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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Huston Fixing One On The Fly

The Mackintosh Man (1973) Is Tired Undercover

Romance was the keynote of one-sheets, but the film underplays Paul Newman's one-night go-round with expressionless Dominique Sanda in this John Huston running man drama his biographers dismiss as "poor." The Mackintosh Man came along at a point when even admirers wondered if Newman or Huston had good pictures left in them, years having passed since either did anything a public or critical community much liked. We had a brick bunker "Cinema" stuck with Mackintosh for an endless week during which management and others of us played cards in the concessions storage room without fear of disturbance by patrons, as there weren't any. This was the kind of dud my populace passed on while waiting for Billy Jack to play again. I looked at The Mackintosh Man as result of TCM tendering it in HD, and as with so much meat with spoiled label, it came over better than figured since forty-seven years ago when I took everyone's word that this was a stinker. Books indicate that Mackintosh was made for low money and to fulfill obligation on the part of director and star. Neither thought much of this property going in or out. What a dispiriting way to embark upon a project. Huston dragged himself through a number of ventures like this from the 60's to nearly an end.

In this case, there was a script with problems he tried to fix as cameras turned. Huston was such a fine writer in youth; he probably could have rescued Mackintosh over a weekend at his old Warners desk. The ending was an issue, as always it seems, and Huston was proud of how they salvaged that. The wind-up reminded me of The Third Man, and I can't help thinking that's where Huston and credited scenarist Walter Hill got inspiration. Anyway, it works. The story has Paul Newman going undercover in a British prison to unmask a gang that breaks felons out of same. There's a chase across Irish moors that Huston stages beautifully. He lived nearby, so knew these locales like a back yard. In fact, natural settings are a major plus of The Mackintosh Man, and the yarn trots along at pleasing pace, even as it betrays cut-paste as they went. High-definition and proper ratio allows us finally to reevaluate shows like The Mackintosh Man that are fragile and in need of any visual bolster they can get. Seeing it to this advantage makes for an enjoyable sit, if little more.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I always enjoyed this film despite its reputation even though the star and the director still had some good films to come in the future. Curiously, it was Huston's final film for Warners even if it was no longer the old studio and more the company that stands today. I saw it first on TV around 1985 without commercial breaks.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Caught up with this one a couple of years ago streaming (now defunct Warners Archive? now defunct Filmstruck? I forget.) Thought it was a solid B-. Not great. But not bad. No shame on anyone.

12:32 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff Comes to compelling defense of Huston and Newman:

Dear John:

The Mackintosh Man came along at a point when even admirers wondered if Newman or Huston had good pictures left in them, years having passed since either did anything a public or critical community much liked.

Well, BUTCH CASSIDY was just four years past... and it was one of the two most successful pictures Newman ever made. [Fox had this almost continuously in release after its '69 bow -- it was still turning up at drive-ins in '73 -- and Twentieth would formally re-release the film in '74.] I hold no brief for WUSA or the poorly directed POCKET MONEY or even Huston's LIFE AND TIMES OF ROY BEAN, and I'm not a fan of MACKINTOSH, which played like a torpid by-the-numbers thriller (with no thrills). THE STING would come at Christmas of '73 and reestablish Newman's star quality all over again. The problem came after '73. The actor had a rough go of it in the remainder of the decade. One big (if stupid) hit, THE TOWERING INFERNO followed THE STING, but I'd be hard-pressed not to suggest here that Newman made only one more film of interest during the '70s, Hill's 1977 SLAP SHOT. [The Altman pix have some adherents, but they just don't work.] The actor made a remarkable comeback in 1981 with FORT APACHE -- THE BRONX and ABSENCE OF MALICE and went on to give top performances in films of the '80s and '90s.

I can almost agree with you here about Huston, but your musing omits the director's extraordinary 1972 FAT CITY, one of the filmmaker's greatest films, and likely his best movie in nearly two decades. This was... yes, a comeback that made up for a lot of the director's flops. ROY BEAN and MACKINTOSH were terrific disappointments after FAT. Fortunately Huston rallied, and would subsequently make THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, WISE BLOOD, UNDER THE VOLCANO, PRIZZI'S HONOR, THE DEAD. He still made some more clunkers, but when Huston was engaged and focused, he remained a great film director.


2:25 PM  
Blogger Glenn Erickson said...

Los Angeles patrons loved this at the National Westwood when I was an asst. manager ... the ones that came. True, after the first weekend it died down and it only lasted 3 or so weeks. I always loved it, as it played like hardboiled fiction with not a single exposition dump to keep the nabobs informed what was going on. Yep, Sanda was comatose, but Mason, Bannen and others were great; the action was excellent (kick a truck off a cliff, will ya), and we LOVED the music. We had a lot of dog features at the National (STAND UP AND BE COUNTED) but I liked this one; I had an oversized poster like yours, but it had an image of Newman running, not a kissing scene. Mason's "Ah, this is a coup for the Maltese Police!" is a great line, as was, I'm ashamed to admit, the crowd-pleasing shot of Newman kicking Jenny Runacre in the crotch. Thanks John!

8:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I'm a fan of obscure movies by the greats, so I'll have to check this out when it's on TCM. (I think Huston's Red Badge of Courage is terrific despite its reputation.)

9:26 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

If Huston was so disengaged, why would he try to zazz up the script as he was filming? Would not he just take the money and run? Huston certainly made some stinkaroos, but Stinky does not think this is one of them.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Cinesavant strikes again! I don't think I ever managed to see this despite any number of half-hearted attempts. Glenn's approval means I'm going to have to give it a look-see.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Personally, I'm less interested in "Mackintosh Man" than I am in the header photo claiming that audiences didn't find Arbuckle funny anymore, when it seems like he was popular enough that Warners offered him that contract.

7:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers what an aging John Huston had to cope with:

If Huston and Paul Newman each had a commitment with Warner Bros. to work off, then maybe “The Mackintosh Man” was just a job of work that neither particularly wanted to do, hence its quality.

I understand, however, that Newman enjoyed working with Huston on “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” and hoped to repeat the magic. And Huston did invest himself in the screenplay. Walter Hill, who wrote the original adaptation of the novel, thought that 60 percent of the first half was his, but that nothing else was. Other writers were brought in, after he and Huston discovered that they had fundamental differences about the story, but Hill thought that Huston wrote most of the rest himself.

Even in the best of times, Huston was an erratic talent, and the period of the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies was not the best of times for him. It was more like a roller coaster eventually coming back down to the starting gate. “Reflections in a Golden Eye” was particularly vile, with John Simon writing that it was a “painfully artless film in a painfully arty shell…distasteful, pedestrian, crass, and uninvolving to the point of repugnance.”

Another factor was Huston’s health. He had begun suffering from the respiratory problems that would eventually kill him, and he went into “Mackintosh” suffering from pneumonia. When a man is aging and sick, it requires something extraordinary to bring forth his best effort, whether in filmmaking or romance. Certainly, this film had nothing to captivate him. A professional work it may be, and one not without interest, but a job of work, nonetheless.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Paul Dionne said...

@Dan Mercer, no accounting for John Simon, who missed many a boat, but Reflections In A Golden eye, is really one of Huston's best, for intent, theme, and extraordinary acting....

10:37 AM  

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