Color, 1972, 95 mins. 43 secs.
Directed by Mike Hodges
Starring Michael Caine, Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander, Lizabeth Scott, Nadia Cassini, Dennis Price, Leopoldo Trieste
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB R1/R2 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC, UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Following the British success of the crime cult favorite Get Carter (which inspired a blaxploitation remake and turned into an American repertory favorite decades later), director Mike Hodges and star Michael Caine decided to join forces again for a much lighter, stranger, sunnier project. Though he'd enjoyed a lengthy TV career, Hodges had only made his big-screen debut with Get Carter and would go on to a very odd string of future projects including serving as ringleader of the 1980 Flash Gordon, getting fired from Damien: Omen II, and making a major comeback with Croupier.
That larger picture helps make some sense out of Pulp, a quirky tale told from the perspective of prolific crime novel writer Mickey King (Caine). That isn't his real name, and he has a fleet of pen names to boot, but his rapid-fire pace keeps an army of female typists overheated as they transcribe his kinky, violent dictated prose. Located "somewhere in the Mediterranean," he's approached for an assignment to work for the reclusive American actor Preston Gilbert (Rooney) -- "He's still alive?" -- who's best known for playing gangsters and has lived in seclusion for fifteen years. Gilbert turns out to be a real handful, and it's clear from his cigar-chomping compatriot Ben Dinuccio (Stander) that his ties to crime extend well beyond the silver screen. King agrees to serve as a ghostwriter on Gilbert's autobiography, but when death rears its head, he finds himself caught in a dizzying web of assassins and seductresses.
Seemingly designed to frustrate the expectations of any fans expecting another Get Carter, Pulp is still a tough nut to crack as it mashes together a murder mystery and shaggy dog comedy with little rhyme or reason. The end result fits more comfortably next to other oddball early '70s films like Roman Polanski's What? or John Frankenheimer's 99 and 44/100% Dead than any sort of traditional cinematic pulp fiction. Never afraid to take on roles far away from a traditional leading man, Caine is enjoyable to watch as always even when he seems more perplexed than anything else, and for better or worse, Rooney hams it up in high style as the main plot catalyst. (Be warned that you also have to see him air boxing wearing only his undies, a sight that might not make you so grateful for the wonders of HD.) If you just think of it as a goofy vacation with a fairly high body count, there's a lot of fun to be had here as long as you don't expect it all to be consistent or add up perfectly.
Pulp was gone almost entirely from public view until the late '90s Get Carter renaissance, which led to a handful of revival screenings of this film as well followed by MGM DVD releases in the U.K. and, much later, the U.S. The 2017 Arrow Video release (as separate Blu-ray and DVD editions in both the U.S. and U.K.) features a new cinematographer-approved transfer that looks darker, richer, golder and more textured than the DVD, nicely replicating the appearance of an early '70s print. In a nice touch, the original United Artists Transamerica logo has been retained (a very rare beast on home video), along with the BBFC card. The LPCM English mono audio sounds good given the very basic nature of the mix, which features a sparse score by Beatles producer George Martin (who provided a much more dynamic score for Live and Let Die one year later). The release also comes with four new featurettes, the first with Hodges (17m36s) chatting about how the project came about as a sort of covert statement about fascism(!), was always intended to feature Rooney, and had some stylistic ties to one of his earlier TV films, Rumour. Next up, cinematographer Ousama Rawi has a chat (9m15s) about his fondness for this film as his big break (he later shot such films as Zulu Dawn and the underrated The Black Windmill) and an opportunity to explore the visual possibilities of Malta. Later a director of several James Bond Films, editor John Glen has a shorter interview (4m59s) about his longstanding friendship with Caine and the challenge of keeping the film buoyant after a major character death. Finally Tony Klinger, son of producer Michael Klinger, appears for a 6m7s recollection of the difficulty of selling the project in the wake of its more famous predecessor and its unusual look relying heavily on gold and beige. Also included are four separate, rather large image galleries (promotional art and tons of production photos) and a fun theatrical trailer hosted by Stander. The first pressing of the disc (which comes packaged with a new cover design by Nathanael Marsh) also features liner notes booklet essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.
Reviewed on December 9, 2017