Sun 24 Apr 2011
MIRAGE. Universal Pictures, 1965, Gregory Peck, Diane Baker, Walter Matthau, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Weston, Leif Erickson, Walter Abel, George Kennedy, Robert H. Harris, House B. Jameson, Hari Rhodes. Screenplay by Peter Stone, based on the novel Fallen Angel by Howard Fast, writing under the pen name of Walter Ericson. Director: Edward Dmytryk.
If you’ll check back nearly a year ago on this blog, you’ll find a list David Vineyard did of films that involve amnesia as a major portion of their plots. Mirage is the 16th film listed, but I don’t believe that David had rankings in mind when he came up with the list. I may be wrong, but I believe the list consists of those movies in order as they came in mind to him.
The reason for pointing this out is that I’d personally have to put this movie in the top five, if not one of the top three. What Mirage is about, and almost nothing else, is what happens to David Stillwell (Gregory Peck’s character) after the lights go out in the New York City skyscraper he’s in when the lights go out and he has to make his way down the stairs in darkness, accompanied by a woman who recognizes him only when they reach the bottom and he has no idea who she is.
But no one knows who he is either, nor can he find the fourth subfloor in the building again, the one he followed Diane Baker down after she ran away from him. His office, where’s he worked as a cost accountant for the past two years is no longer there; the tender behind the bar at his favorite watering hole does not recognize him; the refrigerator in his apartment is empty – two years of his life, in fact and as he discovers are Gone.
Openings like these are never match up with the endings, no matter how clever they are, but Mirage is almost, but not quite, an exception. As Stillwell gradually learns, his predicament is closely tied to the death of a noted peace activist, who fell to his death just about the same time as his memory left him.
Gregory Peck is stolidly confused and annoyed at himself and the situation he finds himself in, while Diane Baker does her best to care for him (apparently) and at the same time not tell him anything substantial about his past.
The best performances are reserved to the character actors in the film, beginning with Walter Matthau as PI Ted Caselle, whose first case this is when Stillwell hires him out of sheer desperation and no one else to turn to. Add Robert H. Harris as a psychiatrist who thinks Stillwell is pulling some kind of fraud and throws him out of his office; George Kennedy as a bespectacled man with a gun who’s not afraid to use it; Kevin McCarthy as a sniveling sycophant (he always plays this role well); and House Jameson as a boozy doorway derelict with a purpose.
Matthau is absolutely marvelous in his role, by the way, witty and far from pretentious; his was a part I remember vividly from the first time I watched this movie some 45 years ago. Over the time that’s passed, though, I discovered I’d pretty much forgotten the ending, which I think makes sense, although I’d have to watch the movie again to be sure.
Filmed in black and white, Mirage veers close to the film noir category, but never quite makes it. The outdoor scenes are fine, but the indoor ones have the same production values at TV did at the time: cardboardy and dull.
Overall, if you’ve read this far into the review, this is a film you should not miss. It’s no masterpiece, but as a crime drama with some sparks, it will certainly more than do until one that is comes along. (And who knows how long that will be.)