Is Michael Caine’s version of Get Carter taken from the Ted Lewis novel a British classic of the gangster genre? I’m not much for labelling but I will say it gets better with every viewing.
Caine stars as Jack Carter, he works in the underworld as muscle and all around thug for some heavy hitter. When his brother is killed in an auto accident, Caine returns by train reading Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely to the home he hasn’t seen in years to do a bit of digging as he suspects foul play. He’s not exactly welcomed back by the underworld figures of the area including an arrogant and standoffish Ian Hendry.
In very little time Caine has made his presence known to the likes of pornographer John Osborne in a wonderfully filmed scene using poker as a back drop. The scene stands out as a good indication of the leisurely pace this gangland tale is going to move forward at. Keeping that thought in mind, the details behind his brother’s death slowly come to the surface. Into this day in the life styled story comes Caine’s niece who will play a key role in the violence that the climax is going to build to and even Britt Ekland makes a brief appearance as a well kept gangster’s squeeze that Caine is carrying on with when he shouldn’t be.
The violence is going to pick up when a group of thugs are sent out to put Caine on the next train out of town. He doesn’t oblige them and uses his fists and demeanor to both intimidate and get some answers as to who wants him out of the way. “The only reason I came back to this crap house was to find out who did it and I’m not leaving till I do.” The deeper he digs, it becomes more evident that his brother was indeed killed but the reasons are not clear until a chance encounter which sends Caine over the edge of brutality.
As the trailer points out, “Hate drives the hunter.”
Call it vigilante justice if you prefer but Caine’s own sense of right and wrong lead him down a very cruel road of violence. He takes no prisoners and gives no leniency. This is one of those films that is far removed from cartoon violence on screen. When Caine hits a thug or bludgeons someone to death, we can feel the hurt. It’s a very somber role for Michael and while he may be the leading character, I wouldn’t exactly call him a hero once he unleashes his vengeance proving he’s capable of outright murder, though it’s purely justice in his eyes.
To offset the violence, the film is injected with some humor topped by a scene where a nude Caine holding a shotgun escorts two thugs out of the flat he rents. Right out onto the street whereupon a nosey neighbour storms back into the house at the sight of a nude man holding a shotgun.
Mike Hodges directs this first rate thriller with a terrific score from Roy Budd that really hits a homerun over the opening screen credits.
Paging Sylvester Stallone for the remake……
“You don’t fix things Jack, you break them.”
I’ve always like Sly’s look in this film and while it has that Hollywood feel and bends the brutality towards making Stallone into more of a hero as opposed to the Caine character, I don’t think it’s fair to knock this film. The major problem it has going for it is that it’s a remake of a British gangland classic.
Stallone leaves his underworld pal John C. McGinley in Vegas against the orders of the gangland figure he works for. He heads to the home he left years previously to find out just how and why his brother was killed in a mysterious car accident. Before we know it Sly is confronting Mickey Rourke and the sparks fly. A collision course between the two muscle bound thespians is obvious.
This version of Carter takes a turn towards Sly and his niece and builds upon there relationship as the film attempts to make Sly a far softer version of Carter which in the end makes him a tad more likable than Caine’s hardened take on the character.
The overall plots of the films are very similar though Sly’s version is updated for the Y2K crowd. Along with the addition of the niece played by Rachael Leigh Cook playing a larger part and allowing Sly a pretty good scene to emote, the McGinley character has been added to come and teach Sly a lesson about running out on his “boss”. Not to mention carrying on an affair with his employer’s main squeeze. This gives the director, Stephen Kay the opportunity to inject a car chase into the proceedings.
Rourke gets a far more physical, stronger role then Hendry had in the earlier version but the film itself is far removed from the gritty feeling that the original gave us. Watching these back to back is not such a bad idea. The early version is more akin to the low life criminals that populate the times while the second film is attempting to almost turn the story into a tale of white collar crime. This might have something to do with the power of pornography and the money involved in the industry today versus the seedy back room 8mm porn of the seventies.
Isn’t that Michael Caine? Yes, he’s making a cameo of sorts in the remake which almost seems to be a must in the last twenty years or so when it comes to remaking popular tales from the past. This is provided the actor(s) of the earlier version are still with us. Caine’s role is really a thankless one injected into the plot for either monetary or sentimental reasons. Perhaps if we asked former actor Andrew Stevens who is a credited producer we might get an answer. I’m not sure which but it isn’t well thought out and in the end leaves me shaking my head as to what just happened.
Ok. It’s not the film that the ’71 movie is but it has the Stallone factor and at the end of the day, he’s pretty good here in a role that works for him. Even if the script has been doctored to give us that Stallone feel. If you’ve never seen the Caine version, this might even be a favorable experience, if you’re a big supporter of Michael’s film then probably less so.
Me? I just like movies and think the earlier film a great one and the Stallone flick watchable.
What’s my favorite British gangster film? Easy answer.