JULY IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH
For physio-chemist executive David Stillwell, the 1965 blackout ain’t a patch on the one he’s personally experiencing in that year’s expert thriller MIRAGE, starring Gregory Peck and directed by Edward Dmytryk (now on Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios).
Peck’s Stillwell finds himself caught in a minor power outage plaguing the Fun City building he works in. He retreats to one of the lower levels, only to later discover…that the structure has no lower levels. Weary, he returns to his Manhattan apartment, where he is gleefully welcomed back by the doorman. He’s been gone for two years!
Soon, strangers, friends, and possibly even lovers are out to kill him. But why? Add a philanthropist’s suicide (likely to be a murder), and an insidious plot involving power, greed, lust, and sanguinary savagery – all further bewildering a protagonist wondering where he belongs in this never-ending nightmare.
MIRAGE encompassed one of those bizarre sub-genres that briefly flourished in the mid-Sixties: the amnesia thriller; it was one of at least three major motion pictures dealing with the subject (and probably the best), the others being Mister Buddwing (also taking place in New York City), starring James Garner, and The Third Day, featuring George Peppard. Star-coproducer Peck wisely enlisted screenwriter Peter Stone to adapt Howard Fast’s gripping novel; both had recent Universal movie hits – Stone, Charade, and Fast, Spartacus.
Director Edward Dmytryk was another inspired decision. Certainly his finest late work, Dmytryk was revered for Forties noir classics like Murder, My Sweet and Crossfire. While this noirish entry doesn’t quite match up to those earlier triumphs, it does come damn close. Dmytryk, who began as an editor, wanted to get around the censors to inject a bit of modern violence into the mix. Working with ace editor Ted Kent (a Universal craftsman since the 1920s, best-known for Bride of Frankenstein), they created a chilling moment. When describing to Stillwell the death of the aforementioned millionaire philanthropist, who fell from the top of a high-rise, the final moments of the head-first plummet downward is likened to a watermelon hitting the pavement. Later, as Stillwell experiences hallucinatory whirlpool flashbacks, a montage includes a body falling out of a window, followed by a melon splattering on the sidewalk. The result in the theater was screaming not unlike the audience reaction to the shower scene in Psycho. Another clever ploy was the use of marketing. MIRAGE was released at the height of Bondmania, and the trailer includes an exchange between Peck and the P.I. (Walter Matthau) he hires to help unravel the mystery of who his character is. “Pretend you’re James Bond, he always knows,” offers a snarky Peck to the snarkier clue-hunting Matthau. I kid you not, that bit in the coming attractions, provoked hearty laughter, and a generous round of applause (the trailer is included as an extra).
Another great aspect of MIRAGE was the Manhattan location filming (part of a deal Universal must have made with the NewYork City Film Commission as, during this period, a number of their biggest titles were shot in the city, including Blindfold, PJ, Madigan, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, and others), gorgeously served up in stark, striking black-and-white by the wonderful veteran d.p. Joseph MacDonald (one of his last projects). The elegant, jazzy music, too, is exceptional, scored by no less than Quincy Jones (his third feature). Best of all is the large and superb cast supporting Peck; aside from Matthau, there’s Diane Baker, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Weston, George Kennedy, Leif Erickson, Walter Abel, Robert H. Harris, Anne Seymour, House Jameson, Hari Rhodes, Franklin Cover, Ann Doran, Edith Fellows, Myron Healey, and Bill Quinn.
The 1080p High Def widescreen platter of MIRAGE looks and sounds terrific. Among the neat supplement of extras is a recent interview with costar/romantic lead Baker.
It’s always a joy when Gregory Peck is spellbound, and, thus, the MIRAGE Blu-ray gives mystery fans a delightful treat – the accessibility to this rarely-seen suspense gem via Kino-Lorber’s/Universal’s new fantastic transfer.
MIRAGE. Black and white. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. CAT # K23960. SRP: $29.95.