Basements, Blackouts & Blurred Memories – Rediscovering ‘Mirage’ (US 1965 – 109 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - August 25, 2015
Basements, Blackouts & Blurred Memories – Rediscovering ‘Mirage’ (US 1965 – 109 mins)

One of the last studio movies to be made in black and white, the stimulating mystery ‘Mirage’ is an above-average psychological thriller, bolstered by a great cast, solid direction and excellent New York locations.

After suffering amnesia during a New York blackout, bemused scientist David Stillwell (Gregory Peck) finds he’s lost the past two years of his life. What he does know is that during the blackout, a wealthy philanthropist fell from Stillwell’s office building and that he now appears to be the target of some shifty assassins. With the help of a mysterious woman called Shela (Diane Baker) and novice gumshoe Ted Caselle (Walter Matthau) they try and piece together the missing details from Stillwell’s memory, before he becomes the next victim of a shadowy organization dealing in nuclear testing.

Based on Howard Fast’s 1952 novel ‘Fallen Angel’, ‘Mirage’ was released some years ago on Laserdisc, on a double-bill with another wonderfully twisty thriller; ‘The List of Adrian Messenger’. Both movies are ones that I enjoy returning to, although ‘Messenger’ is a lot more fun due to its mystery star cameos who appear in disguise.

The cast is strong in this, with Gregory Peck fine as the confused Stillwell, although the film is seldom mentioned when discussing Peck’s long career. A year after co-starring with Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie’, and in a part intended for Hedren herself, lovely Diane Baker brought warmth and elegance to the role of Peck’s supposed old flame. It’s the terrific supporting cast that really shone though, with Walter Matthau giving one of his early star-making performances, injecting wry humour into his rookie investigator role. The always reliable Kevin McCarthy gave a quirky turn as Peck’s brown-nosing co-worker, and George Kennedy and Jack Weston cropped up as a couple of heavies.

Director Edward Dmytryk made good use of the New York locales and he expertly keeps the viewer in the dark, as we only gradually become aware of the missing pieces to the puzzle at the same time as Peck does. Gifted writer Peter Stone wrote the intricate screenplay and although it’s not up there with his earlier script for ‘Charade’ (’63), he did add a similar wit to the proceedings. Dmytryk’s regular cinematographer Joseph MacDonald shot the movie in glossy black and white, and Quincy Jones provided one of his early jazz scores.

There is much to enjoy along the way as our hero has to contend with missing offices, strange stairwells and people who no longer recognize him (and vice-versa). It’s not a film that you should come into late though, even if the ending is nicely explained and it manages to wrap up the sometimes confusing story satisfactory.

A movie that can enjoy repeated viewings, ‘Mirage’ is a compelling mystery, both clever and twisty. A mix of Hitchcock and noir, it holds your interest throughout and features a rather unique scenario, putting it up there with ‘Spellbound’ (’45) and ‘Memento’ (2000) as one of the best amnesia-themed movies.

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