nimoy, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Lee Meriwether, Stephen McNally, Ramon Bieri, William Wintersole
Music: Lalo Schifrin

By the fourth season of Mission Impossible, the IMF team had quite a shakeup. Martin Landau and his wife, Barbara Bain had left the series, and in came Leonard Nimmoy (I am an actor, not Spock), as master magician, Paris. The shakeup didn’t really effect the series too much, but I suspect the formula was starting to wear thin.

This particular episode starts in the usual manner, with Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) receiving his instructions from a miniaturised tape recorder (the recording will, of course ‘self-destruct’ afterwards). His mission is to locate a vast quantity of money stolen by the S.S. at the end of World War II. This money is to be used to fund a Neo-Nazi coup in Europe. The only person who knows the location of this money is Krueger Stelman (Stephan McNally). Stelman is about to be released from prison after a 25 year stint for war crimes.

But the IMF aren’t the only people trying to track the money. Colonel Sardner (Ramon Bieri) is an interrogation officer for an un-named Communist country, and each evening he takes Stelman from his prison cell and has him delivered to his headquarters, where he grills him about the location of the money. Over 25 years Stelman has never broken. In fact, it is something that he is very proud of. Every morning, after the interrogation, Stelman is driven back to prison.

On Stelman’s last day of incarceration, the IMF pull off a daring kidnapping, as Stelman is returned to prison one morning. Sardner is not happy that his prisoner has been snatched from under his nose and sets up road blocks around the city. He then orders patrols to search every building in the area until they find Stelman. Jim and the IMF team figure they have 2 hours to break Stelman before they are discovered by Sardner. The clock is ticking…

Stelman wakes up on the top of a two tier bunk on a German U-boat. Below him, on the bottom tier is Tracey (Lee Meriwether), another IMF agent. It looks like she has been badly beaten. Her face is swollen and bruised and she has blood on her cheek. She is also rambling incoherently about Colonel Sardner. To Stelman, it appears that she too was interrogated by Colonel Sardner, but she broke and provided information to the enemy.

Of course, being the IMF, they aren’t really on a U-boat, but an elaborately constructed set inside a warehouse, near where the abduction took place. Jim Phelps and Paris (Leonard Nimmoy) play two German officers who are taking Stelman and Tracey back to S.S. Headquarters to stand trial. When Stelman realises that he too must be looked upon as a traitor, if he is to stand trial. But he knows that he didn’t break under interrogation and he can prove his innocence by providing the location of the stolen S.S. funds.

In usual Mission Impossible style, there are a few twists and turns in the plot, and of course, they have to beat the clock and get the information they require before Colonel Sardner and his goons arrive. This is a pretty slick entry in the Mission Impossible series, but the story is somewhat predictable. And for me, the biggest crime is that Lee Meriwether is almost wasted in this episode. Thankfully she appears in three other episodes in the series.

Mission Impossible: The Submarine (1970)