Newcastle-born gangster Jack Carter has lived in London for years in the employ of organised crime bosses Gerald and Sid Fletcher. Jack is sleeping with Gerald’s girlfriend Anna and plans to escape with her to South America. But first he must return to Newcastle and Gateshead to attend the funeral of his brother Frank, who died in a purported drunk-driving accident. Unsatisfied with the official explanation, Jack investigates for himself. At the funeral Jack meets his teenage niece Doreen and Frank’s evasive mistress Margaret. It is later implied that Doreen is Jack’s daughter.
Jack goes to Newcastle Racecourse seeking old acquaintance Albert Swift for information about his brother’s death, however Swift spots Jack and evades him. Jack encounters another old associate, Eric Paice, who refuses to tell Jack who is employing him as a chauffeur. Tailing Eric leads him to the country house of crime boss Cyril Kinnear. Jack bursts in on Kinnear, who is playing poker, but learns little from him; he also meets a glamorous drunken woman, Glenda. As Jack leaves, Eric warns him against damaging relations between Kinnear and the Fletchers. Back in town, Jack is threatened by henchmen who want him to leave town, but he fights them off, capturing and interrogating one to find out who wants him gone. He is given the name “Brumby”.
Jack knows Cliff Brumby as a businessman with controlling interests in local seaside amusement arcades. Visiting Brumby’s house Jack discovers the man knows nothing about him and, believing he has been set up, he leaves. The next morning two of Jack’s London colleagues – Con McCarthy and Peter the Dutchman – arrive, sent by the Fletchers to take him back, but he escapes. Jack meets Margaret to talk about Frank, but the Fletchers’ men are waiting and pursue him. He is rescued by Glenda who takes him in her sports car to meet Brumby at his new restaurant development at the top of a multi-storey car park. Brumby identifies Kinnear as being behind Frank’s death, also explaining that Kinnear is trying to take over his business. He offers Jack £5,000 to kill the crime boss, which he flatly refuses.
Jack has sex with Glenda at her flat, where he finds and watches a pornographic film where Doreen is forced to have sex with Albert Swift. The other participants in the film are Glenda and Margaret. Overcome with emotion, Jack becomes enraged and pushes Glenda’s head under water as she is taking a bath. She tells him the film was Kinnear’s, and that she thinks Doreen was ‘pulled’ by Eric. Forcing Glenda into the boot of her car, Jack drives off to find Albert.
Jack tracks Albert down at a betting shop. Albert confesses he told Brumby that Doreen was, indeed, Frank’s daughter. Brumby showed Frank the film to incite him to call the police on Kinnear. Eric and two of his men arranged Frank’s death. Information extracted, Jack fatally knifes Albert. Jack is attacked by the London gangsters and Eric, who has informed Fletcher of Jack and Anna’s affair. In the ensuing shootout, Jack shoots Peter dead. As Eric and Con escape, they push the sports car into the river with Glenda trapped inside. Returning to the car park Jack finds Brumby, beats him senseless and throws him over the side to his death. He then posts the pornographic film to the vice squad at Scotland Yard in London.
Jack abducts Margaret at gunpoint. He telephones Kinnear in the middle of a wild party, telling him he has the film and makes a deal for Kinnear to give him Eric in exchange for his silence. Kinnear agrees, sending Eric to an agreed location; however, he subsequently phones a hitman to dispose of Jack. Jack drives Margaret to the grounds of Kinnear’s estate, kills her with a fatal injection and leaves her body there. He then calls the police to raid Kinnear’s party.
Jack chases Eric along a beach. He forces Eric to drink a full bottle of whisky as he did to Frank, then beats him to death with his shotgun. As Jack is walking along the shoreline, he is shot through the head by the hitman with a sniper rifle – only identified as “J”, who was in Jack’s carriage on his initial train journey to Newcastle during the film’s opening credits.
In the late 1960s film censorship relaxation produced an increase in dark, uncompromising films, with many directors pushing the boundaries of acceptability. Get Carter was a film which explored this freedom. The film went from concept to finished film in just 10 months.
Michael Caine & Ted Lewis on Frank Street in Benwell (now demolished) with the Dunston B Power Station in the distance – July 1970
In 1969, producer Michael Klinger devised plans for a gangster film to capitalize on public interest in the British criminal underworld after the Kray Twins’ convictions. Klinger was invited to view a first print of Peter Walker’s Man of Violence (1969) and was unimpressed, telling the director “I’m going to make a gangster film, but it’s going to cost a lot more than this and it’s going to be better”. After searching many publishers for material to adapt into a film, Klinger purchased the rights to Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home. Andrew Spicer has written that “he sensed its potential to imbue the British crime thriller with the realism and violence of its American counterparts”.
Michael Caine & Mike Hodges on location
Klinger had been approached in 1969 by another producer Nat Cohen to make a couple of films for MGM. In financial trouble and in shutting down its British operations, MGM was in the process of closing its British studios at Borehamwood and was looking to make smaller-budget films to turn a profit. At this time Klinger’s friend Robert Littman had been appointed head of MGM Europe and so Klinger took his proposal to him. MGM agreed a reasonable but below average of 750,000 (there is some dispute as to whether it was dollars or pounds) for the production. Within months of agreeing the deal MGM had pulled out of the UK. Klinger had seen Mike Hodges’ television film Suspect (1969) and immediately decided he was the ideal candidate to direct his new project. Hodges had also previously worked on current affairs program World in Action, the arts program Tempo and a 1968 children’s television serial, The Tyrant King, and all these past experiences informed his approach to his film debut.
Klinger contacted Hodges on 27 January 1970 with a copy of Jack’s Return Home and contracted him to direct and adapt the screenplay, paying him a flat fee of £7,000 for his services. Hodges’ original working title for the film was Carter’s The Name. Steve Chibnall writes: “his treatment retained the essential structure of Lewis’s novel with its strong narrative drive, but introduced some minor changes to characterization and more fundamental alterations to narratology”. As Ted Lewis had not specified where his novel was set, Hodges felt free to relocate the story to a place he was familiar with, considering Grimsby, Lowestoft, Hull and North Shields before deciding on Newcastle Upon Tyne. Hodges said he was influenced in his writing by the works of Raymond Chandler and Hollywood B-movies such as Kiss Me Deadly, because they showed “how to use the crime story as an autopsy on society’s ills”. He did not, however, employ a traditional noir technique of using a voiceover to expose the character’s inner feelings.
The film is mostly faithful to Ted Lewis’ novel, with some exceptions, such as the fact that in the book, Carter does not kill “Cliff Brumby” and mails the pornographic film featuring “Doreen Carter” to a journalist, rather than to Scotland Yard. At the end of the book, Carter is wounded, presumably mortally, by a knife thrust from “Eric Paice,” rather than being shot by an assassin hired by “Cyril Kinnear.” Also, Eric is killed when he attempts to shoot Carter with Carter’s own rifle, but the old weapon backfires and explodes. The book also contains numerous flashbacks detailing Carter’s relationship with his brother “Frank,” including an encounter in which Frank tells Carter that he no longer wishes to see him after learning from his ex-wife that Carter May be Doreen’s father. The significance of the double-barreled shotgun as Carter’s choice of weapon (which in the novel symbolizes family ties and Carter’s memories of more innocent times hunting with his brother) was lost in the film adaptation. Hodge’s adaptation streamlines the plot to a linear narrative spanning a single weekend.
Carter’s killing of Brumby and his own assassination were further alterations from the novel, emphasizing the film’s parallels with revenge tragedy and Carter’s role as what Geoff Mayer calls “the moral agent… a “knight” forced to dispense his own sense of justice in a corrupt world”.
M-G-M executives protested Hodges’ decision to kill Carter at the end, as they were hoping to make a sequel to the film, but Hodges insisted that Carter should pay for his crimes. However, Hodges implies that he did not see Carter as morally any more justified than those he kills, and his death is intended to present his actions to the audience as morally bankrupt and futile: “I wanted him to be dealt with in exactly the same way he dealt with other people.
“The significance of the double-barreled shotgun as Carter’s choice of weapon (which in the novel symbolizes family ties and Carter’s memories of more innocent times hunting with his brother) was lost in the film adaptation.”
Following the success of Jack’s Return Home, the novel on which Get Carter is based, Lewis wrote other novels featuring Carter, including Jack Carter’s Law and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon.
Co-produced by the actor after a string of flops had knocked off all the luster that he’d picked up in the mid-’60s, thanks to such films as Zulu, The Ipcress File and Alfie, the story of Jack Carter, a London gangster who travels to Newcastle to investigate the shady circumstances around his brother’s death, wasn’t just meant to revitalize Caine’s sagging career – he and his producing partner Michael Klinger (who took all the on-screen credit) were hoping to give a boost to the very concept of the British gangster picture, which by that point had slipped into stodgy irrelevance, like pretty much all British genre film making around the start of the ’70s.
Caine and Hodges had ambitions to produce a more gritty and realistic portrayal of on-screen violence and criminal behavior than had previously been seen in a British film. Caine incorporated his knowledge of real criminal acquaintances into his characterization of Carter. Hodges and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky drew heavily on their backgrounds in documentary film. This—combined with Hodges’ research into the contemporary criminal underworld of Newcastle (in particular the one-armed bandit murder), and the use of hundreds of local bystanders as extras—produced a naturalistic feel in many scenes. The shoot was incident-free and progressed speedily, despite a one-day strike by the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians. The production went from novel to finished film in eight months, with location shooting lasting 40 days.
There was pressure from MGM to have more big-name American stars in the film, which was successfully resisted by Hodges. As well as Telly Savalas, names posited by Klinger and studio executives were Joan Collins, and someone Hodges described as “the Canadian lead actress in TV’s Peyton Place”, which most probably means Barbara Parkins. The production also utilized a large number of extras, most of whom were locals who just happened to be on scene when filming was happening. Others were sourced from local casting company Beverley Artistes, which sent everyone registered with it for audition, one of these being Deana Wilde, who was cast as the pub singer. Several of the company’s actors were also in background shots in the film including the casino, streets, bars and the police raid scene.
Michael Caine and Geraldine Moffat
Michael Caine as Jack Carter. Hodges wrote the screenplay with Ian Hendry in mind for Carter, but learned that Michael Klinger had already signed up Caine for the role. With the backing of a major studio Klinger was keen to secure a big name for the lead, and 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 want to play such a thoroughly unlikeable person as Carter. Giving his reasons for wanting to be involved with the film, the actor said “One of the reasons I wanted to make that picture 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 a memory of his working class upbringing, having friends and family members who were involved in crime and felt Carter represented a path his 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 in the script, cut out pleasantries and gave him a cold, hard edge; closer to Lewis’s original envisioning of the character. Caine was determined to show a more minimalistic and realistic, less “pornographic” form of violence than was generally depicted on screen. Carter’s violent actions are restrained, business-like and sudden, never using 30 punches when one would do. Although he is not credited as such in the film, Caine has been acknowledged in retrospect as a co-producer. Hodges described Caine as “a complete dream to work with”. Caine only lost his temper once on set, during the very tense and emotional day filming the scene with Glenda in the bath, when the focus puller ruined his first take. Caine apologized immediately. In a strange coincidence, Caine’s stand-in on the film was a man called Jack Carter.
John Osborne as Cyril Kinnear, Jack’s main adversary. Famous playwright Osborne was an unusual choice of actor; he was suggested by Hodges’ agent. The writer enjoyed the change, and saw it as a way to erase the image in the public’s mind of him as an angry young man. Osborne had never played card games before and practiced poker before the shoot to lend realism to the gambling scene. Osborne’s portrayal was a contrast to the description in Lewis’s novel of Kinnear as an uncultured spiv, giving him an urbane and laid-back demeanor, his delivery being so relaxed and quiet that it was difficult for the sound recordist to pick up, but Hodges liked the “menace in that quietness”.
Michael Caine and Britt Ekland
Ian Hendry as Eric Paice. Hendry had previously been cast by producer Klinger in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and was Hodges’ first choice to play Carter, but by 1970 his career was rapidly declining. Hendry’s alcoholism and poor physical condition were apparent on set in Newcastle, and his envy at contemporary Caine’s success was exacerbated by his drinking. Hodges and Caine used his animosity towards Caine to their advantage to create extra tension in the scenes between Carter and Paice.
Britt Ekland as Anna. Ekland was cast as the leading lady of the film, as she was a prominent sex symbol of the time and would have already been familiar to US audiences through her work in The Night They Raided Minsky’s and Stiletto. Therefore her small role in the film was overemphasized in the publicity. Ekland was afraid of becoming typecast, having already played two gangster’s molls before Carter. She was also reluctant to take the part as she did not want to take her clothes off; however, she had financial problems at the time as a result of bad investment decisions by her accountant. She was later happy that she had been involved with the project.
Geraldine Moffat as Glenda. Moffatt was an experienced actress who had trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She attracted Hodges’ attention not just for her good looks but for her work on television plays such as Stella and Doreen.
Bryan Mosley as Cliff Brumby. MGM executives initially wanted Telly Savalas for the part of the “big man”, but were impressed by Coronation Street actor Mosley’s performance in fight scenes in Far from The Madding Crowd. A devout Roman Catholic, Mosley was concerned about taking part in such a violent film with depictions of criminal behavior, consulting his priest over the moral implications.
George Sewell as Con McCarty. Sewell was the man who introduced Barbara Windsor to Charlie Kray. He grew up in working class Hoxton and had come to acting late when in 1959 he joined Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. A well-known face on British television in the 1960s, his sandblasted features and shifty, haunted looks made him ideal for playing villainous characters or hard-bitten detectives. He seemed ideally cast as a London gangster colleague of Carter’s. After Carter, Sewell became more known for playing policemen rather than villains.
Tony Beckley as Peter the Dutchman. Lewis depicted Peter as a misogynistic homosexual in his novel, but these elements were not emphasized in the film, although the character is flamboyant and “camp”. Beckley had developed a specialism of playing sadistic criminals, so his part in Carter was somewhat similar to his role of “Camp Freddy” alongside Caine in The Italian Job.
Glynn Edwards as Albert Swift. Like Sewell, Edwards was also an apprentice of Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop, who had come to acting in his 30s. He had previously appeared alongside Caine in Zulu and The Ipcress File. After the film Edwards found work as a character actor and appeared regularly in the TV show Minder.
Principal photography took place in the north east between 17 July and 15 September 1970. Hodges favoured the use of long focal length lenses (as he had used previously on Rumour) in many scenes to create a naturalistic documentary feel, especially in crowd scenes. The film was shot in “Metrocolor”, which was MGM’s trade name for films processed at its Eastmancolor laboratory. This lab processed Kodak’s Eastman Color Negative, so it is most likely the film was shot on this stock. Asked to comment on what he was aiming for in the look of the film, cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky said “The camera work on it… it was very influenced by Mike Hodges who has a very good eye for setups and he of course conferred with his operator and myself, but he influenced all of us, and much of the good look is due to him, I confess. My main task was lighting on location, very moderately, and waiting for the right daylight and setting the exposure on the lens”. In the first week of shooting in Newcastle, the ACTT called the crew out on one day strike. At the advice of Richard Lester, Hodges and his assistant director stayed at a separate hotel to the rest of the cast and crew, which enabled him to have some respite from the production after the shooting day was done. Klinger was present on set for much of the film shoot. However, Hodges said he encountered very little interference by the producer. At one point Klinger and Caine asked if Hodges might work in a “chase sequence”, but he persuaded them that it would draw too many comparisons with Bullitt (a chase sequence between Carter and the London gangsters is mentioned in the shooting script). Hodges tried to rehearse the racecourse scene between Caine and Hendry in their hotel the night before shooting, but “Hendry’s drunken and resentful state forced Hodges to abandon [the] attempt”.
Hodges described Caine as “a complete dream to work with”. Caine only lost his temper once on set, during the very tense and emotional day filming in Glenda’s flat, when the focus puller ruined his first take. Caine apologized immediately.
The most complicated scene to shoot was Kinnear’s game of cards. There are four simultaneous conversations, with a lot of plot exposition and the introduction of two important characters, Kinnear and Glenda. The technical complexity was compounded by the variation in light coming through the windows, and Osborne’s whispered delivery which made microphone placement difficult. Hodges moved the camera and the boom closer to Osborne as the scene progressed. Chibnall says that Hodges regretted not rehearsing the scene more thoroughly.
Base of the North Side coal staithes, North Blyth, Northumberland. Carter chases Paice along these near the film’s conclusion. The tops of the staithes as they appear in the film have been demolished so only the base of the structure remains.
In shooting the scene in which Carter throws Brumby to his death from the multi-storey car park, Hodges used four shots: one of the pair struggling high up on the stairs; one from the lowest level of the stairwell where Caine actually threw Bryan Moseley over the side onto mattresses; one shot of a dummy falling; and one of the body of Brumby on top of a crushed car.
Carter’s climactic pursuit of Eric used an amalgamation of two locations spaced 35 miles (56 km) apart: Blyth staithes and Blackhall Beach near Blackhall Colliery. The chase scene was shot in reverse, with Hodges filming Eric’s death scene first because of Hendry’s poor condition, Hodges being worried that he would be too out of breath to play the death scene after running. Hodges chose the beach for its bleak, dark atmosphere but when he returned to shoot the scene he found it bathed in bright sunshine, unsuitable for the sombre conclusion he was hoping for. He waited hours until the sun began setting to capture the overcast shadowy lighting seen in the film. The film shows the beach black with coal spoilings, dumped there by the mine’s conveyor system. The conveyor, a common sight on the East Durham coast, was known locally as ‘The Flight’. In the early 2000s, £10 million was spent removing these conveyors and the concrete towers, and cleaning tons of coal waste from the beaches of East Durham. The cleaning programme was known as ‘Turning the Tide’.
Trinity Square car park, with Brumby’s rooftop cafe, was demolished in 2010
Locations along the east coast of England had been scouted by Hodges and Klinger in the spring of 1970, to find a landscape that suggested a “hard, deprived background”. Newcastle was selected after Hodge’s first choice of Hull proved to be unsuitable. Hodges thoroughly researched the local Newcastle crime scene, adapting the script to make use of settings and incorporating elements of his research into the story. His background at World in Action had made him accustomed to making films based on hard investigation and this informed his approach to Get Carter. One of the first locations which attracted Hodge’s attention was the Trinity Square multi-story car park, which dominated the centre of Gateshead. To Hodges, the car park and the cast iron bridges over the Tyne, “seemed to capture the nature of Jack Carter himself”. The car park symbolizes one of the film’s more subtle themes, which is the destruction of an old cityscape and its rebuilding in line with modern Brutalism.
Hodges described how wandering alone through the upper structure, he realized how the different levels could be used to reveal the hunter, Carter, and the hunted, Brumby, simultaneously but without either being aware of the other – adding to the suspense. The shopping centre and car park were closed in early 2008, and demolished in late 2010.
Beechcroft, Broomside Lane, County Durham, the location of Cliff Brumby’s house, was finally demolished in December 2008
The location for Cyril Kinnear’s house, Dryderdale Hall, near Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, provided a real-life connection with organised crime. It was the recently-vacated country house of North East fruit machine businessman Vince Landa, who had fled the country in 1969 after the murder of his right hand man Angus Sibbett, the so-called one-armed bandit murder. Many believed the crime was part of a failed attempt by the Kray twins to gain control of the Newcastle underworld; Michael Klinger and the MGM publicity spokesman dismissed the use of the location as mere coincidence; however, Hodges was aware of the significance of the house and chose it deliberately. Steve Chibnall writes “It proved a perfect location, reeking of authenticity and full of useful details such as the cowboys and Indians wallpaper…the African shield and crossed spears on the wall of the crime lord’s living room”. The Landa case also is referenced at the start of the film with a shot of a newspaper bearing the headline “Gaming Wars”. Other locations in Newcastle and Gateshead, Northumberland and County Durham were also used.
Michael Caine on Westgate Road, Newcastle on July 27, 1970, taking time out from filming Get Carter
Klinger was a very hands-on producer and was present during shooting and in post-production. He suggested Hodges use John Trumper as editor. Hodges said that he and Trumper argued and disagreed constantly, but he still thought he was a “brilliant, brilliant editor” and was “very grateful to him for …how much he contributed”. Sound editing and dubbing was done by Jim Atkinson, whom Hodges described as “so obsessive about the job”. He gave Hodges multiple possibilities of how the sound could be dubbed, and explored every angle. Klinger was worried that the debut director might be overwhelmed with too many options, but Hodges said he and Atkinson got on very well.
Variation in light coming through the windows, and Osborne’s whispered delivery which made microphone placement difficult. Hodges moved the camera and the boom closer to Osborne as the scene progressed. Chibnall says that Hodges regretted not rehearsing the scene more thoroughly.
INITIAL RELEASE & CULT FOLLOWING
Get Carter suffered in its promotion, firstly from MGM’s problems and secondly owing to the declining British film industry of the period, which relied increasingly on US investment. Initial UK critical reaction to the film was mixed, with British reviewers grudgingly appreciative of the film’s technical excellence, but dismayed by the complex plotting, the excessive violence and amorality, in particular Carter’s apparent lack of remorse at his actions. Despite this the film did good business in the UK and produced a respectable profit. Conversely, US critics were generally more enthusiastic and praised the film, but it was poorly promoted in the States by United Artists and languished on the drive in. On its release Get Carter received no awards and did not seem likely to be well remembered. It wasn’t available on home media until 1993, however it always maintained a cult following. Subsequently, endorsements from a new generation of directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie led to a critical reappraisal which saw it recognized as one of the best British movies of all time. In 1999, Get Carter was ranked 16th on the BFI Top 100 British films of the 20th century; five years later, a survey of British film critics in Total Film magazine chose it as the greatest British film of all time.
Hit Man (1972) Starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier
Lewis’ novel was used as the basis for another film. Hit Man, was released in 1972 by M-G-M and featured mostly African-American actors. Set in Watts, the picture was directed by George Armitage and starred Bernie Casey. Hit Man was based more on Get Carter than on Lewis’ novel, and was produced by M-G-M specifically for the “black market,” according to a December 1972 Daily Variety article, after Get Carter performed well financially in foreign markets. Director Steven Soderbergh has stated that the original Get Carter also influenced his 1999 film The Limey, in which a London gangster (Terence Stamp) travels to Los Angeles to avenge his daughter’s murder.
Wolfgang Suschitzky – On the set of Get Carter
Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky, also with a background in documentary film, followed Hodges vision unhesitatingly and to impressive results. Get Carter’s importance lies in the technical superiority of the way it was filmed
Conversations – Mike Hodges
For more interviews with Hodges, click the bottom link
The majority of the music in the film was composed by Roy Budd, a jazz pianist and composer, who had previously worked on soundtracks for Soldier Blue and Flight of the Doves. Budd composed 13 distinct pieces for the film, including three songs, Looking For Someone, Love Is A Four Letter Word (with lyrics by Jack Fishman) and Hallucinations. The theme, (otherwise known as Carter Takes a Train) which is the best-known music from the film, was played by Budd and the other members of his jazz trio, Jeff Clyne (double bass) and Chris Karan (percussion), and was recorded on a budget of £450. The musicians recorded the soundtrack live, direct to picture, playing along with the film. To save time and money Budd did not use overdubs, simultaneously playing a real harpsichord, a Wurlitzer electric piano and a grand piano. Budd described the experience as “uncomfortable, but it sounded pleasant”. The theme tune features the sounds of the character’s train journey from London to Newcastle.
The theme was released as a 7″ vinyl single by Pye Records in 1971, titled simply Carter and backed with “Plaything”, another piece composed for the soundtrack. Original copies of the record are much sought after by collectors and sell for around £100. The soundtrack—including pieces not used in the film—was originally only available in its entirety in Japan, where it was released on Odeon Records. It was released in the UK in 1998 by the Cinephile label, a subsidiary of Castle Communications. In 2012 the theme was included on the Soul Jazz Records compilation British TV, Film and Library Composers.
The film includes other music which is not included on the soundtrack LP. The music playing in the nightclub scene is an uptempo cover of the 1969 Willie Mitchell tune “30-60-90” performed live by the Jack Hawkins Showband, which was the resident band at the Oxford Galleries night club. Hawkins’ name can be seen on the poster outside the club before Thorpe runs inside, and the band can faintly be seen on stage as Thorpe enters the club. A version of the band’s rendition was available on a live LP by Jack Hawkins, which was released under two titles, Psychedelic ’70s and later as Everything Is Beautiful, The pub singer, played by Denea Wilde, performs a cover of How About You? by Burton Lane and Ralph Freed, a song more associated with glamorous Hollywood films than the backrooms of Newcastle pubs. The Pelaw Hussars, a local juvenile jazz band and majorette troupe, also appear and perform two numbers, When The Saints Go Marching In and Auld Lang Syne.
Interview: Mike Hodges on Get Carter
Get Carter was your first feature film outside of television work. What was it that made you make the jump? Was it a natural progression and did the jump have anything to do specifically with wanting to make Get Carter?
It was a natural progression. In those days there were only three television channels so the audiences were huge. Consequently your profile could (if all went well) be pretty high. Feature producers watched out for any emerging talents. Presumably because they were cheaper than established directors but also because there was a certain kudos to finding new contenders. Michael Klinger, who spotted me, had earlier spotted Roman Polanski who made his first English films with him. Cul-de-sac & Repulsion. My two television films (Suspect and Rumour) that attracted his attention were both from original scripts and I’d always dreamt of continuing on that trajectory. It was not to be. When Klinger sent me Jack’s Return Home, a novel by Ted Lewis, and asked if I wanted to adapt and direct it as a feature film, I couldn’t resist.
What was it that you saw in it to make it potentially into a film? And what aspects did you deliberately change from the novel?
It was a cracking novel. Sparse in every way. Not a sinew of sentimentality. Very much the way I like both my literature and films. Initially I didn’t want to change anything. It’s a long time ago but I think the first draft was much the same as Lewis’s original text. Probably because I’d never before adapted a novel and somehow felt obliged to the original author. At some point I knew I had to free myself from that straightjacket and begin to think only in cinematic terms. I abandoned the novel’s structure of flashbacks and settled on a straight narrative form; one that I felt happier with for my first feature film.
Moving on from that, the film is famous for its consistently astounding cast. Firstly, however, there are many stories of the studio, MGM, wanting much bigger names in various roles such as Telly Savalas and Joan Collins. Was there this pressure from the studio? And how did you manage to resist these casting choices?
Yes, MGM wanted big names in the film. Producers always do. For me, the innocent, this was an anathema. When casting my television films no executive had ever asked me about the cast. That was simply part of my job. Like a painter choosing a particular palette. Now there was a star on board (Michael Caine) I realised I needed to surround him with unknown faces. In that way, as with planting him in Newcastle, I could root Jack Carter in his own milieu. So I fought off each of those ridiculous casting suggestions by simply threatening to resign. It worked. That’s because I meant it.
Though the marvellous Ian Hendry was eventually to play Eric Paice in the film, he was initially your first choice for Carter before Caine came into the picture thanks to Michael Klinger. What was it that initially brought Hendry to mind for the role and what was the result dramatically of having some genuine rivalry between Hendry and Caine because of this?
The innocent again. I’d assumed no major star would ever contemplate playing such a shit as Carter. It was an image problem every parasitic agent would advise against. Ian Hendry, thought I, might just be interested in the role. Whilst having had his moments among the gods in the Movie Galaxy he was more of a shooting star. In the novel Carter is a much seedier character. It was only the glamour (if that’s right word!) brought by Caine to the role that moved it towards the iconic. The fact that Caine’s career was in the ascendance while his was in reverse undoubtedly bugged Ian. Sad, because he was a wonderful actor.
Much is made of John Osborne’s stunning performance as the gangster, Cyril Kinnear. How did this casting come about? Is it true that his performance was so quiet and subtle during the card game sequence that the sound crew were having difficulty picking up his lines?
For me casting is a totally instinctive process. I never ask actors to read; only to spend time talking about anything under the sun. Time enough for me to study them and hopefully fit them into my canvas. I’ve often met actors for one role and decided to place them in another. Filmmakers are lucky because they have a vast repertory company to chose from. Casting villains can be tricky because their characters often amount to a bunch of clichés. (Witness any Bond film!). With Cyril Kinnear, whilst desperate to come at him from a different angle, I wasn’t having much luck. My agent at the time was also Osborne’s and, out of the blue, he suggested him. We met and liked each other. John’s talent for invective intimated that there was another side to him than the affable playwright. You’re right. Chris Wangler, my brilliant sound recordist, asked for John to project more. I resisted his pleas and simply moved the camera closer. John’s decision to speak quietly was clever. So mundane; so sinister.
Why did you film Get Carter in Newcastle, when Ted Lewis’ original book, Jack Returns Home, is set in Lincolnshire?
It doesn’t say where it is, actually. He changes trains in Doncaster but you never know where he goes to. I’d done my national service in the navy, so I went into all these unbelievable ports like Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft, North Shields, Immingham, all that. So when I was sorting out a film location, I went up the east coast to all of these places. Despite the film being firmly based on a fiction, I still investigated the local crime scene and happened on [a crime] that was to influence the very fabric of the film: the Dolce Vita murder. This crime, committed two or three years earlier, somehow captured the sleaziness and corruption festering in the city’s underbelly: it even involved a hit man, already incarcerated, but who, like Jack Carter, had come up from London. My research led me to many of the locations used in the film, including the grim Gothic house occupied by Cyril Kinnear (John Osborne), which had also been the home of the real-life criminal behind the murder. The veracity of the film’s thrust was confirmed soon after its release when the city’s manager, the first ever appointed in England, was arrested and found guilty of corruption, a cancer that had spread to very top of the country’s establishment.
What were you looking for?
I thought it should be set in a very hard fishing port but the developers had got into all the ports. The last throw of the dice was to go back to North Shields and we’d gone into the fishing jetty there, and there was an area at the back that was called The Jungle. Visually, the place was extraordinary. I came via Newcastle, which is inland from North Shields. As soon as I arrived in Newcastle, I just had to shoot there. I got there before the developers moved in; they destroyed the place. All the houses we filmed in were condemned at that point. I opened one up again just for Jack’s brother’s house.
Back to the film’s many buildings, one account suggests the famous brutalist car-park in Trinity Square where several scenes take place (including Cliff Brumby’s untimely demise) was due for demolition before the film. How did you manage to sway them to not go through with it (with the car-park only being only demolished fully in 2010!)?
Getting the facts about Trinity Square has always been a problem. It was rumoured as unsafe and that’s why the penthouse had never been opened as a restaurant. That said I don’t remember there being any problem getting permission to shoot there. At the time I had no idea its architect was, in fact, a friend, one of a poker party I used to play with. Poker again! Because the credited architect was the firm not the individual, I had no idea Rodney Gordon was truly responsible for this terrific building. Not until he died in 2008, when I read his obituaries, did I realise this. Since then (alas too late) he’s been applauded (especially by Jonathan Meades) as the leading light in British Brutalism.
It’s a building that I definitely think defines the film particularly well in its uncompromising but confident nature. Finally then, with the film now considered as one of the defining pieces of cinema made in Britain, what is it that you think accounts for its resurgence and success?
Soon after its release in 1972, the film was banished to the dark shadows of cult status. It was, after all, not considered a very nice film here in the UK. But then most of my films have been more appreciated beyond these shores, particularly in the US and France. That changed when, in 2009, the BFI decided to release it again; albeit in a limited way. This time around I think British audiences found the endemic corruption intimated in its every frame more acceptable. By then their rose-tinted glasses were off. We no longer saw our country as a beacon of propriety, and law and order. Our parliamentarians, police, press, the whole damned edifice, had been found to be wanting. They all had their noses in the money trough. The cancer of greed had reached every organ of British society. Maybe, just maybe, Get Carter had been an accidental augury?
Why did you decide to kill Jack Carter in the film?
That was the condition on which I made it. I wanted him being disposed of in exactly the same way that he disposes of everybody else. It’s without any sentiment, cold, put down like a dog with rabies.
Would you like to have done a sequel?
No. I did come up with an idea that he’d had a child and I was interested in the genetic ramifications of this young man who’s as violent and unpleasant as Carter. He’s been adopted by religious parents and he’s trying to work out how he ended up like this, and they’re wondering too. That interests me but no one else was interested in it. It was called Jack’s Back.
Directed/Screenplay Mike Hodges
Produced Michael Klinger
Jack’s Return Home
by Ted Lewis
CELLULOID WICKER MAN
Interview: Mike Hodges on Get Carter (1971)
TCM Website “Get Carter” (NOTES)
They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?
A Conversation with Writer/Director Mike Hodges by Maxim Jakubowski