Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Directors, Film Reviews, John Huston

Review: The Mackintosh Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

John Huston’s newest, a spy thriller of sorts, had a short first run downtown and has slipped almost unnoticed to the neighborhood circuit. It’s just as well. Reviewers have criticized The Mackintosh Man‘s convoluted plot, but the principal weakness is a slowness of pace which allows even the moderately intelligent viewer to stay well ahead of each complication and resolution. Every twist and surprise is so over-prepared that any possibility for suspense or shock is eliminated. A motor chase through Irish mountain roads, which could have been gripping or at least flashy, is dragged out to the point of boredom. An equally promising finale, expressing Huston’s customary ironic view of the respective moralities of good guys and bad guys, is executed with a total lack of inspiration, becoming pedestrian and predictable. An impressive cast, ranging from good to excellent, is totally wasted.

Paul Newman plays a British agent posing as an Australian, and he does both accents so poorly that halfway through the film someone, apparently out of mercy, decides he should pose as a Canadian instead. Dominique Sanda walks through her part as the “secretary” of counter-intelligence director Mackintosh (Harry Andrews). She has no hint of the conviction and arresting presence which made her performance in The Conformist unforgettable: she is so far from it, in fact, that her mere appearance on the screen creates instant ennui. Andrews, Ian Bannen and Michael Hordern all seem embarrassed and bewildered to find themselves caught up in this endeavor. Of the principals, only Nigel Patrick shows any life at all, and his brief appearance as an inmate of the prison where Newman makes initial contact with a man he is supposed to kill is a sparkling purple patch in the film. The script supplies no enthusiasm whatsoever, offering only borrowed ideas, clichés, plodding expository dialogue, well-telegraphed turns of the worm, and a smattering of irrelevant romance. The photography is equally bland and often cheats the viewer by calling his attention to a red herring or deliberately excluding from the frame the principal object of interest, to no apparent purpose. Only Maurice Jarre’s soundtrack score, reminiscent though it is of the music to a number of other films, exhibits some vigor and dynamism. But the music alone can’t keep up the pace. Oddly enough, the film builds a fascinating web of intrigue during its first forty-five minutes or so; but when it goes bad, it goes all the way. And it does so at such a distinct point that one could almost suspect an abrupt change of both script and writer. After all, the blame has to be placed somewhere, and one hesitates to put it on Huston. The Kremlin Letter has demonstrated how capable he is of handling the shock and suspense needed in an intrigue thriller. Hackwork like The Mackintosh Man is at the other end of the scale. The one real surprise of the entire film is that Huston put his name on it.

Direction: John Huston. Screenplay: Walter Hill, after the novel The Freedom Trap by Desmond Bagley. Cinematography: Oswald Morris. Production design: Terence Marsh. Editing: Russell Lloyd. Music: Maurice Jarre. Production: John Foreman.
The Players: Paul Newman, Dominique Sanda, James Mason, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Nigel Patrick, Michael Hordern, Jenny Runacre.

Copyright © 1973 Robert C. Cumbow