Film: Mirage

February 13, 2014

An intriguing, Twilight-Zoney thriller, Mirage (1965) is definitely a product of its era, but it’s quirky and still quite watchable. Gregory Peck stars as David Stillwell, an accountant who works in a New York City office building. When the building’s power goes out, Stillwell attempts to leave and bumps into a mysterious woman (Diane Baker) as he’s descending a darkened staircase. She claims to remember him, but he’s never seen her before – baffling enough, but it gets worse when she races off into a sub-basement that he later learns doesn’t even exist. This is just the first of several reality-bending mysteries that begin to plague him, as he gradually comes to grips with a bizarre case of amnesia. Meanwhile, he finds himself increasingly entangled with nefarious strangers who seem to know exactly who he is – even as he doesn’t know himself.

Putting an interesting spin on the Cold War/nuclear era psychological thriller, Mirage is modest but clever, with a twisty, disorienting plot. Its sensibility and black-and-white photography reminds me a little of early John Frankenheimer. In the end, I’m not convinced it coheres structurally, and it’s inconsistent tonally. But I kind of didn’t mind; it’s still fun trying to make sense of Stillwell’s nightmarish dilemma, and anyway the thematic resolution is satisfying in spite of the plot’s loose ends. Meanwhile it’s got a fun cast of familiar character actors from the era, including George Kennedy, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Weston, and the great Walter Matthau as a droopy gumshoe Stillwell hires to help him. An entertaining, old-fashioned mystery.

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