Technically, The MacKintosh Man is a Cold War thriller, but politics are so severely subjugated in Walter Hill’s adaptation of Desmond Bagley’s novel The Freedom Trap that the film is part heist, prison breakout, and espionage thriller.
Maybe the novel was always a matter of character and action, or perhaps director John Huston felt the overt politics in The Kremlin Letter (1970) were so alienating to audiences that he chose to stick with Hill’s recognizable no-nonsense screenwriting style, keeping his tight scene structure and action set-pieces, but penning some of the choice dialogue himself, ensuring the film has some of the black humour and irony typical of Huston’s own work.
Filmed in gorgeous England and Malta, MacKintosh is a slick and tightly directed thriller about a jewel thief named Reardon (Paul Newman) whose incarceration is a ploy to deal with a convicted Communist double-agent named Slade (Ian Bannen) after the pair breakout from prison. As Reardon is arrested, locked up in prison, breaks out, held captive by his liberators, escapes their isolated country estate, and later hooks up with a pretty associate named Mrs. Smith (Dominique Sanda, sporting one severe French accent) to prevent Slade’s escape through Malta, Huston makes use of authentic locations, and directs some pretty superb action sequences.
A manhunt through the bleak Irish fields is tensely choreographed, and a subsequent car chase through narrow country roads seems to have been filmed with the vehicles barreling down at top speed, making simple POV shots incredibly exciting. The car chase may have been mandated due to the success of Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971), but it’s purposeful in getting rid of unwanted characters, and allows Reardon to engage in some payback after being knocked around pretty heavily by the prison break’s architect, Brown (slimy Michael Horden) and his assistant Gerda (Jenny Runacre), who grins whether she’s serving Reardon tea, or kicking the crap out of his pretty face with her scissor legs.
Huston’s cast is loaded with superb talent, including James Mason as a smooth-talking senator, and fierce-chinned Harry Andrews as Reardon’s chief handler. Niall MacGinnis (Curse of the Demon) also appears in a tiny role as Reardon’s prison warden, and Shane Briant (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter) pops up at the end as a henchman.
The only flaw in the production is Maurice Jarre’s terribly monotonous score, which replays the same theme on a hurdy-gurdy as if to evoke the vintage ambiance of Anton Karras’ Third Man (1949) music. There’s little variation in the first two acts, but the music does propel the film’s montages, and Jarre later reworked the theme for his eighties espionage classic, No Way Out (1987). (It’s in the end credits. Just listen carefully.)
Warner Home Video’s DVD includes a good transfer of the film (sadly, minus the original & beautiful Warner Communications logo), and adds a trailer and vintage promotional featurette showing Huston in action on location. The featurette is fairly standard - all behind-the-scenes footage and no interviews or sound-bites - but the trailer is amusing for the bizarre title logo: a chrome Luger pistol with a silhouette of Newman's profile under the barrel, designed by the studio's publicity arm to set up a potential super-spy franchise.
Screenwriter Walter Hill had already shown his knack for writing snappy scenes and action sequences in his debut script, the buddy / action / crime film Hickey & Boggs (1972), and after writing The Drowning Pool (1975), the sequel to Harper (1966) for Paul Newman, Hill moved into writing / directing the same year with the Charles Bronson drama Hard Times. Interestingly, Huston later co-starred with Bronson in Tom Gries’ action drama Breakout (1975), about a wife who hires a helicopter pilot to help free her husband from a Mexican prison.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan