Sunday, October 06, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Mirage (1965) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Gregory Peck stars in the suspense thriller MIRAGE (1965), just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

MIRAGE is one of a couple mid-'60s thrillers released by Kino in the past month, the other being BLINDFOLD (1966) starring Rock Hudson. Both films are set in New York City and feature gowns by Jean Louis, but comparisons end there. Whereas BLINDFOLD is a colorful, light and amusing spin on the genre, MIRAGE is a rather spooky black and white suspense film.

MIRAGE has an elegant look from the start of the opening credits sequence against the New York skyline. As the credits end, the lights go out in a single skyscraper, and that's where viewers meet David Stillwell (Peck), as he struggles to make his way down 27 floors of stairs before his flashlight goes dead.

In turn, David meets the mysterious Shela (Diane Baker, MARNIE) in the stairwell, who is offended when David doesn't recognize her. Things get crazier from there, as David has a succession of odd experiences -- including disappearing flights of stairs and groceries coming and going in his fridge -- culminating in a hit man (Jack Weston) following him into his apartment.

David gradually realizes he has no recent memories and consults a random psychiatrist (Robert H. Harris) whose name he finds in a book, but the brusque doctor is skeptical that David's memory loss is genuine. When David finds himself unable to answer background questions from a police lieutenant (Hari Rhodes, also in BLINDFOLD), in desperation he hires a newly minted private detective named Caselle (Walter Matthau) to figure out who he is and what's going on.

I'll leave the increasingly convoluted plot description there, but suffice it to say that I found this an engrossing and interesting 108 minutes. The story is well presented, with creative and very effective use of editing (by Ted J. Kent) as the film jumps forward and backward in time. The movie also has a great '60s look and sound, with widescreen black and white cinematography by Joseph MacDonald and a score by Quincy Jones.

The film also has a number of good supporting actors, including Walter Abel, Kevin McCarthy (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), and Leif Erickson (THE HIGH CHAPARRAL). McCarthy's sleazy office exec is particularly memorable, as is his role in the film's conclusion.

George Kennedy is also on hand as a second hit man. It's of note that both Kennedy and Matthau had also appeared in the classic thriller CHARADE (1963) a couple years previously.

While Peck has a certain gravitas and shines in the right roles (i.e., ROMAN HOLIDAY), I don't generally find him a particularly nuanced or colorful actor. His somewhat flat persona does seem right for this part, playing a man walking through the motions, who doesn't even initially realize that his past is a blank!

Peck's calmness also helps make believable scenes which are otherwise befuddling, such as his pulling the unconscious hit man out of his apartment and locking the door -- but not bothering to pick up the phone and call the police! As Stillwell gradually begins to recover past memories, Peck shows more frustration and depth of emotion, but the character still doesn't have great emotional range.

As Peck's character unraveled his past, I couldn't help but think of the similarly themed SPELLBOUND (1945) which he had starred in two decades before.

Baker is striking and watchable, yet we don't really know a great deal about what makes her Shela tick, which Baker seems to implicitly recognize in an interview included on the Blu-ray. I was intrigued that Baker expressed that if given another chance, she believed she could do a better job with the role; that might just be an actor's perfectionism, but perhaps she sees places where she could have brought more shadings to the part despite there not being much to work with in the script.

Walter Matthau is hit or miss for me; I don't consider myself a particular fan, yet I appreciate him in certain roles, such as CHARLEY VARRICK (1973). In this case his character really makes the movie work, bringing a needed levity to an otherwise tense film; his observations also validate some of what Peck's Stillwell is experiencing. The movie's biggest flaw is that Matthau's role wasn't larger.

Although not a perfect film, MIRAGE has enough strong elements -- including the intriguing story, the great '60s look, and the supporting cast led by Matthau -- to make it quite an interesting watch. I enjoyed it.

The movie was directed by Edward Dmytryk (MURDER, MY SWEET). It was written by Peter Stone, who was also responsible for CHARADE and would soon write another Peck thriller, ARABESQUE (1966). The screenplay was based on the novel FALLEN ANGEL by Walter Ericson (aka Howard Fast).

The 15-minute interview with leading lady Diane Baker is a real treat, as she discusses being cast in the movie and life on the set. The disc also includes the trailer, a four-film trailer gallery for additional films available from Kino Lorber, an image gallery, and a commentary track with input from a trio of film historians, Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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