The Paul Newman Collection: The MacKintosh Man Review

Joseph Rearden (Paul Newman) is hired by Secret Service man MacKintosh (Harry Andrews) to infiltrate a criminal gang. To do so, he gets himself sent to Wormwood Scrubs and escapes in the company of Communist spy Slade (Ian Bannen)…

Great director he may have been, but throughout a forty-six year directing career John Huston could quite happily be a gun for hire. The MacKintosh Man, derived from a Desmond Bagley novel with a script by Walter Hill, is just such a film. It’s a well made thriller which moves fast enough so you can overlook failings of logic. Huston pulls off a couple of good setpieces – the prison riot/escape and that 70s staple, a car chase – but there’s little sign of any personal involvement.

As a Paul Newman star vehicle, it’s less satisfying. Newman is simply out of place amongst a solid cast of English character actors, not least when he has to put on an Australian accent. If you can overlook that, he makes a capable action hero, but as with the director, so the star: this is clearly a work for hire for him. Dominique Sanda (playing Harry Andrews’s daughter, French accent and all) fares worse. She looks stunning, but is clearly hamstrung by having to act outside her native language. One slightly unusual angle is that there’s not much of a hint of any romance between the two: they share a chaste kiss, but that’s it. James Mason is good value as an MP given to patriotic speeches but who has a hidden side to him.

The story hops from London to Ireland and ends up in Malta. You know you’re in London: the opening shot shows us the Thames and the Houses of Parliament, and in the very next exterior shot two red double-decker buses go past. Similarly, we know we’re in Ireland by the large number of bearded types in a pub, though the plot point of a public payphone being the only telephone in the village may well be accurate for the time. Malta is a fresher (or less stereotyped?) location, though much of the action here takes place on a boat. Also of its time is some content that wouldn’t appear in a film nowadays for being un-PC: Newman’s character has a slightly amoral edge to him and he gets to hit a woman who admittedly hit him first, and in one scene he kills an attack dog. In a bizarre moment that seems to have strayed in from another movie, he asks Gerda (Jenny Runacre) for a “poke” and she turns him down by saying “I have stopped being a woman”. Overt allusions to Dickens are something you don’t have in thrillers nowadays. The ending could have been better prepared for, something which Huston admitted in retrospect.

The MacKintosh Man (and it is spelled that way, in the opening credits) is a capable thriller that comes in at a brisk hour-and-a-half plus. It won’t change your life, and is hardly Newman’s finest hour, but it does entertain if you don’t think about plot holes too much.

The MacKintosh Man is released as part of the Paul Newman Collection box set and is not available separately. It is encoded for Regions 1, 2, 3 and 4. The PG rating dates from the original release: it would be a PG-13 on grounds of violence by today's standards (it's a BBFC 15 certificate), so parents of young children be advised.

As with most of the other films in this set, the original aspect ratio is 1.85:1 but the matte is opened a little to 1.78:1. The film comes from a time when downbeat, rather grungy realism was the fashion. While sharp, the DVD transfer is a little dully coloured. There is some grain, particularly in process shots where you would expect to see it.

The soundtrack is the original mono, either in the original English or in a French dub. As before, there’s not a lot to say here: the sound mix is an example of Hollywood professionalism, with dialogue, sound effects and Maurice Jarre’s French-flavoured score well balanced.

There’s no commentary on this disc, but instead we are given a featurette: John Huston: The Man, The Myth, The Moviemaker. This is a rather fulsome piece made at the time to promote this very film. It comprises footage of Huston shooting the film with excerpts from the finished article, with a narration that stops just short of kissing Huston’s feet. This featurette is in 4:3 and runs 9:55. Finally there is the theatrical trailer, a rather violent, spoiler-ridden effort in anamorphic 1.78:1 running 2:32. The title appears in an odd gun logo that appears nowhere in the film itself.

Neither the best film in this box set nor the worst, The MacKintosh Man probably won’t be one of the films you buy the Collection for, but it won’t waste your time when you sit down to watch it.

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