Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cinematic gems #6: Mirage

Gregory Peck gives one of his best and most complex performances in the 1965 amnesia thriller Mirage, a Hitchcockian mind-tease penned by Peter Stone (Charade, The Taking of Pelham 123). Peck portrays David Stillwell, who finds himself in a dark stairway corridor, unable to remember a thing--and his inability to know who he really is or what just happened is the only thing keeping him alive. With the help of a private detective (Walter Matthau, chock full of one-liners), Stillwell tries to piece his life back together, while interacting with several characters with shady motives. There's a corporate yes-man (Kevin McCarthy, of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the, uh, original UHF); a possible old-flame and ally (Diane Baker); a steel-eyed thug (George Kennedy, who utters my favorite line: "I owe this man some pain!"); a mysterious military man known only as The Major (Leif Erickson), and even a character named Joe Turtle. As Stillwell starts to remember things and solve the puzzle of his own fragmented mind, he becomes surrounded by death and danger at every turn.

Directed by Edward Dmytryk (Raintree Country, The Young Lions, Alvarez Kelly), who seamlessly integrates flashbacks with present time (in a way TV's Lost would be proud of), the film moves at a terrific pace, drawing the viewer into Stillwell's plight, discovering things alongside of him. Shot in beautiful black and white by Joseph MacDonald (who also shot The Sand Pebbles and Mackenna's Gold) and scored by jazz legend Quincy Jones, Mirage was unfairly criticized as poor-man's Hitchcock--sure, stylistically it owes a bit to the master of suspense, but it's a sterling representation of the genre and a thrill to watch.

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