If asked to think of a film about the north-east of England, chances are that one of the first to come to mind would be Get Carter (1971). Adapted from Ted Lewis’s equally important novel, Mike Hodges’ film revitalised British crime drama, bringing in a pessimism that replaced the previous decade’s swinging frivolities. Making the most of its Newcastle setting, as well as filming along the coast around Hartlepool and Blyth, Hodges defined the city on screen, with only Sidney Hayers’ Payroll (1961) providing competition.
Hodges’ film follows the revenge of London gangster Jack Carter (Michael Caine). Having heard the news of his brother’s unusual demise, he returns to his native Newcastle in order to discover the truth. His journey takes him through the underworld of the north-east, controlled largely by Cyril Kinnear (John Osborne). Traversing the streets of the city and talking to a range of acquaintances, including the suspicious Eric Paice (Ian Hendry), Carter learns of the sleazy conspiracy at the heart of his brother’s murder. Facing down pressure from a variety of local villains, as well as those sent from his own manor to bring him back before he causes trouble, Carter uses violence to find out what really happened.
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Get Carter is one of the great regional films. Hodges captures Newcastle before its full post-industrial development, making the most of the dock workings, old brick tenements and even a few of the new brutalist developments slowly making their mark. Since filming, a huge array of the locations in the film have been demolished. Even some of the more modern buildings (the famous Trinity Square car park in Gateshead, for example) failed to survive the modern indulgence for endless redevelopment. Here, however, are five locations from the film that are still standing today.
Thinking the legitimate family aspect of the trip concluded, Carter makes the most of a chance final meeting with his niece Doreen (Petra Markham) and gives her some money. Carter spots her through the large window of what was Bower’s Café on Pink Lane. Today, the space is currently occupied by a bar.
The Las Vegas
The location of Carter’s main room, The Las Vegas boarding house, is featured throughout the film. Several shots overlap, and the vicinity around the main house run by Edna (Rosemarie Dunham) is filmed in incredible detail. The road in question is Coburg Street in Gateshead. A shot when Thorpe (Bernard Hepton) is trying to escape Carter shows the very end of the road as it meets Prince Consort Road. The road is architecturally unchanged.
The actual house of The Las Vegas was number 25. We see Carter walking to and from the location many times, but the best view is when Peter (Tony Beckley) and Con (George Sewell) come to take Carter back to London. The house is still standing but feels a far cry from the neon-lit sleaze of the building in the film.
Finally, when Carter makes his escape from Peter and Con, he tries his luck round the back before screeching off in a car. He makes his getaway through the alleyway behind the houses, taking most of the week’s laundry with him. The alleyway is unchanged bar its cobbles, which are now hidden under tarmac.
Having initially evaded Peter and Con, Carter meets his brother’s lover Margaret (Dorothy White), only to be betrayed by her. Hodges has an establishing shot of the High Level Bridge where the trains pass by, along with the pedestrian walkway underneath it. The shot is taken from the side of the river and is today less industrial but mostly unchanged.
Hodges cuts to the meeting on the bridge. Aside from a few extra buildings and bridges in the background, the location is identical today.
Escaping down from the bridge, Carter evades his pursuers through the edgelands around the river. He makes his way via the Long Stairs to the riverside where Glenda (Geraldine Moffat) awaits him. The Long Stairs themselves are still standing but are certainly a lot tidier today.
To contextualise the shot, Hodges captures several moments from Tyne Bridge looking down towards the Swing Bridge. The view is very much as it was, just with a few extra trees and cars.
We then get a glimpse of Glenda waiting in a car with the Swing Bridge and the High Level Bridge in the background.
Carter and Glenda escape, and we see them speeding away. The view is again courtesy of Tyne Bridge. The building to the right was the Newcastle and Tyne Guildhall and is now the Hard Rock Cafe.
“You couldn’t win an egg and spoon race Eric.”
Having made a deal with Kinnear, Carter lures Eric to a docking area where he plans to take his revenge. We see their cars parked up in a stunning sequence cutting between Carter’s revenge and the police raid unfolding at Kinnear’s house. The shot is taken at Blyth much further away from central Newcastle on the coastline. The distinctive wooden foundations seen throughout were destroyed by fire some time ago, but their remains still stand.
As the majority of the chase focuses on this structure, we’re treated to multiple angles of its many levels. The structure can be seen here snaking around the water, though its tiered levels no longer survive.
The last thing we see of Blyth is a shot of Eric running from the end of a backstreet to the shoreline. Today, a train track runs along the incline that we see Eric run up. The actual beach where the rest of the film’s finale was shot is far away from here, further down the coast at Blackhall Colliery, five miles north of Hartlepool. In a single cut, we jump around 30 miles south to where Eric finally meets his maker and Carter gets his revenge.
50 years of Get Carter: a new interview with director Mike Hodges
Half a century after the release of perhaps the greatest of all British gangster films, we caught up with director Mike Hodges to sift through his memories of the shoot and ask whether Get Carter could be made the same way today.
By Lou Thomas