Monday, March 15, 2010

It's an Obituary...But That's Not Important Now

I was saddened to read in the news this morning that actor Peter Graves had passed away unexpectedly at the age of 83.

Mr Graves will never be ranked as one of the great actors of all time, but he played two of my favorite characters, which means that I'll miss him.

When actor Steven Hill was edged out as the leader of the Impossible Missions Force in the second season of the hit show Mission: Impossible, Peter Graves was cast as Jim Phelps, the unflappable, lantern-jawed hero who took on the worst of the bad guys with his scratch teams of secret agents. Forget the Tom Cruise movies - the real Mission: Impossible was the TV version that didn't rely on huge explosions and wild car chases, but on complex plans that always left the dazed villain holding the bag and wondering what train had just run him down. And it was Peter Graves who always drove off into the small-screen sunset with another success under the belt of his trench coat.

If we'd have been smart, we'd have put Jim Phelps and the IMF on the trail of Osama bin Laden...he'd have been in Guantanamo faster than you could say "worthless religious bigot."

Peter Graves' other great role was Capt Clarence Oveur, the hapless pilot of the disaster-stricken airliner in the classic and hysterically funny movie, Airplane! Who can forget his wonderfully deadpan delivery of lines like, "Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?", or this exchange with his copilot (Roger Murdock, played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and navigator (Victor Basta, played by Frank Ashmore) as they prepare for takeoff:

Roger Murdock: "Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off."

Captain Oveur: "Roger!"

Roger Murdock: "Huh?"

Tower voice: "L.A. departure frequency, 123 point niner."

Capt Oveur: "Roger!"

Roger Murdock: "Huh?"

Victor Basta: "Request vector, over."

Captain Oveur: "What?"

Tower voice: "Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324."

Roger Murdock: "We have clearance, Clarence."

Captain Oveur: "Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?"

Tower voice: "Tower's radio clearance, over!"

Captain Oveur: "That's Clarence Oveur. Over."

Tower voice: "Over."

Captain Oveur: "Roger."

Roger Murdock: "Huh?"

Tower voice: "Roger, over!"

Roger Murdock: "What?"

Captain Oveur: "Huh?"

Victor Basta: "Who?"

So long, Mr Graves. Wherever you are, they're laughing.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Bandit said...

My dad and I would make a point to be by the TV on a Sat night for Mission Impossible....I loved the show as a kid. I must mention it had one of the great theme songs and is recognizable to this generation also because of the movies.

The movie Airplane is one of the funniest movies ever. Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges in the control tower, Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver) speaking jive.....on and on.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong but I was of the understanding that Peter Graves and James Arness (Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke) were brothers.

Bilbo said...

True statement, Bandit...he and James Arness were brothers. Peter changed his name to avoid confusion and the accusation that he was riding his brother's coattails.

And the "I speak jive" bit was a timeless classic...along with Lloyd Bridges', "Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop (insert vice here)."

They don't make movies like this any more.

Mike said...

Mission Impossible - good stuff.