Colour, 1971, 112m. / Directed by Mike Hodges / Starring Michael Caine, Ian Hendry / Warner (US R1 NTSC, UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A cold, hard, and thoroughly gripping crime film, Get Carter languished for years as a minor cult item before its sudden popular and critical recognition during the late '90s, thanks primarily to the smash success of its spectacular, groove-laden soundtrack by the late Roy Budd and its placement as one of the BFI's Top British Films of All Time. Of course, the popularity of crime chic films in the wake of Quentin Tarantino probably didn't hurt, either, and Warner even tried to cash in with an ill-advised remake starring Sylvester Stallone. Stick with the original, for obvious reasons. Hired heavy Jack Carter (Michael Caine) annoys his gangster bosses in London by leaving for a few days to attend the funeral of his brother, who died under suspicious circumstances in their hometown, Newcastle. Carter wades through the pubs, boarding houses, and upper crust manors, prodding the denizens of the local underworld for details. Virtually everyone he encounters has something to hide, and Carter uses his instinctual violent nature and diamond hard demeanor to shatter the web of crime and exploitation, which ultimately leads right to the doorstep of Carter's own family. While most mainstream crime films either depict their protagonist as a decent guy corrupted by his surroundings or a corrupt hooligan trying to improve himself, Get Carter never even tries to romanticize its title character. Caine hits the bullseye throughout the film, underplaying his scenes and delivering laconic one liners that often sting more than his punches. His cause may be noble at heart, but the brutal lengths he resorts to are unsettling, to say the least. Granted, lucky viewers who have experienced the wild and morally unpredictable world of Euro crime thrillers will find this old territory, but it's still unsettling seeing an actor like Caine, the nominal "hero," being such a ruthless bastard. The supporting cast is tremendous fun to watch, with the late Ian Hendry (Theatre of Blood) at his best in that unforgettable racetrack scene. Look for When a Stranger Calls' psycho, the also deceased Tony Beckley, as one of the thugs, and Britt Ekland in what amounts to an extended humorous, erotic cameo as Carter's gangster moll mistress.

Thanks to its newfound popularity, Warner embarked on a restoration and reissue project with Get Carter in the UK (and to a much lesser extent in the US) after acquiring it from MGM. Their efforts were well worth it, as the DVD release truly looks smashing in every respect. Given that this is a deliberately drab looking early '70s film shot for less than a million dollars, the source material is flawless and extremely faithful to its theatrical appearance. (And yes, the opening nighttime shot is supposed to look like that.) The same goes for the densely mixed mono soundtrack, which the studio thankfully left alone without any fancy new audio separation bells and whistles. The haunting soundtrack is also isolated on a separate track, though the stereo soundtrack release on CD is also highly recommended as much music wound up missing from the final cut. Bonus material includes a very entertaining commentary track spliced together from separate sessions with director Mike Hodges, Caine (who reteamed with the director for the lesser known Pulp), and cinematographer Walter Suschitzky, father of Cronenberg lenser Peter Suschitzky. All of the men have amazing tidbits to offer about the film, such as quirky touches in the wallpaper to the alcoholism and personal problems of certain supporting actors. Though many of the remarks are scene specific, some of the chronology seems a little strange; for example, Caine introduces himself for the first time several minutes after he has already begun speaking. Hodges, who later went on to direct Flash Gordon, got fired from Damien: Omen II, and made a comeback with the critically lauded Croupier, has every reason to be proud of this film, and it's nice to see the other participants feel the same way. Also included are the violent British MGM theatrical trailer and a "music trailer," which is actually a piecemeal music video for the main title theme with great footage of Budd in the recording studio.

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