Impossible Missions Force
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The Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is a fictional agency with varying designations depending on the medium, an independent espionage agency in the television version or a governmental agency of the United States government in the film version. The IMF was introduced in the TV series Mission: Impossible that was broadcast from 1966 through 1973, and later in the revival TV series shown from 1988 through 1990. Beginning in 1996, the IMF has been featured in a number of motion pictures that starred Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, including Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible II, Mission: Impossible III, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
In the TV series, thanks largely to the involvements of William Read Woodfield (1928–2001) and Allan Balter as the producers, story editors, and scriptwriters, the IMF operated primarily by using confidence tricks, infiltration, and high technology devices on its targets. The agents of the IMF were able to deceive their targets into cooperating with them without detecting any kind of deception until the "impossible mission" was carried out. By that time, the IMF team members had all vanished from the scene and/or left the target country. In some cases, especially involving organized crime, the mission targets were actually killed as a direct result of the IMF's work, though never actually by any IMF agents themselves.
Woodfield was a devotee of the book The Big Con, written by the linguist David W. Maurer, and Woodfield and Balter consulted it as one of the "testaments" in their "Bible" for the TV series. Its other "testament" was a short four-page outline that they based partially on the principles of the writing instructor Lajos Egri, the author of the book The Art of Dramatic Writing that Egri had published in 1946.
The Original Mission: Impossible TV series
As depicted in the original TV series, the IMF agents were mostly part-time operatives, who held regular jobs elsewhere, and many of them were independently wealthy, hence they could not be bribed. The regular characters included:
- Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), a performer billed as "The Man Of A Million Faces," a brilliant infiltrator and a master of disguise. In the world of confidence-game terminology, he was considered a "roper."
- Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), a high-class infiltrator and con artist with the looks of a fashion model—hence a consummate manipulator of foreign dictators, corrupt governments, their henchmen, and the like. Like Hand, she was considered a "roper."
- Barnard 'Barney' Collier (Greg Morris), an engineering genius who owned his own electronics company—one that obviously had lucrative government contracts, as it often worked with the State and Defense Departments. In the world of confidence-game terminology, he was considered a "'big-store' builder."
- William “Willy” Armitage (Peter Lupus), a champion weightlifter called "The World's Strongest Man" and also a highly-intelligent technician in his own right, who often worked with Collier. Like Collier, he was considered a "'big-store' builder."
Later regulars included Leonard Nimoy as the stage magician billed as "The Great Paris," Lesley Ann Warren as Dana Lambert, and Lynda Day George as Lisa Casey. Other occasional members included specialized experts such as doctors, lawyers, circus acrobats, and even entire repertory companies.
The only "full-time" member identified was the team leader, actually the IMF Director. In the first season of the original series, this was former United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Daniel David “Dan” Briggs Ph.D., played by Steven Hill, and beginning in the second season and continuing into the revival series, the team leader was James “Jim” Phelps, played by Peter Graves. The IMF Directors (Phelps has been assumed[by whom?] to have been Briggs's immediate Deputy, though this was never actually specified in any installments) were, in the world of confidence-game terminology, considered "grifters."
All team members displayed skill in social engineering and misdirection, improvisational acting, hand-to-hand combat, sleight of hand, and fluency in multiple languages. Where some operatives who specialized in these skills had reason to believe they would not be available, they often cross-trained the others in between missions.
The IMF agents were anonymously sent on covert missions to tackle the dangerous world of counter-terrorism, espionage, political subversion, international crime, and American organized crime. Their international missions tended to undermine communist governments, dictatorships, and other opponents of democracy. The TV series never directly specified exactly who oversaw the IMF, though it was some agency of the United States government. All of the team members were Americans. They acted under nonofficial cover status, and if they were ever caught or killed, “the Secretary” (presumably the U.S. Secretary of State) would “disavow” any knowledge of their actions.
In secret tape messages issued to the team leaders, references were made to "the Secretary," and whenever these were foreign operations, this Secretary is understood to be the Secretary of State, as stated above. The IMF team leader was also given the option to reject a mission which he did not find to be suitable, or if he believed that it was truly impossible to accomplish. This has not yet been shown to happen in either television series or any of the movies. However, in the film Mission: Impossible II, there is a scene in which leader of the IMF, Ethan Hunt, met with the owner of the taped voice face-to-face, and the latter explicitly stated that Hunt does not have the option of rejecting a mission, even though the recorded briefings contain the famous phrase, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it...."
Other "missions" were undertaken by the team as personal favors to the team leader, or to a fellow member, but those were far less common.
1980s revival series
In the 1980s revival series, the IMF is implied to be an independent agency, with multiple IMF teams (though the revival concentrated exclusively on that which the IMF Director headed) as well as specialized divisions for research and development.
James Phelps returned as Director of the IMF, and hence "captain" of what could be called "The Director's Own Team." He was called back into action when his successor, Thomas Copperfield, was killed in the course of a mission. Grant Collier, a prodigy and son of the original Barney Collier, was also a member (played by Phil Morris, the son of Greg Morris), and like his father, the younger Collier was the electrical engineer and computer expert of the group; a graduate of M.I.T. at the age of 16, where one of his professors called him “one of the greatest inventive minds to come out of M.I.T. in the last 20 years.” Other members were: Nicholas Black (Thaao Penghlis), a university drama professor who excelled in acting, languages, and disguise (and probably, to a degree, computers as well, in addition to probably having been a protege of Rollin Hand); Maxwell “Max” Harte (Tony Hamilton), a former Australian mercenary, trained driver, helicopter pilot, and muscle of the group, who, while still in high school, mounted his own mission to get his brother out of a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, and succeeded; and Casey Randall (Terry Markwell), a fashion designer who joined the IMF after a terrorist bombing in Rome killed her fiancee. Randall was killed partway through the first season of the series (becoming the only regular TV IMF operative to be depicted as "disavowed") and replaced by Shannon Reed (Jane Badler), a former United States Secret Service agent and professional singer. (Already having had voice training of her own, Badler herself subsequently became a professional singer in real life.)
Jim Phelps (now played by Jon Voight) is also depicted as the leader of an IMF team in the 1996 Mission: Impossible film. In the film, Phelps is depicted as a villain, a development which angered Peter Graves and Greg Morris. Other members of Phelps's team are: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), who leads an IMF team in the subsequent films in the series (following the presumed killing of Phelps in the first film); Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Béart), shown to be Phelps's spouse; Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas); and Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez). Other IMF agents throughout the film franchise include: Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), disavowed at the beginning of Mission: Impossible but reinstated at the film's end; Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), disavowed; pilot Billy Baird (John Polson); rogue agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott); computer specialist Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg); Jane Carter (Paula Patton); Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers); Zhen Lei (Maggie Q); Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell); Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway); and intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner).
In Mission: Impossible, Phelps's superior officer, Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), is shown working in the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters. In Mission: Impossible II, it is not as clear to whom the IMF reports. In Mission: Impossible III, the IMF is identified as an independent agency of the U.S. government, some of whose agents have a front as employees of the Virginia Department of Transportation. Hunt refers to the group as the "Impossible Mission Force." In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the entire agency is officially disavowed after Hunt's team is framed for the destruction of the Kremlin as part of a plan to trigger nuclear war, but the President, in response, initiates the "Ghost Protocol." With the entire IMF disavowed, Hunt and his team escape captivity, retreat to a "forgotten" safe house, and get the necessary resources to track down and defeat their enemy's plan. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the IMF is disbanded by a Senate oversight committee following a hearing in which CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) accuses the IMF of recklessness after the events of the previous film. With the team officially shut down and their assets merged with the CIA, Ethan goes on the run while enlisting the help of his former IMF team to find the Syndicate's leader, Solomon Lane. The team is reinstated at the close of the film with Brandt calling Hunley "Mr. Secretary."
- Patrick J. White, The Complete "Mission: Impossible" Dossier. New York: Avon Books, 1991.