Rearden (Paul Newman), if that is his name, is in London where he has a position in the British Secret Services, currently using an Australian alias. He is called to the offices of Mackintosh (Harry Andrews) where he is offered his next mission as his boss's secretary Miss Smith (Dominique Sanda) looks on. It is explained to him that diamonds are notable for being so very valuable while also very small: you can contain priceless gems within a package the size of a matchbox, and indeed some send this merchandise through the post. What Rearden has to do is intercept a small package of diamonds before they reach their destination, and get himself arrested as a result - so let's go postman punching!
Director John Huston and star Newman had by all accounts had a fine time making the Western The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean the year before this, but did not it seems team up once again because of that, it was more down to contracts and them each having one film left with Warner Bros, so combining forces on The Mackintosh Man sounded like a good idea. Alas, Huston could barely muster any interest in a spy story after The Kremlin Letter flopped, and later proclaimed it the worst project he had ever taken the helm on, though there were stories from the sets that even called that into question, as if he had simply left his crew to muddle through the production while he took care of his own various pastimes.
Because of this, it is far from the movie in Huston's canon that received the most praise, never mind much of an audience in the long run, and as it was drawn from a Desmond Bagley novel, not an author of thrillers who often troubled the silver screen, there were always going to be fans of his work who judged The Mackintosh Man as a failure when the book was a far more successful way to experience the story. Nevertheless, since its very status as an effort made from the material hailing from that great era of paperback diversions generated at least a little interest from the readership, whether they had read this one or not, this is not quite as forgotten a movie as it might seem at first glance, and not because they had a megastar in the lead, either.
Newman was a particularly curious choice, you would think a Michael Caine or Sean Connery would be more appropriate, someone of that background or calibre, especially as he appeared to be playing a British agent rather than an American one as his accent indicated. He did try an Australian accent, and made an... interesting attempt at it, but apparently a Cockney or even R.P. was beyond him, and we were left to ponder why Mackintosh chose such an obvious foreigner for a very British excursion. You can see why Caine or Connery might not wish to play another secret agent, but Newman and this type of man on the run or at the mercy of the bigger picture thriller was not always an easy match, and he never settled into the role of Rearden, presumably not assisted much by Huston's disinterest.
Also not helping was a plot that may have been easily digested on the page, but as a film was difficult to fathom, on first viewing anyway, with the accustomed ending, where the baddie explains all, not exactly enlightening, as if we were watching an edited version of events or some scenes simply were not filmed. Rearden travelled from prison to Ireland to eventually Malta, but it was the adventure in the middle that proved the most engaging as he is kidnapped by crime boss Michael Hordern (huh?) after escaping jail with spy Ian Bannen, and they end up holed up in a big country house on the Galway moors. There was violence, of course, but it came across as oddly spoofy, since it was Paul Newman whacking Sir Michael about the head, Jenny Runacre booting Mr Newman in the bollocks, and him returning the favour later to boot her in the crotch. Then there was James Mason as the slightly too good to be true politician who may be behind the espionage: he and Sanda had a latterly developing feud that ended just as bizarrely. But as awkward as this was, it did look very slick, and was by no means unenjoyable. Music by Maurice Jarre.