Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Get Carter (1971) Micro Mini Skirt Neo Noir

Quite possibly the ultimate British Neo Noir. Directed by Mike Hodges. The film stars Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland, John Osborne, Geraldine Moffat, Rosemarie Dunham, Petra Markham, Tony Beckley, George Sewell, and Bryan Mosley. The film was lensed by cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky and edited by John Trumper. The screenplay was adapted by Mike Hodges from Ted Lewis' 1969 novel "Jack's Return Home." 

The film is highly artistic and indulgently stylistic, devoting quite a few segments throughout to these impressive flourishes, which garnish the story elements and makes this film stand quite apart from other British Neo Noirs made up to that point. It's almost on par with what the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone did in the mid 1960s for the tired American Western genre and you can not deny this influence in Get Carter, you see it in the cinematography and in various picaresque sequences. Perhaps because its studio, MGM was closing down its European operations, (the film became the last project green-lighted before the American company shuttered its Borehamwood studios), that it has this refreshing freedom to tell it's hard boiled tale the way it's director envisioned, in that magical period of untethered freedom (at least as seen in the American Release) between the Codes, i.e., end of the old Hollywood Hayes Code and the beginning of the corporate media PC code.
Jack at Fletcher's

"I'll think about it"
The film takes place in that "fin de psychedelia" era of the late 60's early 70s.  It's the story of London based hood Jack Carter (Michael Caine), a suave, mod-ish character who is cheeky enough to be doing his mobster boss Fletcher's girlfriend Anna (Britt Ekland) on the side. We open with Jack gazing out into an enveloping darkness at the penthouse apartment of mobster Fletcher. We can hear the sound of a desolate wind blowing through a bleak void. He is attending a sort of boys night out slide show of porn stills which flash upon a screen. Fletcher and the boys are bawdily joking around but Jack's mind is on other things. He wants to return home to his native Newcastle upon Tyne in Northern UK to find out why his brother Frank died. He's told by Fletcher (Terence Rigby) not to go, that it will cause trouble with the gangs in charge up North, Jack replies "I'll think about it".

Jack decides to go North.

Someone with a Noir lovers perspective will love the knowing references to the Film Noirs of the past. The title sequence evokes La bĂȘte humaine (1938), and it's American remake Human Desire (1954), also The Narrow Margin (1952), and Blast Of Silence (1961), Jack is even reading Raymond Chandler's "Farewell My Lovely" during his train journey. Another sequence later in the film again references The Narrow Margin (1952) with an escape through the clotheslines, and there's a nod to Point Blank (1967), there are probably others to discover.

Homage title sequence
Hodges and Wolfgang Suschitzky film Jack entering a pup like a gunfighter would enter a saloon. Heads turn, and if there was a piano player the music would have stopped. They also use what I would call "extreme over the shoulder shots", Where the heads and shoulders of the actors with their backs to you either frame or at times even partially eclipse the face of the actor facing them.

Pub as Wild West saloon

Extreme over the shoulder shots between  Jack top and Kinnear bottom 

Jack soon questions the circumstances of his brother Frank's death. There are two rival gangs, running the town by an uneasy truce, one outfit is run by flesh-peddler, porno king, Cyril Kinnear (John Osbourne). Kinnear lives on a country estate in a posh house, reminiscent of Hugh Hefner's mansion. It seems to have a continuously running house party of birds in micro minis and turtlenecked playboys. The other gang is led by Arcade Emporium Czar, Cliff Brumby (Bryan Mosley). He respectfully resides in a pseudo Tudor with an opulent goldfish pond. Both residences are in stark contrast to the crumbling industrial cityscape of wharves, elevated railway trestles serving waterfront coal docks, gray cobblestone streets flanked by red-gray brick houses, that resemble storm sewers in cross section, which seem to flush the human working class down to the gray waters of a cloaca maxima called the Tyne. All this against an equally gray polluted sky, a dreary world of total decay and decadence.

When Jack arrives up in this Wild North, he's back in what he calls the "crap hole".  Jack acting like a noir detective, even to the point of wearing a black trenchcoat, soon shakes things up enough to force one of the gangs to make a move against him. Jack Carter is more vicious, violent, hair triggered, and amoral, than all those set in motion against him. He's your classic alienated and obsessed noir character, ready to explode at any inducement. Through brutal encounters with various underworld denizens both male and female Jack deduces that brother Frank had been working for Kinnear and was set up by Brumby who showed Frank a porno flick starring his own daughter Doreen. Frank was going to go to the police. It's hinted at that Doreen is actually Jacks illegitimate daughter. Jack goes totally Noirsville.

The film's stylistic flourishes to note, are the sped up rail journey title sequence cross edited with normal speed in coach shots of Jack on the journey. The cross edited and varying focus phone sex sequence between Jack and Anna with Edna eavesdropping while in the same room with Jack and rocking furiously. Also there is a similar cross cut sequence between Glenda shifting a Sunbeam Alpine sports car and Jack and Glenda having sex all to the throaty roar of the Sunbeam's exhaust. Below are examples of John Trumper's excellent editing. First immediately below the the phone sex sequence, followed by the Sunbeam Alpine sex sequence.

Sunbeam Alpine/sex


In Get Carter Michael Cain's Jack joins the Pantheon of anti-heroes. I do believe it's his best performance, it's a must view for serious Noir/Neo Noir aficionados. Excellent low key complimentary soundtrack by Roy Budd. An easy 10/10 DVD caps are from the Warner Brothers DVD   

No comments:

Post a Comment