British secret agent Joseph Reardon (Paul Newman) poses as a convicted jewel thief to infiltrate a secret organization and gather information on the groups leader, Sir George Wheeler.
The Mackintosh Man is a 1973 British-American cold war spy thriller film, directed by John Huston and starring Paul Newman, Dominique Sanda and James Mason.
A member of British Intelligence assumes a fictitious criminal identity and allows himself to be caught, imprisoned, and freed in order to infiltrate a spy organization and expose a traitor.
Joseph Rearden, a British Intelligence agent, arrives in London and makes a rendezvous with MacKintosh, the head of his organisation, in a discreet office located just off Trafalgar Square. MacKintosh and his deputy, Mrs Smith, inform him of a simple way to steal diamonds which are transported via the post service to avoid attention. This he does, apparently getting successfully away after punching a postman, and making off with the diamond-filled parcel. However, that evening, in his hotel room he is paid a visit by two Metropolitan Police detectives who have received an anonymous phone call advising them about the robbery. They are unconvinced by Reardens pretence to be an innocent Australian who had recently arrived in London.
The judge at his trial is angered by the failure to recover the stolen diamonds from Rearden, who he believes has stashed them away somewhere, and sentences him to twenty years in jail. Rearden is shipped off to a bleak prison in the North of England. He slowly begins to blend in with the other prisoners, and is assigned to laundry-washing duties. A few days after entering he encounters Slade, a former British intelligence officer kept in high security after having been exposed as a KGB mole. He makes innocent enquiries of his fellow inmates about Slade - but not a great deal is known about him.
A few weeks later, he is approached by a well-spoken inmate who offers to act as a go-between with an organisation which can spring him from the prison in exchange for a large cut of the stolen diamonds. They are used to helping prisoners escape, and have another exit planned shortly, which he can join, if he is prepared to put up the money - to which he agrees. Two days later a diversion is arranged, and smoke bombs are hurled over the walls. Using the smoke screen Rearden and a fellow prisoner, who turns out to be Slade, are lifted over the walls by a cargo net and driven away at high speed. They are then drugged by injection, and taken to a secret location - somewhere in wild, deserted countryside. When Slade and Rearden awake, they are told they will be kept there for a week until hunt for them dies down.
In London, MacKintosh discreetly monitors the progress of Rearden. His entry into prison has been a planned sting operation to smoke out the organisation. It is now intended they will be raided, rounded up and Slade returned to prison. Following a speech attacking the handling of the Slade escape by an old friend and war comrade, Sir George Wheeler MP in the House of Commons, MacKintosh approaches him and advises him it would be better to remain silent or risk embarrassing himself. Wheeler, however, despite masquerading as a staunchly patriotic right-winger, is in fact a Communist and an agent of the KGB. He immediately tips off the head of the organisation where Rearden is being held. MacKintosh had in fact suspected Wheeler, and had used their meeting to try and flush him out. But before MacKintosh can act, he is run down by a car and dies soon afterwards.
In the meantime, Rearden falls under suspicion by the escape organisation. Doubting his claims to be an Australian criminal, they beat him violently and savage him with a guard dog. Eventually, he manages to fight back and escape the building, setting it on fire. He makes out across country - pursued by his guards and the dog. He is finally forced to drown the dog in a stream to throw his assailants off the scent. He then makes it to a nearby town, where he discovers he is on the West Coast of Ireland and has apparently been staying on the estate of a close friend of Sir George Wheeler. He contacts Mrs Smith in London, who flies to meet him in Galway. Realising that Slade has been smuggled out of Ireland on the private yacht of Wheeler, they now head to Valletta, Malta, where Wheeler is heading.
Once in Malta, they try to infiltrate one of Wheelers parties and discover the whereabouts of Slade. Wheeler soon recognises Mrs Smith (who is in fact the daughter of his old friend MacKintosh) and drugs her and takes her aboard his yacht. Rearden tries to get the Maltese police to raid the boat, but they refuse to believe that a respected man as Wheeler can be involved in kidnapping and treason, so instead they move to arrest Rearden - who is still a wanted man for his earlier faked diamond robbery. So Rearden is again forced to flee, but manages to follow Wheeler to a temple where he and Slade are holding Mrs Smith. He pulls a gun on them, and orders them to hand over Mrs Smith. Presented with a Mexican Standoff, Wheeler and Slade try to persuade Rearden to let them go unharmed, in return for which they will also spare him and Mrs Smith. Reluctantly Rearden agrees, but Mrs Smith takes up a gun and shoots Slade and Wheeler, avenging the murder of her father. She has fulfilled her orders, and bitterly abandons Rearden - angry at the way he has not followed his.
The script was written by Walter Hill who later recalled it as an unhappy experience:
I was being sued by Warner Bros. They signed me for a screenplay, I was mad because they sold Hickey & Boggs to United Artists for what seemed to me to be a great deal of money and instead of making it themselves. Also no further remuneration to me... I decided to forget about the script I owed them on general principle and a couple years had gone by, year and half. There was a compromise. My agent said they are sending you a box of books. Pick one out, write a script, get it over with. Thats exactly what happened... I wrote a quick script which I was not particularly enamored with myself. Much to my shock and surprise I had taken a trip to northern California and my agent tracked me down. I called him, he said you better get back here, Paul Newman is doing your film, I think John Huston is directing it. I thought, Jesus Christ. One would like to think you are mistaken about the wonders of your work, but I didnt believe it. That part turned out to be true. I went over to work on the script with Huston. He wasnt very well, I ended up with sole screen credit, but one of the problems is the screen credit is misleading very often. I wrote 90% of the first half, various people wrote the rest. I didnt think it was a very good film.
The film, based on the novel The Freedom Trap by Desmond Bagley, was shot in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Malta. It and Bagleys novel, are loosely based on the exposure and defection of George Blake, a Soviet mole in MI6.
Ryan ONeal was originally announced as the lead.
Walter Hill says he wrote the first half of the film but the rest was done by "seven other people". He says he never saw the final product but was told it was "a real bomb".
The scene where Slade and Rearden escape from prison was inspired by Blakes escape from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966. The jail scenes were filmed at Liverpool Prison and Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.
The film received a mixed reception when it was released, and did not perform well at the box office, in either the United Kingdom, United States or Canada. The Times reviewer, David Robinson, found the story a very predictable and typical espionage thriller, while the direction by John Huston still made it watchable because of Hustons gift for storytelling.