Peter Graves, best known for starring as Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible (or, for a later generation, for his appearances in the Airplane! movies and the Biography series he hosted), has died. The original M:I series was before my time, but I’m always impressed, watching it in retrospect, with how much the show and Graves projected a sense of measured cool compared with spy movies and series of today. (Including, for instance, the Mission: Impossible movies.)
Particularly at a time when 24 may be on the verge of ending its run, it’s interesting to look back at a time when TV espionage and action series weren’t about amping up the intensity to an ever-higher pitch, but rather created tension through modulation and deliberate pacing. It’s hard to find M:I clips online that don’t reproduce giant chunks of the episodes, but in a way, the above clip is oddly representative: compared with the quick-fire narrative of a show like 24, it took its time setting up, having Graves’ Phelps slowly take in the assignment and set the episode’s pace. Through six seasons as the no-nonsense Phelps, Graves helped define ’60s spy cool on TV, as the Bond movies did on film.
And, of course, he gave us this: