Today’s movie: Pulp

Mike Hodges and Michael Caine followed up the original (that is, not the crap Sylvester Stallone remake) production of Get Carter the next year with Pulp. In Carter, Caine plays an insider looking to right a wrong but in Pulp he is the outsider trying to figure out an old puzzle. In both films, though, solving the mystery has the beneficial side effect of saving the protagonist’s skin. Caine really was a masterful actor back in the day, totally able to slip into the skin of his characters and not just playing some variant of himself in every film.

Pulp is fairly obscure and I expect the only reason I saw it was that Showtime (and HBO and Starz as well) needs more and more product to fill the ever-expanding set of channels. Tivo seems to understand that I like British crime dramas. The combination works well.

Caine plays Mickey King, a man who ran away from his wife, three children, and funeral home business to pursue his dream of writing gangster fiction (pulp) while living near the Mediterranean. He’s been successful enough (though his publisher continually credits the works to a series of double entendre pseudonyms) that a man (Hart to Hart’s Lionel Stander) has come to make him a mysterious offer: a great man, nearing the end of his life, wishes King to ghostwrite his autobiography. Someone, or some group, does not wish this book written, though, and keeps trying to kill King and the mysterious great man. All the author has to go on in uncovering his nemesis is a photo of a group of men who participated in a weekend of hunting and debauchery many years ago.

The great man is retired, reclusive movie star Preston Gilbert, played by Mickey Rooney, who lives on a great, isolated island estate (this part of the film was made on Malta and there is a good deal of sun-drenched natural beauty to be seen). Gilbert was one of the men in the photo, along with a communist-turned law and order politician whose campaign for office we are shown frequently. This politician, and others, are worried that the central story of a girl’s death during the debauchery will come out in the actor’s life story and they are determined to prevent this.

Mike Hodges, who also directed the recent Croupier, does a decent job of directing, though I give him less points for the script. This film, stylistically, is meant to be seen as in synch with the time in which it was made (1972). King is thrown into events, never able to control them, even at the end where he is laid up in bed and scared off from pursuing his story any further. There are drug-inspired bits thrown in for no plot or character-related reason, such as the sequence of taxi accidents at the beginning. And so forth.

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