2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the original release of Get Carter, Mike Hodges brutal British gangster flick which many believe to be Michael Caine’s finest film. Caine stars as Jack Carter, a London hood who travels to Newcastle to track down the killers of his murdered brother, Frank, in a dogged revenge scenario that resembles Geordie Jacobean tragedy.
The story was based on Ted Lewis’s 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home. Hodges shot the film for £750,000 on location in Newcastle, in such exotic spots as Wallsend Ferry Terminal, Newcastle Swing Bridge, Black Rocks colliery and Gateshead multi-story car park. Get Carter fielded a great cast of Brit talent that included Ian Hendry, Tony Beckley, George Sewell, Geraldine Moffat, Dorothy White, Rosemary Durham, Alun Armstrong, Petra Markham, Bryan Mosley and Glynn Edwards. Playwright John Osborne played sarcastic crime boss Cyril Kinnear, in a role backers MGM had earmarked for Telly Savalas, and the New York Times noted the ‘fruity cast of supporting players’. International glamour was represented by Britt Ekland, as Carter’s lover, Anna. Also of note is Roy Budd’s now-classic score – a mixture of instrumental cues (such as the title music ‘Carter Take a Train’) and specially-written pop songs and ballads, which are is the nocturnal soundtrack to our tour of the pubs and clubs of Tyneside, as Carter roots out his brother’s murderers.
Get Carter was released in the UK by MGM-EMI in March 1971, rated X, with posters declaring ‘CAINE is CARTER’. Business was brisk, despite a frosty critical reception epitomised by George Melly’s view that this was the cinematic equivalent of ‘a bottle of neat gin swallowed before breakfast’. The film was thrown away in the US on a double-bill with the Frank Sinatra comedy western, Dirty Dingus McGee. But it has endured and now ranks high on lists of great British movies.
Read Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home (as ‘Carter’)
Listen to the Cassette Audio Book
Mike Hodges’s original screenplay for the film
Region 2 DVD (with audio commentary by Caine and Hodges)
Read the story behind the making of Get Carter and many other classic crime films – including Dirty Harry, Once Upon a Time in America, Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather films, Chinatown, Pulp Fiction, Point Blank and many more – in my book Crime Wave: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Crime Movies, published by I.B. Tauris.