Monday, May 25, 2009

Mirage (1965)

Retro ACTIVE Critique #7

'Mirage' is a film scripted by Peter Stone, who also wrote 'Charade' (1963) and 'Arabesque' (1966). Of the three films, 'Charade' is by far the most revered and successful. 'Mirage', on the other hand, has been appreciated (and remembered) least out of the three. An underrated gem. But it is definitely worth a viewing or two. 

All three have a good deal in common. 'Charade' and 'Mirage' both feature Walter Matthau and George Kennedy in supporting roles. Gregory Peck is the lead for 'Mirage' and 'Arabesque'. And all three have beautiful leading ladies: Audrey Hepburn in 'Charade', Sophia Loren in 'Arabesque', the lesser-known Diane Baker in 'Mirage'.
Which led me to wonder why, of these three (equally) clever films, 'Mirage' has been most neglected. My theory is that, for one: it is filmed in black and white. And two: Diane Baker. I've enjoyed some of Baker's performances, but here she tries too hard to evoke Hepburn––and unsuccessfully, at that. Her manner of speech and demeanor is an almost irritating imitation. Understandably, I suppose, as she was the female lead in the then tagged 'Hepburn-esque' role, and this was after the mass success of 'Charade'. But she seems lost in this failed attempt. A near caricature. If it weren't for Audrey Hepburn and 'Charade', perhaps Baker––being more herself––could have made this performance more watchable.
But aside from my lack of enthusiasm for Diane Baker's performance, 'Mirage' is fantastic. Where 'Charade' plays like a humorous homage to Hitchockian yarns––but as a comedy enhanced with thrills––'Mirage' is the reverse: a psychological thriller that would make Hitch proud, sprinkled generously with amusing moments. It is a tightly woven mystery that leaves its audience guessing until the end. 

I had seen the film before, but watching it again recently, I had (quite fittingly to its subject!) forgotten what all of the twists were, which allowed me to go for the entire ride once again––and I found it just as entertaining as before.

Gregory Peck plays David Stillwell, a cost accountant in New York who cannot seem to recall the last two years of his life, but finds himself mixed up in a murder. He must understand his connection to it before he, too, is done in. He can barely remember anything about himself as he tries to piece his life together. We can only follow him breathlessly as he makes small advances towards the truth––which we finally learn only when he does, at the very end. 

'Mirage' is an intriguing, challenging journey, and one that's very well played out by all, starting with Peter Stone's witty script. The dialog between Peck and Matthau––who plays an amateur P.I., and the only person who will help him––is especially great. As one would expect. Peck is a very watchable and likable leading man here. And for any Gregory Peck, Walter Matthau, Hitchcock, or 'Charade' fan, I highly recommend this film. 
A couple of examples of the great script here are when Diane Baker's character, during a blackout, says: "I've never understood why most people would do things in the dark that they'd never think of doing in the light." And when a man has jumped to his death from the top of the building––and thus, Stillwell's mystery begins to unravel––a crowd has gathered below. One man says: "It's the worst way to go. The worst. If I have the guts to step out of that window, I have the guts to go on living." Both scenes take place during the film's first ten minutes. The music is by Quincy Jones. 


  1. This movie is so great. If you can find it, it is not to be missed! :)

  2. I just read your comment on Mirage vs Arabesque over at Movie Morlocks. I couldn't agree more. I'd forgotten about Mirage, but you're right: it leaves Arabesque in the dust. My choice for coolest spy movie of that era is Billion Dollar Brain. My piece on it is here.

    1. Thanks for your comment! It's too bad that Mirage is forgotten, I tell anyone who'll listen that it's worth seeing. I haven't even seen Billion Dollar Brain -- and will definitely have to check it out now!

  3. I also love Arabesque. Charade is my favorite, but all three of these films by Peter Stone have their merits.