Mirage (1965)


(director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: Peter Stone/from the novel by Howard Fast; cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald; editor: Ted J. Kent; music: Quincy Jones; cast: Gregory Peck (David Stillwell), Diane Baker (Sheila), Walter Matthau (Ted Caselle), Kevin McCarthy (Josephson), House B. Jameson (Bo, old man killer), Leif Erickson (Major Crawford Gilcuttie), Walter Abel (Charles Calvin), George Kennedy (Willard), Jack Weston (Lester, the agent), Anne Seymour (Mrs. Frances Calvin), Robert H. Harris (Dr. Broden), Neil Fitzgerald (Joe Turtle); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Keller; Universal Pictures; 1965)
“… a well-executed suspenseful exercise in concealment and discovery.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edward Dmytryk (“Murder, My Sweet”/”Cornered”) directs an excellent diverting thriller in luminous black and white, scripted by Peter Stone (wrote “Charade”) from a novel by Howard Fast (the director’s old prison buddy from their Hollywood Ten days). It has a no-nonsense Gregory Peck playing David Stillwell, a scientist suffering from shock that caused him to have amnesia. The confused David is first seen on the stairwell of NYC’s Unidyne Building, a giant organization involved in nuclear manufacturing, during a blackout, for some reason thinking he’s a cost accountant, when he runs into a pretty woman named Sheila (Diane Baker) who seems to know him but he can’t remember her. At the same time in the same building renown world peace activist Charles Calvin (Walter Abel) falls from his 27th-floor window, in what the police believe is a suicide. David is in a daze and has blacked-out two years of his life, not even remembering that he worked for Calvin and was his good friend. When David tries to get answers, everything possible is done to try and deceive him. “Mirage” turns out to be a well-executed suspenseful exercise in concealment and discovery, that unfolds with political implications that unfortunately go unexplored over nuclear testing. Peck’s own production company along with Universal, financed the film.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Amnesia vic David learns that assassins are after him, as a chubby talkative gunman named Lester (Jack Weston) sits in his apartment and threatens to kill him unless he goes to Barbados and gives the mysterious Major (Leif Erickson), who runs the Unidyne organization, the information he wants. David jumps Lester and escapes, but finds when he goes to the police he’s unable to answer questions about himself and bolts. He next tries seeing a shrink, whose name he got from a book authored by the psychiatrist. The haughty psychiatrist, calling himself not a Freudian but a genius, Dr. Broden (Robert H. Harris), calls him a phony who is trying to possibly use him for an alibi with the law, and informs David amnesia only lasts for at most a day and not two years. Needing someone to help him piece things together, David finds the first name of a gumshoe in the Yellow Pages, the AAA Detective Agency, and hires Ted Caselle (Walter Matthau). This is Ted’s first case, he was a former refrigerator repairman who took a course in a correspondence school to get his license. Ted doesn’t carry a rod and drinks sodas not booze, and realizes David is not crazy when he’s attacked by muscleman Willard (George Kennedy) while snooping around the basement of the Unidyne Building looking for a hidden underground staircase. Again, escaping that threat by jumping Willard, David meets Sheila again and learns from the love sick sympathetic woman he’s only being kept alive because he has information the Major wants. Meanwhile David keeps having flashbacks of being with Calvin in a country place under a tree with a nearby science lab. When David goes sleuthing on his own, he discovers the doorman at the Unidyne Building, Joe Turtle (Neil Fitzgerald), knows him, and when he goes to his apartment to get more information he finds Turtle beaten to death and placed in his bathtub. Returning to tell this to Ted, he finds the private detective also murdered. This leads to him being chased through Central Park by an old man assassin (House B. Jameson) and Willard. As time moves along, David’s memory slowly but surely comes back and he realizes the bad guys want that formula of his that allows for the neutralization of nuclear radiation, in other words bringing about the manufacture of clean bombs. David at last confronts the Major and his employees Josephson (Kevin McCarthy), Willard, and Sheila, and it weakly concludes with brawn losing out to unrequited love and an unconvincing sudden change of conscience ethics by David’s immediate old boss.

The political thriller turned out better than it had a right to. It makes great use of the city to frame its story and the eccentric supporting characters shine brighter than the stars. Peck is very good but not dazzling as the lost soul seeking answers; Matthau steals the pic in a role that will pave the way for him to soon be one of Hollywood’s top leading men; the only weak link in the otherwise fine cast is Baker, who brought nothing but her good looks to the role.

It was was remade three years later in color as Jigsaw.