Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Mirage (1965)

It must be a good twenty-odd years since I last saw this film from versatile director Edward Dmytryk and I must confess that I barely remembered it, although there are many components in its favour. It stars Gregory Peck in a sub-Hitchcockian thriller in a role that has much in common with his confused character in "Spellbound". Coinciding with a blackout and a man falling from the upper floor of his building, Peck seems to have suffered total amnesia and is unable to make any sense of who he is (although he knows his name and where he lives), his background, or what exactly he has done before the past two years; he seems to believe that he has been working as a "cost accountant" (whatever that is) at an office that doesn't seem to exist amongst co-workers that he can't find. His grasp on reality is not helped by the fact that gunsels Jack Weston and George Kennedy (both in early roles) are after him. This permits Peck to play something of an action hero as he evades them, which somehow feels a little forced.

I can never quite make up my mind about Peck. His good looks and competence assured him leading roles from the start, but there is something of the Redwood about him, not so much wooden as majestic and stiff. In contrast this film provides a wonderful part for Walter Matthau, slightly before his breakout roles, as a wisecracking private detective whom Peck hires to help him work out the truth. SPOILER here: Matthau is killed halfway through the movie and his death takes some of the spark from the proceedings. Apparently he told Dmytryk that this was a mistake and the director assured him that he had a great future as a character actor; Matthau replied in no uncertain terms that he had every intention of being a leading actor. (And so it was, with his non-handsome hangdog looks gracing every subsequent role).

Moving in an out of the action is Diane Baker, as a woman who obviously has some sort of past with Peck and who is concerned for his future, but who does not help the viewer make too much sense of the story -- more window-dressing than pivotal. This perhaps is where the movie falls down before its hurriedly explained denouement; it starts as a wild goose chase and ends up as something of an anti-climax, but there are sufficient highpoints along the way. Filmed on location in New York, the hostile City becomes another character along with supporting players Kevin McCarthy, Walter Abel, and Leif Erickson.
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