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Mike Hodges, British Director of ‘Get Carter,’ ‘Croupier,’ Dies at 90

I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD, Director Mike Hodges on the set, 2003, (c) Paramount Classics/courtesy Everett Collection
©Paramount Classics/Courtesy Everett Collection
 

British director Mike Hodges, known for directing “Get Carter,” “Croupier” and “Flash Gordon,” died in Dorset, England on Dec. 17. He was 90.

His death was announced by Mike Kaplan, longtime friend and producer of “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.”

Hodges’ crime dramas came at the beginning of his career — “Get Carter” (1971) and “Pulp” (1972) — and the end — “Croupier” (1999) and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” (2003). In addition to his crime dramas he was known for his campy, stylized take on “Flash Gordon.”

Andrew Sarris wrote in the Observer in 2000, “Director Mike Hodges has become one of the most under-appreciated and virtually unknown masters of the medium over the last 30 years” and “Mr. Hodges has been hailed by everyone from Martin Scorsese to Pauline Kael as a stylist of the first order.”

Hodges adapted “Get Carter” — one of the greatest British gangster movies of all time — himself from a novel by Ted Lewis. Caine plays the London gangster of the title who seeks to mete out a little justice after his brother in Newcastle is killed. Roger Ebert said: “‘Get Carter’ is a tense, hard-boiled crime movie that uses Michael Caine, for once, as the sure possessor of all his unconscious authority. Caine has been mucking about in a series of potboilers, undermining his acting reputation along the way, but ‘Get Carter’ shows him as sure, fine and vicious — a good hero for an action movie.”

“Get Carter” was remade with Sylvester Stallone in the Caine role  in 2000, sending many people back to discover the original film.

“Pulp,” Hodges’ second film, was a crime drama of a somewhat different sort, with a strong comic twist. Caine plays a writer of pulp fiction who’s asked to ghost-write the memoirs of a mystery celebrity who turns out to be the obnoxious Preston Gilbert (played by Mickey Rooney), an aging actor once famous for playing gangsters and, in Frank Sinatra or George Raft fashion, suspected of having actual ties to the Mafia. When Gilbert is killed at a party, Caine’s Mickey King resolves to find the murderer.

Despite little marketing and a small release, “Pulp” was named one of the year’s 10 best films by Vincent Canby in the New York Times and Jay Cocks in Time magazine.

Twenty-seven years later, Hodges directed the stylish neo-noir “Croupier” (1999), starring Clive Owens as an aspiring writer who takes a job as a dealer at an elegant gambling den who gets roped into a robbery of the place that’s not what it seems. After the initial indifferent reception to “Croupier” in the U.K., Hodges assumed his career was over, but the film was more energetically marketed in the U.S., where it became a critical favorite there and scored the biggest box office for any independent film that year, leading to a far more successful re-release in the U.K. 

The success of the film led to another, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” a complicated tale of vengeance involving an exiled criminal, played by Owens, who returns to London to avenge the rape and murder of his younger brother (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) at the hands of a gangster played by Malcolm McDowell at his snarling best.

The Guardian called the film “startlingly bleak; a no-frills existential gangster tale that, at its best, exudes the same reptilian menace (Hodges) showed on ‘Get Carter.’ Certainly it touches on similar themes: honour, revenge, male violence.”

“The Terminal Man” (1974), Hodges’ third feature and his first as a producer on major studio film, was adapted loosely from the bestselling Michael Crichton novel into what Mike Kaplan in the Huffington Post described in a 2013 post as “a chilling warning of technology gone amok in the name of benefiting humanity. In the process, (Hodges) presented a searing indictment of medical and scientific arrogance.”

The film was a hit at the London Film Festival but was misunderstood and under-appreciated by studio execs. Kaplan attempted to elicit the help of Stanley Kubrick, who had said of Hodges, “Any actor who sees ‘Get Carter’ will want to work with him” and called “The Terminal Man” “terrific,” but Kubrick was unable to change the minds of the Warner Bros. execs; then Hodges received a letter of appreciation from Terrence Malick, who wrote, “I have just come from seeing ‘The Terminal Man’ and want you to know what a magnificent, overwhelming picture it is…. Your images make me understand what an image is.” An ad was designed that reprinted the Malick letter in full.

Amid the reassessment of Hodges’ work that followed the success of “Croupier,” retrospectives of the director’s films were mounted at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, at London’s National Film Theatre and elsewhere around the world, and in the process there arose a new appreciation for “The Terminal Man.”

After 1978’s “Damien — Omen II,” on which Hodges was the original director but was removed due to “creative differences,” receiving only a co-scripting credit, he made the very fey “Flash Gordon,” which has enjoyed cult status, and the genre spoof “Morons From Outer Space” (1985).

Hodges was brought aboard the risible 1987 Mickey Rourke Northern Ireland thriller “A Prayer for the Dying” just before shooting commenced but apparently didn’t have final cut and ultimately disavowed the results.

In the creepy, well-directed and resonant 1989 movie “Black Rainbow,” Rosanna Arquette played a fake psychic who travels from town to town with her alcoholic father, portrayed by Jason Robards. In one town she suddenly has real visions of the deaths of people in the audience that in fact come to pass, after which a contract is put out on her, while a journalist played by Tom Hulce investigates her.

Michael Tommy Hodges was born in Bristol. After satisfying the requirements to become what’s known in Britain as a chartered accountant, Hodges did his required military service by serving on a British minesweeper. “During these two years,” according to a 2006 article in Senses of Cinema, “he experienced a formative education concerning class barriers in the British Navy and the contrast between the images Britain presented to itself and the real experiences of working people who lived in conditions of poverty resembling the world of Hogarth. These insights would later inform ‘Get Carter.'”

He began in show business as a TelePrompTer operator for British television. Hodges learned by observing and started writing scripts; an unproduced script for ABC’s “Armchair Theatre” led to writing commissions, which enabled him to quit his technician job.

Hodges rose quickly to become a producer and director, working on series including “Sunday Break” for ABC Television; Granada Television documentary series “World in Action,” for which he made a film about the Vietnam War and interviewed Barry Goldwater; the arts programs “Tempo” and “New Tempo” for Thames Television; and Thames series “The Tyrant King.” For “ITV Playhouse” he wrote, directed and produced two thrillers shot on film, “Rumour”(1969) and “Suspect” (1970); as a result he was asked to write and direct “Get Carter.”

Kubrick recommended Hodges to Federico Fellini when the Italian director was seeking someone to direct the English-language dubbing of his 1983 film “And the Ship Sails On.”

After  making his last feature film in 2003 in “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” Hodges made the video documentary “Queen: Greatest Video Hits 2” — the group had contributed the memorable score to Hodges’ “Flash Gordon” decades earlier — and the 2004 feature documentary “Murder by Numbers,” co-directed by Paul Carlin and addressing the popularity of serial killer movies over the last several decades.

Hodges also wrote plays include “Soft Shoe Shuffle” (1985) and “Shooting Stars and Other Heavenly Pursuits” (2000), the latter of which was adapted for BBC radio. There was also the radio play “King Trash” (2004). His first novel, “Watching the Wheels Come Off,” was published in 2010.

He is survived by his wife, Carol Laws, his sons Ben and Jake Hodges, and five grandchildren, Marlon, Honey, Orson, Michael and Gabriel.