Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mirage (1965)

Mirage is a 1965 suspense thriller directed by Edward Dmytryk. Although in fact the exact genre to which this film should be assigned remains uncertain for much of its running time. It’s part psychological thriller and part crime thriller with suggestions that it might at any moment veer off in the direction of the espionage thriller, the techno-thriller or even science fiction.

Gregory Peck stars as David Stillwell. At least he believes his name is David Stillwell. That’s about the only thing he’s fairly certain of and he’s really not at all sure even about that.

David Stillwell has had a rather puzzling day. People keep greeting him as though they hadn’t seen him for a long time, even when they saw him the day before. And then there’s the girl on the stairway who is sure she knows him. He’s equally sure he’s never met her. They met on the stairway during the blackout, the blackout being another puzzling thing about David’s day. The power went off all over the building, just about the time that noted do-gooder Charles Calvin jumped from the 27th floor.

Calvin’s suicide is definitely puzzling although David is fairly sure it has nothing to do with his problems. But then, given that David cannot remember anything at all that happened prior to the last two years, and can remember precious little that has happened since, he can’t possibly say there can’t be a connection.

And did I mention the guy who pulled a gun on him in his apartment? The guy who told David he was about to take a trip to Barbados where he would meet the Major. And he was to be sure to bring his briefcase with him, although this is another puzzle because his briefcase is completely empty.

It’s not surprising that after a day like this David Stillwell should decide to see a psychiatrist. Only the psychiatrist doesn’t want to see him. David decides the next best thing would be a private detective. That’s what private detectives do for a living, isn’t it? Find out stuff about people. So a private detective should be able  to tell him who he is. Unfortunately his confidence in this particular PI, Ted Caselle(Walter Matthau), is not enhanced when Caselle tells him this is his very first case.

There is only so much even the best PI can do. Ultimately it’s up to David to remember whatever it is that he doesn’t really want to remember. It’s something that shattered all his illusions and exposed the hypocrisy of the professional do-gooders of this world. His big problem is that remembering is only going to be possible if he can stay alive long enough and there are obviously people who do not intend that he should survive. 

Gregory Peck is ideally cast here as a regular guy who responds to his extraordinary circumstances in a very ordinary way. He is scared, confused and angry. Peck has no trouble convincing us that he is one very confused guy, and being Gregory Peck he’s also a fairly likeable kind of guy so the audience is going to be on his side from the start.

Walter Matthau provides some low-key comic relief although Caselle is not played entirely for laughs. It’s not that kind of film. It’s an intense kind of film so any overt comedy would be out of place but Matthau’s brand of sly understated humour provides a welcome break in the tension.

Diane Baker as Shela has to be mysterious, which she manages well, and she also has to be a kind of low-key femme fatale (I’m using the term low-key a lot but that’s the sort of movie it is). It’s a generally effective performance.

Edward Dmytryk had plenty of experience with this type of movie (having directed film noir classics like Murder, My Sweet and psychological dramas such as The Caine Mutiny) and he’s always in full control.

Universal’s DVD release provides a rather grainy anamorphic transfer. The graininess may be inherent in the source materials and may well have been a deliberate choice. It certainly doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film.

Mirage is an effective offbeat thriller that keeps the audience guessing. We really have no idea where this movie is going until quite late in proceedings. There’s more than a hint of film noir (or possibly neo-noir, this being 1965). Highly recommended.

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