Get Carter (1971)
Jack Carter (Michael Caine) hears of his brother’s death and heads up to Newcastle from London where he works as a mob hit man. As he speaks to his brother’s friends and coworkers, Carter suspects the car accident that killed his brother Frank was no accident at all. Inconsistencies in people’s stories along with their unwillingness to talk about Frank’s last day convince him to look deeper. As Carter digs we see how much the local gang wants him to stop looking and go home to London. We also see how ruthless he is. He doesn’t care who gets hurt in his quest for answers about a brother he hasn’t seen in years. We also get some idea of why Carter left for London in the first place. He rose above this second-tier town. Seedy and low-rent, Newcastle’s bars, betting parlors, and rooming houses serve as the perfect backdrop for the story of a pretty serious bastard picking through the low-lifes to find the lowest one. You don’t love Carter, but he’s fun to watch. He maneuvers around the local thugs like a sort of hoodlum James Bond. Violent and single-minded, Carter has no qualms about using his friends to get the answers he wants. An interesting scene in a local bar gives some insight into Carter’s personality and the atmosphere in Newcastle. A pub singer kisses a male customer as part of her act and a jealous woman attacks her. The two women roll on the floor fighting as the patrons look on, cheering. It’s one of the few times in the film when Carter smiles.
The character of Carter and the story “Jack’s Return Home” by Ted Lewis appealed to Michael Caine and his partner Michael Klinger so they bought the rights to it and chose Mike Hodges (Terminal Man, Croupier) to direct. Caine had been searching for a vehicle since he found his last few films disappointing. He had to be happy with this one. Get Carter showcases Caine’s assets spectacularly. He gets to be crafty, sardonic, and even cruel as he muscles his way toward the real story behind his brother’s death. This is Caine at his best. He outsmarts the goons hired to rough him up while throwing out great lines. After going to the wrong man’s house, he attempts to leave quietly. The man starts to fight with Caine/Carter who says, “You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape. With me it’s a full-time job. Behave yourself.” Carter slugs him and leaves. Even while chasing a man in order to kill him, Carter has some great lines. As the man falters trying to escape Carter says, “You couldn’t win an egg and spoon race, [name*].” I loved Get Carter. It had a strong story and an incredible performance by Caine. The direction was no-nonsense and very Don Siegel-like which suited the material perfectly. I haven’t read the story so I don’t know how much material Mike Hodges added when he wrote the screenplay, but choice bits abound. During one scene, Carter has phone sex with his mistress Britt Ekland while staring at his landlady. The camera stays on Carter in the background on the phone and the landlady in the foreground in a rocking chair. As the conversation gets more heated, the rocking quickens. Later, Carter has sex with the landlady under a sampler that reads ‘What Would Jesus Say’. Priceless.
BAFTA nominated Ian Hendry for best supporting actor, but skipped Michael Caine entirely. Since he dominates the film, his omission stuns me. Caine acts in every scene and I couldn’t take my eyes off him for a second. The plot, atmosphere, supporting cast, and especially Michael Caine’s performance makes Get Carter one of the best crime-related films I’ve seen. Thanks, Cinema Shame! I’m glad I had a reason to see this.
*including the name would be a spoiler