Writing in the Chicago Sun Times in 1971, film critic, Roger Ebert, observed that Michael Caine had been ‘mucking about’ in a series of potboilers which were ‘undermining his acting reputation’. ‘Get Carter,’ he wrote, showed him as ‘sure, fine and vicious’. The film exhibited a ‘feel for the underbelly of society, like the good American detective novelists have always had.’ Much of this was down to the source material. Largely overlooked, Lewis’s 1970 novel, Jack’s Return Home, had been optioned before it hit the bookshop shelves.
The novel had arrived in the post to Mike Hodges’ out of the blue in January, 1970 with an offer to adapt and direct his first feature film. Filming began five months later.
Originally entitled Carter’s the Name, Hodges’s script made structural changes to Lewis’s novel, cutting the Carter brothers’ backstory and removing any trace of ambiguity from Jack Carter’s fate. It shifted the location from Humberside (unnamed in the book) to Newcastle. But Lewis’s writing is at the heart of Get Carter. The core of the plot is intact, along with most of the characters and, in several key scenes, the dialogue. Hodges keeps the punch of some of Lewis’s one liners. Doreen always doused Eddie Appleyard for saying Frank had been a ‘bloody good bloke’; Eric’s eyes were always ‘pissholes’; and Cliff Brumby was always a ‘big bloke’.
When Get Carter was released in March 1971, reviewers acknowledged the power of Caine’s performance and the quality of Hodges’s script and direction, though many found the film’s amoral tone troubling. To coincide with the release, Lewis’s novel was republished as Carter and later, Get Carter.
In October 2004, Total Film Magazine voted Get Carter the greatest British film of all time. Heading a list which included A Matter of Life and Death and The Third Man, it was keeping high company, belying its status as the film one critic had dubbed a ‘revolting, bestial, horribly violent piece of cinema’.
Wednesday 15 November, Vue Cinema Hull, 7:30pm
Dir. Mike Hodges | 1971 | UK | Cert 18 | 112 mins | English language