Friday, June 21, 2013

The Best Movies I Have Never Seen Before: Get Carter (1971)

Get Carter (1971)
Directed by: Mike Hodges.
Written by: Mike Hodges based on the novel by Ted Lewis.
Starring: Michael Caine (Jack Carter), Ian Hendry (Eric Paice), Britt Ekland (Anna), John Osborne (Cyril Kinnear), Tony Beckley (Peter the Dutchman), George Sewell (Con McCarty), Geraldine Moffat (Glenda), Dorothy White (Margaret), Rosemarie Dunham (Edna), Petra Markham (Doreen Carter), Alun Armstrong (Keith), Bryan Mosley (Cliff Brumby), Glynn Edwards (Albert Swift), Bernard Hepton (Thorpe), Terence Rigby (Gerald Fletcher), John Bindon (Sid Fletcher), Godfrey Quigley (Eddie), Kevin Brennan (Harry).

Get Carter is s shocking violent, cruel and nihilistic little revenge film. What starts out as a seemingly normal little revenge film, becomes increasingly coldhearted as it goes along, culiminating in an nihilistic finish to what is a truly great British gangster film. Michael Caine apparently once told Bob Hoskins that there were only three great British gangsters films “I was in one (Get Carter), you were in another (The Long Good Friday) and we both in the other (Mona Lisa)”. I have seen The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa, and they are truly great films. And Caine was right – Get Carter is just as great.

Caine stars as Jack Carter, a London gangster, who decides to head up North to his old hometown of Newcastle when his brother gets killed. The police think it was simply a drunk driving accident, and Carter’s gangland bosses don’t want him to go either, saying they have connections up there, and they don’t want him mucking them up. But he doesn’t care – he’s going anyway. When he arrives, he is underestimated by the local gangsters – they think he’s little more than a big city dandy, playing at being a tough guy. But Carter is tough – and soon he’s playing one bad guy off of another, trying to dig into the truth.

Carter was never really close with his brother. One of his brothers friends, after he gets the crap kicked out of him, which Carter knew was most likely coming but did nothing to stop it, tells him that his brother was right – Carter really is a shit. And he is. He doesn’t care about his brother or his death – not really – but it’s really more of the principle of the thing. He was Carter’s brother, he was killed, and he wants to know why, and who did it. The only person he seems to care about at all is his niece Doreen (Petra Markham), who may well be his daughter since he had an affair with his brother’s wife years ago. Carter seems cold, detached and emotionless for much of the movie. He’s there on a “job”, and he’ll do it. But when he finds out that Doreen has been taken advantage of in a cruel way, that’s when he gets angry, and the bodies start to pile up.

It’s during the film’s final reel that the violence gets shocking, which gave British censors fits in 1971 when the film was released. Particularly bothersome to them was a cruel, cold scene where Carter forces his brother’s “once a week prostitute” Margaret (Dorothy White) to strip at gunpoint, and then forces her to take a lethal overdose of heroin. Margaret really isn’t guilty of much, but to Carter she is really just a means to an end. He wants to get someone else in trouble, and knows a dead prostitute at his house will do the trick – and Margaret fits the bill.

Get Carter has elements of film noir – and director Mike Hodges plays with this a little, having Carter read Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely on his train ride for example. But that’s just about the only light hearted moment in the film. If film noir presented a world without heroes, just different levels of rotten, than Get Carter certainly fits the bill. The “hero” of the movie is just as bad as everyone else in it. He’s a cruel, sociopathic murderer, who is going after other cruel, sociopathic murderers. And in this role, Michael Caine may just give the best performance of his career. His Carter is like a shark – constantly moving, constantly on the prowl and looking to move in for the kill. He is the typical post modern man – defined on his actions alone. He has no time for introspection. We see echoes of his Carter in lots of movies today. Caine, who is recent years seems to have transformed himself into a kind, grandfatherly like presence in movie like The Cider House Rules (for which he won his second Oscar), was not always so nice. In Get Carter, he’s downright cruel, and his eventual end is the only one that fits the movie.

Director Mike Hodges has never really achieved the level of Get Carter again in his career. In recent years, he has returned to the gangster genre, and made two fine films starring Clive Own – Croupier and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. But neither match the ruthless, cruel effeiciency of Get Carter. This film is masterful.

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