Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Get Carter is coming to America

I have on my desk as I type this post the upcoming U.S. rerelease of Ted Lewis' 1970 novel Get Carter (originally published as Jack's Return Home), the first U.S. publication of the influential, gritty, downbeat British crime classic in many, many years.  The new edition arrives in September from Syndicate Books, an imprint distributed by Soho Crime and "focusing on out-of-print or neglected mystery and crime fiction of cultural relevance." 
 

Syndicate also plans to publish two more Lewis novels this year, one of them for the first time in North America, according to the company.  While you wait to read them, here's a post I first put up a few years ago about Jack's Return Home/Get Carter and Mike Hodges' celebrated movie version. The new edition of the novel includes a foreword by Hodges that offers illuminating discussion of his feelings about the book and of changes he made when filming it.  And here's a link to another post I put up after hearing Hodges speak at Crimefest 2010 in Bristol.

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Mike Hodges' 1971 movie Get Carter is rich with a sense of place. So is the 1970 Ted Lewis novel on which it is based though, so far, in a somewhat different way.

Jack's Return Home, later rereleased under the same title as the movie, is full of angry observations on the North England city to which tough-guy Jack Carter return to investigate his brother's death. (The setting is Newcastle in the movie, the Doncaster area in the book.)

Hodges' movie is full of gritty interiors, rows of housing apparently foreshortened by a long camera lens to emphasize the degree to which they are squashed together beneath giant belching smokestacks. Hodges and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky also offer up a gorgeous gallery of deeply etched local faces drinking in a local pub. That first pub scene and the shots of houses and smokestacks look straight out of a gritty documentary. (Go here for a rundown and photos of real locations used in the movie.)

Lewis' social portraits are more cutting, here in a dissection of the crowd at Cyril Kinnear's club:
"The clientele thought they were select. There were farmers, garage proprietors, owners of chains of cafés, electrical contractors, builders, quarry owners, the new Gentry. And occasionally, though never with them, their terrible offspring. The Sprite drivers with the accents not quite right, but ten times more like it than their parents ... Not one of (the wives) was not overdressed. ... They'd had nothing when they were younger, since the war they'd gradually got the lot, and the change had been so surprising they could never stop wanting ... "
or
"The dark, close trees came to and end and I was back bathing in the rateable value of the yellow street lights. ... The California-style homes were still and silent, tucked away beyond the yards and yards of civic-style lawn. Where a house showed signs of life naturally the curtains were drawn well back to inform the neighbours of the riches smugly placed within."
The second bit is more sneering and less specific than the first and therefore has dated less well. But by God, they both give the novel an attitude.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010, 2014

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33 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Another one to add to the reading list, I see.

May 31, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The movie is worth seeing if you haven't already, or even if you have. My recent viewing was my second or third, though my first on a big screen.

The novel, which I don't think is nearly as well known, is off to a good start, too. (I'm a little more than a third of the way through as of this writing.)

May 31, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Okay, so after many recommendations, it must be time to see if my library has this movie--and see it.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

I think the book and the movie are tops in the genre. Get Carter is #16 on the British film Institute's top 100 British films of the 20th centruy. I think Lewis is credited with the start of hardboiled stories in the UK.

If you want to see something truly awful, watch the Sylvester Stallone version of Get Carter. One of the worst remakes ever.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, it's a stark, harsh revenge story, but one with considerable heart.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Other than a sneering edge to Jack's physical description of suburbs, which feels secondhand even for 1970, it's a hell of a book so far. Lewis' novel (and Hodges' adaptation) do a nice job of making the revenge-seeking Jack violent, calculating and sympathetic at the same time. And there's that sense of place that is pretty close to palpable.

And no, I don't want to see something truly awful, so I'll pass on the Stallone. Thanks, though.

June 01, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d, said...

NO STALLONE, NO ROCKY, NO WAY!

Not even if he were reading Hamlet!

Will try "Get Carter," the movie.

But back to my early Hitchcock four-dvd set and a rewatch of "The African Queen," as part of my Bogart period.

June 01, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Okay, I found "Get Carter" at the library and put it on reserve. The Stallon one actually turned me off 100 percent, nearly to nausea.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

Kathy D.
I read somewhere that Michael Caine really wanted to do Get Carter because he was looking for a different sort of role. Hodges was true to the theme and atmosphere of Lewis' book and produced a noir classic. The Stallone version is interesting in a clinical sense in that you have to wonder how a script could go that wrong; it ripped the heart out of the story. Caine adapted to the role whereas the film was adapted to the star in the Stallone version.

Let us know what you think of the Caine version.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I also would be unlikely to watch Stallone reading "Hamlet."

I watched part of one of the Rambo movies in a hotel room once. The action scenes were fair, but when Stallone opened his mouth, I saw and heard the worst acting I have ever scene in a movie. So make sure you get the Michael Caine version of "Get Carter."

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, Hodges seems not to have concentrated quite as much on Jack's reminiscences of his childhood as the novel did, but that's understandable. Recollections are never easy to incorporate in a movie. But other than this, the novel is true to the theme and atmosphere. I wonder why he switched locations, though, from Doncaster to Newcastle. Maybe because of those highly photographable smokestacks, which I'm guessing really were in Newcastle.

I have also read that Michael Caine could not manage a proper Northern accent, hence the curiosity of a man from the north of England speaking like a Londoner. This did not hamper my enjoyment in the least, and I would not have noticed it had not someone else brought the matter up. I did wonder if English viewers would be more sensitive than I was.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

Peter, one of the ways I entertain myself when a book has a strong feeling of location is to match clues to actual geography. Anyway, I don't think Jack's Return Home was set in Doncaster. Jack passes through Doncaster on his way to his home town. More likely Scunthorpe which is near Doncaster. Scunthorpe has steel mills and a sandstone quarry.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm about to grab the book and head out for some errands and reading. I'll double-check the Doncaster references, and I'll keep my eyes open for any mention of Scunthorpe. Thanks.

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

One last thing and I'll stop obsessing about Get Carter.

If you want to read more about the film, there is a chapter in British Crime Cinema by Steve Chibnall and Robrt Murphy where Mike Hodges talks about Get Carter. You can read it on Google Books. Unfortunately, the next chapter about Get Carter, A Revenger's Tragedy, isn't available in the Google Books preview. If your library has a copy of the book it is quite interesting.

Interesting facts about Scunthorpe: wikipedia says "the area has crime rates higher than the national average, especially in the categories of violence against the person, sexual offences, burglary and theft of motor vehicles". Also from wikipedia, internet obscenity filters are liable to block the name. "This situation is known in the computing world as the Scunthorpe problem and is still an issue to Scunthorpe-based internet users."

June 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You appear to be right that that the book is not set in Doncaster, though I am not the only one confused in this respect. The back cover of my edition has "Doncaster, and Jack Carter is home for a funeral," but on Page 123, Carter and his landlady try to figure out where Thorpey and his heavies have gone with Keith: "He's probably half-way to Doncaster or Barnsley or somewhere by now."

So obscenity filters are apt to block Scunthorpe? Isn't the Internet supposed to enhance freedom? And thanks for the heads-up on British Crime Cinema.

June 01, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Spoiler Alert!

So what do you think, Peter? Did Carter actually die at the end of the book? Or was the ending too ambiguous to say? Was it a good ending? I was a bit confused by it, but on reflection I was reasonably satisfied.

A lot of writers who write first person narratives from the point of view of bad guys, like Cain or Thompson, tie themselves up in knots trying to figure out an ending, but Lewis leaves it a bit ambiguous and a bit obscure, and, in the circumstances, with a narrator like Jack Carter, I think that's all a writer can do.

June 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack:

The Ted Lewis Online Web site says that Lewis "for many years lived in Barton upon Humber. The nearby industrial towns of Grimsby and Scunthorpe are the setting to much of his writing."

June 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, spoiler alert is right. I will say that Lewis' ending reminded me of the one Jim Thompson novel I've read, and that it was not entirely shocking for a young author who came of professional age in the 1960s and who had been to art school.

June 03, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Okay, so after many recommendations, it must be time to see if my library has this movie--and see it

I think Kathy might enjoy the book better than the movie. Good and all as the film is, it's just another tough-guy-with-a-gun-movie. There were a lot of those around in the late 60s/early 70s.

What the movie lacks (through no fault of its own) is the detailed sense of place and the in-depth charterization that the novel form allows.

June 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's an interesting assessment, since the movie has come to be regarded as a classic, whereas the book is not widely known, at least not in America.

I'd agree that the sense of place is far stronger in the novel, though Mike Hodges and his cinematographer did a fine job of coming up with a visual counterpart.

June 03, 2010  
Blogger Mack said...

I said I was going to stop obsessing about Get Carter but I do want to bring up why the film was shot in Newcastle.
"Travelling north in Michael Klinger’s Cadillac, he found that sixties town planning had imposed a depressing modernist uniformity on northern towns: ‘Lowestoft, Grimsby, Hull. Each had been decimated by developers. The pubs, cafes and dodgy boarding houses gone’ (Hodges 1997b: 20). Remembering docking in North Shields when doing his National Service in the Royal Navy, Hodges continued further north and found what he was looking for in Newcastle. Though the city was being rapidly re-developed, it was still visually interesting ..."

From
Chibnall, Steve. British Crime Cinema. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 1999. p 131.

June 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nah, you're not obsessing, you're discussing. It is good to stay up til late hours talking about interesting subjects.

The Newcastle of Hodges' movie certainly does a nice job of standing in for Ted Lewis' setting. The novel does offer hints of disgust at modernist uniformity, disgust largely if not entirely absent from the movie, though.

June 03, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I got the "Get Carter" dvd from the library but my neighbor grabbed it quickly and I haven't been able to see it yet.

However, on a slightly different note, I did also start watching "The Maltese Falcon" dvd and interestingly, since I read the book a few months ago, the movie is so much better. Although I've seen it a few times and liked it, there's so much more to it now.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, my only advice to you will be to get the disc back from your neighbor before it's due back at the library.

Now, that's a good argument for going back to the source and reading The Maltese Falcon.

June 22, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes, and if I'm ever out from under the TBR pile, I'd like to read "The Thin Man," by Hammett which I just saw again on PBS.

Also, just saw "Murder, My Sweet," with Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe and he was good. Claire Trevor was great in her part.

These old b/w mysteries are classics for a reason.

And I can renew "Get Carter" at the library's website, so I'm not worried.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought the actor who played Moose Malloy, the big guy in love with Velma was better in the Dick Powell movie than in the 1975 movie with Robert Mitchum.

June 22, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I haven't seen the version with Robert Mitchum. I don't think my library has it.

But the whole cast was good.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Mitchum "Farewell, My Lovely" is forthright about certain matters that the older movie could not have been -- race, for instance. Similarly, the 1978 "Big Sleep," with Mitchum as Marlowe again, is more explicit about sex than the Howard Hawks movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

These were not bad decisions, as auiences in the 1970s would presumably have different expectations and would not be prepared to accept certain things that audiences of the 1940s would have.

June 22, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'd like to get the Mitchum "Farewell, My Lovely," from the library but although they list it, one can't reserve it. Will have to ask a librarian about this.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It makes a nice comparison with the Dick Powell version. No shockers, but I will prefer to wait until you've seen the movie before I discuss the differences.

June 22, 2010  
Blogger Paul Oliver said...

Thanks for covering this, Peter. It's exciting to see the book falling into worthy hands already.

A couple of interesting things I thought I'd add to this conversation.

The real setting of the unnamed town in the novel is Scunthorpe, which is near where Lewis grew up and went to school. Doncaster is where Jack Carter changes trains. It's a mistake that even the British edition gets wrong. Scunthorpe is another 40 minutes north-west of Doncaster.

Hodges, in the intro to the Syndicate edition, explains why he changed the locations. It wasn't because of the smokestacks, which would have been all the more present in the factory town of Scunthorpe. Hodges was in the navy and picked a port town because he felt he could better describe the type of people and politics. Lewis on the other hand, wrote about a mill town, thus the description of the glowing sky at night that comes right at the beginning of the novel.

In the parlance of Pennsylvania, Hodges swapped Pittsburgh for Philadelphia.

July 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I vaguely remember being confused about the settings when I read the novel after having seen the movie.

Hodges' explanation for why he changed the setting is a highlight of the new edition, I must say, an extra that adds value and will make it a worthwhile purchase even for readers who already have previous editions.

July 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, see the comments from Mack above re Scunthorpe. He was right on it.

July 08, 2014  

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