Get Carter (1971): Mike Hodges’ Seminal British Crime Film, Starring Michael Caine in a Towering Performance

Mike Hodges made an impressive debut as writer and director of Get Carter, seminal British crime film, starring Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, John Osborne, Britt Ekland and Bryan Mosley.

Grade: A (***** out of *****)

Get Carter
A promotional poster featuring Michael Caine as Jack Carter with a cigarette in his mouth.

Original UK poster by Arnaldo Putzu

Based on Ted Lewis’s 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home, the film centers on the eponymous Carter (Caine), a London gangster who returns to his hometown in Northeast England to learn about his brother’s supposedly accidental death.

Suspecting foul play, and driven by vengeance, he investigates and interrogates, and in the process regains a more realistic feel of the city and its criminal sub-culture.

Producer Michael Klinger optioned Lewis’s novel and made a deal with the ailing MGM to finance and release the film. Get Carter became the last project to be approved by the studio before its closure.

The production went from novel to finished film in 8 months, with principal photography in and around Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead and County Durham.

Hodges, Klinger and Caine wanted to create more realistic portrayal of violence and criminal behavior than had previously been seen in British films. Caine, also serving as uncredited co-producer, incorporated aspects of criminals he knew into his characterization.

Hodges conducted detailed research into the criminal underworld of Newcastle (the one-armed bandit murder).

Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky gave the film a more naturalistic feel, drawing heavily on their backgrounds in documentaries.

Get Carter turned profit upon its initial UK release. It attracted mixed reviews, with critics begrudgingly appreciating the film’s technical achievements and Caine’s performance while criticizing the complex plot, violence and amorality–Carter’s apparent lack of remorse for his actions.

American critics were generally more enthusiastic, but the film languished on the drive-in circuit, while MGM focused its attention on producing Hit Man, a Blaxploitation-themed remake of Get Carter.

After its 1993 home video release, Get Carter developed cult following. Further endorsements from directors such as Tarantino and Guy Ritchie led to the film’s critical re-evaluation.

Younger reviewers singled out its depiction of class structure and life in 1970s Britain and Roy Budd’s minimalist jazz score.

In 1999, Get Carter was ranked 16th on the BFI Top 100 British films of the 20th century.

Stay away from the second remake, also titled Get Carter, released in 2000, with Sylvester Stallone portraying Jack Carter and sees Caine in a supporting role.

Hodges wrote the screenplay with Ian Hendry in mind for Carter, but then learned that Michael Klinger had already signed up Caine for the role. Caine was very prominent at the time, having starred in Alfie, The Italian Job and The Ipcress File.

Hodges was surprised that a star of Caine’s stature would play such an unlikeable person as Carter.  For his part, Caine said: “This was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they’re neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they’re certainly not very funny.”

He identified with Carter as memory of his working-class upbringing, having friends and family members involved in crime. He felt that Carter represented a path that his own life might have taken under different circumstances: “Carter is the dead-end product of my own environment, my childhood; I know him well. He is the ghost of Michael Caine.”

He made subtle changes to Hodges’ depiction of Carter, cut out pleasantries and gave him cold, hard edge that was closer to Lewis’s original envisioning of the character. Although he is not credited, Caine has been acknowledged as co-producer.

In a strange coincidence, Caine’s stand-in on the film was a man called Jack Carter.

Cast:

Ian Hendry as Eric Paice.

John Osborne as Cyril Kinnear, Jack’s main adversary.

Anna as seen in the film’s trailer

Britt Ekland as Anna.

Bryan Mosley as Cliff Brumby.

George Sewell as Con McCarty.

Tony Beckley as Peter the Dutchman

Glynn Edwards as Albert Swift.

Alun Armstrong as Keith.

Bernard Hepton as Thorpe.

Petra Markham as Doreen Carter

Rose Chapman in EastEnders.

Geraldine Moffat as Glenda.

Dorothy White as Margaret.

Rosemarie Dunham as Edna, Carter’s landlady.

John Bindon as Sid Fletcher.

Terence Rigby as Gerald Fletcher, one of London crime boss brothers.

Credits:

Directed by Mike Hodges
Screenplay by Mike Hodges, based on Jack’s Return Home, 1970 novel by Ted Lewis
Produced by Michael Klinger
Cinematography Wolfgang Suschitzky; Metrocolor

Edited by John Trumper
Music by Roy Budd
Production company: MGM-British Studios

Distributed by MGM-EMI Distributors

Release dates: February 3, 1971 (LA); March 10, 1971 (UK)

Running time: 112 minutes
Budget £750,000