The Jigsaw Man has had a very troubled history. Originally, the money for this spy drama was put up on the basis of a reteaming of Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine, who had worked so brilliantly together in Sleuth. Halfway through production, the money disappeared, and it was some time before any new money appeared. Judging by appearances, the new money was barely enough to finish the film in any shape at all. Once it was finished, The Jigsaw Man's release was delayed for over a year. Now it has finally arrived, limping into town in the middle of a busy summer and hoping to get by on its stars. Unfortunately, as far as I'm concerned, The Jigsaw Man is no more than an example that there is no excuse for a bad work of art, just explanations.

Many things are wrong with The Jigsaw Man, starting with the script. The story concerns an aging British agent who defected to the Russians. The Russians use miracles of plastic surgery and who knows what else to turn him into Michael Caine. Caine is to go back to England, under the watchful eye of the KGB, to retrieve a list of Soviet agents which he had hidden before defecting. Caine escapes from their surveillaince and tries to cut a deal with his old friend (played by Olivier), who now runs the British secret service. Since Caine looks nothing at all like his old self, and the Russians reported his death, and there may be a mole in Olivier's department, there are many plot complications, added to by the presence of Caine's daughter (Susan George), the only person he can really trust.

The plot, while no world beater, could have been made to work. The script doesn't have very many new ideas to spice it up, though. It also requires some supposedly intelligent people to do very stupid things. Nor is the dialog particularly good. The film's continuity is extremely poor, but I will generously excuse the script for this, putting the blame on the film's financial troubles. One flaw that definitely comes out of the screenplay is that it only gives Olivier and Caine 3 scenes together, one an action scene in which they have little interaction. Since the selling point of the film was the Caine/Olivier reunion, I would have thought that a major restructuring to get their characters together would have been in order.

The direction is flaccid. No doubt the financial problems hurt here, too, but even the scenes and sequences which appear unaffected move slowly and with little inspiration or enthusiasm. Terrence Young is one of that company of hacks who made one or two good films years ago, and have been making mediocre films ever since. Their early hits make them respectable, and their willingness to work quickly and cheaply on garbage scripts makes them popular with producers. No one seems to notice that their film don't make very much money any more, nor get good reviews. Young's early hits were Dr. No and From Russia With Love, but anything they taught him about spies and suspense he has forgotten. Knowing his name, and the names of some of his fellow hacks, can save discerning viewers a few bucks, as their films invariably can be missed with no loss, nowadays. They have been making markedly fewer films since the US and Canada tightened up the tax laws to prevent tax writeoffs on the basis of film flops. (Here's a couple more names to watch for and avoid: Richard Fleischer, who once made The Vikings and now makes ridiculous sword-and-sorcery movies for Dino de Laurentiis, and Andrew V. McLaglen, who directed Shenandoah and went on to make most of John Wayne's late, bad Westerns.)

The acting in The Jigsaw Man is good, by and large, but some of it suffers from the fragmentation. Caine seems to have had most of his scenes shot, as does Olivier, but the supporting cast looks like much of its performances were never committed to film. Caine is good, he's almost never bad. Olivier relies a bit too much on eccentricities, but he has some good moments. Much of Charles Gray's part seems to have disappeared, as does the more interesting portions of Robert Powell's part. Susan George struggles with the daughter's part, bringing it to the mat but not pinning it.

The photography is surprisingly bad, when one considers that it was done by Freddie Francis, one of Britain's premiere cinematographers. (After an extended but undistinguished flirtation with directing Hammer horror films, Francis is back running the camera, where he belongs.) No other technical detail of The Jigsaw Man is up to par, either. Assuming that I am right about how much of the script was filmed, the editor has my sympathy, but not my admiration. If I'm wrong, and most of the script was shot, then that should be the fate of the editor, too.

The Jigsaw Man has one or two moments, but overall the impression I got was of a mediocre script only 4/5s of which was shot. The dedicated Caine and Olivier fans will feel compelled to see it, but others need not bother. For a much better time, rent a tape of Sleuth for your videocassette recorder, and watch what two brilliant actors can do with a near-perfect script and a talented, sophisticated director.

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