Sunday, 22 May 2022

Jack’s back… Get Carter (1971), BFI 4k restoration re-release, Friday 27th May

I’ve always had your welfare at heart Eric…

Jack is indeed returning to our big screens with the BFI re-releasing a 4k restoration from a 35mm negative approved by director Mike Hodges whose films have been celebrated on the Southbank this month. Carter’s never really left our collective conscience though and the film has only grown in stature since it’s initial release, from cult classic to a major part of the British film canon, one of the best, retaining its impact, criminal cool and unsettling violence, with a majestic Michael Caine giving perhaps his greatest performance: pure instinct and experience.

As Jack Carter watches a pornographic film after yet another sexual conquest, his head drops, and tears begin to flow as he realises that his brother’s teenage daughter, possibly his, has been pulled into this degraded world. Carter is psychopathic, a killer with intelligence and ruthless purpose pursuing revenge for the killing of his brother and yet here he is mourning the loss of his’ Doreen’s innocence… it breaks his heart for long seconds and then the brutal retribution of the film’s breathless closing sequence begins.

Watching his world disolve

The film is about that revenge but also the pointlessness of the violence some might celebrate and Roy Budd’s hypnotic score reflects this as his harpsicord, piano and Hammond organ, coupled with Jeff Cline’s bass and Chris Karan’s tabla play out Carter’s relentless drive north as the train heads from Kings Cross to Newcastle. The theme returns, startlingly reworked on vibes as visceral vengeance approaches and then plays itself to a slow stop at the devastating conclusion. Carter’s heart beats in the music which is all the more remarkable given Budd and his trio played along direct to screen given budget constraints. As with everything else in the film, necessity was indeed the mother of superlative invention.

Budd’s music also accompanies what is almost a City Symphony for Newcastle, with the film capturing Victorian streets, vibrant pubs, cavernous bingo halls, docks and the three bridged riverside to his mix of jazzy hauntology and pop songs… Getting Nowhere in a Hurry. North-Eastern Soul reflected in the faces on the civilians in those pubs, bookies and streets. Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky and Hodges both had a documentary background and it shows. I especially like the pub singer, Denea Wilde, performing the standard How About You? having worked in Butlins a decade later when the organ and drums were still the combination of choice.

Michael Caine

The film is crammed full of great moments and Hodges editing is also pretty much perfect… instinctive and free flowing he’s having an absolute blast in his first feature. He’s lucky and he knows it and we feel it in the film’s narrative quality, so many lines to savour, cameos from an incredible cast and a story that never doubts its purpose. Hodges screen wrote based on Ted Lewis’ novel, Jack’s Return Home, and he apparently took out elements explaining more of the back story to Jack’s relationship with his brother, streamlining what became a taught moral tale in which the anti-hero’s ambiguities are for the viewer to establish for themselves.

Censorship had been relaxed and there were a number of films of this period addressing gangland and the characters all too frequently making the headlines, the Krays, the Richardsons et al. Nicol Williamson was chilling in The Reckoning (1970), and dodgy accent aside, Richard Burton too in Villain (1971) whilst, predating all, Peter Walker’s Man of Violence (1969) with Michael Latimer and Luan Peters, offered a low-budget subversion of the genre. It was this film that Get Carter’s producer, Michael Klinger had seen and decided he could do better by optioning Lewis’ story and getting Hodges to make a more realistic and nuanced film.

Looking through Ian Hendry's eyes

Caine’s brilliance undoubtedly elevates the film but he has outstanding support all round from a febrile Ian Hendry as Eric, eyes like two piss-holes in the snow behind his shades, then John Osborne as his sinister boss Kinnaird, then Tony Beckley and George Sewell as Peter and Con, his London mates sent up to bring him home. Sewell is especially impressive with a confidence and humour behind his hardness that made his so good at playing in this field. As with Caine, Sewell knew “people” in London, and this certainly informed their portrayals as the film took the likeability of organised criminals away from the capers of the sixties in a more nihilistic and realistic direction.

There are a lot of tough performances but also a lot of very frightened ones too as the threat levels increases for those with and without Carter, the great Alun Armstrong as his brother’s mate Keith and Rosemarie Dunham as Edna, Carter's landlady and love interest. Jack’s love life is conflicted with his girlfriend in London, a sparingly used Britt Eckland, part of his plan to get away from it all in South America yet seemingly making herself available to his boss whilst he’s away. There are few certainties in his life and after being “rescued” by Kinnaird’s inebriated squeeze, Geraldine Moffat, he falls into her bed and then finds out more than he wants from watching the 16mm projector in her bedroom.


He's led to unlikely porn star Albert (Glynn Edwards) and then local businessman, Brumby (Bryan Mosely) who, is famously, a big man out of condition… The film touches on so many themes, from child abuse to corruption and the poisonous impact of crime on local communities. Everything is interconnected and depressingly self-perpetuating and if we truly get Carter, he’s not the solution but the problem.

Anyway, now’s your chance to work it out for yourself, to celebrate and re-evaluate in glorious clarity on the Southbank and across the country including, naturally, Tyneside. Details available on the BFI website.


There's also an article from Adam Scovell on the BFI site comparing the North Eastern locations now with then, fascinating how things change and how some things stay the same.

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