The Mackintosh Man – Filming Bagley’s novel The Freedom Trap

The Mackintosh Man by Desmond Bagley - © Fawcett Crest 1973.The Mackintosh Man, is the American republication title of Bagley’s 1971 novel The Freedom Trap. Perhaps better known under its American title it is Bagley’s tale of a clever scheme to expose a criminal and political railroad for smuggling men out of Britain. The protagonist, a counter intelligence agent named Owen Edward Stannard, commits a diamond robbery in order to be sentenced to a substantial term of imprisonment thereby gaining the attention of the organisation known as the ‘Scarperers’. Under the pseudonym of Joseph Rearden his secret is known only to his immediate superior Mackintosh and his assistant Mrs Smith.

The Mackintosh Man was released as a film adaptation in 1973, directed by John Huston it was produced by Warner Brothers Inc., and starred Paul Newman, Dominique Sanda and James Mason.

The Mackintosh Man - Paul Newman and Dominique Sanda © Warner Bros 1973.

Newman plays the lead role of Stannard/Rearden with Dominique Sanda, then 21 years of age and formerly a top model in France, playing the role of the mysterious Mrs Smith. James Mason portrays the role of Sir George Wheeler, M.P., a dedicated campaigner against crime.

The supporting cast is headed by the cream of British acting talent. Harry Andrews plays the mysterious Mr Mackintosh, Ian Bannen takes on the role of an important political prisoner and Michael Hordern portrays Mr Brown, the leader of a gang which specialised in prison escapes.

Paul Newman, director John Huston and producer John Foreman had been looking for a subject to film ever since they teamed up for the first time in 1971 on The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. When Warner Brothers approached them with Walter Hill’s screenplay of The Mackintosh Man they realised their search was over.

In October of 1972, filming commenced at Pinewood Studios with location filming in the UK, Ireland and Malta.

The filming location in London used for Mackintosh’s office, Anglo-Scottish Holdings Ltd., was 50 The Mall, on the south of Trafalgar Square near Admiralty Arch. This was a change of location from that mentioned in the novel:

I had difficulty in finding it because it was in that warren of streets between Holborn and Fleet Street which is a maze to one accustomed to the grid-iron pattern of Johannesburg. I found it at last in a dingy building; a well-worn brass plate announcing innocuously that this Dickensian structure held the registered office of Anglo-Scottish Holdings, Ltd. [1]

The production company’s art department did indeed provide a well-worn brass plate bearing the name Anglo Scottish Ltd, and to add authenticity added a smaller one below bearing the name Nordic Fisheries Ltd.

The Mackintosh Man - 50 The Mall, London © Warner Bros 1973 & 2018 Google.

The scene of the robbery in the novel is an office located in Clerkenwell’s Leather Lane, a street running parallel with Hatton Garden and filming actually took place at a block of offices located at 45-49 Leather Lane. On the second floor Rearden waits in an office rented by Macintosh under the company name Kiddykar Toys Ltd, two doors away from the Betsy-Lou Dress Manufacturing Co, Ltd., accurately recreated again by the production company’s art department.

The Mackintosh Man - 45-49 Leather Lane, London © Warner Bros 1973 & 2018 Google.

The film crew utilised a first floor window on the corner of St. Cross Street and Leather Lane to film the street scenes and the production crew based themselves in the parking area of Langdon House in Leather Lane.

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The Mackintosh Man - Rearden's Legend © Warner Bros.

One has to admire the efforts property departments go to in order to add authenticity to a production. In one very brief scene Rearden is seen reading his ‘legend’ provided by Mrs Smith. Seen for only for a few seconds the sharp-eyed may see Rearden’s criminal background, including being picked up on suspicion of drug smuggling in 1966 in Tokyo, not answering to the name Joe, preferring Joseph. Also that he read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Mark Twain whilst in prison and likes classical music, preferring Beethoven, Bach and Mozart.

The prison scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, HMP Liverpool and in the old Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, which had been closed in 1924 and is now a museum open to the public. Paul Newman and Ian Bannen performed the escape stunt themselves with the motorcycle escape sequence, using Husqvarna Enduro motorcyles ridden by stuntmen Jack Cooper and Marc Boyle, filmed not far from HMP Liverpool, around Liverpool docks, most likely the Dock Road area in Garston.

The Mackintosh Man - Kilmainham Jail and Liverpool Docks © Warner Bros 1973.

Ardfry House set outside the village of Oranmore on a peninsula jutting into Galway Bay, Ireland served as the base for Bagley’s gang of ‘Scarperers’. Originally built around 1770 on the site of a former castle the building fell into a ruinous state. The house received a facelift when it was re-roofed and refenestrated for filming. Although permission was granted in 2004 to develop Ardfry House and its outbuildings into houses and apartments it still remains derelict.

The Mackintosh Man - Ardfry House, Oranmore, Ireland © Warner Bros 1973 & Connacht Tribune.

For those interested, the German Rottweiler ‘Gunner’ who chased Rearden from Ardfry house, uncredited in the film, was in reality called Yogi. Five years old at the time he apparently had the roar of a lion and the strength of a bear, thus his name Yogi.

The Mackintosh Man - An adaptation of Desmond Bagley's The Freedom Trap © Warner Bros 1973. Yogi and Rearden.

Yogi eventually catches up with Rearden in the middle of a deep and swiftly flowing stream. In Warner Brothers own Pressbook for the film it was noted:

Paul Newman Out-Acted by Dog… Even in his death struggles, Yogi manages to monopolise the Panavision screen. Newman stuns the huge animal with his pistol but cannot shoot because the sound would attract the chasing killers. Instead, he is forced to drown Yogi in the cold raging waters. When the scene was finally shot, Huston was heard to murmur “That dog is a natural actor!”[2]

The pistol was in fact equipped with a silencer and the waters were flowing gently, but Huston was absolutely right about Yogi, quite an impressive performance. Yogi’s owner, Trevor Wedlock, worked as a film extra and appeared in the segment of prison scenes filmed at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. [3]

The harbour scenes in Ireland were filmed on the western most tip of the island at Roundstone, near Galway, with O’Donovan’s Bar appearing in the small fishing village overnight courtesy of the production company’s art department. These buildings in the picturesque Roundstone harbour are now houses and the quaint telephone box at the harbour has gone. O’Dowd’s Pub seen just above on Monastery Road, now a Seafood Bar and Restaurant, still remains in business.

The Mackintosh Man - Filing Location at Roundstone Harbour, County Galway, Ireland. © Warner Bros 1973 / © 2018 Google.

Mrs Smith arrives in Ireland at Oranmore Airport, County Galway in a Piper PA-23-250 Aztec E, Reg G-AWER, Air Taxi operated by Woodgate Aviation, the pilot of the aircraft was in fact Mike Woodgate [4]. Oranmore Airport [53°16’59″N 008°55’08”W] opened in May 1918 as a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome, later becoming a civilian airfield remaining open until 1976.

The Mackintosh Man - Filming locations - Oranmore Airport © Warner Bros 1973.

The scenes in Ireland finish with a chase between Rearden’s pick-up truck and the ‘Scarperers’ Mercedes 280 SE Coupe. The scene where the Mercedes crashes over cliffs into the Atlantic was filmed at the 200 metre high Cliffs of Moher on the southern side of Galway Bay just across from the Aran Islands.

The Mackintosh Man - The Cliffs of Moher © Warner Bros 1973 & Jim Richardson, National Geographic.

Filming in Malta started with establishing shots showing Rearden and Mrs Smith relaxing poolside in a private villa in Delimara overlooking the village of Marsaxlokk located in the south-east of the island. The Roman Catholic parish church of Our Lady of Pompei (Madonna Ta’ Pompei) in Marsaxlokk was the location used for filming the final scenes of the film. Today this parish is the site of a national pilgrimage held every year on 8th May.

The Mackintosh Man - Filming locations at Delimara and Marsaxlokk Malta © Warner Bros 1973 & 2018 Google.

In Valletta, Sir George Wheeler’s (James Mason’s) yacht, Artina, can be seen entering the Grand Harbour past the St. Elmo Breakwater docking at the jetty alongside Old Custom House, which is the location of Wheeler’s reception. Guests can be seen arriving at the reception through the entrance located on Xatt Lascaris. Rearden can be seen viewing the reception from window above in Lascari Fort, which is located below the Lascari Saluting Battery and Upper Barrakka Gardens.

The Mackintosh Man - Old Custom House and Lascari Fort Malta © Warner Bros 1973 & WikiImages.

Desmond and Joan Bagley were not great fans of the film adaptation, in a note written by Joan to the Auckland office of Collins Publishers she wrote:

Right now we are both suffering from the aftermath of having seen The Mackintosh Man, John Huston’s sadly re-named version of Freedom Trap. It is an average-to-feeble movie, unfortunately, with a good cast, (bar the leading lady), a bad soundtrack, a muddled plot and an unrecognisable ending. Disappointing but at least it’s been done. [5]

This is not entirely at odds to what the director, John Huston, thought himself, considering the film a failure he said:

The worst part was that the story lacked an ending. All the time we were filming we were casting about frantically for an effective way to bring the picture to a close. Finally, during the very last week of shooting, an idea came to us. It was far and away the best thing in the movie, and I suspect that if we had been able to start shooting with it in the mind, The Mackintosh Man would have been a really good film. But we weren’t. As it is, I know hardly anyone who has ever heard of it. [6]

Of the two novel adaptations filmed in Bagley’s lifetime, BBC Scotland’s adaptation of Running Blind for television clearly stood out as the better adaptation in the author’s own opinion. We can be thankful that interest from both Hollywood and Rank in Running Blind never resulted in a production, leaving the option open for the BBC to acquire the rights. It’s mystifying that only The Freedom Trap was adapted for cinema during Bagley’s lifetime, which was clearly not due to the quality of the novels as they were best-sellers at the time. It was due entirely to film companies purchasing rights for the novels and then not following up with a production.

Despite the flaws pointed out by both Joan Bagley and director John Huston one can still find enjoyment in watching The Mackintosh Man. The film also serves as a very good advertisement for tourism in both County Galway and Malta.

The Mackintosh Man Lobby Card Gallery

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A movie featurette John Huston: The Man, The Myth, The Moviemaker takes a look at the film’s director and offers a further insight into the filming of The Mackintosh Man.


Notes

Images: © HarperCollins Publishers/Fawcett Crest; Warner Brothers Inc.; 2018 Google; Connacht Tribune [Ardfry House]; Jim Richardson: National Geographic [Cliffs of Moher].

With thanks to the Liverpool History Society and the Malta Tourism Authority for their assistance.

1. The Freedom Trap (London: Collins, 1971).

2. The Mackintosh Man Pressbook (Warner Brothers Inc., 1973).

3. Fielder, H. (2018). Extra! Extra! Read All About It! – The Mackintosh Man [online]. URL [Accessed September. 13th 2018]

4. Warner, G. Woodgate Aviation (2018). pers. comm 12th September, 2018.

5. Bagley, J. Personal correspondence to David Bateman, Collins New Zealand dated 20th November 1973 from the Desmond Bagley Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University: Unpublished.

6. An Open Book Huston, J. (New York: Knopf, 1980).