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Get Carter 40th Anniversary

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Mark Kermode | 16:45 UK time, Friday, 11 February 2011

Forty years ago, movie star Michael Caine, playwright and actor John Osborne, Swedish siren Britt Ekland, and a who's who of British character actors were brought together under Mike Hodges' clean direction to create a very fine gangster movie indeed. As gritty and downbeat as the Ted Lewis novel it draws on, the film has a punch like few others. Everyone can quote the lines, but just why is Carter's impact so profound, so long-lasting?

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  • Comment number 1.

    So glad you did a blog on one of my favourite movies. For me the film is all about Michael Caine creating one of the nastiest, baddest meanest anti-heros of them all. Somehow he is both repugnant and mesmerising at the same time.

    The fact that Caine could pull of performances as varied as Charlie Crooker and Jack Carter demonstrates why he is one of the best loved and enduring British icons.

  • Comment number 2.

    Get Kermode!

    ........Starring Danny Dyer.

    That famous multistorey car park is now gone sadly. I would like to see more films set in Newcastle!

  • Comment number 3.

    I think nostalgia has a certain part to play - which assumes a certain age of the nostalgee(?). Many a time it was the BBC1 Monday Film at 9.25 - and the talk at school the next day would be of little else.
    And, Michael Caine was still a serious actor then, rather than the caricature he has now become.
    Also it looked like 'Life On Mars' on crack (to coin a phrase) and perfectly captured a moment in 70s British history that no amount of CGI or reconditioned Ford Escorts can recreate.
    I also find American movies of that era equally fascinating for much the same reason.

  • Comment number 4.

    40's the new 30.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think that is what’s called movie magic, when everything just comes together; there is 1 more element to throw in the mix- the year 1971 itself.
    There must have been something in the air in England (or is it Britain) what with 'Straw Dogs' 'The Devils' 'A Clockwork Orange' and ‘On the Buses’ appearing.
    On the subject of British gangster movies can I fly the flag for Michael Apteds magnificent 'The Squeeze', criminally neglected and still not on DVD.

  • Comment number 6.

    The music is classic. It's more a Western than Gangster movie I'd say. But I saw the 70's Black American version a while back and it still worked, mainly because they were very faithful to recreating the set pieces from the British film and tone.

  • Comment number 7.

    The crew, the cast - they were simply on top of their game

  • Comment number 8.

    I suppose someone has got to mention the Stallone remake.
    I put off watching this for years only to sit through it and think it was actually a kinda alright movie (certainly better than alot of other films Stallone was churning out at the time), and Tyler Bates re-working of the theme is great at maximum volume.

  • Comment number 9.

    @ stevie7771

    I have to say that I heard a lot of people trash that remake but when I saw it...I thought it wasn't all that bad either. At least how I remember it, it wasn't that bad. But I may be wrong. haha

  • Comment number 10.

    Hodges sort of did a remake of Get Carter in the early 2000s called I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD. It stars Clive Owen, Jonathan Ryhs-Meyers and Malcolm McDowell. It's much less 70s than Carter and I couldn't detect any zingers, but it is really fascinating, very quiet and totally disturbing. I highly recommend it.

  • Comment number 11.

    Cain and Hodges (and Roy Budd) were certainly at the top of their game (Hodges and Budd never did such good work again).

    The script is what makes the film for me; not the zingers, but its cold hearted ruthlessness; even towards it's anti-hero at the end. Not many films dare to try that; I can't think offhand of any matching its callousness before Get Carter was made.

    Carter is not only on a journey of revenge, but also self destruction; anyone who sides with, or loves him, also gets hurt in some way. (It's also hinted his 'niece' is actually his daughter; Carter betrayed his brother years before; his brother's attempts to protect the girl he thought of as his daughter results in his murder, and precipitates Carter's return to Newcastle.) The scene where Carter cries watching the film of his niece can be interpreted as Carter crying for himself, not for her.

    Carter chose the way of life he follows (his brother didn't) and hid outlook on life is nihilistic; the scripts cold eyed view is that it can only end in one way.

  • Comment number 12.

    For me personally it's beauty is in it's bleakness...And a stand out ambivalent performance by Caine of course.It's a film that explores so many themes,class divide, sexual freedom, social commentary, women's liberation(or rather lack of it on times in this instance!)the list is endless. However it's Carter's cool 'detachment' throughout that fascinates, with the only real emotion coming to the surface when he watches the porn film featuring his niece.A haunting soundtrack, with a memorable and uncomprimising ending makes it a classic.

  • Comment number 13.

    A classic case fo a film that was advertised on busses and yet was terrific. Perhaps the exepcion to the rule?

  • Comment number 14.

    It's all of the things you mentioned Mark. It's gritty, it's dirty, it's sleazy, totally un-glamorous and grounded in reality. It's not at all slick and makes you feel slighty grubby after watching it. Highly influential on every British gangster movie made since. It seems very much a product of its time but it's formula is so perfect, with it's mix of realistic settings, great acting, and swinging soundtrack, it is rendered timeless. I'm sure that areas of Newcastle haven't changed a bit since the making of this movie.

  • Comment number 15.

    All the things mentioned are great, plus the moment Caine goes out naked with the shotgun, it takes a rare man to actually look threatening in his birthday suit!

    What seems to surprise me each time I rewatch the film however, is just how many people Carter actually kills, and the bit where he watches dispationately as the car with a woman he put in the boot still inside always gives me a chill. There's nothing to like about the man, yet you can't help but like him.

  • Comment number 16.

    #15 "There's nothing to like about the man, yet you can't help but like him."

    Not sure 'like' is the right word; admiration perhaps? Of someone that is utterly confident and cocksure. (As you would admire, superficially.)

    Look deeper and Carter has no humanity or connection with others; he can kill and watch others die dispassionately. Carter doesn't connect at all with others; he is utterly unconcerned about the fate of others; even those that ally themselves with him, profess to love him, or he says he'll protect.

    There is a moral message in the film; about the anti-heroes that came before Carter e.g. Leone's Man With No Name. It is that be this disconnected from humanity, be so brutal and violent then the consequences will also be brutal violent and (even) random.

    There is a wider discussion here, for those that know late 60's / early 70's film about how influential, challenging and exciting it was.

    Get Carter, Chinatown, The Wild Bunch, Don't Look Now,
    Little Big Man, Zabriskie Point, Vanishing Point, Soldier Blue, Clockwork Orange, Wickerman, Apocalypse Now, The Devils (and much other Ken Russell),The Godfather and many, many more. [Plus the genre movies; backsplotation, Kung Fu etc.]

    European cinema (Truffaut, Herzog, Fassbinder, Wenders, Polanski etc) was also pretty exciting back then.

    None of them took the view of the defunct US Hay's Code (and current Jennifer Aniston and most other current movies), that every story ends (or is led) happily; or that everyone is redeemable.

  • Comment number 17.

    I love Get Carter and agree that it's Michael Caine's best performance. But for me what makes it so compelling is its ability to tackle issues like sex, drugs, pornography and above all retribution without ever glamorising or glorifying the subjects or the violence that follows them.

    The best way to illustrate my point is to compare Get Carter with Death Wish. Death Wish is a nasty, brutally simplistic revenge thriller which canters through its plot to get to the shooting, and centrally revels in the violence it puts on screen. It makes you identify so closely with Charles Bronson's character that you end up willing him on, wanting to kill more people in cold blood in a way which is frankly reprehensible. The film is in love with the very thing it is trying to argue against.

    Get Carter, on the other hand, takes a much more mature and fascinating position. As the various twists come through surrounding his niece, the film could fall into the trap of presenting his actions as just. But instead its realism and grim brutality convinces us that both sides are morally bankrupt and that violence is in the end it's own undoing. Put it this way [SPOILER ALERT] the ending with Michael Caine being killed on the beach is the only way it could have ended considering all that has gone before. It's a brilliant argument about the futility of vengeance even when that seems the only moral course of action.

  • Comment number 18.

    Please, I beg of you, pronounce it 'twenty eleven'.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think it's really as simple as it's a great film.

  • Comment number 20.

    Oh and let's hope there is a Special Edition finally to celebrate the 40th Anniversity

  • Comment number 21.

    Why is is so great? because its profoundly cold and unbelievably brutal.I dont mean in a hollywood action/violence kind of way, but in a subconscious disturbing kind of way. The scene where he sees his brother in his coffin is chilling, for example.The only film i think that matches that kind of brutality is Ratcatcher,which i think is great for the same reason

  • Comment number 22.

    'I taught I taw a copycat! I did! I did tee a copycat!'

    Not only is it amazing how well the original stands up today as a kind of ironic commentary on the hedonism of the 60s and 70s (Jack Carter really does just chase whatever the hell is primal instincts tell him to) but just how quickly Mr. Stallone's limp remake has dated with its hideous soundtrack, pop culture references, and all the rough sadistic edges sanded down. It's like they watched Mel Gibson's Payback - a very good example on how to update a revenge classic - and then completely ignored it.

    In fact, here's a nicely bitter little condemnation of the woeful 2000 remake :

  • Comment number 23.

    I think my fellow contributor Jayferneaux is onto something when he talks about the prevailing film culture at the end of the 1960s/start of the 1970s. In the USA the near collapse of the Hollywood studios and the concerted challenge on the Production Code produced a series of films that shone a critical light on American society (e.g. Bonny and Clyde, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces). Moreover, there emerged a series of young directors whose influences were in independent and more particularly European cinema (e.g. Scorcese).

    In the UK the doors opened by the British New Wave in the 1960s along with the liberalisation of censorship, meant that the time was perhaps right for a film like Get Carter. The writers, directors and actors associated with the New Wave had opened up the north of England to film audiences, whilst many of these, including director Hodges himself, had come though regional television drama and documentary. Get Carter is a gangster story rooted in the social, political and cultural changes taking place in Britain. One can look at other contemporary films such as Performance and Straw Dogs to confirm this.

    I think that much of the success and longevity of Get Carter also rests with Caine himself. It's a pretty brave role to take for a star like the one he had become in 1971. Whilst Carter's motive might be a source of identification for audiences his methods and violence are not. His whole demeanour in the film is one of an utterly detached and unsympathetic killer. Was it really necessary to kill, Glenda, albeit indirectly?

    Ultimately, one cannot completely account for the enduring success of a film. The good Doctor is right in pointing to the combination of script, star, director and genre for instance. However, plenty of other films have these but do not endure.

    Let's just celebrate a brilliantly judged, plotted and acted thriller. Let's marvel at images of ships being built on the Tyne (see shootout on Wallsend ferry). Let's celebrate a period in British cinema that has clearly influenced many subsequent filmmakers across the pond (why else remake it along with other films from the period like The Wicker Man?). Let's appreciate that in Britain films can be set outside of London (can we have some films set in Birmingham please). Finally, let's celebrate Caine. Tonight let's all watch Get Carter and Harry Brown - a great double bill which sees Harry as a kind of world-weary Jack forty years on.

  • Comment number 24.

    Why's it still so fresh? Because it gets on with it. And because there's always something new to see each time you watch it. For instance there's somebody else on that train going to Newcastle who's pivotal to the story and they're seen but not alluded to. And the editing of the film is so vibrant. And then there's the man with six fingers in the bar (you gotta look out for him). And I could go on, but you can feel the grit in this film and I love it.

  • Comment number 25.

    The main reason this remains a classic is because it treats its audience with intelligence and doesn't pander to some accountant film executives demographic.Its gritty,uncompromising and above all honest.Especially the fact it doesn't cop out with some pap ending.Although for all Jack Carters failings I strangely wished better for him ( See I'm carefully avoiding plot spoilers,God! people!!! ) Anyhow,I think a special mention must be made for John osbornes great subtle performance as Cyril kinnear.He exudes both understated congeniality and menace at the same time.Please,burn all copies of the 2000 remake.NNNNOOOOOWWWWWW.

  • Comment number 26.

    There's no way to properly answer that question Mark. No way. You can't pinpoint on a single reason why a film like Get Carter still works 40 years on. The only thing that one can conclude is that everything just fell perfectly into place. I don't know why it's managed to prevail for so long. No-one does. But I do know one thing. The best films always last. The best films will never die. Get Carter will still be around in another 40 years. That I do know.

  • Comment number 27.

    I think there is a at least one very good reason why Get Carter still seems fresh after 40 years, and it's the same reason many of the films from that period in time still feel fresh - it's the lack of CGI or other fancy special effects, which while look very good and innovative at the time, date very, very quickly.

    Another reason I think Get Carter still works is because it's one of those films and performances from Caine that has entered popular culture, like Harry Palmer. It does seem old or out of date because it's become so ingrained and it's influence is felt in many of the films that have followed it.

    I've always felt Get Carter was one of Caine's best films (and I believe it is one of his own personal favourites), in large part because it doesn't wallow in "gangster chic". Caine was very clear that gangsters aren't funny or clever or smart, and he wanted that to come across in the film - they're brutal, violent and thuggish, and that is exactly how he portrays that character. Who can forget Caine's acting masterclass where he talks about the importance of not blinking in order to convey strength? I've watched Get Carter very closely, and I'm pretty sure he never blinks in the whole film.

    Tough geezer.

  • Comment number 28.

    Two reasons:

    1: It looks and feels like a story about a criminal, a human being, rather than something splurged out by a director in love with the romanticised notion of criminality. It has style and complexity, but its heart is untouchably simple and real.

    2: The central character is eternally cool. Modern cinematic gangters are concerned with the cosmetic appearence of their profession, and so it ages like any fashion. Michael Caine displays more strength of conviction and more psychological power when asking for a certain type of beer glass than most screen alpha-males could ever hope to muster.

  • Comment number 29.

    The prime reason is Michael Caine. As Billy Friedkin said of Gene Hackman in "The French Connection" and of James Cagney in everything, Caine was hungry when he made "Get Carter." He killed, he cried, he seethed, and he didn't care if one liked or hated him. He was brave, and that kind of emotional nakedness creates a spark between actor and audience.

  • Comment number 30.

    Hi Dr K

    When they made 'Get Carter' they got that film soooooo right - script, acting, location, etc - which is why this film will never date and continue to inspire each new generation of film makers wanting to make gritty British gangster films. This is the reason why I think 'Get Carter' looks so young.

  • Comment number 31.

    Just watching you look intensely bored as they talk about fashion outside The BAFTAs...

  • Comment number 32.

    I've never been a big fan of the film...but that score, that wonderful score, has a lot to answer for.

  • Comment number 33.

    As an Australian who is not quite 35 (And hence relegated to the uncompromising 35-50 box on surveys) I could not remember actually watching Get Carter years ago, but I knew about the film. As huge fan of a few late 60's and early 70's movies (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, The Wild Bunch and Easy Rider for example)

    A few years ago I decided to make a concerted effort to watch a number of these older "classic" films from that era. As one that I had heard good things about, this got on the list. (Others were Point Blank, the Professionals, Dr. Zhivago and many more)

    Since then I have watched it twice more, and it really is a great film. I think the reason for its excellence is partially relative, in that many of the British gangster films of a more recent time are almost parodies of the genre, such as anything by Guy Ritchie (who I like more than Mark, but admit his characters are all stereotypes at best)all the Football hooligan films (The Firm, the Football Factory etc) or just bad. The only comparable films of a like quality I can think of are Sexy Beast (but the criminality of this is almost unimportant, it is more a character study) and something else which escapes me at present. Compared to the majority of these films, Get Carter is a tightly choreographed exploration of the darker side of English working class criminality.

  • Comment number 34.

    How dare you suggest we forget Morons From Outer Space.

    A true classic.

    @ Liam Bussell - Another one I'd put up there is Dead Man's Shoes

  • Comment number 35.

    As Stuart Hanson points out, the enduring success is due to a combination of Caine and the supporting cast (Hendry, Eckland, Osborne, Sewell, Mosley, Armstrong, I could go on), Hodges direction and screenplay, the editing (Trumper was a stalwart of the British film industry throughout the 50s and 60s)and Budd's iconic soundtrack. It also reflects a time of dramatic change in the UK and Get Carter, with its drab northern mis en scene reflected the social, political and economic crisis of the time. The sixties had finished with the Beatles, Hodges was to show us the future with Get Carter.

  • Comment number 36.

    It's an absolute classic. A distinctive genre film with a rarely eclipsed authenticity of time and place. As pointed out by Trevor@ 3, nostalgia does indeed play it's part in shaping the enduring presence of this and a small number of other classic british films made during the early 70's.

    They say that great art often comes from great adversity and there was plenty of that around in 1970's Britain. Perhaps that nostalgia is as much reflection on contemporary british cinema as it is about any one particular film from that difficult, challenging and, arguably, more fertile era. As much as I loved Layer Cake, I never actually believed the 'truth' of it, delivered, as it was, with all the beauty and style of a commercial. Nothing wrong with that of course, but you'd have to go a long way to find anything even close to the 'dirt-under-the-fingernails' realism that Get Carter projects into every corner of the screen.

    I suppose if you gave Ken Loach a dirty overcoat, a couple of sawn-off's, four pints of Double Diamond and a MK 1 Jag, you might end up somewhere close.

  • Comment number 37.

    ...talking of classic british films from the early 70's, any thoughts on this sequel/re-imagining of The Wicker Man...?

  • Comment number 38.

  • Comment number 39.

    A brilliant film that has stood the test of time. I remember seeing it in the 80's and it's stayed with me. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be anyone who doesn't know of the film.

    I read that it's appearing on stage somewhere this year. Would be interesting to see how it compares.

  • Comment number 40.

    Why does Get Carter look so young?

    To the tune of the theme to The Adventures Of Robin Hood...

    Less is more, less is more, less is, less is more.
    Less is more, less is more, less is, less is more.
    Less is more!
    Less is more!
    Less is more...
    Less is more...
    Less is more...


  • Comment number 41.

    Get Carter had a man in a adult tough role. Now usually have metrosexual men in a tough-light roles

  • Comment number 42.

    Irrelative but my ideal tough guy was Lawrence Tierney

  • Comment number 43.

    Like all the great movies, Get Carter is an example of movies being of their time and yet they manage to transcend their timeline and live on. Taxi Driver, The Wild Bunch, The Thirds Man, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the remake - joke pf course) are notable examples. Movies made at a certain time, a certain place and yet the universal truths each one of these films carry live on. The human condition essentially.

    With GC, you hit all the main points of what makes it so fresh. Hodge in one interview discussed the infamous scene of Carter tipping the body over the edge of the building and the body falling onto the civilian car below. This was a metaphor of gang violence spilling over into civilian everyday life. Still happens today of course. In his words, the movie was an attack on his country's government and its corruption.

    To finish up, film noir and the crime genre are excellent platforms to examine the human condition and the flaws that flow throughout society. Get Carter is a classic and will always be as fresh a pint of tomorrow's milk.

  • Comment number 44.

    A P.S if you will. I think Caine has expressed since Carter's release a dislike for the hateful cool of Jack Carter. Hopefully not true, one of Caine's finest outings.

  • Comment number 45.


    I managed to find the site which I found regarding the stage adaptation. A bit far for me to get to.

    Doesn't seem to be word on who's starring in it yet.

  • Comment number 46.

    The score in this case plays a large part in it's longevity. One of the only soundtrack albums I have ever bought. Dated scores ruin a lot of movies for me. Bad synth sounds ( naming no names).
    The hammond sound just never seems to date.
    If you don't own it I woud recommend getting Roy Budd's score.
    I disagree it's about nostalgia. It's just a well scripted, well paced movie.
    Also I think the film credits it's audience with some intelligence as do so many of the films made in that era.
    Something sadly lacking now.

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 48.

    As part of the The Tyneside Cinema's 'Get Carter' 40th anniversary celebrations, Generator called out to emerging producers in the North East to remix Roy Budd's original theme.

    MJ FiTZ (aka Michael Fitzgibbon)'s fantasitc Trip Hop take on the track was chosen as the overall winner.

    The winning remix and runners up will be presented in the cinema stairwell during the week of Get Carter screenings. And tracks have secured features on local and national radio.

    check them here.

  • Comment number 49.

    Alf roberts from coronation street is in it + fred eliot is in clockwork orange.



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