John Huston Penelope Gilliatt - Essay

Penelope Gilliatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The real puzzle about ["The Mackintosh Man"] is the fact that such a rock-hard, witty director wanted to make it. It has very little humor, apart from quixotries of speech habits; no drive of intellect; some dazed factual mistakes about England; and a lot of holes in the plot. It doesn't work as a parody of spy thrillers, or as a spy thriller in itself, or as the sort of sly joke that "The List of Adrian Messenger" was. Sometimes it has Huston's gaunt comprehension of heroism, but the mediocre Maurice Jarre music is a general measure of the film. Huston, of all directors, usually possesses force, but this movie is flabby. It has echo-chamber moments, like the telling of some story remembered from a long time ago, which is often a majestic thing, but not in thriller plots. Though there are interludes of sexual sophistication in the dialogue direction which remind you of Huston's career as a writer, and though lines show Huston's gift of containing as much movement in conversation as in physical action, these wonders of the dramatic art don't happen often. The film contains a fine chase between a car and a lorry; a touch of Huston's unimitative feeling for what is going on in the brain of a man; a slightly desperate attempt to update the story from a Cold War spy narrative to one about a Maoist;… a number of terrifically alarming nurses, maids, and women cocktail-party guests; an ambulance that is an excellent character; beats of pity for men with loyalties that are matted by their pasts. Not a great deal more, though. A matter of a strengthy man taking his ease, perhaps.

Penelope Gilliatt, "The Current Cinema: 'The Mackintosh Man'," in The New Yorker (© 1973 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLIX, No. 24, August 6, 1973, p. 71.