The Mackintosh Man (1973)
“Only Mackintosh can save them now – And Mackintosh is dead!”
Director: John Huston
Cast: Paul Newman, Dominique Sanda, James Mason
Synopsis: A member of British Intelligence assumes a fictitious criminal identity and allows himself to be caught, imprisoned, and freed in order to infiltrate a spy organization and expose a traitor.
Who, I wonder, thought it would be a good idea to have American actor Paul Newman playing a British agent called upon to pose as an Australian jewel thief for John Huston’s fitfully interesting, but mostly lacklustre, thriller The Mackintosh Man? He’s Rearden, an agent tasked by a Government official named Mackintosh (Harry Andrews — The Agony and the Ecstasy, Sands of the Kalahari) with infiltrating a gang organising the escapes of high profile prisoners. What Mackintosh doesn’t reveal to Rearden is that he suspects respected politician and old friend, Sir George Wheeler (James Mason — North by Northwest, A Touch of Larceny) of being the mastermind behind the organisation.
In order to make contact with this shadowy organisation, Rearden poses as the aforementioned Australian thief, and gets himself imprisoned for a jewel theft without revealing the whereabouts of the loot, thus hopefully piquing the interest of Escapes-R-Us. Sure enough, Rearden is eventually contacted after a year or so inside, and is successfully sprung with Slade (Ian Bannen), a Philby-like Communist spy. However, soon after being secreted in a remote hideaway, Rearden’s true identity is made known to the organisation…
The Mackintosh Man is one of those spy thrillers that deliberately distances itself from the girls-and-gadgets thrills of the likes of James Bond, not only eschewing the glamour of the 007 franchise but shrouding its visuals in a muddy palette in many of its scenes in order to emphasise just how un-glamorous it all is. It’s written by Walter Hill, a capable screenwriter who struggles to wring much excitement or intrigue from Desmond Bagley’s story, even though he tries to keep us guessing about what exactly is going on. The plot’s major problem is that Mackintosh blunders badly by revealing the plot to his chief suspect in order to flush him out, By confirming that he is the only one in possession of all the facts regarding the identity of his undercover agent, it was inevitable that if his suspicions were right his suspect was sure to try and eliminate him.
Paul Newman’s performance is overshadowed by that dodgy Australian accent, but even when he drops it he doesn’t really appear to be properly committed to the role. He’s offered little help from leading lady Dominique Sanda (The Conformist), a dour, unsmiling actress with an immobile upper lip. Thankfully, the supporting cast at least shows a greater degree of enthusiasm than the stars, with James Mason giving a typically urbane performance. Andrews and Bannen also perform well, as does Jenny Runacre as the escapees’ housekeeper who is just as happy kicking her guests between the legs as she is making cups of tea. Look out for John Bindon further down the cast list as a prison friend of Rearden’s; he’s the real-life London hard man who achieved brief fame as Princess Margaret’s piece of rough.
Despite its many failings, The Mackintosh Man still manages to entertain. It boasts an unusual foot chase over a bleak Irish landscape as well as a well-staged car chase, and almost provides its audiences with one of the cinema’s most unusual endings before losing its nerve and opting for a sadly predictable final act.
(Reviewed 21st October 2014)