Imagine a spy thriller without any spying, without any thrills, without even any mystery, and whatever you come up with… it’s still probably more engaging than The MacKintosh Man. In the post-VHS era, MacKintosh is fairly difficult to find. TCM doesn’t run it, Warner hasn’t done a DVD yet. I only came across it on the HD movie channel (which shows it in a pan and scanned 1.77:1 versus the 2.35:1 original aspect ratio). Given it’s a Paul Newman movie, directed by John Huston, I can’t understand why it’s so hard to see. It isn’t because MacKintosh is a bad film–there are plenty of readily available, bad John Huston movies out on DVD and some Paul Newman ones too (though not many from MacKintosh’s era). So, it’s lack of visibility is a mystery and it’s the only interesting mystery related to The MacKintosh Man.
The film lacks characters. It has a couple great character actors–James Mason and Harry Andrews–and does nothing with either of them. The female lead, Dominique Sanda, has no chemistry with Newman and she’s a low talker too, so some scenes are unintelligible. Most of the first half–until Newman gets to drop his faux Australian accent–is told in summary. Lots of fades. There’s one point, just into the second act, once I’d realized how the film was playing out, when Newman makes a friend. Oh, it’s great. The friend is there for two scenes, then he disappears. It’s the best stuff in the film.
Besides being boring–and MacKintosh is boring not just because of the storytelling or Walter Hill’s script, but because Huston dilly-dallies. He doesn’t have to dilly-dally either. There’s a great car chase. His shot composition is good too, though it does remind a little of The Third Man in parts.
I’ve seen Newman’s other spy movie–Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain–and I don’t remember much about it, except it wasn’t good. I was just discovering Newman at that time and I was excited to see him in a Hitchcock picture, then… well… then I watched Torn Curtain. It’s possible he just doesn’t work in the spy role. Newman’s performances tend to require the viewer to examine him–I’m thinking of the great H-films, Hud, The Hustler, and Hombre. Spy movies, good and bad, do not work in that manner. Still, even with Newman’s miscasting and Huston’s lolly-gagging, it didn’t have to be so bad….
Oh, and Maurice Jarre’s score. Near as I can tell, he composed two short pieces of music for it, then used the second one over and over and over again.
Directed by John Huston; screenplay by Walter Hill, based on a novel by Desmond Bagley; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Russell Lloyd; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by John Foreman; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Paul Newman (Joseph Rearden), Dominique Sanda (Mrs. Smith), James Mason (Sir George Wheeler), Harry Andrews (Mackintosh), Ian Bannen (Slade), Michael Hordern (Brown), Nigel Patrick (Soames-Trevelyan) and Peter Vaughan (Brunskill).