Peter Graves starred in more than 70 movies and television series starting in the 1940s and continuing until a few years before his death Sunday at the age of 83. His most lasting cultural legacy, though, is undoubtedly “Mission: Impossible,” the late-’60s and early ’70s spy series that has spawned three Tom Cruise-starring blockbusters.
Yet, as plans are being made to launch a fourth “M:I” movie, it’s interesting to look back at what Graves and his original co-stars felt about the legacy of their creation and the manner in which it has been adapted for the big screen. The answer, in short, is that Graves — who played Jim Phelps, the leader of the superspy unit known as the Impossible Missions Force — and his cohorts were not pleased.
In an interview in October, original series co-star Martin Landau told MTV News that he and Graves turned down offers to appear in the first film.
“When they were working on an early incarnation of the first one — not the script they ultimately did — they wanted the entire team to be destroyed, done away with one at a time, and I was against that,” he said. “It was basically an action/adventure movie and not ‘Mission.’ ‘Mission’ was a mind game. The ideal mission was getting in and getting out without anyone ever knowing we were there. So the whole texture changed. Why volunteer to essentially have our characters commit suicide? I passed on it. I said, ‘It’s crazy to do this.’ The script wasn’t that good either!”
Landau said Graves was particularly annoyed at the way his character was treated in the film. “They turned Peter Graves’ character, played by Jon Voight in the first one, into a double agent,” Landau said. “That really upset Peter, who protected that character with a vengeance.”
The feelings of the original cast notwithstanding, the “M:I” films have grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide, and both Cruise and J.J. Abrams, who directed the third flick, have been ramping up plans for “Mission IV.” It’s been a long time coming.
Talk of a fourth franchise film has been percolating since Cruise’s World War II film “Valkyrie” struggled with production delays and pushed-back release dates in spring 2008. The rumors took shape the next summer, as Paramount announced that another flick, to be co-produced by Abrams and Cruise, was in the works.
“Tom and I have come up with a really cool idea [that] we are pursuing,” Abrams said.
Two new writers — Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec of “Alias” — were hired to pen the script. Then, in October, Abrams told MTV News he would not be directing the flick. At the same time, there were rumors that Cruise would not reprise his starring role of Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible IV,” but rather would pass the franchise on to a younger actor or even a group of actors, in much the same way his character took over for Jim Phelps in the first film. Yet in February, Paramount announced that Cruise would indeed star in the film. Still, the “star” label is a malleable one in Hollywood, and we still have a feeling some fresh Hollywood faces will do much of the heavy lifting in “M:I IV.”
And so the legacy of Peter Graves lives on. Even if he and Landau weren’t so found of the way in which these legacies had been tainted.
“They made a fatal mistake in doing ‘Psycho’ again,” Landau told us by way of a comparison to “Mission.” “Why do that? Why revisit something that stands for itself?”