Memorial Day is almost upon us in the States, and we here at The FAM have chosen to begin our long weekend with sex, drugs, and violence, as is our wont. Today we present 1971′s Get Carter, directed by Mike Hodges and starring Michael Caine; quite possibly one of the greatest gangster movies of all time, British or otherwise. Based on the novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis — which took its inspiration from the “one-armed bandit murder” in the north east of England in 1967 — it tells the story of one Jack Carter as he weaves his way through Newcastle’s seedy underworld in search of the truth of his brother Frank’s death, supposedly due to a drunk driving accident. In his wake he leaves a trail of bodies and a river of blood.
There is an image of Michael Caine for many people, greatly influenced by The Cider House Rules and his role as Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, of a kindly, wise, and lovable older man with a cockney accent. For this audience Caine will be almost unrecognizable here. His Jack Carter is a ruthless man; death in a well-tailored suit. Carter’s rampage through Tyneside is relentlessly brutal culminating on a lonely, gray beach and ends on a note that takes the viewer completely by surprise, though the more astute will recognize the players from an exceedingly brief appearance at the very beginning of the film.
Get Carter is a highlight in a storied career and it remains one of my favorite movies. To be sure Caine has played many memorable characters besides Jack Carter, but few have had that kind of presence on screen. It’s a role almost completely devoid of pathos. Jack Carter is out for revenge, and he really doesn’t care how you or anyone else feels about it. All that’s certain is that he’ll get it, one way or another.