Saturday, December 20, 2008

Target #251: Get Carter (1971, Mike Hodges)

TSPDT placing: #570
Directed by: Mike Hodges
Written by:
Ted Lewis (novel), Mike Hodges (screenplay)
Starring: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland, John Osborne, Tony Beckley, George Sewell, Geraldine Moffat

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 2 only]

1971 was the year when mainstream filmmakers began to the push the limits of what was acceptable to show on screen, both in terms of sex and violence. Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) enthralled and disgusted audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, picking up a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Picture but later being voluntarily withdrawn from circulation by its director. Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971) shocked audiences with its uncompromising exploration of inherent human violence and vigilantism. Likewise, Get Carter (1971), from director Mike Hodges, is an incredibly gritty underworld gangster film, so much so that you can almost taste the gravel between your teeth. It won't escape your notice that all three of these films are British, or, at least, were produced with substantial British input; apparently, it took Hollywood a few more years to become quite as well accustomed to such themes, though that year's Best Picture-winner, The French Connection (1971), does rival Get Carter as far as grittiness goes.

Jack Carter (Michael Caine) is a London gangster, an entirely unglamorous occupation that entails such duties as gambling, murder and watching pornography. After his brother, Frank, dies in Newcastle under suspicious circumstances, Jack goes up there, against the wishes of his employer, to find out exactly what happened, and to punish all those responsible. What he finds is the usual assortment of sleazy low-lifes and lascivious whores, all part of the underground lifestyle into which he sold himself. Get Carter obviously derived a degree of influence from the trashy pulp-fiction novels of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, and, indeed, this inspiration is openly acknowledged when Carter is seen reading "Farewell My Lovely" {adapted by Edward Dmytryk as Murder, My Sweet (1944)}. Like many of the hard-boiled anti-heroes of 1940s and 50s film noir, he has sold his soul for a chance at revenge, and there's no going back. A detail worth noting is that Carter's eventual assassin is first spotted in the opening credits, sitting opposite in the train carriage. A cruel coincidence, or was his fate sealed from the very beginning?Get Carter may have served as inspiration to the recent generation of British gangster film, but the Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie style of film-making favoured today – the most notable example of which being Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) – is often excessively trendy and highly stylised. Mike Hodges' idea of a gangster film is ugly – disgustingly and uncomfortably repellent, offering not a glimmer of respectability nor nobility in its selection of depraved characters. Even Jack Carter himself is not a man we are asked to admire. He may have a steady supply of droll one-liners at hand, but at his heart he is cold, almost completely devoid of human emotion. Just watch Carter's stone-face as his car is rammed into the bay (with an unfortunate captive in the boot), or his indifference to the fate of friend Keith (Alun Armstrong), who is thoroughly roughed-up while lending a hand. Hodges appears only to find decency in the deceased Frank, who represents the honest, working-class type of man. However, even this legacy is coming to an end, for the next generation, Doreen, has already been corrupted.

Currently my #5 film of 1971:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
2) Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah)
3) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)
4) The French Connection (William Friedkin)
5) Get Carter (Mike Hodges)


aeuzop said...

I always thought this was a comedy.


If you couldn't guess, I have not seen this movie...

ackatsis said...

A comedy? A COMEDY?!

aeuzop said...