Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cloak & Dagger: Three Days of the Condor and The MacKintosh Man

I swear, I saw the jail where the characters in The MacKintosh Man are locked up playing a similar role in The Escapist a couple years ago. It's good to see such a cool part of a movie continue to get work, although you wonder if it worries about getting typecast. (I kid; I don't even know if it's the same building or if this is just how English/Irish prisons of a certain vintage are constructed.)

It's always neat to see Robert Redford and Paul Newman movies from their peaks; they're guys who aged so smoothly and well - Redford still doesn't really look old when he shows up in front of the camera these days - that their matinee idol period can be a bit of a surprise. These guys were movie stars, not just popular and respected actors, and movies like these were very commercial, not just well-made.

It's fun to compare them to their contemporary equivalents; there are a fair amount of "spy/dupe on the run after being made to look like a traitor" movies made every year and the easy thing to say is that if these two movies were remade today, they would likely have more, bigger, louder action and dumb the interaction between the star and his leading lady down. Of course, it could turn out that the scripts might be a little more dense, as well; as great as the naturalistic 1970s were for creating the sort of realism that lets the audience infer a lot of detail, the present does allow a filmmaker to deliver a higher level of detail directly, if they so choose.

That's not to run these movies down; they're both quite a lot of fun, and looked great in 35mm.

Three Days of the Condor

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Cloak & Dagger, 35mm)

Three Days of the Condor was a hit in its day, and even now the title causes one to perk up when coming upon it when scanning the filmographies of the people involved: Even those who haven't seen it know that it's a big piece of the good reputations of folks like Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack. And while styles have changed enough that it's maybe not considered as essential as it once was, it's still a quality spy story that deserves to be considered a plus on the IMDB pages of its cast and crew.

Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) works for the CIA, but not as an asset or even an analyst, really, but as a reader - he's part of a group that pores through everything published in the world, looking for odd patterns or stories that hit too close to home. It's so far from secret-agent stuff that he forgets he even has a code name until he returns from getting lunch to find his co-workers murdered. He contacts people higher up in the agency, but can he really trust Higgins (Cliff Robertson) or anyone else there? And it's not like Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), the random civilian he takes hostage, has any reason to trust him.

The plot of Three Days of the Condor could be transplanted to the present day without much modification; the world hasn't changed that much. The characters would use the computer more and punchcards less, and of course cell phones would replace telephone booths (I wonder if veteran spies grumble about the cost of a disposable phone versus the spare change a pay phone took). There can be little argument that the screenplay by Lorenzo Semple and David Rayfiel is plenty efficient, considering that the name of the James Grady novel being adapted is "Six Days of the Condor", and that winds up being a somewhat interesting contrast of narrative demands: As fast as the pursuit of Condor must be for the villains to seem effective, the relationship between him and Kathy needs a little time to play out.

Full review at EFC.

The MacKintosh Man

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Cloak & Dagger, 35mm)

The MacKintosh Man is a spy flick that could probably be a crime or caper story if the characters never mentioned being spies, and it might be better received that way. It still wouldn't be one of the first movies a person thought of when star Paul Newman, director John Huston, or screenwriter Walter Hill is mentioned, but it might be remembered a little more fondly than it is.

It starts with a plan: Rearden (Paul Newman) is to go undercover in prison, befriend convict Slade (Ian Bannen), whom Her Majesty's government is sure is a spy as well as a felon, and be around when "The Scarperers" help him escape so that they can crush the organization. Naturally, things don't entirely go as planned - Rearden has a long wait, only his supervisor MacKintosh (Harry Andrews) and his assistant Mrs. Smith (Dominiqu Sanda) know about his existence, and MP Sir George Wheeler (James Mason) aims to make political hay when the escape actually does happen.

Maybe Paul Newman isn't exactly the right guy to play the title character; he's an undeniably American actor playing a Brit masquerading as an Australian, and it exacerbates an issue many stories about undercover agents can have of making it hard to get a handle on the protagonist. Sure, wandering accent aside, Rearden is not that complicated - a rough-and-tumble type who seems to get a kick out of how this particular assignment lets him indulge in his criminal tendencies. Add in an eye for the ladies and it's a role Newman generally plays fairly well. He's good here, make no mistake; the part is not complicated but right in his wheelhouse.

Full review at EFC.

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