Michael Caine as Jack Carter in Get Carter (1971).
Michael Caine as Jack Carter, ruthless London gangster
Newcastle, England, Spring 1971
Get Carter is arguably one of the greatest crime films of all time, making it – by default – one of the greatest films of all time. Bleak, gritty, and violent, and, the film was the love child of director Mike Hodges and superstar Michael Caine with a screenplay written by Hodges from Ted Lewis’ 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home. Although Hodges had originally drafted the screenplay with Ian Hendry (who would play Eric Paice in the film) in mind for the lead role, Caine eventually took the role that cemented his place as a cinema icon. Hodges was surprised that a major star like Caine would take on the role of Jack Carter; although Caine had previously played a gangster in The Italian Job, Charlie Croker was more of a charming ne’er-do-well while Carter was a restrained but brutal and ultimately unlikable killer. Caine said:
One of the reasons I wanted to make that picture was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they’re neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they’re certainly not very funny… Carter is the dead-end product of my own environment, my childhood; I know him well. He is the ghost of Michael Caine.
The hard-boiled realism found popularity in the United States, with the New Yorker lauding the film as “so calculatedly cool and soulless and nastily erotic that it seems to belong to a new era of virtuoso viciousness.” British reception wasn’t as warm. Perhaps expecting the cheeky criminals set against pop music from films like The Italian Job, the British critics weren’t pleased with Caine’s turn as a remorseless killer in a complex world of wanton violence, corruption, and pornography.
What’d He Wear?
Carter suits up for his vengeful journey home in a slick blue mohair three-piece suit that has become legendary. Last December, Will Hersey from Esquire ranked Carter’s suit as the fourth greatest suit in film history. (The top three were Jake Gittes, 007 in Goldfinger, and – of course – Cary Grant in North by Northwest… all of whom have seen plenty of coverage on this blog!)
The least badass thing about Carter is his haircut, but 1971 was sort of an “anything goes” year for things like that…
Jack Carter’s mohair suit has been written about extensively, with Chris Laverty’s article at Clothes on Film being the definitive analysis. (Of course, Clothes on Film is also the definitive website for all movie costume analyses!) Laverty’s well-researched article surpasses much of my own ability, so I’ll be offering excerpts from his article throughout the post. Please be sure to visit Clothes on Film – in addition to the Get Carter article, it’s easy to spend a few hours reading the incredible analyses that Chris and his team have written about some very stylish flicks.
Laverty begins discussing Carter’s suit as:
Cool, coordinated, just a little loud; this is the timeless appeal of Jack Carter’s 3 piece suit. In portraying cinema’s ultimate anti-hero, Michael Caine wears his costume like a second skin.
Laverty goes on to rightly praise the work of Evangeline Harrison, the film’s costume director:
Harrison kept things simple; clothes dictated by their environment rather than trends. This is Newcastle 1971, a period when the North of England had yet to undergo regeneration. While London had enjoyed the Swinging Sixties and moved onto the hippy era, Newcastle was still in the midst of skinny ties and scandalous mini-dresses. When Carter arrives he steps back in time. The only costume point of reference he shares with the local inhabitants is a trench coat, except his collar is turned sharply upwards. Similar to a teenager modifying their school uniform, Carter’s every sartorial rebellion is two fingers up; in this instance to a long obliterated past.
Other than the pre-credits sequence in London, Carter wears the same suit throughout. Likely tailored by legendary outfitter Douglas Hayward, the suit was constructed to emphasize a strong, X-shaped physique with wide shoulders and leg bottoms and a narrow waist. Even when Carter just wears his untucked shirt and trousers, the flared trouser bottoms and large collars on the fitted shirt keep this effect intact.
Carter’s intimidating profile is even further enhanced when he is filmed from lower angles.
Hayward does a fine job of making Carter appear athletic, as the brief scene where Carter faces off against Peter and Con McCarthy wearing just his birthday suit reveals that Caine wasn’t exactly ready for the Olympics.
Carter’s suit was constructed from dark blue “Dormeuil tonik” mohair, a luxurious cloth best described by Laverty:
Dormeuil tonik mohair was popular during the late 1950s and throughout the 60’s, in particular with the Mod crowd. Dormeuil (House of Dormeuil) actually coined the term ‘tonik’ in 1958. They sold this luxury cloth in an astonishing 20 oz per square yard weight, though 9.5 oz (practically summer weight) is far more common today. Mohair is taken from the underside of the Angora goat. Somewhat coarse yet with a detectable sheen, mohair can be troublesome to tailor due to a high level of memory retention that makes it difficult to shape. The advantages of this extravagance are clear, as Carter would know only too well as he selected the suit from his wardrobe. Not just as a staple and serviceable (we presume it is the only suit he packs by his minimal luggage), but also to imply how far he has come – literally and figuratively.
Although Carter’s destination of Newcastle is decidedly more rural than London, he doesn’t opt for a traditional country suit in tweed or brown flannel, instead drawing attention to himself as an urbane gangster.
Carter’s blue suit puts him perfectly at home in a pub, although he sticks out a bit when tramping through the woods.
The single-breasted suit jacket has a long fit, long double rear vents, and the slightly pulled-in waist to enhance the imposing athletic profile for which Hayward and Caine were aiming. Laverty notes that the notch lapels on Carter’s suit jacket are, in fact, an “ostentatious notch lapel that peaks ever so slightly, otherwise known as a ‘Capone lapel’.”
Only a gangster as badass as this deserves to wear a “Capone lapel”.
The front has two dark blue plastic buttons; Carter typically keeps his top button fastened for a business-like look. The jacket also has a welted breast pocket and flapped hip pockets that slant rearward. Edge stitching is especially visible on the lapels and pockets.
Carter’s mohair suit shines under certain light.
Carter’s jacket has padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads, 4-button cuffs, and a light blue satin viscose lining that matches the rear of his vest. Although some contemporary poster art for the film features Caine in a “flower power” jacket, the suit coat wisely maintains a conservatively solid lining while even stoic heroes like James Bond fell victim to garishly lined suit coats that otherwise didn’t yield to the excesses of the era.
Always present under Carter’s jacket is his matching dark blue mohair vest (or “waistcoat” since this is a British flick) with a high-fastening 6-button front, notched bottom, and notched sides. As I mentioned, the light blue lining matches the jacket, and an adjustable strap is buckled across the rear. He rarely wears the
vest waistcoat without the jacket, but it appears to have two welted lower pockets.
Carter’s suit trousers sit very low on his waist with a slim fit down his legs to the slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms. The trousers have curved frogmouth front pockets.
Sometimes considered a faux pas with a three-piece suit, Carter wears a belt with his trousers. It is only briefly seen as he runs through the streets of Newcastle at night, but it appears to be black leather with a gold buckle. Perhaps the low rise of the trousers keeps the belt from “bunching up” under the
vest waistcoat too much.
It appears that Carter’s shirt is even becoming untucked due to his movement in the extremely low rise trousers.
Carter wears two different sky blue Turnbull & Asser shirts during the film. The first shirt, seen only in the first few scenes on the train and in the pub, has two-button barrel cuffs. For the rest of the film, the shirt clearly has French cuffs. With the French cuff shirt, Carter wears a pair of large silver links that clip over the cuffs. The surface of the cuff links is white convex enamel with a border of dark blue painted dots.
Carter’s shirt(s) is fitted cotton poplin with a characteristically large spread collar that rises high on his neck. It has a front placket and, in lieu of a pocket, a dark blue monogrammed “JC” stitched over his left breast.
Carter also wears two ties during the film. His primary tie, worn for the bulk of the film with the French cuff shirt, is black patterned silk, tied in a thick four-in-hand knot.
The tie’s pattern is subtle but visible in certain light.
For the early scenes on the train and in the pub, Carter’s tie is dark blue silk with a thick diagonal rib, also tied in a thick four-in-hand knot.
Carter’s shoes are black calfskin fullstrap lofers with squared cap toes, slightly raised heels, and gold snaffle bits. His socks are dark and appear to be black, although dark blue would also be appropriate to carry the leg line from the trousers into the shoes.
A few different shots of Carter in his fullstrap snaffle bit loafers, and a reasonably similar pair (inset).
Jack Carter also has his own badass longcoat that he wears during some of the film’s most crucial scenes. Carter’s black heavy waxed cotton Aquascutum trench coat extends to just above his knee with a slightly slanted bottom. The front is double-breasted with ten buttons – two hidden under the large collar.
Carter doesn’t let a rainy day get in the way of his quest for vengeance, and neither should you!
Carter’s coat has all of the standard, if vestigial, features of a classic trench coat: curved gun flap on the right shoulder, storm flap/throat latch, and rear cape to keep out rain.
The trench coat also has a wide belt with a silver (painted black) front buckle and four brass “D-ring” clips on the sides and rear, a holdout from the wartime trench coats when officers would clip grenades to their coat. Although Carter is a violent gangster, he does not use his D-rings for this purpose in the film.
“Frank wasn’t like that. I’m the villain in the family, remember?”
Carter’s trench coat has buttoned epaulettes on the shoulders, raglan sleeves, and cuff straps with blackened square buckles that are a mini version of the belt buckle. Especially on these cuff buckles, the black paint is wearing off and revealing the silver metal underneath.
See the small buttons on the edge of the pockets?
Although both Burberry and Aquascutum have laid claim to inventing the trench coat, with the latter claiming to have developed the coat as early as the 1850s, the oldest public record of the trench coat dates to 1901 when Thomas Burberry submitted his design to the War Office. Carter’s trench coat has a tartan plaid lining in tan, blue, and red that appears to be Burberry’s distinctive check, but Caine’s screen-worn trench coat was auctioned by Bonhams in 2011 and verified Aquascutum as the manufacturer of the Get Carter trench coat:
Michael Caine’s icon [sic] double breasted black trench coat, labelled ‘Aquascutum, Regent St., London, W1, Made In England, with further studio label numbered ‘60631 REG42′, of heavy waxed cotton, with belt and buckles to sleeves, together with a black and white photograph of Michael Caine on set wearing an similar coat, mounted together with a letter of provenance from Johnny Morris stating he as stunt double and Michael Caine wore this trench coat, which was one of two and that this particular one was used for fight sequences.
Caine’s raincoat in action and (inset) at Bonham’s forty years later.
This coat sold for £7,500 in December 2011. I am unaware of the whereabouts of the second trench coat mentioned by Morris, but I think it’s safe to assume that if one was Aquascutum, they both were.
Carter’s sole accessory is a gold Rolex Day-Date wristwatch on a dark brown leather strap.
English tailor David Reeves, who advised Laverty with tailoring notes, created his own version of the “Carter suit” using Dormeuil tonik mohair. Reeves used Caine’s suit as inspiration when crafting his own sharp-looking mohair suit.
The only other suit that Carter wears in the film is a medium gray flannel suit worn during the pre-credits sequence in London. This suit has a double-breasted jacket with peak lapels and a 6×2 button front, but – like the blue suit – it has a welted breast pocket, slanted hip pockets, and 4-button cuffs.
Though he looks sharp in gray also, Carter’s blue suit is far more befitting for the badassery that the rest of the film calls for.
He wears a sky blue shirt with French cuffs and the dark blue silk tie with this suit.
Go Big or Go Home
Appropriately, Carter drinks plenty of Scotch during his sojourn. When meeting with his adversaries, he enjoys a few drams of Johnnie Walker Red Label on the rocks.
Keep walking, Carter.
In his rented room, Carter also takes a few swigs from a bottle of MacKinlay’s Old Scotch Whisky, a brand that features prominently during the film’s denouement.
Carter was fired by MacKinlay’s for not adhering to their “drink responsibly” principle.
Although he is a very European gangster right down to his fashion sense, Gitanes cigarettes, and non-firearm violence (for most of the film, anyway), the distinctively American brand of hard-boiled grit receives an extra nod when Carter reads Raymond Chandler’s classic detective novel Farewell, My Lovely on the train.
In addition to his fine choice of reading material, note Carter’s button cuffs and blue tie, not seen after his first night in Newcastle.
As a character, Carter is both cool and cold. He appears detached when working, but it should be kept in mind that his mission is a personal one, becoming more and more personal as the layers unfold and reveal the Big Sleep-style underworld that has so affected Carter’s family. I read another excellent evaluation of Get Carter, unfortunately without an author’s name attached but accessible at UKEssays.co.uk, which puts this far more eloquently than I ever could:
The notion of family is likewise a classical gangster genre factor, which is used in Get Carter to great effect. Distant, cold, and calculating though Jack Carter may be, it is the ultimate truism of the film that he is back in Newcastle to protect the honor of his family, in spite of his own painfully obvious lack of human empathy.
Despite his laconic, calculating demeanor, Carter is also undoubtedly eccentric. Laverty notes his accessories in this context:
Those huge silver cufflinks, white enamel encircled by tiny brown dots, gold buckle loafers, plus a tendency to throw cash at every problem that cannot be solved with violence, are indicative of his personality. Wealth should be exploited at just the right moment. At no point does Carter look more dominant than when towering over his niece/daughter Doreen (Petra Markham), wad of notes in hand and giant cufflinks bobbing in front of her face. He has returned to his roots as king. The high collar on Caine’s not insignificant neck means his face is illuminated in dark shadows; his body blending into the background.
The UK Essays essay also explains the subtleties in this man who would’ve just been a one-dimensional gangster in any other film:
That he is eccentric is likewise understood, typified when he walks stark naked down the street with a twelve bore shotgun outside of the house he is staying in. Furthermore, it is signalled that Jack is held in high esteem by his gangster associates and is clearly in possession of a coveted reputation as a tough man, underscored when the remarkably camp crime kingpin Kinnear (John Osborne) says to his mistress, “you don’t offer a man like Jack a drink in a piddly little glass like that; give him the bloody bottle.” It is all part of the building blocks that piece together to give us a wonderfully mosaic character, full of complexity and contradiction, including details such as Carter’s incessant pill‑taking and the curious nasal drops that he administers on his initial train ride north.
The importance of the “naked shotgun-wielding gangster” wasn’t lost of Laverty either:
With all this discussion of Carter and his women, it would be irresponsible of me not to include future Bond girl Britt Ekland as his mistress (and his boss’s wife). Right?
Subverting the filmic tradition that a gangster is characterised by his/her clothes, Jack Carter is at his most dangerous without them. Strolling outside his landlady’s house with a shotgun in hand and nothing else, he is genuinely on the verge of losing control. This is further amplified as he stumbles upon the pornography film featuring Doreen dressed as a schoolgirl, drugged and sexually abused by his recent sexual conquest Glenda (Geraldine Moffat). When Carter hauls Glenda from her bath, his unbuttoned shirt patchy wet and clinging to his skin, he could go either way. If Carter were not so calculating, cogs whirring as to how he might need Glenda still, she probably would have been tossed from the building, just like co-conspirator Cliff Brumby (Bryan Mosley) is moments later.
Treatment of women, both by Carter and by the film itself, is also worth investigating. Many critics have pointed out that the film suffers from a lack of feminist-forward characterization as all of its women are “troubled, unstable, and disempowered.” This essay defended Get Carter‘s portrayal by concluding:
Mirroring the paradox of Carter’s London swagger in the heart of industrial Newcastle, the treatment of women in Get Carter can be seen as a commentary on the anxieties of the time, especially concerning the consequences of the culture of permissive, promiscuous sexuality that had characterized the previous decade where films painted a distinctly different view of femininity and female sexuality.
The 1960s was an era of radical social progress around the world. Racial and gender issues made major jumps in the direction of equality and rigid social mores were relaxed as a cultural revolution swept western civilization. The decade has become mythical for nostalgia lovers; everything was changing for the better in the name of peace, love, and understanding.
Of course, Get Carter came along to wreck that illusion. Swinging London has been replaced by glum, working class Newcastle. The lighthearted humor set to Benny Hill’s theme is replaced by the black humor of Carter’s smirk after dispatching two villains into the River Tyne. Just as the “bright new era” of the 1960s was crushed by Get Carter‘s realistic cynicism, so was the concept that all women had received full equality during the decade of social justice. Rather than condemning women, however, Get Carter shows us that their plight was far from over as these smaller corners of the world still had women like Glenda, Anna, Margaret, and Doreen who all show signs of inner strength but are ultimately at the mercy of the brutal men – Carter included – who rule the community’s culture.
It is worth noting, though, that Glenda’s apartment is fuckin’ rad. Especially of note is the Stones’ great Let It Bleed album from ’69, seen in the lower right corner near her elbow.
Even before I had seen Get Carter, I could just tell that the title character was a BAMF. When creating the DVD cover for an amateur film I had made (about the life of ’30s outlaw “Pretty Boy” Floyd), I decided to emulate the iconic photo of Michael Caine posing with a shotgun.
How to Get the Look
Carter is a cool and efficient criminal who perfectly dresses the part: fashionable and practical without being too flashy.
A promotional photo of Michael Caine as Carter, handling a sawed-off Ithaca 37 shotgun that was actually used by Peter (Tony Beckley), another gangster in the film.
- Dark blue mohair suit, likely tailored by Douglas Hayward and consisting of:
- Single-breasted jacket with large notch lapels, 2-button front, welted breast pocket, slanted and flapped hip pockets, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads, 4-button cuffs, and long double rear vents
- Single-breasted vest/waistcoat with 6-button front, two welted pockets, notched bottom, and light blue satin viscose rear lining with adjustable strap
- Flat front low rise trousers with belt loops, frogmouth front pockets, and slightly flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- Sky blue cotton poplin Turnbull & Asser shirt with large spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- For an extra Carter-esque touch, get your monogram on the left breast.
- Black silk necktie, tied in a large four-in-hand knot
- Silver cuff links with white and dark blue enamel
- Black leather belt with gold buckle
- Black calfskin fullstrap cap-toe loafers with a gold snaffle bit
- Black dress socks
- Black heavy waxed cotton Aquascutum belted trench coat with epaulettes, 10-button double-breasted front, and slanted side pockets
- Rolex Day-Date gold wristwatch on a dark brown leather strap
The U.K.’s rigid firearm laws typically mean less guns in the hands of gangsters, but lawbreakers will always find a way as films like Get Carter, Snatch., and Gangster No. 1 tell us.
Jack Carter is no exception to this, carrying a handgun but only using it when truly necessary after two armed gangsters corner him on a ferry. Carter draws his pistol, a SIG P210, and gives a decent account of himself in the ensuing gunfight.
This is the sort of situation that the British government tries to avoid with its strict firearm laws.
If the SIG P210 looks familiar on this blog, you likely recall seeing it in the hands of another British badass. In Quantum of Solace, James Bond retrieved an ornate SIG P210 from a villain’s room during the climactic battle scene. Bond’s P210 was the gold-engraved 50th Anniversary edition; Carter carries a standard civilian version.
The P210 is an all-steel locked breech single-action semi-automatic pistol originally developed for the Swiss Army in 1949. The pistol gained a healthy reputation for durability and reliability during its long tenure as a service sidearm. It remained a popular service pistol into the 1970s, when it was replaced by the more modern SIG-Sauer P220. (The P220 was the first handgun in SIG-Sauer’s P22x family that is still very popular today.) Despite this, the P210 is still very admired and sought after by collectors, with some pieces fetching at least $2,000 in the U.S. and €4,000 in Spain. The Danish military still keeps the P210 (M/49 Neuhausen) in service, but I suppose you don’t hear about Denmark going to war very often in the post-Beowulf era.
Originally derived from the French Modèle 1935A pistol, the P210 was finally completed in 1949 and entered Swiss military service as the Ordonnanzpistole 49. The civilian model was the SP47/8, referring to its eight round magazine, until it was renamed the P210 in 1957 in keeping with the company’s nomenclature policy.
It just looks more like a “P210″ than a “SP47/8″, don’t you think?
The pistol is typically chambered in 9×19 mm Parabellum, but variants in .30 Luger (7.65×21 mm Parabellum) and .22 Long Rifle have also been manufactured. It is a full-size handgun with a standard 5″ barrel and 8.5″ total length, comparable to the venerable 1911.
While the SIG P210 serves ably as Carter’s combat weapon, it is the double-barreled shotgun he finds in his dead brother’s house that truly serves as his “hammer of justice”, despite not even being fired once.
A double-barreled, side-by-side 12-gauge shotgun like this is one of the few weapons that a Brit can legally own with relative ease… as long as they’re recorded on a Shotgun Certificate. Shotguns, as amended in Section 2 of the 1968 Act, are subject to a less rigorous certification process as applicants are not required to have a good reason for ownership and there’s no limit on how many shotguns a certificate holder may own. Of course, a legally-owned shotgun must fit a few criteria:
- Barrels must be longer than 24″
- The smoothbore must be 2″ diameter or smaller
- No revolving cylinder
- No detachable magazine
- Capacity limited at two cartridges (three, if chambered)
Job well done, Carter.
A few publicity photos, including the two above, feature Carter holding a sawed-off pump-action shotgun. This is the Ithaca Model 37 used by Peter (Tony Beckley) in the film; Carter never actually handles the Ithaca in the finished film.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.
- Interestingly enough, Caine’s on-set stand-in was named Jack Carter.
- I had some pretty rad sources when writing this post. One was Chris Laverty’s article at Clothes on Film. The other was an uncredited essay at UK Essays. Check ‘em out.
- Please forgive (but still point out!) any inaccuracies, redundancies, or other general stupidity in this post. I’m entering my third week of a brutal sinus infection, and it’s affecting my brain to an absurd degree.
- You’ll notice that I neglected to mention the 2000 remake with Sly Stallone during this discussion. Other than this sentence, I plan to keep it that way.