Get Carter: A Jack-obean Revenge Tragedy


It’s hard to believe that Get Carter, a Jacobean (Jack-obean?) revenge tragedy dressed up in grim, northern gangster style, is over 40 years old. It is arguably the greatest British gangster film ever made, certainly one of the best, regardless of genre. It is chock full of memorable lines, performances, and gritty, bitter violence, leavened by the driest wit. Get Carter has influenced many other films and shows, most recently Life On Mars.

Remember Gene Hunt driving through the backstreet washing lines? Seen here first. The Trinity Square Car Park may be demolished but who doesn’t remember Brian Mosley as Brumby being thrown over the edge by Jack Carter. “You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape, with me it’s a full time job, now behave yourself.” Who hasn’t mimicked Michael Caine deliver that line, possibly inaccurately adjusting horn rimmed spectacles?

“The only reason I came back to this craphouse is to find out who did it.”

Local pub singer Denea Wilde who featured in the film (after her number, she has a catfight with a rival, they were told to “really go for it”) recalled Michael Caine was a real gentleman on set. He told her about the time he was first shown the rushes of the scene where he talks to Britt Ekland on the telephone, without the audio added yet. As she is writhing about on the bed, he told Denea, “I don’t know what I’m saying here, but I can’t wait to find out because it will come in handy for later.” If there is ever a British remake (God forbid, Stallone’s was bad enough), Tesco Mary from X-Factor should be a cert for Denea’s role. Also, the old girl who does a double take and drops her milk bottle on the step when Caine strides out of his landlady’s front door, stark naked with a shotgun, ejecting the goons sent to run him out of town, is priceless.

“You’re only supposed to deliver the bloody Gold top!”

“What’s the matter with you, gut trouble?”

When director Mike Hodges unexpectedly secured Michael Caine in the lead role, MGM came up with ridiculous suggestions (often American) for actors to inhabit the supporting Geordie roles. Hodges stuck to his guns and cast British unknowns or character actors. “I knew by surrounding Michael with fresh faces, I could ground the film. I was right.” A young Alun Armstrong is the kid who gets beat up for asking too many questions on Carter’s behalf. Jack tosses him some tenners. “Get yourself some karate lessons.” John Osbourne, the famous playright of Look Back In Anger plays the quietly menacing local crime boss, and Ian Hendry is a delight as his creepy chauffeur.

“Eyes like two piss holes in the snow.”

“Still got your sense of humour, Jack.”

Caine exhibits a masterclass in bottled pain and anger as he silently watches a porn cine film, coming to realise that the young girl in it is his niece (or possibly daughter). His unblinking eyes do not leave the screen, actually looking directly at us, the audience, a single tear starting to roll down his cheek. He and the director make us complicit as voyeurs in her fate, as the film reflects on the white wall behind Jack. “I want to congratulate you Glenda, you deserve an oscar,” he says quietly to her co-star, next door in the bath. When she professes not to know who the young girl is he suddenly explodes with rage and drags her out. The sound of the displaced water and his raised voice are shocking after the silence.

Hodges showed masterly confidence in his use of sound design in this, his first major film. The sound of a screw going slowly into his brother Frank’s coffin, the creak of the landlady’s rocker as she listens to Jack’s half of the “phone sex” conversation with Britt Ekland, and the chill wind echoing around the concrete deserted streets, accompanied only by the throaty growl of Jack’s car, all add great dramatic impact.

“Goodbye, Eric!”

Roy Budd’s musical score is superb, a mixture of easy listening tracks heard in the background of the pubs and clubs, and the masterly main theme, Carter Takes A Train, together with the Bach – like piece as Carter finishes his odyssey on the slag filled beach. In the theme, the tabla takes the place of the drum kit. The percussive line is insistent, like the train rolling over the tracks. The harpsichord-like instrument is a Celesta. it provides a ghostly, melancholic sound to echo the theme of empty revenge.

So, as we remember the five fingered tippler in The Great Northern Bar, who glances up at Jack’s very particular order, let’s raise a pint to Get Carter *snaps fingers* “In a thin glass.”

Originally posted 2012-02-16 18:23:51. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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