Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV

Get Carter

  • August 23, 2022
  • 4 min read
Get Carter

Get Carter. It’s 51 years since Get Carter’s premiere. Now the British Film Institute has been given special permission from Warner Brothers and the film’s Director Mike Hodges to screen this 4K stereo restoration version master as a ‘Director’s Cut’. The Film is also to be issued for the first time on BFI Blu-ray from July 25th.

From the darkness of NFT 1 we’re surprised to see an 89-year-old Michael Caine dryly caricaturing his BBC Stella Street self as created by comedian Phil Cornwall. Caine says, “My name is Michael Caine!” It’s a lump in the throat moment from Britain’s most enduring movie legend. Shot especially for the film, Caine concludes, “Some people now regard Get Carter as a Classic British Film”. The echoed harpsichord notes from Roy Budd’s theme mix-in to lure us back to 1971 as the film’s opening train journey speeds us from London to Newcastle and into another timeframe.

The reality of ‘auteur theory’ comes with a price tag and a sympathetic producer with clout. Get Carter was produced by Michael Klinger, a man who had made his money in Soho’s gangland district, working as a 1960’s Strip Club owner. He was the proprietor of a notorious, but long since defunct members-only sex cinema club called Compton’s situated on the north side of Soho’s Old Compton Street. This was a part of a ‘Soft Core’ cinema chain that enabled Klinger to fund and produce two early Roman Polanski Films, prior to finding the Hollywood money needed for Get Carter

Klinger sent TV director Mike Hodges a book he’d been reading, asking him if he would consider writing a screenplay based upon it? Klinger so trusted Hodges delivered adaptation that he gave him ‘Director’s Cut’. Hodges had a background in documentaries and two noteworthy single-slot TV dramas, namely Suspect (ITV TX 17.11.1969) and Rumour (ITV TX 02.03.1970) the latter of which dealt with ‘secret state’ bugging.

Hodge’s debut screenplay was derived from the novel Jack’s Return Home, originally set in Scunthorpe by the writer Ted Lewis. Last month in NFT 1 Mike Hodges (born 28.07.1932) told The Guardian’s Samira Ahmed that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the story. Most notably, “To take Carter, the gangster, out of his London-based comfort zone.” Hodges Newcastle of 1971 sharply captures a once great industrial city in decline amid demolition. He told Klinger, “Let me choose all of the locations!”. The wish was granted and Hodges spent two weeks in Newcastle choosing all of the places that make this film so memorable.

The Team

Carter’s haunting score was composed by Roy Budd and performed by his Jazz trio. Next up, most notably, we have Wolfgang Suschitzky BSC (born 29.09.1912, died 07.10. 2016) as The Director of Cinematography. He’d shot a Ken Hughes 1963 monochrome Soho gangster movie, The Small World of Sammy Lee. Journalist Steve Chibnall said, “Suschitzky developed a reputation as an expert location photographer with a documentarist’s ability to extract atmosphere from naturalistic settings.” With a background as a celebrated photographer Suschitzky shot every composition you see in Get Carter. In particular the opening shots of brick back-to-back houses on a sloping street leading to the Tyne, and the striking deep focus zoom-to-wide shot inside a pub, capturing Carter’s arrival.

The cast varied from real life villain Johnny Binden to playwright John Osborne. A suave cad and porno filmmaker called Cyril Kinnear cast alongside UK TV mainstays George Sewell and Ian Hendry. There’s also a cameo from Britt Ekland as Carter’s phone-sex loving girlfriend in the first phone-sex scene ever filmed. This well-chosen roster of seediness sharply shades Carter’s revenge for his father’s murder after the filmed sexual abuse of his own niece.

Be forewarned that key scenes shot in the docks and on the famous two-tiered Tyne Bridge; indicate that this film is as much Suschitzky’s as it is Hodges. This melding of collective talent is the film’s inner strength. This is a team effort like no other movie in British cinema history. It ranks with its American counterparts in a way that so few British films ever do. Like a fine wine Get Carter has matured with age. See it in its remastered form.

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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