The 1965 psycho-suspense drama Mirage, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Gregory Peck, Diane Baker, and Walter Matthau, has yet to be made available on DVD, and even VHS copies of it are hard to come by. A glimpse of it can be found on YouTube:
An even rarer commodity to come by is the novel upon which the film was based. IMDb credits Howard Fast, but it turns out that he wrote the story under the pen name Walter Ericson, and the original title was Fallen Angel. I managed to find a copy at a local warehouse, Second Story Books in Rockville, Maryland.
For those interested in collectibility, the book itself was in great condition, hardcover with a plastic covered dust jacket. No tears or marks. It is a first edition, signed by the author, so that is what put its price up more than I wanted to pay ($127 including tax), but I wanted the book. I wanted to read it.
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I really can't tell you why I "had" to read the book. You want what you want. In fact, it had been so long since I had read a complete book, uninterrupted, that this in itself was a startling mission to find myself on yesterday. When I got home, I'd realized I'd done all my Saturday morning errands without benefit of breakfast or coffee, so I set myself up at Starbucks and dug in with my new prize. Two hours later I was a third of the way through the book, but I got tired of sitting in the coffee shop, so went home and finished the story.
I am not a fast reader, so to tell you I raced through this book at a rate of 30 pages an hour (or two minutes a page, and yes, I read each word in my head. None of this 'scanning down the middle of the page' crap for me), should tell you the story was gripping.
Though created roughly 15 years apart during the rise of the Cold War era, Fallen Angel the book and Mirage the film were definitely one and the same. By the time the film was made, the Cold War's influence on the American psyche had altered somewhat, from the post-World War II existential angst induced by more recent memories of its atrocities to an almost sophisticated hubris about how to prevent those atrocities.
A few alterations seem minor, but I like noting them. The principal character (played by Gregory Peck) was David Stillman in book and David Stillwell in the movie; the private eye (Walter Matthau) was Mike Caselle in the book and Ted Caselle in the film. And the sinister character Vincent in the book became The Major on film. (There was also more cussing in the book, a distracting insertion of "toughness" that I was glad did not convey to the film version.)
The most interesting invention added to the film adaptation was a peace-promoting organization founded by the heroic character of Charles Calvin (unseen in the book but shown in fleeting but memorable flashbacks in the film; he's the fellow who is found having fallen from the skyscraper in the opening scenes). The story involved research on atomic weaponry; in the book, written in 1951, the goal was to make cheaper atomic bombs, but by the 1960s, when the film was made, the goal had transformed to finding more-peaceful use of atomic technologies (which, in the hands of evil, would still be perverted toward further destruction).
The goals of the peace-promoting foundation were noble but corrupted by a military influence (hence, The Major) and by corporate influences. The foundation run by the fictional Charles Calvin (film version) attempted to achieve its goals by violating some rules, such as mixing for-profit and nonprofit activities. Calvin saw his work as existing above these arbitrary rules, and his hubris helped lead to his downfall.
I bring all this up because the military had a great deal to do with the rise of futures studies in the mid-1960s and advanced such techniques as scenario writing. More so than the book, the film well articulates the fears of the era surrounding the birth of the World Future Society. Read about it in founding President Edward Cornish's memoirs, "The Search for Foresight: A Brief History of the World Future Society," a series of articles appearing in The Futurist magazine in 2007.
More than half a century has passed since Howard Fast expressed his fears of man's isolation and animal aggression, and of technological progress used to promote power and destruction. Are we any closer to solving these problems, taming our obsessions?
My own adventure in an obsessive little search seems to indicate that we can still be taken over easily by an idea. We want what we want. We should try to want good things.