Michael Caine 'Get Carter': Best British Film Ever?

Michael Caine Get CarterMichael Caine in 'Get Carter.'

Michael Caine 'Get Carter': 1971 gangster thriller the Best British film ever made?

Get Carter, Mike Hodges' 1971 thriller starring a young Michael Caine and some scary-looking weaponry, was selected as Britain's very best movie ever according to 25 British film critics polled by Total Film magazine (Oct. 2004). To say Get Carter was an offbeat choice – what, not a David Lean epic or an early Alfred Hitchcock thriller? – would be quite an understatement. (See also: "Best British Movies of All Time?")

Besides the 1971 Get Carter (remade in 2000 with Sylvester Stallone in the old Michael Caine role), other Top Ten surprises include Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979); the Sean Connery-as-James Bond actioner From Russia with Love (1963), also featuring a deadly Lotte Lenya; and Mike Leigh's Naked (1993), a psychological drama starring David Thewlis in (what amounts to) the title role.

Hollywood's influence can be felt by way of the aforementioned From Russia with Love, a United Artists release, in addition to David Lean's Columbia-backed epic Lawrence of Arabia, and Carol Reed's 1949 film noir The Third Man, which was partly financed by Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick's Selznick International Pictures.

'Get Carter' in, but old British classics mostly out

No pre-1945 film made it onto Total Film's Top Ten list. Also worth noting is that not a single movie on the list features a woman in a central, starring role. (In The Third Man, Alida Valli's character is subordinate to that of Joseph Cotten's, while Kind Hearts and Coronets leading ladies Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood play second fiddle to Dennis Price and to Alec Guinness in various guises.) Here's the Top Ten list:

  1. Get Carter (1971).
    Dir.: Mike Hodges.
  2. A Matter of Life and Death / Stairway to Heaven (1946).
    Dir.: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
  3. Trainspotting (1996).
    Dir.: Danny Boyle.
  4. The Third Man (1949).
    Dir.: Carol Reed.
  5. Life of Brian (1979).
    Dir.: Terry Jones.
  6. The Wicker Man (1973).
    Dir.: Robin Hardy.
  7. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).
    Dir.: Robert Hamer.
  8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
    Dir.: David Lean.
  9. From Russia with Love (1963).
    Dir.: Terence Young.
  10. Naked (1993).
    Dir.: Mike Leigh.

Missing from the Top Ten list

  • David Lean's Best Director Oscar nominee Brief Encounter (1945), Best Picture and Best Director nominee Great Expectations (1946), Best Director nominee Summertime (1955), and Best Picture winner The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
  • Alfred Hitchcock's pre-Hollywood classics The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), and The Lady Vanishes (1938).
  • Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith's MGM-backed Best Picture nominee Pygmalion (1938), and Asquith's The Winslow Boy (1948).
  • Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1945), which earned actor-director-producer Olivier an Honorary Oscar, and Best Picture winner Hamlet (1948).
  • Carol Reed's Best Director nominee The Fallen Idol (1948).
  • Alexander Mackendrick's The Man in the White Suit (1951).
  • John Schlesinger's Billy Liar (1963), Best Picture and Best Director nominee Darling (1965), and Best Director nominee Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971).
  • Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Black Narcissus (1946), and Best Picture nominee The Red Shoes (1948).
  • Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).

According to the BBC, in addition to Get Carter, Michael Caine had three other films among Total Film's Top 50 British Films in history: Cy Endfield's Zulu, Peter Collinson's The Italian Job, and Lewis Gilbert's Alfie — whose 2004 remake starring Jude Law will open later this month in the United Kingdom.

The full list of Top 50 British Films will come out in this month's Total Film.


Photo of a youthful Michael Caine in Get Carter: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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