Mike Hodges, British director behind gangster classic ‘Get Carter,’ dies at 90

Mike Hodges, the British filmmaker who directed the hard-boiled gangster saga “Get Carter” and the campy space opera “Flash Gordon,” died Saturday, according to his friend Mike Kaplan.

He was 90. The cause of death was heart failure, according to Kaplan, who said he was speaking on behalf of the director’s family.

Kaplan said Hodges died at his home in Dorset, England.

Hodges’ film career was bookended by bleak, stylish thrillers: “Get Carter” (1971) and “Pulp” (1972) at the start, “Croupier” (1998) and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” (2003) at the end.

He dabbled in other genres, however — horror in the Michael Crichton adaptation “The Terminal Man” (1974); sci-fi in the cult curio “Flash Gordon” (1980), featuring a soundtrack by Queen.

“Get Carter” was far and away the director’s most famous and celebrated movie. Michael Caine stars as a trenchcoat-clad London gangster gunning for vengeance.

Michael Caine, British actor, wearing a black raincoat and holding a black telephone receiver in a publicity still issued for the film, 'Get Carter', United Kingdom, 1971. The crime thriller, directed by Mike Hodges, starred Caine as 'Jack Carter'. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Michael Caine in “Get Carter.”Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images file

The film is “justly considered to be among the greatest crime films Britain has ever produced,” the British Film Institute said in a 50th anniversary tribute last year.

“It has a masterful, pacy blend of the sex, violence and style that simultaneously repels and attracts crime film connoisseurs, yet offers much more,” the BFI added.

In an interview accompanying the BFI appreciation, Hodges said the movie’s brutality would probably be a tough sell in today’s marketplace.

“The whole industry is just transformed, so I can’t really say whether it could get made now,” Hodges said.

Michael Tommy Hodges was born in Bristol, England, on July 29, 1932. He got his start as a chartered accountant and then served for two years as a Royal Navy minesweeper.

He later wrote that the experience fundamentally reshaped his worldview.

“My middle-class eyes were forced to witness horrendous poverty and deprivation that I was previously unaware of,” Hodges wrote in a letter published in The Guardian in May.

“I went into the navy as a newly qualified chartered accountant and complacent young Tory, and came out an angry, radical young man,” he wrote.

Hodges was drawn to “Get Carter” as a feature film debut partly because he recognized the harshness of its milieu — a “sleazy, slimy, nasty” underworld that he felt uniquely suited to bring to life.

“Get Carter” quickly entered the pantheon of British film classics. He followed it up with “Pulp,” a comic thriller starring Caine as an author of cheap paperbacks who gets embroiled in a murder plot.

Carter’s run in the 1980s was less artistically fruitful. He replaced the acclaimed British director Nicolas Roeg (“Walkabout”) on “Flash Gordon,” a goofy project that has since attracted a cult following.

In the final years of his film career, Hodges partnered with Clive Owen for a pair of existential character studies: “Croupier,” a portrait of the gambling world, and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” a modern spin on “Get Carter.”

Hodges’ best films were consumed with weighty themes of violence and vengeance, but he was quick to concede that he was not “macho” by nature.

“I’m a small man. I don’t get into fights. I don’t have any macho side to me at all,” Hodges told The Guardian in 2003.

“But I am interested in these characters and where they come from,” he added. “Now, whether I ever wanted to be one of those men, I really can’t say. I think that as a young man I probably did.”

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