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I discovered this little known espionage film one insomniac night many moons ago while channel surfing. Directed by John Huston and adapted from Desmond Bagley’s The Freedom Trap the film stars Paul Newman, James Mason, Dominique Sanda, and Ian Bannen. The MacKintosh Man did not perform well at the box office at the time of its release and received mixed reviews. I however found it quite entertaining.
The movie opens with rightwing MP from the House of Commons George Wheeler (James Mason) quoting Samuel Johnson before Parliament. “ ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ If this is true, you see before you a villain. Unmasked and unashamed.” Mason is great as the reactionary and somewhat foppish MP as he rails against weak-kneed bureaucrats who he sees as endangering national security. In attendance during his speech is an older gentleman who we later learn is MacKintosh (Harry Andrews).
MacKintosh and his deputy, Mrs. Smith, played by the sophisticated and glacial French beauty Dominique Sanda contact Joseph Rearden (Paul Newman) to pull off a jewelry heist. The same day that Rearden pulls off the heist he is arrested later that evening after someone phones in a tip to the police. After being positively identified as the thief and following a trial, the judge sentences the Australian diamond thief to 20 years in a high security prison in the north of England. Fortunately, we don’t have to suffer Newman’s phony Aussie accent for more than 20 minutes.
We do learn early on that Rearden is not really Australian, or a thief and Rearden’s not even his real name. He’s been sent to prison for another purpose entirely. For you see this very same high security prison also houses an infamous guest; Slade (Ian Bannen) a British spy who was exposed as a KGB mole and jailed for treason. Slade’s character appears to have been inspired by real life double agent George Blake.
Some time later Rearden is approached by a couple of fellow inmates on behalf of the Scarperers. The Scarperers are a secret criminal organization that for the right amount of money can spring anyone from jail. Imagining that Rearden is flush with cash from his diamond heists they assume he’s a good candidate to pay. He does pay the agreed upon down payment and the rest upon release.
The day of the break he’s told there will be another prisoner escaping with him but to try and not get in his way as the Scarperers consider him more important. The other prisoner is the traitor Slade.
After the incredible jailbreak consisting of a diversion, smoke bombs and a crane, Rearden and Slade are whisked away and sedated only to wake up in a countryside mansion where they are informed that they will have to wait another week until it is safe enough to transport them to their new lives at new locations and with new identities.
By now we know that Mackintosh is a master spy who sent his agent Rearden to infiltrate the Scarperers but also to unmask who in the British government helped Slade escape. MacKintosh now makes his move to flush out the politico he’s long suspected of being a secret communist and traitor. He confides to this MP that Rearden is really a spy and that the whole diamond thief bit was an elaborate ruse to infiltrate the organization that was going to spring Slade from jail. Well it works as the frightened politician rashly shows his hand by trying to have MacKintosh killed and exposes Rearden’s identity to the Scarperers.
Slade is immediately removed from the mansion and the now compromised Rearden has to fight for his life making a daring escape from his captors and fleeing the mansion. I must add that there’s some great imagery in this scene, which also includes Newman running across desolate Irish moors with his pursuers including a Rottweiler on his heels. Animal lovers beware, there’s a river crossing scene where it’s either Rearden or the dog.
Rearden contacts Mrs. Smith who informs him that MacKintosh is in a coma. Big problem for Rearden as MacKintosh is the only person who can confirm to authorities that Rearden is really not a diamond thief or a fugitive from justice but rather a deep cover government operative. Rearden informs Mrs. Smith that Slade is being smuggled out of Ireland and having seen an English politician’s yacht off the coast of this small Irish village Rearden knows who the traitor is and how Slade will be smuggled out of the country. Mrs. Smith and Rearden make their way to Malta where the private yacht is headed with both Slade and the sinister politician aboard.
For those who’ve grown up with the Jason Bourne and James Bond high action flicks as standard spy movie fare, the Mackintosh Man may seem a bit slow paced. This is a Cold War old school spy film reminiscent of John LeCarre or Graham Greene, but boring it is not. Along with an unexpected climax ending, the MacKintosh Man is a highly entertaining film.
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