GET CARTER directed by Mike Hodges (UK, 1971)
GET CARTER directed by Stephen Kay (USA, 2000)

“What did you say your name was again?”

In the bona fide classic original 1971 version of Get Carter, the nearest Jack Carter (Michael Caine) got to America was to stay in a seedy back street guest house called the Las Vegas.

He has returned to Newcastle to uncover the truth behind what happened to his brother who, according to implausible police reports, got drunk and drove his car into the river.

Carter has no fake nostalgia for his home town, What he calls a “craphole” is full of squalid back to back housing, sleazy pub entertainment and brash bingo halls. A day at the horse races is about as exotic as things get.

This naturalistic setting is steeped in the working class life of the city where the hardened criminal subculture looks very convincing. Caine’s Carter ruthlessly pursues revenge with no motivation other than to kill those who killed his brother.

America’s blockbusters have to include some higher motivation and directors are seemingly obliged to tag an improving moral to even the darkest of tales. So, while Syvester Stallone is equally violent and vengeful, he is returning to his family (“my blood”) and the strong subtext is that if he had been around the murder of his kin would never have happened.

The macho Stallone is true to form as a man of few words – “My brother died and now I’m here” he says as if this explained everything. He describes his day job in the real Las Vegas as ” a financial adjuster” and plays the villain as a cross between Rocky and the Terminator. His catchphrase is “My name is Jack Carter and you don’t want to know me”.

When Michael Caine (Jack I) is on the train back home he pops pills and reads Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely, In the remake, Jack II wears shades and practices his ‘I’m hard me’ look – the one where he looks constantly bothered by a bad smell.

Despite the 29 year gap between these two movies, it is the first which is bolder and more daring in its depiction of sex and violence. The Y2K version is relocated in Seattle which looks too glitzy when compared to the grainy social realism of the original. The fact that it rains a lot may be an attempt to give a more English ambience.

Stallone goes about his business in a single-minded fashion; unlike Jack I, he doesn’t get distracted by the ladies – the poor guy’s stress level is probably higher because he doesn’t get laid once. Caine is more of a Jack the lad, bedding his landlady , his rival’s whore and has phone sex with Britt Ekland.

The consequence of this is that Stallone can take to the moral high ground as he (literally) swings his punches at the porn empire he has uncovered. Mickey Rourke, in contrast, plays his morally bankrupt hard-core adversary looking all too convincing as a low life pimp.

Take this Stallone!

Take this Stallone!

When Jack II discovers that his brother’s daughter has been sex-ploited he makes what is intended as heartfelt caring adult speech to get her back on track. The difficulty here is that this calls on Stallone to act rather than strike a tough guy pose – prior to this, a loosened tie was the only sign of emotional engagement. As a result his words come out not as eloquent pearls of wisdom but as mumbled gibberish : “we make mistakes …we fall down….we get into trouble… happens to everybody…it does…but doesn’t mean everything that happened yesterday has to happen every day…it doesn’t…you don’t want to do like me and spend your whole life looking backwards….mumble…..mumble .”

Jack I confined himself to the more direct advice : “Be good and don’t trust boys”

Michael Caine has an extended cameo in the remake as the shifty cockney villain Cliff Brumby and in the relatively brief scenes puts Stallone’s pitiful attempts at acting in true perspective.

After doing what Rourke neatly summarises as his “post facto big brother thing”, a now clean-shaven Jack II learns the limits of revenge (and by implication) realises that crime doesn’t pay (hurrah!).

He drives off into the sunset to do what a man’s gotta do in another city when a bullet in the head would have been the kindest ending.