Updated: Aug 23, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
In one of the defining performances of his career, Michael Caine plays Jack Carter, a London gangster who returns to his hometown of Newcastle to investigate the suspicious death of his brother.
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4K Ultra HD, 1971, R for strong violence, language, sexuality and nudity Best extra: The new introduction with Michael Caine
UNTIL HE took on the iconic role of Jack Carter, British gangsters came off as “stupid or silly or funny,” Michael Caine says in his intro to this most iconic of all British gangster films. Growing up in South London in the 1940s and ’50s, he knew better. “I wanted to show people how it was.” Director/writer Mike Hodges (“Flash Gordon”) had the same idea when he set about adapting Ted Lewis’ 1970 novel “Jack’s Return Home” (put it on your reading list) for his first feature. In excising Jack’s background, his gritty screenplay, like its anti-hero, is lean, mean and moves relentlessly forward. It also has a decidedly vérité feel. Credit Hodges’ and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky’s (“Theater of Blood”) experience making documentaries, shooting on location in Newcastle, and their preference for long lenses.
(1) As a stag film plays in the background, Carter meets with his London bosses Sid and Gerald Fletcher, who subtly warn him not to go to Newcastle. (2) “Get Carter” opened in Los Angeles a month before it premiered in Newcastle, England, on March 7, 1971. (3) Jack reads Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel “Farewell My Lovely” during the train ride north. (4-6) He ends up at his childhood home, where his brother Frank is laid out, and finds his brother’s shotgun.
A quote by the late, longtime New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, included in the 80-page booklet that comes with this fantastic set, nails it: “Get Carter,” she wrote, is “so calculatedly cool and soulless and nastily erotic that it seems to belong to a new genre of virtuoso viciousness.” Before continuing, a red flag: Do not—repeat, DO NOT—confuse this bona-fide classic with the 2000 turd starring Sylvester Stallone. When his brother Frank dies in a car accident in Newcastle, Jack takes the train to his hometown to ask around. But before he leaves, he’s warned by his London bosses Gerald and Sid Fletcher (Terence Rigby, “Elizabeth,” and John Bindon, “Quadrophenia”) that they have connections there and that they would hate to see Jack muck them up. “The police seem satisfied,” Gerald tells him. “Since when was that good enough?” Jack replies. The explanations he gets aren’t good enough, either, and when Jack realizes that someone ordered his brother’s killing, he doesn’t relent until he susses out who and why. He soon zeroes in on Eric, an old acquaintance who favors dark glasses, and Newcastle boss Kinnear. Ian Hendry (“Repulsion”) and British playwright John Osborne (“Look Back in Anger”) are excellent, as are Britt Ekland (“The Wicker Man”) as Jack’s lover, and Gerald’s mistress, Anna, Dorothy White (“Coronation Street”) as Frank’s mistress Margaret, John Mosley (“Coronation Street”) as the gangster/businessman Brumby, and the rest of the cast.
And hats off to Hodges for recruiting more than a few Geordies as extras.
Suffice it to say that Jack gets his answers, and while there was talk about leaving his fate open-ended in the interest of sequels, Hodges, to his immense credit, stopped those conversations cold.
(1) Carter rents a room in a boardinghouse from Edna (Rosemarie Dunham). (2&3) The next morning, he and his niece Doreen (Petra Markham) ride to the church for the funeral service. (4) Jack confronts Frank’s mistress Margaret (Dorothy White) after the brief service.
VIDEO/AUDIO Hodges was consulted while “Get Carter” (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was being remastered and signed off on it when it was done. In a word, the 4K restoration, the handiwork of the British Film Institute and Warner Bros., is exceptional. Clarity, depth and detail are dramatically improved—you’d never guess the film has been around for 50-plus years—and the intense grain, especially in the interior and nighttime sequences, just pops. Same for the mostly drab palette and contrast, courtesy of the HDR grading (HDR10 & Dolby Vision). It all adds up to an organic, truly cinematic experience. The English LPCM 1.0 audio track fills the bill, too. You sometimes have to pay close attention to the heavy accents (or use subtitles), but the dialogue is always clear and the gunshots are nicely spaced. Best of all, the influential score by the late Roy Budd is simply outstanding. A self-taught prodigy, he was only 23 when he composed it, fronting a trio that included himself on keyboards, Jeff Clyne on bass and Chris Karan on drums/percussion (both were members of the Dudley Moore Trio). Because of time and budget constraints, they cut it live while playing directly to the picture, and without overdubs!
(1) Carter zeroes in on Eric Paice (Ian Hendry), an old acquaintance, at the racetrack. (2&3) Jack follows Paice to the country home of Newcastle crime boss Cyril Kinnear (British playwright John Osborne), where he chats up Kinnear’s drunken mistress Glenda (Geraldine Moffat). (4) Doreen gets some advice and money from her uncle after she decides to stay in Newcastle instead of going with him to South America.
EXTRAS The two-disc import is packed, but you’ll need a region-free player to cue up “Mike Hodges in Conversation,” “The Sound of Roy Budd” and the other new and archival extras housed on the Region B Blu-ray disc. The good news: Players are going for around $155. (You’re welcome.) Fortunately, the all-region 4K disc includes Caine’s introduction, a new commentary with critic/author Kim Newman and writer/broadcaster Barry Forshaw and one from the vaults with Caine, Hodges and Suschitzky. Newman and Forshaw touch on everything, and if they venture a bit deep into the weeds, their chummy enthusiasm is contagious. There’s also no arguing with Newman’s opening assertion that “Get Carter” is “enshrined” as Britain’s premier gangland film. The Caine-Hodges-Suschitzky plays like it was pieced together from separate tracks, but that’s not a knock. There’s lots of good stuff here, especially the priceless reactions to the film that Hodges and Caine recall. “Afterward, real villains came up to me and said they were really proud,” Hodges says, while a professional assassin told Caine he thought it was “a load of crap.” Why? No family life. “We all have families and problems like anyone else” was how he put it. Caine’s introduction is only three minutes long, but he covers a lot of ground. And besides, it’s a treat seeing that, at 89 years young, he hasn’t missed a beat. He had been a star for nearly 10 years, with “Zulu” (Why isn’t it on 4K?), “The Ipcress File” and an Oscar nomination for “Alfie” on his resumé. He saw Jack Carter as a kind of “subjective camera” that allowed him to lead audiences by the nose. “That’s why it’s so shocking—it broke all the rules.” “It turned out to be a significant moment in my career,” he adds. “[But] if told me half a century ago that we’d still be talking about it now, I might not have believed you. Some films are special. This is one. Hear! Hear!
— Craig Shapiro
(1-3) Jack has an exotic phone call with his lover Anna (Britt Ekland), while Edna rocks faster and faster in her chair as the conversation gets steamier. (4) He chases down a racketeer who has information about Frank’s murder.
(1) With Frank’s friend Keith Lacey (Alun Armstrong), right, watching, Jack takes a swig before strong-arming the racketeer Thorpe (Bernard Hepton). (2) Jack holds off Con McCarty (George Sewell), who was sent by the Fletchers to bring him back to London. (3) Keith is badly beaten by Thorpe’s men. (4&5) Jack meets with Margaret on a bridge, where she lies to him about Frank, then high-tails it when McCarty and another thug come after him.
(1&2) Glenda comes to Jack’s rescue, and the plot soon thickens. (3&4) As he avenges Frank’s death, he encounters McCarty, Peter (Tony Beckley) and Paice at a ferry landing.