Writer and Director Mike Hodges was surprised that a star of Sir Michael Caine's stature would want to play such a thoroughly unlikeable person as Carter. Giving his reasons for wanting to be involved with this movie, Caine 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."
Britt Ekland was reluctant to be in this movie, as she was was afraid of becoming typecast, having already played two gangster 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.
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.
This movie 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, ten million pounds sterling was spent removing these conveyors, and the concrete towers, and cleaning tons of coal waste from the beaches of East Durham. The cleaning program was known as "Turning the Tide".
There are two soundtracks for the U.S. and U.K. releases of this movie. At the start of the movie, Carter is with some Cockney gangsters watching a porn movie. The voices of the Cockney gangsters were re-dubbed for the U.S. market, as the U.S. distributor believed the accents would be too heavy for the American audience to understand.
Writer and Director Mike Hodges described Sir 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 apologized immediately.
Not long after this movie was released, Sir Michael Caine was in the West End and came across the gangster upon whose life this movie was based. He was highly critical of this movie, 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.
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.
Writer and Director Mike Hodges had Ian Hendry in mind for the part of Jack Carter. According to Hodges, Hendry never forgave Sir Michael 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.
Attempts to demolish the multi-story car park, used several times as a meeting place, were met with protests. This movie made it one of the few famous buildings in the Gateshead, the borough across the river from Newcastle.
The location for Cyril Kinnear's house, Dryderdale Hall, near Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, provided a real-life connection with organized 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, Writer and Director Mike Hodges was aware of the significance of the house, and chose it deliberately. The Landa case also is referenced at the start of this movie with a shot of a newspaper bearing the headline "Gaming Wars".
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.
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, and 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 to whom she was talking, or where she was. Everyone knew her simply as "Dene".
At one point, Michael Klinger and Sir 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 featured so prominently in La Dolce Vita (1960), had been the site of a real-life gangland killing in the 1960s. Writer and Director Mike Hodges incorporated several aspects of the murder, which he derived from news reports of the killing, and several actual locations into this movie.
Writer and Director 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 somber conclusion for which he was hoping. He waited several hours until the sun began setting to capture the overcast shadowy lighting seen in this movie.
Sir Michael Caine made subtle changes to Mike Hodges' depiction of Carter in the script, cut out pleasantries and gave him a cold, hard edge, closer to Ted Lewis' original envisioning of the character.
Carl Howard's character of the assassin, "J", is only identified by the initial on his ring, in his only movie role, and an appropriate mystery surrounds his real identity. His name does not appear in the credits of some prints. Mike Hodges explained that Howard was an extra in his television movie, ITV Playhouse: Rumour (1970), and Hodges 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 movie, but his name was missed off some of the original prints. When the movie 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 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 was influenced in his writing, by the works of Raymond Chandler and Hollywood B-movies such as Kiss Me Deadly (1955), as they showed "how to use the crime story as an autopsy on society's ills."
Mike Hodges tried to rehearse the racetrack scene between Sir Michael Caine and Ian Hendry in their hotel the night before, but Hendry's drunken and resentful state forced Hodges to abandon the attempt.
Sir 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 thirty punches when one would do.
MGM sold distribution rights to this movie in the U.S. to future subsidiary United Artists, which promoted it poorly, amidst worries the cockney dialogue in the opening scene, would be unintelligible to U.S. audiences. This movie's release was delayed, while parts of the movie were redubbed (with no great improvement). In the process of redubbing the opening, the version of this movie with the original dialogue was lost. For years, the version shown on British television was the redubbed American cut. United Artists placed the movie 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 United Artists Eric Pleskow about the lackluster promotion of this movie, and tried to get him to relinquish the U.S. rights to the movie, so Klinger could find a better distributor.
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 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.
The production also utilized 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 this movie, including the casino, streets, bars, and the Police raid scene.
John Osborne's portrayal of Cyril Kinnear was a contrast, to the description in Lewis' novel of Kinnear as an uncultured spiv, giving him an urbane and laid-back demeanor, his delivery being so relaxed and quiet, that it was difficult for the sound recordist to pick up, but Writer and Director Mike Hodges liked the "menace in that quietness".
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 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, glockenspiels, and drums, and played old time jazz standards, such as "The Saints".
Theatrical movie debut of Alun Armstrong (Keith). He wrote a letter to MGM when he learned they were making this movie in Newcastle, and he was invited to meet Mike Hodges, who wanted to cast local actors.
In shooting the scene, in which Carter throws Brumby to his death from the multi-story 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 Sir 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.
In 1969, Michael Klinger devised plans for a gangster movie, to capitalize 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 (1970) 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."
This movie was shot in "Metrocolor", which was MGM's trade name for film processed at its Eastmancolor laboratory. This lab processed Kodak's Eastman Color Negative, so it is most likely that this movie was shot on this stock.
Asked to comment on what he was aiming for in the look of this movie, Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky said "The camera work on it... it was very influenced by Mike Hodges, who has a very good eye for set-ups, 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."
Producer Michael Klinger suggested that Writer and Director 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."
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 movies based on hard investigation and this informed his approach to this movie.
Producer Michael Klinger was involved in promotion of this movie in the U.K., using the experience from his background as a distributor to conduct a strong advertising campaign. Teaser posters appeared on the front of every London bus, with the tagline "Caine is Carter".
In the first week of shooting in Newcastle, the A.C.T.T. called the crew out on a one day strike. At the advice of Richard Lester, Writer and Director 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 rest from the production, after the shooting day was done.
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 along very well.
As Ted Lewis had not specified where his novel was set, Writer and Director Mike Hodges felt free to relocate the story to a place with which he was familiar, considering Grimsby, Lowestoft, Hull, and North Shields, before deciding on Newcastle upon Tyne.
Get Carter believed to be an early if not the first acting role (as extra /walk-on) by Jimmy Nail in crowd scene outside a bar during Carter's chase of Thorpe....apparently you need to 'look hard' to spot it....a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment!
Writer and Director Mike Hodges always intended for Carter to die in this movie. This was foreshadowed multiple times, including the first scene of this movie where curtains are drawn across Jack Carter looking down "from heaven" as he's standing in the window.
This movie is mostly faithful to Ted Lewis novel, with some exceptions, such as the fact that in the book, Carter did not kill Cliff Brumby and mails the pornographic movie 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 this movie was based, Lewis wrote other novels featuring Carter, including "Jack Carter's Law" and "Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon".