‘Get Carter’: Why Mike Hodges’ Uncompromising Gangster Film Gained Cult Following

A shot of the Get Carter crew, using more advanced equipment, but with Wolfgang Suschitzky’s usual attention to veracity and landscape. Still photographer: Bob Penn


By Sven Mikulec

Intent on making a great British gangster film, producer Michael Klinger purchased the rights to Ted Lewis’ novel Jack’s Return Home and, captivated by the filmmaker’s work on the 1969 television film Suspect, immediately decided Mike Hodges was the man to run the project. The cult British crime film Get Carter, a brilliant revenge tragedy resulting from an inspired collaboration of the three Michaels—Klinger, Hodges and Caine, a big film star at the time, was not only one of the best British films of the year, or even best gangster films of the decade; due to a combination of rather ambivalent initial reactions from the critics and the very nature of the film’s gritty, realistic, almost documentary approach to crime, violence and morality, Get Carter acquired a cult following and its reappraisal in the nineties came partly as a direct consequence to filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie’s publicly declared appreciation for Hodges’ masterpiece.

Mike Hodges, who wrote the screenplay and directed the feature, envisioned a new kind of a gangster film, caring more about the substance than the flash. He received a lot of support from Michael Caine, who was won over by the script because it pulled some sentimental chords in him: Caine thought of the titular character as someone he himself might have become if, in the crime-ridden circumstances of his coming of age, he hadn’t chosen a different career path than a good deal of his acquaintances had. Caine felt gangsters in British films were portrayed dishonestly and misleadingly—they were always stupid or funny, he says—and he was keen on fixing this. His Jack Carter is a man of no remorse set on a doomed road of revenge, he disposes criminals and their partners without all the unnecessary and impractical distractions, his violence is quick, direct and efficient, far less pornographic than the audience’s were used to witness in films of this genre. By setting the film in the contemporary criminal world of Newcastle, Hodges made use of his experiences in making documentaries, more often than not opting for a naturalistic documentary feel, especially in the scenes where hundreds of extras were used, the chance bystanders who happened to appear on the streets of Newcastle at the time of the filming.

People tend to forget that I knew a few gangsters, growing up in Rotherhithe. Knowing those men, I was well aware that gangsters weren’t like the people you saw in the movies. If you watch films made before Get Carter, gangsters were always depicted as either funny or stupid, and I knew that was wrong on both counts. —Michael Caine

Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky, also with a background in documentary film, followed Hodges vision unhesitatingly and to impressive results. Get Carter’s importance lies in the technical superiority of the way it was filmed; in Caine’s dedicated performance; in the brutally honest way that violence in demystified with unsentimental executions without clever one-liners and humor used to soften to blow. Most of all, Get Carter should be worshipped for its bravery, for its unwillingness to compromise and for the abundant influence it had on the cinematic world that followed it.

So calculatedly cool and soulless and nastily erotic that it seems to belong to a new genre of virtuoso viciousness. —Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies, 1982

A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: Mike Hodges’ screenplay for Get Carter [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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A few years back, Get Carter even gave rise to a fumbled Hollywood remake, which relocated the action from Newcastle to Seattle and installed a leaden Sylvester Stallone in the Michael Caine role. Hodges still hasn’t seen the remake, although a friend rang to inform him that it was “unspeakable.” Actually, he adds, his son brought him the DVD back from Hong Kong last Christmas. One night Hodges got drunk and tried to watch it. But the system wasn’t compatible and the disc wouldn’t play: “So we put it in the dustbin.” Oh well, I say. At least the studio must have paid him a lot of money for the rights. Hodges guffaws at my ignorance. “I didn’t get any money at all,” he says. “When I made Get Carter, I was paid a flat fee of £7,000 for writing and directing and that was that.” He beams happily. “We were very naive in those days.” —Guardian Interview, 2003

Director Hodges lies on a wooden beam above Caine and in background actor George Sewell

Director Hodges lies on a wooden beam above Caine and in background actor George Sewell

Roy Budd’s distinctive score for Get Carter has become one of the most iconic and revered in cinema history. Recorded on a tiny budget, this evocative music continues to inspire musicians worldwide. Features classic dialogue moments from the film.

On the set of Get Carter—Michael Caine and Mike Hodges by Wolfgang Suschitzky.

Budding filmmakers had a once in a lifetime experience as they interviewed Get Carter film director Mike Hodges. Students at DLD College London in Marylebone got to talk to the pioneering film director as part of their short film assignment. The English director has worked on a host of films, including Get Carter, starring Michael Caine, The Terminal Man, Croupier and Flash Gordon. Students asked Mr. Hodges about his writing and directing processes, as well as his impressive Hollywood career, as they filmed him as part of their Conversations programme. He spoke to pupils about what inspired him as he directed and wrote Get Carter. He said: “When Carter came out at the time it was very advanced, and has been copied many times since, but at the time it was a cinematic breakthrough. Most of the British gangster films were soft, whereas I lived in a world where the Kray brothers and the Richardsons were ruthless, horrendous and scary. So when I was offered Get Carter, which was about a hit man, I wanted to make it as real and as rough as possible.”

Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Mike Hodges’ Get Carter. Photographed by Bob Penn © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios. Source: Neil Hendry, Official Website of Ian Hendry. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.

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