This message will self-destruct

Bringing the TV fan back with “This tape will self-destruct…”

For fans of the Mission: Impossible television show, there are a few nuggets at the beginning of the movie.  We hear “This tape will self-destruct” and “Your Mission, should you choose to accept it” early on in the movie.  “This tape will self-destruct” does change in later Mission: Impossible movies to “This message will self-destruct”

First, we get the recording that explains the mission.

Second, we meet Jim Phelps.  He is the only character returning from the television show.  In this movie, John Voight plays Jim Phelps. He is the character who quarterbacks the mission. Peter Graves played Jim Phelps on the television show.  He was asked to do a cameo in the first movie.  However, he  declined after finding out what they do to his character in the movie. We’ll talk about that with the clip on the Jim Phelps and Ethan restaurant scene.

Key directives

Finally, we get the description of the mission. Plus, we see who is on the team. Additionally, “Your mission Jim, should you choose to accept it” and “As always, should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions” appear here.  “This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds” also is here, bringing the past forward for the Mission: Impossible TV fan. Yes, Yes, and Yes. They have the taped mission that self-destructs, they have the “your mission should you choose to accept it”, and the disavowed message.

This film feels like it is on the right track. In the television show, there was the Tape Scene (“Your mission should you choose to accept it”) followed by the Dossier Sequence (putting the team together in the first 2 seasons). These are combined in the movie with the assignment and team designation all in one tape.

The good part about the pre-title sequence, titles, and mission briefing is that if you remember the TV show, you’ll feel nostalgic. However, if you don’t know the TV show, you are still getting what you need to know as these sequences set the movie plot very well.

Heritage of “This message will self-destruct…”

Two little fun facts regarding the heritage of parts of this revolve around the “This tape will self-destruct…” and “the Secretary will disavow …” phrases:

In the Mission: Impossible television series and films we hear the phrase “This tape will self-destruct”.  This is part of the mission description.  The television show debuted in 1966. Again, the phrase was changed in later Mission: Impossible movies to “This message will self-destruct …”.  In the 1962 film, Dr. No, M tells James Bond says, “I’ll have a set of background papers to date delivered to you at the airport in a self-destructor bag”. This is the first discussion we’ve found in a spy film about self-destructing background material.   We aren’t positive “Mission: Impossible” took this and ran with it or it is just a coincidence.

The phrase  “should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your action” is heard here. This concept appears to be an adaptation of something that happened in an earlier spy move.   The 1959 film, called Operation Amsterdam is based on a true story,  where the leader who is sending three men out on this mission says: “Incidentally…if you’re caught… we cannot help you.” It is also similar to a piece in the 1939 movie Q Planes.  Major Hammond gets his direction from his boss.  It includes the lines “Unofficially, of course, you understand. I’ll give you every facility, but if he finds you out, you’re acting against instructions.”

Ties to Dr. No

So the self-destructor bag from Dr. No and “Incidentally… if you’re caught . . .” came from earlier films and were enhanced in Mission: Impossible.   We will see this played out again in the vault scene later in the film.

In Conclusion

The beginning of this movie should make any fan of the Television show happy.  We’re really glad the “This message will self-destruct …” is included, even though it’s been modified to the word “message” instead of “tape” in later Mission: Impossible movies.


The last 13 minutes

Elsa thinks Marvin was so kind, and she sees him on the train and tells him she is alone. She looks worried and goes to a berth (1A) with Marvin, who says to her: “I don’t trust you – you’re in the spy racket too. The lovely neglected wife and I fell for it.” He pulls a gun on her and asks if the other two are on the train. If so, he says, they are dead. Elsa is trying to play her role. Marvin was going to have the train searched when she tells Marvin she knows who he is and loves him. Chaos outside as the air force is shooting at the train. He kisses her. We see Ashenden (Brodie) and The General go into the same car with Elsa and Marvin. Marvin quips, “I congratulate you all – especially Madam. When does the shooting begin?” Ashenden tells Elsa to wait outside, as The General says, “It is my job.”

In a surprise move, Elsa pulls a gun on Ashenden (Brodie) and The General, as a flashback to what she told Brodie earlier – “I’d rather see you dead than go through with this.”

Elsa is with Marvin when the planes start bombing the train – he whispers in her ear: “Chivalrous German spy saves British lady from British bombs. “

Just then, bombs wreck the tracks just ahead of the train, and it derails, before The General can take care of Marvin. In the ensuing wreckage, Marvin shoots The General, then both die. Elsa and Brodie survive. The General at the beginning of the movie who got Elsa and Brodie to agree gets a note (a lot of notes in this movie): “ Home safely but never again. Mr. and Mrs. Ashenden”
The scene shifts to newspaper headlines with the successes of the Allies!

Again, following Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps the year before (where we saw the first train scene in a spy movie), we see additional train scenes in this movie, and of course in many spy movies to follow like From Russia With Love (Bond and Red Grant, and Tee Hee), Mission Impossible– 1996 (Hunt vs. Phelps, and the helicopter chase), Bourne Ultimatum (Waterloo station and Russian railway station), The Spy Who Loved Me (Bond and Jaws), SPECTRE (Bond and Mr. Hinx), Skyfall, Octopussy and many more.


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