Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Mackintosh Man and Desmond Bagley

I've just watched The Mackintosh Man, a film dating back just over forty years, and based on Desmond Bagley's best-selling novel The Freedom Trap. The film was directed by John Huston, and boasted a dazzling cast, led by Paul Newman, and including James Mason, in one of his silky villain roles, and Dominique Sanda, as the glamorous young woman required by statute to keep the hero of thriller films company. Other notable actors to make an appearance are Ian Bannen, as the agent Slade, and Harry Andrews.

It's getting on for five years since I blogged about Desmond Bagley, a writer whom my late father really enjoyed. Like Alistair MacLean, another superstar thriller writer of the Sixties and Seventies, Bagley was a gifted entertainer, but the books of both men are not discussed very often these days, considering what dominant figures they used to be. At their best, though, they were both highly accomplished. I used to prefer MacLean when I was in my teens, because his books bore a closer resemblance to detective stories, but the quality of his work dipped in later years. That wasn't true of Bagley - he died while still at his peak.

The film follows the story of Newman's character, who agrees to take part in a scheme to track down The Scarperers, a gang specialising in springing major criminals from jail. Some sources suggest that Bagley drew inspiration for his plot from the jailbreak of the Soviet agent George Blake, but this is emphatiically a work of fiction. Newman attacks a postman and steals some diamonds, and is duly caught (the excellent Peter Vaughan plays one of the cops). Sentenced, rather improbably I thought, to twenty years inside for a first offence, he is contacted by the bad guys, and the story zips along from there.

Huston was a gifted director, and even though this is a long way short of being his best film, it's not at all bad. Some of the action takes place in Ireland, which Huston loved, and some in Malta, and a competent story is told with pace and efficiency. I never really warmed either to Newman's character or his lover, and this was part of the reason why I thought this was a decent film, but not a truly memorable piece of work. But it was good to be reminded of Bagley's brisk story-telling style.


Ron Smyth said...

My three favourite thriller writers of those days were Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Geoffrey Jenkins. Have you ever read anything by Jenkins? He too seems to be long forgotten.

dfordoom said...

I remember reading Geoffrey Jenkins, although I don't remember any of his actual books. It was a long time ago.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Ron. I don't think I have read anything by GJ, though A Grue of Ice rings a distant bell.
It was indeed a long time ago....