Classic Scene #1: Get Carter (1971) At The Racecourse – Michael Caine + Ian Hendry + Glynn Edwards
Video clip above: Jack Carter (Michael Caine) meets Eric Paice (Ian Hendry) at the racecourse – as Albert Swift (Glynn Edwards) makes a quick getaway!
In the first part of a new series, we take a closer look at classic scenes and consider what it is that makes them special.
Here we look in more detail at the film Get Carter – the moment when Jack Carter meets Eric Paice at the racecourse and a memorable conversation follows!
For some great ‘behind the scenes’ pictures taken during the making of Get Carter:
Picture: Get Carter (1971) – Michael Caine and Ian Hendry
If you love films then you no doubt have your list of favourites scenes – as well as favourite movies.
Maybe it’s a scene that reminds you of a particular time in your life. Perhaps it stirs emotions within you because you identify with the characters. Maybe it’s brilliant camerawork and direction or just superb acting. Or a classic line that has now become part of our everyday language. Perhaps it’s just good old-fashioned action and adventure, a car chase, a cliff-hanger or the hero winning against all odds. Or comedy, something that makes you laugh, no matter how many times you have seen it.
They become like old friends that we return to again and again. That’s the magic of film.
Get Carter (1971)
The screenplay was adapted by Hodges from the Ted Lewis‘ novel Jack’s Return Home (1969). Producer Michael Klinger optioned the book and made a deal for the ailing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio to finance and release the film, bringing in Hodges and Caine. MGM was scaling back its European operations and the film became the last project approved before the American company closed its Borehamwood studios. Get Carter was Hodges first feature film as director, as well as being the screen debut of Alun Armstrong.
The film is set in North East England and was filmed in and around Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, and County Durham.
The story follows a London gangster, the eponymous Jack Carter (Michael Caine), who travels back to his hometown to discover more about the events surrounding his brother Frank’s supposedly-accidental death. Suspecting foul play, he investigates and interrogates, getting a feel for the city and its hardened-criminal element; with vengeance on his mind, the situation builds to a violent conclusion.
The background to the filming of Get Carter and the relationship between Ian Hendry and Michael Caine is covered very well in the biography so I won’t repeat that here:
Endorsements from a new generation of directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie led to a critical reappraisal which saw it recognised as one of the best British movies of all time. In 1999, Get Carter was ranked 16th on the BFI Top 100 British films of the 20th Century; five years later, a survey of British film critics in Total Film magazine chose it as the greatest British film of all time.
Get Carter (1971) – At The Racecourse
Picture: Original promotional still from Get Carter (1971) – Michael Caine and Ian Hendry at the Newcastle Racecourse
Jack Carter (Michael Caine) goes to Newcastle Racecourse seeking old acquaintance Albert Swift (Glynn Edwards) for information about his brother’s death, however Swift spots Jack and evades him. Jack encounters another old associate, Eric Paice (Ian Hendry), who refuses to tell Jack who is employing him as a chauffeur.
Setting the scene
It’s just another day at the races, albeit a wet one as people shelter beneath their umbrellas. Jack Carter arrives on the scene and Albert Swift’s relaxed demeanour changes suddenly when he sees him – the hotdog that is wedged in his mouth drops to the floor. Without a word being spoken, Albert flees from the scene. The potential threat carried by Jack is made clear.
Picture: Albert Swift (Glynn Edwards) sees Jack Carter (Michael Caine)
The sequence starts with a few close-ups and wide-angle panoramas to show the racecourse location and to emphasise just how damp it is! Longer distance shots introduce Jack Carter ‘entering’ into the scene, intermixed with closer shots of Albert Swift. At first Albert is oblivious to the danger, but when he sees Jack Carter more distant shots are used to show him disappearing into the crowd.
Eric Paice is then introduced with a series of shots of him wandering through the crowd – as if he’s being secretly viewed through the eyes of Jack Carter. Longer distance shots are then used to focus on Jack Carter as he moves through the crowd – homing in on Eric Paice. What works so well here is that everyone in the crowd is just there for the races – oblivious to the undercurrent of tension. Their gaze and attention is firmly on the races, away from the keen focus of the camera lens which picks up Jack as he walks amongst them. His focus is not on the races at all, only on Eric Paice.
The switch is then made to moderate close-ups when Jack Carter finally nears Eric Paice. The two are surrounded by racegoers on the terraces – all immersed in their own thoughts, waiting for the next race. For the next few minutes of dialogue, however, the racecourse location is almost an irrelevance – the focus is purely on the interaction between the two men. Close-up shots merely add to the sense of their ‘isolation within a crowd’.
At the end of their exchange, the tension starts to be decrease. Jack Carter begins to walk away before asking Eric a final question. The two are now several yards apart. Emphasis is now given to other people in the crowd as well as Jack – which helps to further diminish the tension. When the camera finally returns to the racing, it is – at last – aligned with the focus of the crowd. The tension is over – for now – and the horse race begins.
Picture: Eric Paice (Ian Hendry) meets Jack Carter (Michael Caine) again
After the superficial early exchanges and the sharing of cigarettes, the tension between Jack Carter and Eric Paice builds quickly,. Throughout the scene, the conversation has a kind of rhythm, like a series of verses with repeating structures. Each time a serious question is asked by Jack Carter, Eric deflects them with a ‘playful’ response – albeit in a rather awkward and ambiguous way. Jack Carter tries to humour Eric, frequently through gritted teeth. This repeats a few times before the conversation becomes increasingly more uncomfortable for Eric as the questions from Jack become more direct.
The tension goes up a notch with the following exchange. Jack Carter barely hides his surprise that Eric doesn’t know where he was from originally:
Eric Paice: What are you doing around here then?
Jack Carter: Didn’t you know this is my hometown?
Eric Paice: No I didn’t know that
Jack Carter: Funny that
Then Jack Carter offers Eric a cigarette:
Eric Paice: Thanks [Eric takes the cigarette]
Eric Paice: So, what’re you doing then? On your holidays?
Jack Carter: No, I’m visiting relatives.
Eric Paice: Oh, that’s nice.
Jack Carter: It would be… if they were still living.
Jack then reveals no more about himself and turns his focus on finding more about Eric – but again it ends as a ‘playful’ exchange:
Jack Carter: So who you working for these days Eric?
Eric Paice: Oh I’m straight, respectable….
Jack Carter: What are you doing, advertising Martini?
Eric Paice: Oh, you’ve been watching television…[Eric smirks]
Jack Carter: Yeah…..[Jack tries to smile through gritted teeth]
Jack returns again to the serious questioning again, but it tails off as another awkward ‘playful’ exchange:
Jack Carter: Come off it Eric, who is it? Brumby? [Eric Paice whispers under his breath: Are you serious] Kinnear?
Eric Paice: What’s it to you anyway?
Jack Carter: Well I’ve always had your welfare at heart, Eric…besides which I’m nosey
Eric Paice: Well that’s not always a healthy way to be, is it?
Jack Carter: And you should know, if I remember rightly
Eric Paice: Mmmmm? Oh yes….[Eric smiles]
Jack seems to take a ‘step back’ mentally, frustrated by the lack of straight answers he decides on some gentle intimidation:
Jack Carter: So you’re doing alright then Eric…you’re making good
Eric Paice: Making a living
Jack Carter: Good prospects for advancement is there…a pension?
Picture: Eric Paice (Ian Hendry) – sunglasses removed!
Then the classic line! Jack Carter slowly removes Eric’s sunglasses, hands them back to him and then stares straight into his eyes:
Do you know, I’d almost forgotten what your eyes look like, they’re still the same, piss-holes in the snow
Eric can no longer hide behind his dark glasses, his contempt for Jack is mixed with feeling more exposed and vulnerable; he immediately responds to the moment with a sarcastic response – which appears to be totally lost on Jack Carter!
Eric Paice: Still got a sense of humour
Jack Carter: Yes, I retain that Eric
As Jack begins to walk away and the tension begins to decrease, he changes his focus from Eric to another man:
Jack Carter: Do you know a man called Albert Swift, Eric?
Eric Paice: I can’t say I do
Scene Ending – Release of Tension
At the end of the scene, Jack Carter returns the attention to the racing. The tension of the previous few minutes is suddenly released – symbolised by the gates being unlocked and the horses bolting from their stalls as the race begins.
Jack Carter: Don’t miss the start on my account
It’s definitely one of my favourite scenes. Which ones are yours? It can be any scene/film – non-Ian Hendry films are welcome too! Please post them on the original Facebook page post using the link below:
Until next time.
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry
A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography: