Sunday, January 07, 2007
Films of Michael Caine #44: The Jigsaw Man
Cast: Michael Caine (Sir Philip Kimberley and Sergei Kuzminsky), Laurence Olivier (Admiral Scaith), Susan George (Penny Kimberley), Robert Powell (Jamie Fraser), Charles Gray (Sir James Chorley), Morteza Kazerouni (Boris Medvachian), Michael Medwin (Milroy), Eric Sevareid (Eric Sevareid), Sabine Sun (Dr Zilenka), David Kelley (Cameron), Patrick Dawson (Ginger), Vladek Sheybal (General Zorin).
Crew: Terence Young (director), Benjamin Fisz (producer), Jo Eisinger (writer), John Cameron (music), Freddie Francis (cinematography), Derek Trigg (editor), Michael Stringer (production designer).
Synopsis: A British defector, Sir Philip Kimberly, has become a drunken embarrassment to the Russians. They have his face altered by plastic surgery and send him back to England to retrieve a dossier containing the names of Soviet agents in the UK. But Kimberley escapes his KGB minders by pretending to defect in London. The fugitive also outwits the British intelligence services, to the frustration of Admiral Scaith and his associate, Sir James Chorley. Kimberley, masquerading as a Russian called Kuzminsky, offers to sell the dossier to Scaith for £1 million. The defector seeks help from his adult daughter Penny. The Russians and Chorley try to kill Kimberley. To protect his daughter, the defector eventually surrenders to Scaith. Chorley is revealed as a Russian mole. Kimberley offers Scaith the chance to go into business together, selling the dossier to the highest bidder…
In November 1976 Michael Caine told a London newspaper, the Evening Standard, he would soon be playing British defector Kim Philby in a major new film about the spy. The report claimed Get Carter (1971) director Mike Hodges would helm the movie. Philby had already announced from Moscow how unimpressed he was at the casting of Caine. ‘Marvellous, innit?’ the actor responded. ‘So much for equality. I’m playing him from 22 to 56. That’s always murderous. The script is excellent. It goes in for the details of the man. In fact, it’s more sympathetic towards him than I am myself. I’m rather anti-Communist.’
That film never went any further, but in the same year Dorothea Bennett had a novel published called The Jigsaw Man. This espionage thriller featured a Philby-like defector, Sir Philip Kimberley. Six years later director Terence Young hired Caine to play the lead in a film of The Jigsaw Man, adapted by screenwriter Jo Eisinger. The other major role went to renowned British actor Laurence Olivier, thus reuniting the two men who had both been Oscar-nominated for their work on the acclaimed two-hander Sleuth (1972). Getting the pair back together helped guarantee the new film’s financing.
Caine flew into Britain on Concorde early in 1982 from his home in Beverly Hills to start work on The Jigsaw Man. ‘It will be the first film I’ve made in London in six years,’ he told the Sunday Express, ‘and I’m really looking forward to it.’ Caine believed his $900,000 fee was double what he could have expected as an actor resident in the UK, because he was now considered an international name. The $9 million production began shooting at locations in England and Helsinki, with studio work at Shepperton. But Caine’s good feelings about the movie quickly faded as financial troubles threatened it.
In June 1982 the Sunday Express reported the movie had shut down because of cash difficulties. Olivier had already walked off the set on his lawyer’s advice after receiving no pay, but Caine had continued working. ‘They told me if I didn’t there was no chance that they would be able to raise the money to finish the film,’ he told the paper. ‘So Mr Nice Guy kept on working. But two weeks ago everything came to a stop. It’s a good story. It’s just a shame all this happened.’ Caine stayed in London for a fortnight in the hope new funding could be raised to finish production. The actor only had six days’ work left when the picture shut down.
A month later Caine discovered his Concorde ticket was only one-way. He bought his own plane ticket back to Hollywood, still owed $900,000 and six weeks’ living expenses. ‘It had never occurred to me to look at the ticket before,’ Caine told the Sunday Times. ‘I’d have guessed if they couldn’t afford to buy me a return ticket they couldn’t afford to make the picture. I still keep getting messages that it’s going to be finished. I’m fairly philosophical about the whole thing. It’s not as if this film were a masterpiece… It’s just a good, straight-forward thriller.’
Caine filmed his Oscar-nominated role in Educating Rita next, and then moved on to The Honorary Consul (both 1983). In the meantime The Jigsaw Man’s producer, Benjamin Fisz, secured $4 million of new financing and Young re-mounted the movie at Shepperton. Caine returned to complete his work and finally got paid. But pulling the fragments together required many months of editing. The completed film was given a 15 rating by the BBFC in August 1983, but was subsequently pilloried by critics. It limped out on video in 1986. The Jigsaw Man made its DVD debut in 2002.
Reviews: ‘Probably the most garrulous and doddering spy movie ever made … more flabby exposition than a month in the House of Lords…’ – Voice
‘Somewhat elementary cold war chicanery with an abundance of talk before a routine action finish.’ – Halliwell’s
Verdict: This pedestrian espionage picture tries the patience with glacial pacing, limp dialogue and endless exposition. Unsurprisingly, considering how the movie was made, continuity is all over the place with Caine’s hair colour varying randomly. The direction is flaccid and stale, and it is hard to believe a great cinematographer like Freddie Francis shot this drab, lifeless footage. Sadly, the film isn’t bad enough to attain kitsch value. Two moments do stand out. Laurence Olivier predicts a catchphrase from British TV sitcom The Royle Family by muttering ‘My arse!’ at Robert Powell. Later, there’s a running gag about Charles Gray’s character wearing a wig. The actor then appears in a wildly unconvincing bald cap, as if to prove he sports a wig the rest of the time. Caine strolls through this banal tale, attempting several different accents without much success. Rather than being less than the sum of its parts, The Jigsaw Man manages the rare feat of being worth less than any of its parts.