During 2005-07, i was studying for MBA at Thiruvananthapuram. Being an incorrigible book worm, i had membership in the most reputed libraries in the city- The Public Library and The British Library. The former, the first public library in India, is a regal remainder of the British Raj whilst the other a slice of new Britain.
The British public library was pretty expensive for a student like me but it was worth it. It had a good collection of latest works in fiction and nonfiction. more than that the reference section was filled with lot of expensive and interesting books. To top it all it also had a small but select DVD collection of well known British classics. It was here on one of my visits I cam across the copy of “Get Carter”.
Before that I had no inkling about what the movie was or in what venerable position it was held in the eyes of the British. I took it because the blurb on the cover interested me as well as the pictures of Michael Caine holding a double barrel rifle in his hands with a “don’t mess with me “ look on his countenance.
I took it home and watched it on the same day. From the opening credits I was hooked. The first few scenes were enough to realize that the movie was “no holds barred”. It was based on a 1969 novel by Ted Lewis’ called Jack’s Return Home and was directed by Mike Hodges.
The basic plot of the movie is about Jack Carter (Michael Caine), returning to his hometown New Castle to investigate his brother Frank’s accidental death.
Jack is an enforcer for Mob Boss Gerald and Sid Fletcher. He lives lavishly in London and even has an affair with Gerald’s girlfriend Anna. He is planning to pull out of the crime syndicate and escape to South America. It is then that gets the news of his brother’s death in a drunk driving accident. He had lost contact with his brother for years. He decides to go Newcastle to attend the funeral. Newcastle was and still is one of the poorer states in Britain. Unemployment rates were huge. No wonder so many youth turned to crime.
At the funeral Jack meets with his teenage niece Doreen and Frank’s mistress Margaret. Jacks suspicions are aroused when Margaret evades him and his enquiries.
He meets up with old rival Eric Paice at the Race course .Eric also gives him the cold shoulder (resulting in a memorable scene where Jack comments Eric’s eyes are like “piss holes in the snow”)
He meets up with Eric’s Boss Kinnear which leads him to Brumby who is Kinnears rival. In between these Jack is attacked to remind him that he had overstayed his welcome. Convinced now of foul play, he takes it upon himself to find the truth and delves deeper into the criminal underbelly of the city.
Jack finally learns that Frank was victim of the rivalry between Brumby and Kinnear. Kinnear had made a pornographic film using his Mistress Glenda, Frank’s daughter Doreen, his mistress Margaret and a punter called Albert Swift. In the film Doreen is forced to have sex with Albert. Brumby showed Frank the film to incite him to call the police on Kinnear which lead to his murder by Kinnear’s henchmen lead by Eric Paice.
In the meantime unable to get rid of Jack themselves, Eric informs Sid Fletcher of Jack and Anna’s affair. Hit men from London come to finish off Jack. But Jack is unfazed. He proceeds with his revenge. The bodies pile up and Jack reaches a point from where there is no return. The action builds up to a crescendo to end in a brutal finale. The movie revisits the age old adage of “crime never pays”. Jacks fighting crime with crime does not end well for him too .
The movie was released in 1971 at a time when the British film industry was going through a rough time. It was poorly promoted and thus suffered the consequences. Although not a big hit at the time it maintained a cult following all these years and is now 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.
Let us now look at the movie. Like many movies of the 70’s it does not give explanation for why the hero behaves in a certain way. Jack Carter is a criminal enforcer. He is shown to be a drug addict, a womanizer and a remorseless killer. He is far from the do gooder Hero of yesteryear films. He had left dreary New Castle for good to set up his future (?) in glamorous London. He had not contacted his brother in years. Yet when the news of his brother reaches him he disregards the warning of his crime boss and embarks on a journey of violence which forms the rest of the film. He knows that his actions would anger the mob bosses and thus sign his own death warrant. Yet he soldiers on.
I suggest 2 explanations.
One is that Jack had reached a point in life where he was fed up with it all. Avenging his brother’s death may have been his way of achieving retribution in life.
The second and the more plausible explanation maybe that Jack was blinded by hatred for the people who had raped Doreen. In the initial scenes Doreen is shown to be Frank’s Daughter (Jack’s Niece).Its only in his scenes with Doreen that we see the softer side of Jack. He even gives her some money to display his affection for her.
Only later that we know Doreen may actually be Jack’s daughter. Jack had been sleeping with his Frank’s wife when he was in New Castle. This may have been one of the reasons for his drifting apart from his brother.
Initially Jack only wants to know the truth behind his brother’s death. But the pornographic film of Doreen which he accidently watches set of a chain reaction of murder and mayhem. The horror of having to watch the own daughter being ill used may have lead his mind to a crazed state. He might have felt guilty for having abandoning her leading to all this. So it’s not his brother but his daughter whom he is avenging.
The movie does not shy away from showing the life of gangsters as it is. The opening scene itself is explicit where Jack in the presence of his mob bosses watches pornographic photos on a large screen accompanied by lewd comments from his comrades. There is lots of explicit nudity, foul language and bloody violence which are shocking even for today. Jack Carter engages in “phone sex “with Ana while in the presence of his land lady; this leads him to sleep with her too! There is also a scene where Jack walks stark naked holding a rifle in his hand to get rid of the gangsters who had pounced on him while in bed.
Michael Caine towers above all in the movie. It was made during the pinnacle of his career. . His presence, the dialogue delivery and the body language are all top notch. The meanness he exudes as Jack Carter is so astounding that we can never imagine another person in that role. This was proved true when in 2000, Sylvester Stallone starred in a Hollywood version of the movie which failed both critically and commercially. ‘Get Carter’ ranks alongside his best movies like Alfie, Sleuth, The Italian Job and The Icpress File.
In the 2009 film Harry Brown, Caine who was well into his late 70’s portrayed a similar role as retired army man who goes takes up a vendetta against the local drug gang when he learns that they were responsible for his friend’s death. The old fire was still visible in the scenes where Caine dispersed swift justice.
It’s been a decade since that day I watched Get Carter. The British Library closed down its operations in Thiruvananthapuram. Still that film had left a strong impression on my mind that at the first opportunity I obtained a copy of it. Occasionally I watch the movie again and it never bores me. It’s a perfect example how gangster /crime movies should be. It was only since the era of Martin Scorcese that Hollywood was able to make something which could match up to Get Carter in its depiction of crime and the criminal world.
I highly recommend you to watch this movie and experience the “Carter Effect”! I was “Cartered”. You will be too!