Skip to main content

Do I look like anybody’s bloody comrade?

The Jigsaw Man
(1983)

(SPOILERS) Michael Caine’s 80s career increasingly looks much more respectable when set against the “really will do any old shit” latter-day approaches of John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis and John Cusack. In particular, his recourse to Cold War thrillers when all else failed and he was at a loose end for more than five minutes is now surrounded by a rather nostalgic, muggy grey hue. That doesn’t make The Jigsaw Man remotely any good, occupying as it does the bargain bin of even that spy thriller sub-genre, but it does have its incidental pleasures.

The prospect of Caine working with the first Bond director on a spy movie doesn’t so much seem tantalising as inevitable, but the stock of both industry professionals had, at this point in their careers, plummeted somewhat. Terence Young was unenviably able to boast having made one of the all-time biggest box office bombs in Inchon (during the production of which, Laurence Olivier, who can be seen here, admitted cheerfully “Nothing is beneath me if it pays well”: also Caine’s mantra). Caine had scored with Educating Rita, but also in quite recent memory hadn’t with Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, Ashanti, The Hand and Escape to Victory. The Jigsaw Man production proved beleaguered and was shut down due to funding issues, with both stars deserting the set until they were paid. So if the whole thing looks rather threadbare – you wouldn’t figure Freddie Francis shot it – that’s at least partly the reason.

Based on the 1976 novel of the same name by Dorothea Bennett (also Young’s wife, though lest you fear nepotism, Mike Hodges had apparently been trying to get it made a few years prior), Caine is former MI6 man and defector Philip Kimberly – geddit? – who is plastic surgerised, against his will, trained up in martial arts (hilariously illustrated with a “training montage” and a dead ringer for Austin Powers’ “judo chop”) and sent back to blighty to secure a MacGuffin documents naming all the KGB operatives in the country (how useful this would be twenty years on is surely debatable). Despite the obvious allusion in name, Kim Philby is also mentioned several times during the movie, somewhat undermining the conceit. Richard Aylen, dubbed, plays the pre-op Kimberly, a man in his sixties, who once turned into Caine looks 42(!) and can leap around and off buildings to prove it.

With the KGB intent on killing him once he has done his job – rather than, as promised, set him up in Switzerland – Kimberly requests asylum as soon as he reaches London and attempts to play his own game, contacting the new MI6 head Admiral Sir Gerald Scaith (Olivier) and his daughter Penelope (Susan George). Meanwhile, her boyfriend Fraser (Robert Powell), not in fact working for the UN but also an MI6 man, is put on the case by Sir James Chorley (Charles Gray, magnificently dissolute).

That Chorley turns out to be a Russian agent wasn’t something I expected, particularly, but on the other hand, no one here seems to be very up in arms about betraying one’s country. Scaith doesn’t even attempt to conceal his admiration for Kimberly, and somehow, despite beating hoteliers’ heads in, Phil warrants appreciation as a likeable bounder, surviving the fireworks of the finale and offering Scaith a plan that will secure a nest egg for his dotage.

Caine is always quite watchable, but he really isn’t trying here. George is stuck with a dim-watt character (“You stupid cow, the phone is tapped!” she harangues herself at one point, rightly). Powell has the nominal hero part, but not much to do with it, aside from a scene in which he has to contend with Grey in a bald cap and a dressing gown telling how his dome looks “like a prick”; there’s much talk of how the sexual strictures of the period were responsible for defections, but it seems like much too serious a subject for a film that’s otherwise so frivolously pulpy and unfussed.

It’s Olivier who takes the honours, attacking his every scene with humour and cantankerous gusto: “Go on, take a little wine with your turbot and be damned” he explodes at Gray, while relishing a whisky. And, once Gray has expired, ever attentive to appearances, he instructs an orderly, “Just see that his wig’s on straight, won’t you?”. If you want an 80s Caine spy thriller that has slightly more semblance of reality to it, you could do worse than check out the patchy The Whistle Blower. And if you want a suitably far-fetched one, The Fourth Protocol. The Jigsaw Man is, unfortunately, just rather anaemic.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Gizmo caca!

Gremlins (1984) I didn’t get to see Gremlins at the cinema. I wanted to, as I had worked myself into a state of great anticipation. There was a six-month gap between its (unseasonal) US release and arrival in the UK, so I had plenty of time to devour clips of cute Gizmo on Film ’84 (the only reason ever to catch Barry Norman was a tantalising glimpse of a much awaited movie, rather than his drab, colourless, reviews) and Gremlins trading cards that came with bubble gum attached (or was it the other way round?). But Gremlins ’ immediate fate for many an eager youngster in Britain was sealed when, after much deliberation, the BBFC granted it a 15 certificate. I had just turned 12, and at that time an attempt to sneak in to see it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. I’d just have to wait for the video. I didn’t realise it then (because I didn’t know who he was as a filmmaker), but Joe Dante’s irrepressible anarchic wit would have a far stronger effect on me than the un