Friday, August 10, 2007

My Gun Is Long

(Mike Hodges, UK, 1972, 91 mins.)

"What kind of a bird is that?"
"It's a Maltese Falcon."
-- Mourners in Pulp

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

As a fan of 1971's Get Carter and 1998's Croupier, I should've
heard about Pulp before this year rolled around. I hadn't.

Just as 2003's I'll Sleep When I'm Dead was Hodges second
go-round with Clive Owen, Pulp was his second go-round with
Michael Caine. Though both pale in comparison to their prede-
cessors, strong performances bind the crime-laden quartet.

Pulp landed on my radar when I came across a review claiming
the UK band name took their name and style from the celluloid
obscurity. By style, I'm thinking of their tidy logo and Jarvis
Cocker's National Health-like specs (designer frames as nerdy
knockoffs), but I can't recall whether the writer went into much
detail, since I lost track of the original piece. That said, custom-
er reviews on and the IMDb make similar claims.

In any case, I don't doubt that
the film might've made an im-
pression on the Sheffield lad,
although the word "pulp" has
a variety of connotations, and
I couldn't find a concrete con-
nection. Also, the All Music
notes that the group's
original moniker was Arabi-
Pulp. Cocker formed the
band in 1978—when he was
a mere 15—and dropped "A-
rabicus" the following year.

According to their bio, he studied film at St. Martin's College in
London, and almost pursued a filmmaking career until his mu-
sic caught fire in the early-1990s. This year, he released his solo
debut. On the cover, he's even dressed like the Oscar-winning
actor, except his suit is dark where Caine's Pulp outfit is light.

In his Amazon review, Jeff Shannon compares Pulp to 1953's
Beat the Devil, in which John Huston and Humphrey Bogart blow
off some steam after the sturm und drang of The Maltese Falcon
and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The analogy makes sense—
even features Robert Sacchi, "The Man With Bogart's Face."

Hodges' steam-blower opens with a steno pool transcribing
Caine's gangster fiction, AKA pulp. The sound design ping-pongs
between the voice in their headset—Caine's, naturally—and the
machine-gun ratatat of a roomful of typists clattering away.

Before the credits commence, Hodges cuts to Caine wearing a
corduroy suit and Nat Health specs (purple-tinted, in this case).
We aren't in Carter country anymore. Micky King has pseudo-
hippy hair, and appears less tightly-wound than Jack Carter.

Throughout the credit se-
quence—Mickey Rooney,
Lionel Stander, and Lizabeth
Scott are among the sup-
porting players—King tries
in vain to hail a cab. Then we
get a shot of his coastal sur-
roundings. We're definitely
not in Merry Old anymore.

"That's how it all began," he
narrates. "That bizarre adventure, which put five people in the cemetery, and ruled me out as a customer for laxatives." Turns out
he's a London funeral director, who abandoned his wife and kids
due to "a burning creative urge" to be a continental scribe.

King adds, "The writer's life would be ideal, but for the writing—
that's a problem I would have to overcome." (I hear ya, brother.)

Five minutes in, and he has emerged as the blueprint for Owen's
acid-tongued character in Croupier, the similarly unreliable nar-
rator of his own life story. Basic perimeters established, King gets
a gig ghostwriting Preston Gilbert's memoirs. En route to meet
Rooney's Gilbert, a Jimmy Cagney-cum-George Raft figure, the
bodies start to pile up. It's a classic film noir scenario—the new
hire who walks into a world of death—but with dirtier dialogue.

One body later, King meets Gilbert's girlfriend, Liz (Nadia Cassi-
ni, dubbed), who enters clad in the silver screen's shortest shorts
next to Chloƫ Sevigny's pair in Palmetto. Rooney also flaunts his
sex appeal—as it were—in the scene where he poses before a mir-
ror in tighty-whiteys. That's his introspective moment. The rest
of the time, he overacts wildly, but it fits his part as a retired Hol-
lywood star gone seedy in Malta, while Caine is his usual excel-
lent self. Gravel-voiced Stander, as Gilbert's right-hand man,
and husky Scott, as Gilbert's ex-wife, also offer good value.

When someone murders one of these hangers-on, all become sus-
pects, and King makes like one of his fictional dicks to solve the
case. Near as he can tell, the first hit was intended for him. Since
everyone was seated at the dinner table when the second took
place, it's possible one of them hired the killer priest. Then three
more bodies hit the floor, and the film is over. Gee, that was fast.

In any event, nothing about it reminded me of the band Pulp,
other than a few stylistic details. In the careers of Michaels
Caine and Hodges, Pulp serves as a bridge between the violent
intensity of Get Carter and the wicked fun of Croupier—there's
also a whiff of The Long Goodbye and Sexy Beast—but fans of
the Britpop combo will have to look pretty hard to find anything
that might have influenced them in this irreverent crime caper.

Random facts: My Gun Is Long is the title of one of King's
pulp novels (as "Guy Strange"), the soundtrack was composed
by Beatles producer George Martin, Jarvis Cocker's "Running
the World" appears in the movie Children of Men with Michael
Caine...and Clive Owen, and the Pulp DVD is completely devoid
of extras. Thanks, MGM, for the nice price. Otherwise: boo! Imag-
es from The Best Blog Ever and The BBC. The Caine photo is one
of my all-time favorites. The photographer: David Bailey, natch.

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