The crime-genre game-changer Get Carter turns 40
Upon its release, the British gangster movie Get Carter was declared "nasty" and "soulless" by critics. Turning 40 this month, the film has trodden a path from ruggedness to respectability. As well as being heralded as the greatest British movie of all time by Total Film magazine in 2004, Get Carter has continued to influence the crime genre in Hollywood and beyond.
In perhaps his most iconic role, Michael Caine played the steely London-based mob enforcer Jack Carter. The story sees him uncover a web of murder and vice in the north of England after returning home for the funeral of his brother, whose death he suspects was no accident.
Carter's sharp suits, fondness for shotguns and impressive repertoire of passive-aggressive one-liners helped to earn the 1971 film a loyal following. Making no concessions to morality, but also not condoning the cruelties of its characters, its unwavering outlook influenced the early work of the US director Martin Scorsese and later Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie and a host of others.
Set in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne during its industrial slump, the title character's hunt for revenge is played out in Victorian terraced houses and against the harsh backdrop of the modern concrete constructions of the day.
"There's a lot of conflict in the film; between history and modernity, north and south. People believed society was getting more violent and unforgiving and the film was like an autopsy on that," says Steve Chibnall, the author of the film guide to Get Carter.
The movie directly followed a period of unparalleled relaxation of film censorship in Britain, during the late 1960s - a move that gave almost immediate rise to a darker, more uncompromising brand of cinema than had gone before. "It was one of several films from 1971 in which filmmakers chose to explore the limits of censorship and also discuss the violence that they saw as inherent in society. Others included Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange and Performance the year before," says Chibnall.
"When you compare it to what Michael Caine had been doing only a few years earlier - The Italian Job - it couldn't have been more different. That's a slick, colourful caper where nobody really seems to get hurt. In Get Carter he's a stone-cold killer who goes well over the top in his search for revenge."
Helmed by the first-time movie director Mike Hodges, (who later created 1980's unforgettably camp sci-fi caper Flash Gordon) the film was adapted from the Ted Lewis novel Jack's Return Home and arrived in cinemas just a few months after the book's publication. Although highly fictionalised, the grim underworld tale has its roots in fact.
The book was partly inspired by the notorious "one-armed bandit murder" of racketeer Angus Sibbet, whose body was found in the back seat of his Jaguar, riddled with bullets. The grizzly death of Sibbet, who worked for a company that supplied gaming machines to venues across the north-east, at the hands of two associates, made newspaper headlines throughout Britain and added to increasing concerns about the rise of organised crime in the late 1960s.
Decades later, Sibbet's murder and the story it inspired would continue to make a mark at the box office. With the Hollywood muscleman Sylvester Stallone replacing Caine, the 2000 remake of Get Carter saw an enforcer from Las Vegas returning to his hometown of Seattle after his brother's death. Despite a cast that included Miranda Richardson, Mickey Rourke and even a cameo from Caine, the film was reviled by critics and recouped less than half of its production budget at the box office.
But the original film's legacy in Britain had passed beyond celluloid and into bricks and mortar. The Trinity Square car park in the town of Gateshead had provided the backdrop for several of the film's key scenes - including perhaps its best-remembered moment, when Carter throws a corrupt local businessman several stories to his death. Because of its use in the movie, the dominating brutalist structure had become widely known as the Get Carter Car Park.
However, due to the decline of the shopping centre it served, the iconic building was scheduled for demolition in 2007. Despite protests from fans, including Stallone, it was levelled in October 2010. Gateshead Council did offer a small concession to the movie's loyal fans however; pieces of the rubble were sold as souvenirs for £5 (Dh30).
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Updated: March 20, 2011 04:00 AM