Back in 1971 I saw Michael Caine's film, GET CARTER. By then, the theater in Charleston that showed foreign films, The Arcade, had closed because the European films were rated X in the new rating system. The owner of the theater would not show X rated movies. They started showing drive-in type movies and shut down. Another theater that had shut down was showing black hit-man/drug-dealer films and Hong Kong kung fu movies where they jump up in the air, twirl and land on their feet. It was the only operating movie theater in the city at the time. The movie theaters all went to the suburban shopping malls. I developed an ironic liking for these truly cheezy flicks, the lowest budgets ever. Occasionally, one odd film would appear, like Marlon Brando's BURN, a "western" on a Caribbean island. Brando made some cheezy films. He wasn't always Stanley Kowalski and Captain Kurtz. I think he was some kind of sentimentalist for authenticity when he was allowed to make his own films. They came across about like Steven Seagal films in the wild west of guns, horses and whips. GET CARTER was one of the the films that came to this theater while it was showing low-budget black hit-man flicks. It was a shock to see what to me was an art film among made-for-drive-in blood-letters.
I had heard nothing about the film. My friend who kept up with movie reviews had never seen any mention of it. I went and was floored by what a great film it was. It was one that belonged at the "art house" theater, which wasn't available. Next day I told my friends who loved good films about it, saying, "it's a sleeper." I wondered how one of the best films of the year got buried among the worst. The corporate world doesn't know the difference. That's how. Over 40 years later, my only recollections of the film were that I liked it a lot at the time and hadn't seen Michael Caine in a better role since. Before, he was in ALFIE, where he got his immediate fame. Watching the film through last night, I noticed when it was over that it had commentary with it. Today I watched it again with director/writer, Mike Hodges, and the photography man, an east European with an amazing eye and a name I can't remember. I looked it up, feeling like he deserves for me to look up his name. First name was Wolfgang. Last name, Suschitzky. And Michael Caine. The visuals held me in awe from first to last. Scene after scene was beautifully conceived and captured.
In the commentary, the director and Caine were saying that it was taken by critics to be too violent in 1971. The critics steered the public away from it. Caine said it was put on the American drive-in circuit where they made their return on it. Like Caine said, it's not that it was too violent; it was not flashy violence, but violence exhibited as it happens out here in the world, making it feel dangerous. Of course, by today's stnadard, the violence is Mickey Mouse Club. During that year or so of watching hit-man movies, I developed a liking for them. One I especially remember, this one in black and white, maybe. The visuals in my memory are black and white. The actor who was the butler or whatever he was on Magnum PI, the tv show. He was the hit-man, and a memorably interesting one. I wouldn't mind seeing it again if I can figure out what it was. I can find the actor's name easily, then look for him on netflix. John Hillerman. I can't find anything about it on his website or wikipedia. This was the time of SUPERFLY and SHAFT with Isaac Hayes singing Theme From Shaft. He did that song right on his album, Live at the Sahara Tahoe. I just now took that down from the shelf to play later. It's one of my all-time favorite albums. It's from the time Isaac was wearing chains. Black Moses.
In GET CARTER, Michael Caine was from Newcastle, England, though in the London mob. His brother in the Newcastle mob turned up dead. Carter goes to Newcastle to find out who did it and to balance the score. He was mad. He found people, one at a time, interrogated them in no undertain terms, learned what he needed to know and went into action. With one guy, you knew before Carter caught him he'd be dead before Carter was done with him. While Carter was interrogating him, saying, "You know that if you don't tell me the truth I'll kill you," the man on his knees said, "I know." This guy was in the homemade film Carter found essentially raping Carter's teenage niece, his brother's girl. It made him even madder. There was no way this guy might survive his encounter with Carter, not even begging. Carter went through the Newcastle mob, one at a time, taking out the ones involved in the homemade film with the girl, and the ones involved in the murder of his brother. Caine kept a straight face throughout the film, allowing us to see his feelings and thoughts very slightly in his eyes. He was mad and he was getting even. He had a good notion he wouldn't make it back to London alive, and didn't care. He did what needed to be done.
While Caine appeared to be emotionless, he was a volcano of emotion. It went off when he used his gun. It went off when he hit somebody to encourage them to talk. I'm not a follower of Michael Caine films, though appreciate him a great deal as an actor when I see him. GET CARTER especially. I felt like this was a tour de force for him, the director, the photographer, the entire production. Caine got his name in ALFIE just a few years before. I don't remember anything about it but that he was in it. He became Alfie. I got it from the commentary with GET CARTER that Caine is noted for becoming the character so seamlessly it's not like he's acting. My memory of the film was not near up to what I saw this time. I'd given it 4 stars on netflix as a movie I'd seen before. Went to netflix today and gave it 5 stars. I loved it that much as a beautifully made film I can see again and again, enjoying more each time. Not many movies do that to me. I love it when it happens.
The film did not age at all. The clothes the lead actors wore work for what people wear today. Much of it was filmed in public places like pubs where you see local people coming and going, living their lives. Only fashions have changed since then.What the majorityof people wear hasn't changed much at all. The film had a good depth of field about it visually, and the story, itself, had a depth of field. It seemed like it could have been made more recently than 40 years ago, though it is a good example of the better films from that time, like BLOW-UP, A MAN AND A WOMAN, THE CONFORMIST, the brooding Russian KING LEAR, same period. Some great films were made in that time of late Sixties, early Seventies. GET CARTER was in there among the better of them. It broke British stereotypes so brazenly that it is contemporary to now when those stereotypes are over.
just before the final scene