Eye For Film >> Movies >> Get Carter (1971) Film Review
Reviewed by: Steven Yates
Based on the novel by Ted Lewis, Get Carter encapsulates early 1970s Britain in the north the same way that Performance did for London. Both are gangster films with doomed characters, though Get Carter is closer to the formula of film-noir with British steel, or rather northern grit. This film is Caine’s playground as he’s occupying practically all of the screen time (I don’t recall a scene in which he doesn’t appear) and Carter has become one of his most memorable performances in a long career.
Caine plays Jack Carter who travels from London to his home town of Newcastle for his brother Frank’s funeral, but also to avenge his death. When he gets there he enters a world of crime syndicates, pornography and lies. Slowly he unravels the truth as to how his brother was killed in Newcastle’s criminal underworld but he also finds out that more than one person was in on the act after Frank had threatened to blow the lid on an illicit pornographic ring.
Like many gangsters, Jack Carter is not the most honourable of men. The only time gangsters show any emotion is when harm comes to someone that they hold dear. This is the reason Jack made the quick dash to Newcastle after Frank’s death, despite not being so close to him when he was alive. This vengeance is a matter of personal pride and family honour as well as retribution against those he knew that were responsible for his brutal killing. Even then, Carter seems to keep his emotions in check, letting his actions speak for him.
Aside from his one-liners – “I had almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. They’re still the same, pissholes in the snow.” – Jack Carter has become immortalised because he’s a hard man, fearless in fact – “You’re a big man but you’re out of shape.” - and also a ladies' man. The pop group Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine allegedly took their name from the amorous side of this character. However, he is also something of an anti-hero, and progressively we see what a cold-blooded character he becomes. The one moment he weeps in the film is when he finds that his niece has been cajoled into appearing in porn films. Afterwards, even the most minor crimes against Carter’s honour are punished in the most severe way. Indeed, supporting characters are more central to the plot, often to their detriment, in this film noir from Newcastle.
Watching the film you can almost smell the scent of Newcastle circa 1971 (e.g. demolition sites, exhaust fumes, poor beer in seedy smoke-filled drinking dens). Much of Newcastle’s old town terraced houses are just about to be demolished. We would see this same city being knocked to the ground in the opening sequence of the popular British TV Comedy Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? However, it is much more difficult to bulldoze the underworld in the same way. In fact, the gangsters represent the new – the ugly and inferior high rise flats that were to dominate skylines on a greater level in the Seventies than they had begun to in the Sixties.
One of the other great aspects of this film is the soundtrack. Roy Budd’s score is very contemporary but still sounds brilliant today. The soundtrack is interspersed with memorable dialogue from the films and plays chronologically with the narrative, therefore is an alternative way of experiencing the story without the visuals. The standout tracks are Looking for Someone, Getting Nowhere in a Hurry, Hallucinations and the fantastic title track intro which is of course synonymous with the film, arguably more so. Mention Get Carter nowadays and most will think of the opening tune as much as the classic film it precedes. The other tracks have a haunting quality, conjuring up the mood of bereavement and reflecting the more melancholy side of the dark soul that is the world of organised crime.
Aside from the authentic period it was set in, the film hasn’t dated that much and I think it gets better with age. Mike Hodges created very plausible villains and the film adaptation from the book, Jack’s Return Home, gives a realistic portrayal of crime and corruption in the big city and the search for one’s soul. Films such as Michael Apted’s The Squeeze and John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday owe something of a debt to Get Carter, a film that stands alongside Performance as the Best of British in this genre.Reviewed on: 18 Dec 2006