Mirage [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th October 2019).
The Film

A skyscraper-wide power cut on a warm New York night has the quitting time workers feeling a bit frisky, all that is except for accountant David Stillwell (The Omen's Gregory Peck) who has a puzzling encounter in the stairwell with lovely Shela (Marnie's Diane Baker) who is insulted that he does not recognize her and storms off. He follows her past the street level exit down into the subbasements where he loses her. Stepping out onto the street, he finds onlookers crowded around the body of peace activist Charles Calvin (13 Rue Madeleine's Walter Abel) who either jumped or fell from the top floor. Stopping in at a bar for a drink, he is puzzled when the bartender avers that he has been away for some time. He is even more disturbed upon arriving home and being held at gunpoint by new neighbor Lester (Wait Until Dark's Jack Weston) who tries to force him into a meeting with "The Major." David knocks the man out and goes to the police but becomes agitated when they ask him questions about himself that he cannot answer, coming to the realization that he does not remember anything before the past two years that he has been working as an accountant. He goes to a psychologist Dr. Broden (Valley of the Dolls' Robert H. Harris) who disbelieves his claim that he only suddenly realized that he has amnesia after two years of normal functioning. He hires private investigator Ted Caselle (Charade's Walter Matthau) who is on his first case and believes that David might be crazy when they go to his office to discover it is not there and the sub-basements do not exist, but starts to doubt that conclusion when basement worker Willard (Cool Hand Luke's George Kennedy) tries to shoot the both of them. He encounters Shela again who informs him that he has something "the Major" wants but he claims to have no memory of it, and running into Josephson (Invasion of the Body Snatchers's Kevin McCarthy), his boss at the accounting firm that does not exist, triggers flashbacks that make him realize that his amnesia is only days old and that, whatever he has that the Major wants, he may have committed a murder.

Gregory Peck with amnesia should conjure up flashbacks of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound for cineastes of today and the popular audiences at the time of the film's release; indeed, director Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire) and writer Peter Stone (Arabesque) seem to have been depending upon that familiarity as well as the viewers' minds to be working overtime integrating the conspiracy aspect of the story with memories of more recent films like The Manchurian Candidate to navigate the disorienting storyline. While a lot of the twists keep the story moving, it is ultimately all smoke and mirrors, and the solution actually does bear more resemblance to the Hitchcock model than anything that has come in between the two films. That is remains a compelling film is all in the journey than the destination, and Peck, Baker, and McCarthy are all engaging while a relatively young Kennedy and Matthau are surprising for seasoned viewers used to them in more "character actor" and leading roles. The heavy use of location photography including chase scenes set on the actual streets of New York and Central Park along with the alternately icy jazz and lushly romantic scoring of Quincy Jones (The Getaway) gives the impression of something more modern than the forties noirs yet icier than the light comedy thrillers of Stanley Donen like Charade or Arabesque in which Peck would star the following year. Mirage would be one of the last big films for jobbing director Dmytryk.

Video

Released theatrically by Universal, Mirage would be hard to see outside of late night TV viewings until MCA/Universal's 1997 VHS and Encore Edition laserdisc double feature with the even more unconventional The List of Adrian Messenger. The film first showed up on barebones DVD as part of the six-film/seven-disc The Gregory Peck Collection (the extra disc being disc two of the studio's two-disc Legacy Series To Kill a Mockingbird, followed by a single disc edition that may now be more expensive than the later four-film/two-disc Universal Hollywood Icons Collection: Gregory Peck. Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray (coming a year after the French edition) is not a new master, looking a bit flat where one would expect some grain from the location photography while some of the shadows look a little noisy. This is probably the same master used for the DVD editions, and one of the Universal catalogue masters that have garnered much criticism when other companies have licensed them for Blu-ray earlier on. The film is still highly watchable for those engrossed in the story the first time around, but it is unfortunate that this film has not warranted a restoration.

Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track fares much better with clean dialogue and effects as well as a chilling feel to passages of the scoring. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras

The disc features a new audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson in which New Yorker Mitchell notes the heavy influence of The Naked City visually and on the film, Berger and Thompson discuss the source novel by Howard Fast (who had a busy screenwriting and TV career at the time but also a side gig writing pulp novels of which "Mirage" was one), the button-pushing contributions of screenwriter Peter Stone and his relationship with Donen (and the aforementioned bookending suspense films Charade and Arabesque), and the greater perversity underlying the Dmytryk film. They also discuss the difficulty pegging jobbing director Dmytryk who was associated more with noir than Hitchcockian thriller, and suggest that Mirage is perhaps most representative of Dmytryk as a thriller director. They also characterize Universal's thrillers during the period as "watercooler movies" in contrast to the studio's Sirk melodramas. Mitchell speaks of meeting Stone some time ago and noting that his contributions to dark source material seems to be touches of humor that make them seem more perverse and insightful about the fabric of society of the period. Also included is "A Face in the Dark" (14:09), an interview with actress Baker who recalls just finishing a Fox contract and not wanting to sign another contract since she wanted to be free to do stage work and TV in New York when she was contacted by Universal for Mirage, and how her concerns about the age difference were mitigated by Peck looking more youthful than she recalled and the wardrobe and make-up choices making her seem a bit more mature, getting past being star-struck, and getting into character as a more forward and confident character, and working with Dmytryk in contrast to Hitchcock (she is also hard-pressed to describe him a director of technicians or actors). The disc also includes an animated image gallery (8:01), theatrical trailer (2:12) and bonus trailers.

Overall

Gregory Peck with amnesia should conjure up flashbacks of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound for cineastes of today and the popular audiences at the time; and indeed, the makers seem to be depending on that as well as the mind working overtime to ferret out the differences when navigating the labyrinthine Mirage.

 


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