The Pelaw Hussars were a 'juvenile jazz band' from Pelaw, an area that is part of Gateshead, near Newcastle. Such jazz bands were organized groups of children, usually girls, who present uniformed marching displays. They played simple instruments such as kazoos, glockenspiel, and drums, and played old time jazz standards, such as "The Saints".
Attempts to demolish the multi-storey car-park, used several times as a meeting place, were met with protests. "Get Carter" made it one of the few famous buildings in the Gateshead, the borough across the River from Newcastle.
In the first shot in the long bar, the second local man to stare at Jack Carter actually has five fingers and a thumb. This was a genuine abnormality of the 'extra' who played the part. It can be seen as he raises his glass of beer to drink.
Mike Hodges described Michael Caine as "a complete dream to work with". Caine only lost his temper once on set, during the very tense and emotional day filming in Glenda's flat, when the focus puller ruined his first take. Caine apologised immediately.
Not long after the film was released, Michael Caine was in the West End and came across the gangster whose life the film was based upon. He was highly critical of the film, saying there is no gangster in the world like Jack Carter. He didn't have a wife, children or responsibilities of any kind. Rather than start an incident, Caine agreed with everything he said.
There are two sound tracks for the US and UK releases of the film. At the start of the movie, Carter is with some Cockney gangsters watching a porn film. The voices of the Cockney gangsters were re-dubbed for the US market as the US distributor believed the accents would be too heavy for the American audience to understand.
Britt Ekland was reluctant to be in the film, as she was was afraid of becoming typecast, having already played two gangster's molls before and she did not want to take her clothes off. However, she had financial problems at the time as a result of bad investment decisions by her accountant. She was later happy that she had been involved with the project.
Mike Hodges had Ian Hendry in mind for the part of Jack Carter. According to Hodges, Hendry never forgave Caine for usurping him in the role and this caused resentment between the two stars on the set, resulting in the undisguised friction seen on the screen.
The club singer (Denea Wilde) seen flirting and fighting, was in reality a larger than life character and made her local estate in Newcastle what it was/is - a great place to live. She apparently walked with the aid of a walking stick and was renowned for her liberal use of the F word - no matter who she was talking to or where she was. Everyone knew her simply as "Dene".
At one point Michael Klinger and Michael Caine asked if Mike Hodges might work in a "chase sequence" but he persuaded them that it would draw too many comparisons with Bullitt (1968). A chase sequence between Carter and the London gangsters is mentioned in the shooting script.
The nightclub which features so prominently in La Dolce Vita (1960), had been the site of a real-life gangland killing in the 1960s. Director Mike Hodges incorporated several aspects of the murder, which he derived from news reports of the killing, and several actual locations into the film.
The film was shot in "Metrocolor", which was MGM's trade name for films processed at its Eastmancolor laboratory. This lab processed Kodak's Eastman Colour Negative, so it is most likely the film was shot on this stock.
The production also utilised a large number of extras, most of whom were locals who just happened to be on scene when filming was happening. Others were sourced from local casting company Beverley Artistes, which sent everyone registered with it for audition, one of these being Denea Wilde, who was cast as the pub singer. Several of the company's actors were also in background shots in the film including the casino, streets, bars and the police raid scene.
Mike Hodges was surprised that a star of Michael Caine's stature would want to play such a thoroughly unlikeable person as Carter. Giving his reasons for wanting to be involved with the film the actor said "One of the reasons I wanted to make that picture was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they're neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they're certainly not very funny". He identified with Carter as a memory of his working class upbringing, having friends and family members who were involved in crime and felt Carter represented a path his life might have taken under different circumstances: "Carter is the dead-end product of my own environment, my childhood; I know him well. He is the ghost of Michael Caine".
John Osborne's portrayal of Cyril Kinnear was a contrast to the description in Lewis's novel of Kinnear as an uncultured spiv, giving him an urbane and laid-back demeanour, his delivery being so relaxed and quiet that it was difficult for the sound recordist to pick up, but Mike Hodges liked the "menace in that quietness".
Carl Howard's character of the assassin, "J", is only identified by the initial on his ring, in his only film role, and an appropriate mystery surrounds his real identity. His name does not appear on the credits of some prints. Mike Hodges explained that Howard was an extra on his TV film, ITV Playhouse: Rumour (1970), and the director gave him a line to say, but another extra was wrongly credited. Hodges promised he would make it up to him and cast him in this film, but his name was missed off some of the original prints. When the film credits were printed in the Radio Times and TV Times Howard was also trimmed. Hodges said in 2002 "Carl and credits don't seem destined for each other".
The location for Cyril Kinnear's house, Dryderdale Hall, near Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, provided a real-life connection with organised crime. It was the recently vacated country house of North East fruit machine businessman Vince Landa, who had fled the country in 1969 after the murder of his right hand man Angus Sibbett, the so-called One-armed bandit murder. Many believed the crime was part of a failed attempt by the Kray twins to gain control of the Newcastle underworld. Michael Klinger and the MGM publicity spokesman dismissed the use of the location as mere coincidence; however Hodges was aware of the significance of the house and chose it deliberately. The Landa case also is referenced at the start of the film with a shot of a newspaper bearing the headline "Gaming Wars".
As a young man John Bindon (Sid Fletcher) had been in and out of borstal, and spent most of his adult life associating with criminals, so he was ideally suited to play a gangland boss, despite being young, having intimate knowledge of that world. In the late 1970s his career suffered as he became entangled in accusations of protection racketeering in Fulham and was acquitted of murder at the Old Bailey.
Asked to comment on what he was aiming for in the look of the film, cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky said "The camera work on it... it was very influenced by Mike Hodges who has a very good eye for setups and he of course conferred with his operator and myself, but he influenced all of us, and much of the good look is due to him, I confess. My main task was lighting on location, very moderately, and waiting for the right daylight and setting the exposure on the lens".
In the first week of shooting in Newcastle, the ACTT called the crew out on one day strike. At the advice of Richard Lester, Mike Hodges and his assistant director stayed at a separate hotel to the rest of the cast and crew, which enabled him to have some respite from the production after the shooting day was done.
The most complicated scene to shoot was Kinnear's game of cards. There are four simultaneous conversations, with a lot of plot exposition and the introduction of two important characters, Kinnear and Glenda. The technical complexity was compounded by the variation in light coming through the windows and John Osborne's whispered delivery, which made microphone placement difficult. Mike Hodges moved the camera and the boom closer to Osborne as the scene progressed. Hodges regretted not rehearsing the scene more thoroughly.
In shooting the scene in which Carter throws Brumby to his death from the multi-storey car park, Mike Hodges used four shots: one of the pair struggling high up on the stairs; one from the lowest level of the stairwell where Michael Caine actually threw Bryan Mosley over the side onto mattresses; one shot of a dummy falling; and one of the body of Brumby on top of a crushed car.
The climactic chase scene was shot in reverse, with Mike Hodges filming Eric's death scene first because of Ian Hendry's poor condition, Hodges being worried that he would be too out of breath to play the death scene after running.
Mike Hodges chose the beach as the setting for the climax for its bleak, dark atmosphere but when he returned to shoot the scene he found it bathed in bright sunshine, unsuitable for the sombre conclusion he was hoping for. He waited hours until the sun began setting to capture the overcast shadowy lighting seen in the film
The film shows the beach black with coal spoilings, dumped there by the mine's conveyor system. The conveyor system, a common sight on the East Durham coast, was known locally as 'The Flight'. In the early 2000s, £10 million was spent removing these conveyors and the concrete towers, and cleaning tons of coal waste from the beaches of East Durham. The cleaning programme was known as 'Turning the Tide'.
Michael Klinger suggested that Mike Hodges use John Trumper as editor. Hodges said that he and Trumper argued and disagreed constantly, but he still thought he was a "brilliant, brilliant editor" and was "very grateful to him for ...how much he contributed".
Sound editing and dubbing was done by James Atkinson, who Mike Hodges described as "so obsessive about the job". He gave Hodges multiple possibilities of how the sound could be dubbed and explored every angle. Michael Klinger was worried that the debut director may be overwhelmed with too many options, but Hodges said he and Atkinson got on very well.
To save time and money, composer Roy Budd did not use overdubs, simultaneously playing a real harpsichord, a Wurlitzer electric piano and a grand piano. Budd described the experience as "uncomfortable, but it sounded pleasant".
As Ted Lewis had not specified where his novel was set, Mike Hodges felt free to relocate the story to a place he was familiar with, considering Grimsby, Lowestoft, Hull and North Shields before deciding on Newcastle Upon Tyne.
In 1969, Michael Klinger devised plans for a gangster film to capitalise on public interest in the British criminal underworld after the Kray Twins' convictions. Klinger was invited to view a first print of Peter Walker's Man of Violence (1971) and was unimpressed, telling the director "I'm going to make a gangster film, but it's going to cost a lot more than this and it's going to be better".
Mike Hodges thoroughly researched the local Newcastle crime scene, adapting the script to make use of settings and incorporating elements of his research into the story. His background at World in Action (1963) had made him accustomed to making films based on hard investigation and this informed his approach to
Michael Caine was determined to show a more minimalistic and realistic, less "pornographic" form of violence than was generally depicted on screen. Carter's violent actions are restrained, business-like and sudden, never using 30 punches when one would do.
Michael Klinger was involved in promotion of the film in the UK, using the experience from his background as a distributor to conduct a strong advertising campaign. Teaser posters for the film appeared on the front of every London bus, with the tag-line 'Caine is Carter'
MGM sold distribution rights to the film in the U.S.A. to future subsidiary United Artists, which promoted it poorly, amidst worries the cockney dialogue in the opening scene would be unintelligible to US audiences. The film's release was delayed while parts of the film were redubbed (with no great improvement). In the process of redubbing the opening, the version of the film with the original dialogue was lost. For years the version shown on British television was the redubbed American cut. UA placed the film on the declining drive-in movie circuit, where it played at the bottom of a double bill with Dirty Dingus Magee (1970). In 1974 ,Michael Klinger complained to president of UA Eric Pleskow about the lacklustre promotion of Carter and tried to get him to relinquish the US rights to the film, so Klinger could find a better distributor.
In South Africa, the censor cut out Britt Ekland's phone sex scene, shortening her already brief role; her name was still left on the poster, leaving filmgoers to wonder why she was advertised as appearing
The scenes at the top of the multi story car park were in what was due to be a restaurant but it was never completed because the local fire brigade refused to grant it a fire certificate on the grounds that if a fire had broken out in it they wouldn't have been able to get the fire engines up the top due to the steep ramps and low ceilings.
Mike Hodges (Director, Writer) always intended for Carter to die in the film. This is foreshadowed multiple times, including the very first scene of the film where curtains are drawn across Jack Carter looking down "from heaven" as he's standing in the window.
The film is mostly faithful to Ted Lewis novel, with some exceptions, such as the fact that in the book, Carter does not kill Cliff Brumby and mails the pornographic film featuring Doreen Carter to a journalist, rather than to Scotland Yard. At the end of the book, Carter is wounded, presumably mortally, by a knife thrust from Eric Paice, rather than being shot by an assassin hired by "Cyril Kinnear." Also, Eric is killed when he attempts to shoot Carter with Carter's own rifle, but the old weapon backfires and explodes. The book also contains numerous flashbacks detailing Carter's relationship with his brother Frank, including an encounter in which Frank tells Carter that he no longer wishes to see him after learning from his ex-wife that Carter May be Doreen's father. The book also delves into the backstory of Carter and Eric as rival gangsters in London and Albert Swift as a juvenile gang leader. Also, part of the reason Jack hates Eric so much is because of his abusive treatment of Anna. Following the success of "Jack's Return Home", the novel on which the film is based, Lewis wrote other novels featuring Carter, including "Jack Carter's Law" and "Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon".