Scotsman Obituaries: Mike Hodges, director of Get Carter

Mike Hodges, film director and writer. Born: 29 July 1932 in Bristol. Died: 17 December 2022 in Dorset, aged 90

When Get Carter came out in 1971 the critics hated it. “What is this garbage?” wondered Felix Barker in the London Evening News, while Nigel Andrews in Monthly Film Bulletin complained of lack of humour and reliance on cliché - even though this was film noir in the offbeat setting of Newcastle. The public largely ignored it.

Fast-forward a decade or so on your video player and Get Carter had acquired sufficiently iconic status for the same shot of Michael Caine brandishing a shotgun to appear on the cover of the books “Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties” and “National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties”.

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Get Carter was the debut cinema feature from Mike Hodges and was to prove hugely influential, bringing a new hard edge to British thrillers. In 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival invited Hodges for one of its Reel Life events – “interviews with cinema greats”. In 2004 readers of Total Film voted it the greatest British film ever made.bu

Mike Hodges poses at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival (Picture: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)Mike Hodges poses at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival (Picture: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
Mike Hodges poses at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival (Picture: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

Despite the belated success of Get Carter, Hodges made only ten films in 30 years, and that includes Damien: Omen II, which he scripted, but which he quit as director after four weeks. His premature departure followed a heated argument with a producer with a gun.

It is possible to make arguments for the merits of some of his later films, including Flash Gordon, on which Hodges was the one taking over directing, after Nicolas Roeg departed.

But nothing really compares with the visceral shock and the ultimate triumph of Get Carter, with its brilliant sense of place and decay and Caine’s mesmerising characterisation of a ruthless London gangster on an ill-fated return to his home town to investigate and avenge the death of his brother.

Michael Tommy Hodges was born into a middle-class family in Bristol in 1932. His father was a sales executive for a tobacco company. His father was CofE, his mother Roman Catholic and Hodges was sent to a Catholic boarding school, where he acquired a love of cinema and a hatred of authority.

He left school at the earliest opportunity with a notion to work in films, though his parents pressured him to train as an accountant. He first worked in television as a teleprompter operator, going on to become a producer and director on World in Action in the 1960s.

A couple of gritty dramas that he wrote and directed for ITV Playhouse, entitled Suspect and Rumour, brought him to the attention of Michael Klinger, a nightclub owner who had graduated to film producer with soft porn and who worked with Roman Polanski on Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac.

The public’s interest in the world of crime had been whetted by the recent Kray trials and Klinger was looking for someone to direct a low-budget film version of Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home.

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He sent the novel to Hodges, who agreed to take it on if he could write the screenplay himself – though it was true to the spirit of the book and retained much of the dialogue. The famous lines “You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape, now behave yourself” evolved from dialogue in the novel.

The choice of Tyneside as the setting was Hodges’s. He was familiar with it from National Service in the Navy. He was paid a flat fee of £7,000 and the film was written, shot, edited and in cinemas a year after Hodges first laid eyes on Lewis’s novel.

“I thought film-making was always going to be like that - decisions quickly taken and acted on, instinct always in the driving seat,” he said. “How wrong I was.”

His next film Pulp starred Michael Caine again, this time with the veteran Mickey Rooney. It was a decent comedy thriller, very different in tone from Get Carter. His third feature The Terminal Man took him to Hollywood for an adaptation of a Michael Crichton sci-fi novel, with George Segal at the height of his popularity.

But a preview screening was apparently a disaster when it was shown without sound for the first ten minutes. Warner Bros gave the film only a limited US release and it did not get a UK cinema release at all.

Hodges turned down the original Omen film and his reputation was not exactly enhanced by his early departure from Omen II, though it may have been wiser than taking responsibility for the final product.

"I was having a discussion with the producer, who was slightly neurotic, to say the least, and he got very angry. We were sitting in an office and he suddenly rummaged in his bag and put this handgun on the table,” said Hodges. “And I said, 'Is that loaded?' And he said, 'Yes.'

“We were arguing about the design budget and I said, 'Calm down' and he didn't.,, I should never have taken that film on in the first place. I needed the money, and the whole thing was a disaster. The gun was incidental."

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By all accounts Hodges was an obstinate individual who found it difficult to work with the demands of the Hollywood studio system, though Flash Gordon showed he could work with a big budget. It was far removed from Get Carter and great fun, whereas Morons from Outer Space was just far removed.

The best of his later movies was Croupier, a 1998 noir starring Clive Owen. It symbolises the ups and downs of his career in a single film project. FilmFour gave it only a very limited release and no one really noticed. It was only after it created a buzz in the United States that FilmFour decided to try again with a wider release that connected with an audience.

Hodges’s personal life also had its ups and downs. He felt trapped and compromised in his first marriage. “I found myself doing all the things I swore I’d never do,” he said. “The kids were going to private school, we had the country house and the town flat and two cars and God knows how many television sets in every room.”

Following his divorce he turned his back on material wealth. When his last movie I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead came out in 2003 he insisted he would be perfectly happy living out his days tending his vegetables at his home in Dorset. He remarried the following year and he is survived by his second wife and by two sons from his first marriage.


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