Mirage; Fata Morgana, a Step Above the Thriller Horizon: Starring Gregory Peck

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Mirage Menagerie of thoughts:

Mirage, 1965, a Universal release is often likened to a Hitchcock film. For better or worse, with regards to audience expectations, Mirage, clearly works and has much of the Hitchcockian atmosphere to it; especially, with reference to Spellbound and North by Northwest. Not quite a Spellbound, for the mental tableau sequences are not dreams but actual memories and since the chase scenes are localized to New York and short-lived, they never reach the level of excitement of those seen in North by Northwest.

All in all, Mirage is a tight thriller, resembling Charade, in twists and turns, much more than either of the aforementioned films. Universal bought the rights to Howard Fast’s novel (published in January of 1952), Fallen Angel; Peter Stone, who had been successful with the above referenced Charade (starring Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn, with Walter Matthau in support) in 1963, which was also compared to Hitchcock’s style, adapted Fallen Angel the for the screen as, Mirage.[1] The story is of a man, David Stillwell (Gregory Peck), a cost accountant at a firm (Garrison) in New York, facing persecution, strange sayings, unknown people and a nagging feeling that something is wrong.

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What I find most intriguing about Mirage is the hyper-realistic scene (my favorite of the film) of the landscape fronting Garrison Laboratories (the story has it set in California); this evocative style presented by cinematographer Joseph MacDonald and editor Ted J. Kent, offers an unusual, crisp, too real look at a man’s memory. Much of Mirage uses that brittle imagery, which is all too clear, putting in mind that one little scratch or crack will alert us to the fact that we are seeing a reflection, a mirrored image (fitting perfectly the context of a mirage) of reality; this leaves the viewer just a little off kilter, which I suppose was the intent of director Edward Dmytryk and crew. Each of the flashback scenes, recalling to Peck’s David Stillwell, a memory of his last two years of work at Garrison in New York, carry the same, more than real, visual palette; black and white photography seems the best agent to achieve the wanted effect.

Mirage hyper reality

 

In many respects, Mirage, was not a normal Hollywood film, its evasive editing, Quincy Jones’ jazz inspired score, Dmytryk’s noir impressions separate, Mirage, from the run of the mill mystery or thriller produced by the major studios.

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Mirage solidified:

Although released in May of 1965, the Mirage story begins in November of 1963 when Universal announced that Rock Hudson would star in the mystery with Elke Sommer added to cast as the love interest for Hudson .[2] Within two months the rumor mills were turning again, this time Leslie Caron was mentioned as Universal’s pick to play off Rock Hudson.[3] The premise of the film at that point in early 1964 was that of a suspense melodrama set in New York, with a “scientist engaged on a secret government project.”[4] It was not until early September of ’64 that Gregory Peck was attached to the project, when Hudson said he needed a breather, after shooting three consecutive films; Diane Baker was cast opposite Peck within a month.[5]

Mirage filming began in late October with two weeks of location shooting in New York, this prior to the interiors being filmed at Universal Studios; producer Harry Keller was managing, That Funny Feeling, starring Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin, at the same time as Mirage. The Dee picture began their location shots two weeks before Mirage. Production manager Wally Worsley and art director Frank Arrigo joined director Edward Dmytryk in New York for these first days in Mirage.[6]

The large cast of Mirage, included those well established in Hollywood (Leif Erickson and Walter Abel) and newcomers who began on television (George Kennedy, Jack Weston, Walter Matthau, Robert H. Harris and Hari Rhodes) and those that shared time with both mediums (Anne Seymour, Kevin McCarthy and Diane Baker); this list of actors now appear as cherry-picked, but at that time the casting might be best described as cobbled together, fitting schedules and availabilities; this applying even to its star Gregory Peck, who filled in for an exhausted Rock Hudson. Nathalie ‘Tippi’ Hedren was the first choice of Edward Dmytryk for the role of Shela, the romantic interest of Peck’s Stillwell. Ms. Hedren was not able to take the offer because she had just signed an exclusive two-picture deal (The Birds and Marnie) with Alfred Hitchcock.[7] So, Baker was a replacement for Hedren and in turn, Hedren had been a replacement for Grace Kelly; Hitchcock had planned his releases, The Birds and Marnie, with Kelly in mind as the cool blonde.[8] Hedren did not have another film role until Charlie Chaplin’s, A Countess from Hong Kong, which was filmed in early 1966.

Mirage in New York:

It was during the Central Park Zoo shot, that Gregory Peck was approached by a middle-age gentleman who said to Peck, “You look 10 years younger in person than you do on the screen.” Peck grinned the way that only he could, crinkling the right side of his face and replied to the man, “I AM 10 years younger than I am on the screen.”[9] On the same day, groups of first-graders visited the Central Park Zoo, at least one of the kids taking notice that they were filming; with the stage set, seals were lured (proffered fish) into camera range and director Edward Dmytryk gave the order to roll the camera with Peck and co-star Diane Baker in frame. AP movie and TV writer Bob Thomas, who was there to interview Peck, commented that Peck’s performance in Central Park was “letter-perfect, as might have been expected of a pro who has been nothing but a star in his two decades in films.[10]

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Diane Baker did not have to brave the two week stay scheduled for Mirage in the Big Apple alone, her sister Cheryl accompanied her, courtesy of producer Harry Keller and director Edward Dmytryk; Cheryl and Diane were near seven years apart, Cheryl just twenty at the time. This Mirage stopover in New York City had to be more comfortable than Diane’s second Gotham experience which was sandwiched between her first stay and Mirage; trip one was the culmination of the Rheingold Beauty Contest (1956). That traveling competition took her and five other contestants on a tour of New England and winding up in New York City, then she was welcomed with open arms. After the beauty contest (she came in second) and returning home to California, she took her own advice, against her parents’ wishes, taking the money she had saved ($800.00) from the Rheingold contest and moved east to the city she thought would welcome her once again. This was Ms. Baker’s opportunity to be self-determining, free of interference from mother and father, to truly be independent and in her own words, “I certainly did!” But with what she could earn from modeling and acting in the Big City, she became under-nourished and sick. Quite a difference seven years and three trips to New York made, with a beauteous reception to begin, failure in the middle and a triumphant return at the next, which was no mirage for the twenty-six year old actress.[11]

Mirage opening, not illusionary at all:

Mirage saw a true nationwide opening day on Wednesday, May 26, 1965, some current sources list New York as the city of its premier, but Mirage was seen across the country on the same day. Previews were scheduled for no later than early April and Trade showings were seen prior to the 26th of May opening, and the reviews from those viewings were more than positive and some raved about the film; Universal executives were so excited about the first review, that they called Gregory Peck in London, stopped production of, Arabesque, to read him every line of the report.[12] One thing that we know for sure is that, the rave review that was read to Peck on long-distance was not A. H. Weiler’s account of the film, for it was nearly dismissive of the movie and published after the phone call. Weiler accused Stone of not being aware that amnesia had become a popular film subject in recent years, with 36 Hours, and, The Manchurian Candidate.[13] Of course, Weiler seems to have forgotten that Stone was adapting a novel, with its central theme being an amnesiac. Gregory Peck was so happy about how Mirage turned out, that he gave writer Peter Stone an end-of-picture gift: a Rolls Royce.[14]

Mirage no trick of the imagination at the box-office:

Mirage played well, nary under playing in any city, but out performing averages in almost every town; that is not to say that Mirage was a favorite at the turnstiles. The Sound of Music and, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, were winning the box-office derby each week in May and June of Mirage’s opening month. Mirage provided little to the coffers of Universal, especially when compared to so many other pictures which outperformed the thriller in ticket sales in 1965.

Mirage fabric:

Ms. Baker had to endure the filming of Mirage, in gowns designed by Jean Louis, with jewelry by Cartier and a personal body guard to protect the “rocks” sparkling upon her wrists, digits and neck; poor Mr. Peck while not in rags, was resigned to business wear for the duration.[15]

Mirage reading:

Besides going to the source and reading the novel itself, Wheeler Winston Dixon wrote an interesting piece on the film in 2012, which may be read at Film Noir of the Week. Dixon explores the background of director Edward Dmytryk and his early noir films, along with his thoughts on the merits of Mirage.

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By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut) October 3, 1964

[2] Pasadena Independent (Pasadena, California) November 19, 1963

[3] Pasadena Independent (Pasadena, California) January 20, 1964

[4] Van Nuys News (Van Nuys, California) February 2, 1964

[5] Pasadena Independent (Pasadena, California) September 9, 1964

Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) October 13, 1964

[6] Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut) October 3, 1964

[7] Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) July 9, 1964

[8] Traverse City Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Michigan) July 23, 1964

[9] Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri) November 1, 1964

[10] Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri) November 1, 1964

[11]  Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) December 12, 1959

Anderson Daily Bulletin (Anderson, Indiana) October 29, 1964

Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) January 10, 1965

[12]  Daily Independent (Kannapolis, North Carolina) May 2, 1965

New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) May 24, 1965

[13] New York Times (New York, New York) May 27, 1965

[14] Daily Independent (Kannapolis, North Carolina) May 2, 1965

[15] Anderson Daily Bulletin (Anderson, Indiana) October 29, 1964

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