Sunday, February 27, 2011

MIRAGE (1965)

This film begins with a stunning shot of the New York City skyline during the late afternoon as all the lights go out in a skyscraper. Inside, the secretaries and businessmen are planning a groping get-together (what they call a Braille party) in one of the dark offices, but a confused-looking Gregory Peck is just trying to get to ground level. In the stairwell, he helps a young woman (Diane Baker) who claims to know him, but when he doesn't recognize her, she bolts away into the sub-basement. Peck follows but loses her. Out on the streets, there is a commotion: just before the lights went out, an executive (Walter Abel) jumped from the 27th floor, though Peck doesn't know who he was. At Peck's apartment, he is approached at gunpoint by Jack Weston who keeps saying that the Major wants to see him. Peck, not knowing who the Major is, beats him up and throws him out, but soon comes to realize that he seems to have amnesia, and not your garden-variety kind: he can't remember what he's been doing for the last two years. The police won't listen to him, and neither will a psychiatrist, who says such amnesia is impossible. When Peck goes back to work, he finds there is no sub-basement, and the office he assumes he's been using doesn't exist. He hires a somewhat shabby but honest private eye (Walter Matthau), then runs into Baker again, who says she was once his lover. When more thugs (including George Kennedy) wind up on his trail, bits of memory flashes start coming back, including the fact that he may have been in Abel's office moments before he jumped from the window. Could Baker hold the key to this mystery? Or perhaps the key is a strange key ring that says, "The Future Is Now."

This black & white movie is one of the earliest of the "trust nobody" paranoid thrillers (along with NORTH BY NORTHWEST and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE). The plot is tricky but easy to follow and the actors are mostly first-rate, though Baker seems a little out of her league. Peck is more animated than he was usually called upon to be. Matthau provides some mild comic relief for a while, though his exit from the film is dead serious. Kevin McCarthy is Peck's boss, and Leif Erickson is the mysterious Major. I enjoyed seeing the old pro Walter Abel in a handful of flashback scenes. Hari Rhodes, whom I remember as the sidekick on the TV series Daktari, has a good scene as a NYC cop. All the strands come together nicely, though the climax itself is a little weak. The widescreen film looks great on DVD; highly recommended. [DVD]

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