Icons – Caine: Get Carter


Get Carter, a film good enough to deserve a remake. A remake bad enough not to deserve a UK release. But, the quality of Stallone’s attempt as Jack Carter was not the reason it wasn’t released in the UK. It wasn’t released because the British have a tendancy to love Michael Caine. And, while the original Get Carter was initially critically panned, it has stood the test of time and now is taken to be one of Caine’s better starring roles and one which he will be remembered for.

Get Carter see’s Londoner and title character Jack Carter travel to Newcastle to investigate the “accidental” death of his brother Frank, where he believes foul play was at work. As Carter attends the funeral of his late brother, he regains contact with Frank’s daughter Doreen (with the point played that Doreen could in fact be Jack’s daughter), as well as some of Frank’s associates. He also meets Frank’s estranged lover Margaret.

Following a meeting with and questioning of Northern crime boss Kinnear, Carter is threatened and told to leave town by rival gang members, but he (rather violently) tells them otherwise. Carter is asked to leave to London once more, but this time by the crime boss there whom he works for. The London crime boss, Fletcher, sends two henchmen, who are driven out by Carter wielding a double-barrel shotgun.

With so many people wanting Carter off the scent of his brother’s supposed drunk-driving accident, his suspicions are strengthened. Carter meets up with Brumby, a previous contact mentioned in the film who turns out to be a red herring to throw him off the track to the truth. Here, Brumby identifies Kinnear as the killer, but has no idea why. He does, however, offer Carter five thousand pounds in exchange for the murder of Kinnear.

Carter refuses, as there is no evidence other than Brumby’s word of mouth. Carter, then at a girls house who works for Kinnear, discovers an amateur porn film, which was filmed at Kinnear’s flat. In this, he see’s his niece Doreen forced to take part against her will. Carter, both mortified and enraged, concludes that his brother had discovered these films, but had been murdered before he had the chance to expose Kinnear for what he had done.

Now on, what can only be described as, a murderous rampage, Carter seeks out vengeance for what has happened. After deducing that it was Brumby who initially showed the tape to Frank (and, so, lied to Carter when he said he had no idea why they killed his brother), Carter throws Brumby over the side of a car park to fall to his death.

Kinnear’s girl is killed by circumstance, as Fletcher’s henchmen drive Carter’s car into the sea – Kinnear’s girl having been stuffed in the trunk by Carter after he watched the tape. But, apart from her, every other killing is done without Carter’s remorse. Indeed, in some situations, we see Carter enjoying himself as he inflicts such damage to his enemies.

But it is not just cruel deaths that are Carter’s plague. While he kills his brother’s “once-a-week” prostitute and lover Margaret, via fatal injection, he leaves her near-naked body on the site of Kinnear’s mansion. He then calls the police to raid his mansion on the night of a massive party, leading to the arrest of Kinnear.

The dead prostitute on his property, the drugs littered throughout the mansion, and the copy of the porn film Carter mailed to the authorities, are more than enough to see Kinnear’s reputation ruined, and a lot of his life spent in prison.

This leaves just one of Frank’s killer left to be dealt with. Eric, who had been sent to his death by Kinnear prior to the police showing up, was waiting at an industrial shoreline when Carter shows up. After pursuing Eric along the shoreline, Carter forces Eric to drink a full bottle of whiskey, mirroring what the killers forced Frank to do. This helped with the drunk driving aspect of his death.

After Eric drank the last of the whiskey, Carter beat him to death with his shotgun. Carter then walks away, smiling. This smiling soon turns into laughter. Carter had planned to flee the country, with Fletcher’s wife, to escape any revenge against him. However, as he is about to toss his shotgun into the sea, a paid hitman shoots Carter from afar.

The hitman, only known as J due to the ring on his finger bearing the initial, was paid by Kinnear – again, prior to the authorities turning up on his doorstep. With that, the film closes with Carter’s dead body lying as the tide washes over him again and again.

Get Carter was  initially panned by critics for its over-use of violence and erotic themes. Every female character in the film is wearing a skirt above her knees, and the youngest is raped on film. This, along with the countless deaths, car accidents and injuries inflicted, left critics and viewers reeling.

Yet, this is how the film needed to be. If it was any less brutal, it would not have stood the test of time and it certainly wouldn’t be considered one of the greatest films of British cinema.

Caine does a fantastic job as gangster Carter. Brooding and lacking emotion in the early stages of the film, he characterises what an attacking henchman is – you would hardly think this man was attending his brother’s funeral. Yet, once he sees what his niece has gone through, we see emotion on his face.

That one single tear says more than anything he could say or do could. The following rampage may be a touch clichéd, but it is Carter using everything in his arsenal to make those responsible pay for what they’ve done. Everything they deserve, for violating his niece and killing his brother.

When we see Carter evade Fletcher’s men for the first time, the scene  is shot from high up. We see him being chased by both a man on foot and one in a car. He evades both by hopping in a car driven by Brumby’s/Kinnear’s girl. This single shot, no change in viewpoint, not even a zoom, is both simple and elegant. Masterfully shot, this is one of the reasons a film like this can stand the test of time. Not only because of the story within, but how this is captured.

Get Carter was director Mike Hodges’ first feature film, and easily the one he’ll be most remembered for. This is one film that is which difficult to top. No wonder the remake was awful.


Chris Droney

Share this!