Get Carter


‘…Get Carter is an iconic but deliberately unlovable film; like the central character, it’s brutal and utterly dangerous to know…’

Get Carter is a great British gangster movie that’s been elevated to legendary status since the initial release, but it’s a legend because it’s tough rather than sympathetic. Michael Caine is the most iconic actor imaginable, and Mike Hodges’ film comes from a purple patch in Caine’s career, circa The Italian Job, then The Last Valley and Sleuth in the early 70’s. Yet Get Carter doesn’t belong with classic pulse-pounding Warner Brothers gangster flicks, or family dramas like The Godfather; it’s a kitchen-sink gangster movie, drab, bleak and sick at heart. With plenty of trigger warnings about violence and morality, this adaption of Ted Lewis’s book Jack’s Return Home is well worth a fresh double-disc restoration from the BFI, out this week (Aug 2022), there’s a lot to unpack.

Let’s start with Caine; a beloved performer for decades, he’s never shied away from proper acting, playing dark and unsympathetic characters in films like Dressed to Kill or Mona Lisa. Jack Carter is one of his darkest; returning home to Newcastle from the big smoke, Carter isn’t really trying to find out what happened to his brother, who has been found dead in his car, plied with alcohol. Carter already knows that he wants revenge, but to find out which local crims to tackle, he needs to find out exactly what his brother was involved with, and that voyage of discovery takes him into the sleazy depths of a male-dominated world of crime.

So this isn’t the same Michael Caine that we love to cheer on his more cheerful capers; Carter is a cold-blooded, callous, violent man who treats women badly and men worse, and Hodges doesn’t spare us repulsive detail. But Carter’s trip oop north is a tricky one; by setting a criminal against criminals, our moral compass is quickly screwed. Carter has some spare but memorable lines, from comparing Ian Hendry’s eyes to ‘piss-holes in the snow’ to his classic put down ‘You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.’ This quotablity has helped Get Carter gain a reputation as one of the best, if not the best British film ever, but the vapid cheerleading of the likes of Loaded lads magazine in the 90’s ignored that fact that Carter is a villain in a story with no good guys at all, and we’re hardly meant to cheer his cold, bloody process.

Some vague spoilers for a 50 year old movie; the scene in which Carter sits up in bed, watching a pornographic film in a mirror and discovers the nature of his brother’s death is still deeply disturbing, and the manner in which Carter temporarily revenges himself is even more horrific. Also shocking is the casual way that Hodges captures an atmosphere of moral turpitude through the architecture of Newcastle and Gateshead, with cobbled streets giving way to the new brutalism of the celebrated 10 story car-park which features in a key scene. With vocal support from Hendry, playwright John Osbourne, Britt Ekland (briefly) and more, Get Carter is an iconic but deliberately unlovable film; like the central character, it’s brutal and utterly dangerous to know.

This two disk edition comes complete with a fresh introduction and a 2000 commentary by Caine, plus a separate commentary from Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw, and a welcome focus on the music of Roy Budd.

  • UHD – 4K (2160p) presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
  • Blu-ray – presented in High Definition
  • Newly recorded introduction by Michael Caine (2022, 3 mins)
  • Audio commentary featuring Mike Hodges, Michael Caine and Wolfgang Suschitzky (2000)
  • Audio commentary featuring Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw (2022)
  • Isolated score by Roy Budd
  • Mike Hodges in Conversation (2022, 60 mins): the director discusses his career in this interview recorded at BFI Southbank
  • Klinger on Klinger (2022, 24 mins): Tony Klinger recalls and evaluates the career of his father, Michael Klinger, Producer of Get Carter
  • Don’t Trust Boys (2022, 22 mins): actor Petra Markham reflects upon her career on stage and screen, and recalls her role in Get Carter
  • The Sound of Roy Budd (2022, 17 mins): Jonny Trunk explores the varied career of Roy Budd, and revisits his iconic score for Get Carter
  • BBC Look North location report (1970, 5 mins)
  • Roy Budd Plays ‘Get Carter(1971, 4 mins)
  • Michael Caine’s message to premiere attendees (1971, 1 min)
  • The Ship Hotel – Tyne Main (1967, 33 mins): Philip Trevelyan’s evocative documentary film about a pub on the banks of the River Tyne
  • International trailer (1971)
  • Re-release trailer (2022)
  • Script gallery

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  1. You omitted to mention the Roy Budd score. The way the movie began with the music was fabulous. But yes, a terrific gangster picture. Interesting to note that we Brits don’t treat gangsters as living in their own kind of shut-off world the way we would with the WB pix of the 1`930s. The Godfather was only a year later but no question of moral turpitude there. I always felt British gangster films were weighted down with the kind of social comment the Yanks just ignored. But still a terrific film and one of Caine’s best performances. And if there was ever a case for hypocrisy writ large it’s the BFI making a few bucks from a film they decried back in the day.

    • Oh, killer last line! It’s a great British film, but it’s not about Britain being great, it’s about how awful it can be. Amazing to think that people saw and still see Caine as a role model in this. He’s terrific, but it’s as bleak as Villain, and seemingly draws inspiration from the same milieu…and Roy Budd is always a huge plus…

      • Villain was also excellent. one of burton’s best performances. Ian McShane a big plus there. All gangsters I think became role models which was why the Production Code in the Us in the early 1930s banned them being made.

  2. Weirdly enough, I was watching a clip of Caine talking about playing this part on Youtube – this was only a few days ago. He based it on one of the gangsters down his local pub, who took exception because he himself was a family man – ie, he killed people to pay the bills – whereas Carter exists in a sort of moral vacuum. Have you seen ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’? It’s structurally and tonally similar and a classic of its kind, imo.

    If I had a bone to pick with ‘Get Carter’ it would be the decision to cast John Osborne (yeah, the playwright) as a gangster. He sounded way too posh.

    • That is a good shout, Osborne seemed to me to be in a different movie, but I could see why they wanted to scramble the mix of accents. But you’re right, I’m not sure where Osborne sits within the hierarchy of gangsters depicted.

      Caine is Caine, he met the Krays amongst others, and he’s very convincing here. My big point is that British reviewers tend to celebrate this as classic Caine, which is fine in terms of performance, but we are surely not intended to cheer Carter on. He’s a bad man on his way to somewhere worse. Dead Man’s Shoes was good, and yes, I can see the connection. Critics who applaud this kind of tough guy routine clearly can’t imagine being on the end of this kind of attention; my guess is Caine and Hodges could…

  3. I’m pleased to see that you note the depressing effect of a revival of this film during the ‘laddish’ cultural turn in the UK in the 1990s. I admire the film but not the Guy Ritchie take-offs or the introduction of Vinnie Jones as an actor that characterised the 1990s revival.

    Michael Caine is a highly-skilled and committed actor (shame about his politics). He somehow overrides the premise that he is supposed to be originally from Tyneside. Caine is always a South Londoner. But the film is gloriously of its time, that moment when Northern English cities had gone beyond simple decline and were now deemed as beyond the understanding of the South.

    The most successful attempt to produce something similar to Get Carter in my view is Red Riding (UK 2006), the three-part serial adaptation of David Peace’s story about police corruption in West Yorkshire and the activities of the Yorkshire Ripper. Although made for TV these three films were released theatrically in North America.

    • Red Riding is something I feel I’ll come back to, but totally agree, it has a similar, if more modern vibe. And that’s a good point about Caine; he could play different classes, and that works here because Jack is a character is moves between worlds; there’s a bit of Charlie Bubbles here too, and something about returning to your roots from Swinging London and finding these roots diseased or gone.

      But I’m responding fast because I’m, pleased that you’re pleased! I hated seeing the main character in films like this like this treated as something to aspire to in the lad’s mags of the 90’s; they’re clearly not, and something about that immoral enthusiasm always bothered me, it’s a complete misunderstanding of what films like this are aiming for. And yes, this gave birth to the callous cinema of Guy Ritchie, and many Essex Boys/Rise of the Footsoldier nonsense which is a horrid sub-genre by itself these days….

  4. Great movie, though Hodges has some real weak spots, like filming fight scenes. Love the locations.

    Does Gateshead still have an atmosphere of moral turpitude? Is there someone we could ask?

    “key scene” “vocal support”, three typos in final sentence (at least). I’m thinking “oop north” is dialect. My billing for editorial support is in the mail.

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