Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pulp (1972)

Michael Caine Makes It Work

- Michael Caine and director Mike Hodges, having both worked on the great and gritty Brit gangster film Get Carter (1971) the year prior, reunite for another Brit gangster film in 1972's Pulp. The difference between both films is that Pulp does not take itself as seriously and is simply not as good as Get Carter. Still, Pulp works well and is plenty entertaining, thanks mostly to Michael Caine.

Caine stars as Mickey King, a ghostwriting author of cheap and sleazy pulp fiction novels ("famous for such books as 'My Gun is Long'"). To his credit, King knows that his writing is not exactly top-of-the-line art, but he writes because writing has been a lucrative line of work for him. He is one of those guys who does not have much to live for: his wife up and skedaddled with the children and he does not seem to care all that much. So he travels, writes, and writes as he travels. While in Malta, King is surprised by a proposition to write the life story of eccentric retired actor Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney), surprised because he is simply not the type of author you ask to write your biography. In normal film noir fashion, King becomes wrapped up in the dangerous scandal that has been following Gilbert around and leaving a blood trail.

Placing Pulp into one all-summarizing film genre is hard to do and that fact is one of the film's biggest strengths. A mixture of originality and nostalgia, Pulp is a little bit gangster and a little bit film noir, with a tuft of comedy thrown in: Italian gangsters run the show; many scenes are blanketed with voice-over narration, and Caine sneaks in a handful of laugh-out-loud quips. Not having the same flare as The Godfather (1972) or the fast-pace nature of a Martin Scorsese gangster flick, Pulp is very similar to Hodges and Caine's collaborated Get Carter in its flow and cinematography (even including a scene on a beach that makes you think you are re-watching Get Carter). Even though the plot is heavily congested and the entire film occasionally moves too slowly, Pulp is a fairly enjoyable neo noir gangster film.

Supporting actors Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander, Al Lettieri, and Lizabeth Scott perform their roles well enough to get by, but Michael Caine is the entire film - he hardly leaves sight of the camera. The plot might get hazy here and there but Caine remains the film's rock, making the Mickey King character interesting enough on his own so that the viewer does not really need to follow the plot to be entertained. Caine does not step too far outside of his acting box with his performance in Pulp, but his cynicism with a smirk and dry wit combined with his impossible-to-duplicate screen presence makes the performance a real treat to view.

Pulp is definitely a recommendable film. It appeals to fans of film noir and the gangster genre, those who enjoy an offbeat cinematic experience can find themselves enjoying this movie, and Michael Caine makes it all worthwhile. If following the plot was not as hard as walking a mile through five feet of tar, Pulp could very well have been a great film.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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