Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Peter Stone
based on the novel FALLEN ANGEL by Howard Fast
Music: Quincy Jones
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Robert H. Harris
MIRAGE has an astounding opening gambit which potentially elicits a plethora of hypotheses inside a viewer’s head trying to outguess the big reveal, such as brainwash, hypnosis or other sinister conspiracy theories of that ilk. Indeed, there are sinister parties involved, but believe me, they are as clueless as the rest of us in this enthralling, implausibly under-seen mystery thriller cooked up by a crafty Edward Dmytryk.
During a power-cut in a NYC high-rise where he works, David Stillwell (Peck), a cost accountant is flummoxed by something devilish inexplicable (the vanished sub-stories, a woman who apparently knows him but he cannot reciprocate with the same gesture) and after being held at gunpoint at his own apartment by a thug Lester (Weston) and coerced to meet “the Major” with whom he has never acquainted, slowly it dawns on him that he is suffering from a severe amnesia, he has no inkling of what happened prior of the last two years, and puzzlingly states that during that spell he lives on his own-some with no personal contract with a single soul other than his job, it is a beggar-belief hogwash, no wonder the psychiatrist Dr. Broden (Harris) angrily drives him off when he seeks for help.
But a stern-faced David is not a fibber, after hiring a rookie private eye Ted Caselle (Matthau) to investigate his lost identity, he begins to twig that everything he knows about himself is not true (the job, the company he works), too many lacunae and contradictions. He meets again with the said woman Sheila (Baker), who seems to shadow him and admits that they are romantically linked, and has no qualms about rekindling their passion even David is stuck in a tabula rasa, murders and chases ensue the next day, and eventually the nexus emerges when David apprehends that the amnesia didn’t occur two years earlier, but two days before, to be more specific, right during the arbitrary blackout when a peace activist magnate Charles Calvin (Abel) fell to his death from his office window.
Thus, the result can be boiled down to be a self-inflicted, radical self-denial in the aftermath of witnessing a horrific incident/a shocking revelation, thus David conjures up a false identity and temporarily gums up his memory, it is a stopgap displacement, not a panacea, in time all those occluded will strike back soon (still the condition’s plausibility does need some medical professionals to put in their oars, not that uppity Dr. Broden of course), and a face-off with the Major (Erickson) is the only way to settle the scores once and for all.
As gripping as the Russian roulette gamble is, the movie’s closure doesn’t live up to the same craftsmanship which precedes it, the victory of good people is inevitable by design, but is executed too slapdash to obtain that feeling of fulfillment, and in fact, the action pieces are another major fault line, noticeably fake during a fistfight between David and Willard (Kennedy, an inexorable heavy), there is a jarring disjunction in the process, also a trick to mingle with a school crocodile to evade coercion looks lamely facile in action.
Gregory Peck devotes himself emphatically to uphold exigency and agency in train, and remarkably generates enough credibility out of a cock-and-bull text with marquee élan. Diane Baker, takes pains to make a virtue of affection out of plot’s requirement to play the love interest who of course, knows all David’s backstory but gracefully crams up when being confronted with her pulchritude à la Audrey Hepburn. Walter Matthau, still pays his dues in an under-utilized peripheral role, nevertheless struts his stuff with considerable ease and harmless banters, and it is also him who pinpoints the rub during his not so ample stint: it is David himself who doesn’t want to remember the past, as simple as that.
Lastly, the nuclear radiation neutralization discovery is a far-fetched idea but conceivably relative to the Cold War fomented paranoia aka. a “mirage” in macrocosm, and what the movie hits gold is when it manifests the insidious, cheek-by-jowl cohabitation of a non-profit organization and the society’s immoral capitalistic drive, that is an aphorism sounds grating to today’s ears.