A Movie A Week: THE MACKINTOSH MAN (1973) Only Mackintosh can save them now… and Mackintosh is dead!
Published at: June 30, 2009, 5:08 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Week.
[For those who new to the column, A Movie A Week is just that, a dedicated way for me explore vintage cinema every week. I’ll review a movie every Monday and each one will be connected to the one before it via a common thread, either an actor, director, writer, producer or some other crew member. Each film, pulled from my DVD shelf or recorded on the home DVR (I heart TCM) will be one I haven’t seen.]
Welcome one and all to today’s installment of A Movie A Week. We follow writer Walter Hill over from last week’s Sam Peckinpah crime flick THE GETAWAY. I’m a little late with this due to a few factors, the main ones being the 4 hours I spent with the /film guys, taking part in their podcast and my time-sucking addiction to a site called flickchart.com
But forget all that noise. I’m here to talk about Paul Newman’s conspiracy thriller THE MACKINTOSH MAN, written by Walter Hill, directed by John Huston and starring Newman, James Mason, Harry Andrews and Ian Bannen.
This is the type of flick that is exclusively 1970s. We do not get movies like this anymore and I can’t really hope for that to change. We get flicks that have a distinct ‘70s feel, like MUNICH or maybe MICHAEL CLAYTON, every once in a while, but seeing a movie like THE MACKINTOSH MAN really hammers home how different films have become.
There’s surface level things… the leading men of the era were Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Roy Scheider, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen and Gene Hackman to name a few. It’s hard to picture those guys compared to our leading men of today. There’s also the scores, film stock, lighting and other obvious things that can’t really be recreated and feel authentic.
But the real thing that defined the ‘70s was the writing. The studios were generating films that weren’t just lowest common denominator stuff. The studio output was risky, challenging and complex. The films asked a lot from the audience as a general rule, not the exception as it is today.
This film is a perfect example. When we first meet Newman’s Rearden we have no idea what he does, only that he’s “really good” at it. He’s hired by a man named Mackintosh (Harry Andrews) who tells us about the use of the British postal system to mail hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds. They’re small and unnoticeable.
So it’s a heist movie, I was thinking to myself.
Then the heist happens right away, nothing more subtle than Newman punching the mailman in the face when he finds the right day and route then running off.
Well, it can’t be a heist movie, I thought. The heist is over. So, it must be a double-cross movie. Sure enough, there’s a knock on the ol’ door and Rearden is hauled in to the police station, put on trial and ends up in prison.
Okay, revenge it is! Newman makes some friends in the slammer and about 15 months in he’s approached by a man who represents an agency that will break Newman out for half of his cut of the heist. These are very powerful and mysterious people, but Newman agrees. He’s serving out a 20 year sentence after all.
He’s busted out in a really great prison break scene (even though it doesn’t make much sense how a crane ends up outside the prison walls without anyone noticing) alongside a freedom fighter of sorts, Ian Bannen’s character Slade.
After they get to safety, Newman is injected with a sleep agent and wakes up in some unknown castle with Slade. It’s all supposed to be part of the package, keep the clients hidden until the heat dies down and they can be relocated. Supposedly.
Slade’s a high profile criminal, even out publicizing Rearden when their escape gets in the papers. He has a very public enemy in parliament, especially James Mason’s Sir George Wheeler, an eloquent man of high popularity. A patriot.
While Slade and Rearden get to know each other a bit the wheels are turning outside and we come to find out Rearden’s protectors may really be his captors.
So, not a revenge movie, then. What is this? An OLDBOY-ish tale of kidnapping?
See, that’s what I love about this movie. It’s not the flashiest movie, it’s not the best shot or scripted movie of the era, but it’s certainly it’s own film, a fluid picture that you can never really pin down.
Even when the plot is illuminated you’re still not sure what’s real and what’s a front. The flick is filled with double agents and triple agents and double double agents, good guys who are bad people and bad guys who are good people. All that grey area is punctuated by fantastic, smart action sequences.
My favorite of such sequences is Newman’s escape from the castle. He never becomes James Bond, taking on a dozen men at once and walking away clean. Nope, his escape is entirely believable, something you or I could do if we had Rearden’s smarts and gumption.
And it is in this sequence that he kicks the evil German woman who is his main guard right smack dab in the cunt. A swift boot to the vag for her and I was almost cheering on my couch because of it. She had been kick-happy the scene before and gotten him in the crotch. Turnabout is fair play as they say.
The last 30 minutes of the movie becomes slightly more standard fare as Rearden’s character reaches out to those that hired him for the diamond robbery. It becomes clear that Harry Andrews and his gorgeous French daughter (played by Dominique Sanda) hired him to take down this group and the diamond heist and his subsequent arrest was all part of the plot to get him inside.
The great James Mason comes in to play here and I won’t give away what happens at the end, but suffice to say he makes a great baddie. The very end of the movie is twisted and daring, something that again you never, ever see in studio films today. Even independent film seem to be losing their balls as the independent system becomes more and more like the studio system.
This film came along in an interesting time in John Huston’s career, coming in just before he did one of his last full out masterpieces, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING. His direction is smart, confident. It’s not flashy, but well-crafted. The man knows how to set up a camera and cut a scene.
Newman is, as always, fantastic here. He puts on a fairly spot-on Australian accent for the character, which has a few hints that his character may very well not be Australian at all. At first you assume Newman just has difficulty mastering the accent, but about halfway through I became convinced that he was never Australian to begin with. The Aussie Rearden is just another character for this man, who really does end up being the best there is at what he does, as Logan would say.
Sadly, I think this type of filmmaking is dead. Sure, we’ll see glimpses of like movies and maybe, movie gods willing, a renaissance of intelligent films out of the studio system in the future, but all the elements that went into this era are gone, just as all the elements that went into the amazing slapstick comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s don’t exist. Culturally we’ve moved on. We’ll have to be happy with the films they were able to put out when all the elements existed and look forward to the next wave that captures the same spirit. We had one in the ‘90s with the independent scene, but I think that’s gone now, too. Hopefully the next wave doesn’t take too long.
Final Thoughts: Of all the films in the Paul Newman boxset, THE MACKINTOSH MAN isn’t the best (that’d be Harper, Somebody Up There Likes Me and The Young Philadelphians) and it isn’t the worst (that’d be Pocket Money and The Left-Handed Gun), but that doesn’t leave mediocre as the only option. It’s a solid, fun well-made movie that is everything it is trying to be and a stark reminder of just how amazing the ‘70s were as an era of filmmaking.
Upcoming A Movie A Week Titles:
Monday, July 6th: THE LONG HOT SUMMER (1958)
Monday, July 13th: JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943)
Monday, July 20th: HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962)
Monday, July 27th: CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948)
Next week we follow Paul Newman over to the Faulkner adaptation THE LONG HOT SUMMER co-starring Angela Lansbury, Lee Remick, Orson Welles and Newman’s own (heh) wife Joanne Woodward. See you folks next week for that one!
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