I've been watching a lot of Paul Newman lately. And we're not talking "The Sting" or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (although those are fine films in their own right), but hidden gems like "Pocket Money" , "Fort Apache, The Bronx" and "The Drowning Pool"- films that still highlight the boyish good looks of Newman with a little gray hair thrown in for maturity. The best thing about Neman's 70's and early 80's work is his sense of haggard charm, as if every role he takes is a silhouette of a previous life. He knows the detectives and hustlers so well, there's hidden fun in his portrayals. There had always been a little dash of irony in Newman's performances, but the 70's seem to play up this charm a little more. None moreso than in 1975 when he teamed up with director John Huston to film "The Mackintosh Man". Nestled in between 70's work for hire such as "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean", acting gigs in "Chinatown", and his pitch for Academic seriousness with "The Man Who Would Be King", "The Mackintosh Man" is a straight-forward, brash effort that zigs and zags in various directions before settling into the mode of old fashioned thriller. Part prison film, part spy caper... it also features one hell of an exciting car chase through the most unlikely and exotic of places- the coastal cliffs of Ireland, complete with rock walls and all.
Part of the joy of "The Mackintosh Man" is not knowing where the film will take you- which is why I'll even shy away from a plot description. For the first 45 minutes, it plays everything close to the vest and refuses to identify the central role of Newman. Is he good guy or bad guy? What exactly is anyone's motive? Why is he trying to break out of prison? And while we're thinking through the possible options, there's Newman.... blue eyes and wry smile speaking volumes that we should just trust him and watch. Unencumbered by flashy direction (which has never really been the modus operandi of Huston as a filmmaker), "The Mackintosh Man" is not recognized as staple 70's cinema, but it quielty exemplifies the workmanlike charm of so many of its underrated counterparts. But don't let me undersell this thing. When the action does kick in and the motives of everyone involved becomes clear, it continually impresses through its mild mannered calculations and Huston's control of character decision. And while the ending does poise an interesting spin on things, its a finale that certainly falls in line with Newman's easy-going persona. Common sense over guns is always a good choice.