Get Carter [1971] ‘Eyes Look Like…Piss-Holes In The Snow’ – Tony Klinger Reveals The Story Behind THAT Famous Line

Picture above: Michael Caine [as Jack Carter] and Ian Hendry [as Eric Paice] at the races.

Another post containing some more fascinating anecdotes, this time from Tony Klinger who first met Ian Hendry during the filming of Repulsion [1965] and then again, on the set of Get Carter in 1971! Tony is a Film and TV Director and son of the late Michael Klinger, the producer and driving force behind bringing the novel ‘Jack’s Return Home‘ by  Ted Lewis to the big screen:

“An uncompromising novel of a brutal half-world of pool halls, massage parlours and teenage pornography, it was memorably adapted into the cult film Get Carter.  The novel starkly portrays a subsection of society living on the borderline between crime and respectability; and was a major influence on the noir school of English crime fiction.”

Much more on Tony and Michael below, but first a little background story and some context.

Films And Famous Lines

When I first arrived in Hong Kong to start work, back in 2001, I was introduced to the Directors at my new company. They were a few years older than me, British expats who had already been based there for some time. Two Scotsmen and a Welshman. Dave Allen could probably have told you a joke about that encounter.

When they found out my full name they said:

‘Oh, Hendry…like the actor, Ian…’

To their surprise, I mentioned that he was, or had been, my uncle. And the first thing they said to me in reply was:

“Ah yes, we should have guessed….your eyes….they’re like piss holes in the snow!”

The history of film is often recalled through the famous lines and passages of dialogue that reminds us of a memorable moment or defines the essence of the story.  They have often entered into the public’s subconscious, affectionately recalled at times when events in our own lives, seem to resonate with those that we have seen on the big screen. And perhaps that is one of the reasons that film has become so loved as a medium and remained so popular throughout it’s history. At times it can feel like a mirror is being held up to our own lives .

Sometimes, however, it is just a simple case of everyday language being taken and used in a film, to reflect the era and the society in which it is set.

And Get Carter is such a case in point.

 

______________________________________

Note: This ended up being quite a  long post, as I wanted to include some new information that I’ve recently discovered about Get Carter, as well as providing some biographical background and anecdotes about Michael Klinger and from Tony Klinger.

But some of you may want to get to the key answers straight away, so here are some quick page jump links that you can use to get to the relevant sections:

Click link to go to: Tony Klinger reveals how THAT line became part of Get Carter

Click link to go to: An explanation of where THAT line originated

______________________________________

 

Get Carter [1971]  

A year or so ago, I carried out a study of the racecourse scene in Get Carter [1971]. I was intrigued by the cinematography and the way that the tension gradually builds as the scene unfolds.

You can read that article here:

Get Carter – The Racecourse Scene [1971]

But the other factor that drew me to this scene was undoubtedly the dialogue and THAT famous line.

“Do you know, I’d almost forgotten what your eyes look like, they’re still the same, piss-holes in the snow.”

–  Jack Carter [Michael Caine] to Eric Paice [Ian Hendry]

 

To really appreciate it, though, I suggest you watch the whole scene to see and hear the build-up and context in which it was delivered:

 

Video above: The Racecourse Scene – Get Carter [1971]

Dialogue – Script Extract

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?

Ian Hendry Get Carter (1971) 2

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:

Jack CarterDo you know, I’d almost forgotten what your eyes look like, they’re still the same, piss-holes in the snow.

Eric Paice: Still got a sense of humour.

Jack Carter: Yes, I retain that Eric.

Tony Klinger – On His Father, Michael Klinger, Repulsion, Catherine Deneuve, Get Carter And THAT Famous Line

A few weeks back, Tony Klinger, ‘dropped by’ on the Ian Hendry Appreciation Society Facebook Page and shared a unique insight into the film and THAT  famous line.

TV and film seems to be synonymous with the Klinger family.

His father, Michael Klinger, was the producer and the driving force behind what many regard as the greatest British Gangster film of all time, Get Carter.

 

Picture [l-r] Mike Hodges [Director], Michael Caine and Michael Klinger [Producer].

Ian Hendry had first met both Michael and Tony a few years earlier, during the filming of Repulsion [1965], directed by Roman Polanski. Tony was just 15 years old at the time.

The Michael Klinger Papers are held by the University of West England. On their website they mention that:

Born in 1920, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants who had settled in London’s Soho, Klinger’s entry into the film industry came via his ownership of two Soho strip clubs, the Nell Gwynne and the Gargoyle – that were used for promotional events such as the Miss Cinema competition and by film impresarios such as James Carreras – and through an alliance with a fellow Jewish entrepreneur Tony Tenser, who worked for a film distribution company, Miracle Films.

Klinger and Tenser were both highly ambitious, but culturally divergent. Characteristically, when Roman Polanski arrived in London and approached the pair to obtain finance having failed elsewhere, it was Klinger who had seen Knife in the Water (1962) and therefore gave him the opportunity, and the creative freedom, to make Repulsion (1965) and the even more outré Cul-de-sac (1966). Although Repulsion in particular had been financially successful, and both films won awards at the Berlin Film Festival that conferred welcome prestige on Tekli, Tenser, always happier to stay with proven box-office material, sex films and period horror, saw Polanski as at best a distraction and at worse a liability. These differences led to the break-up of the partnership in October 1966.

Klinger set up a new company, Avton Films and continued to promote young, talented but unproven directors who were capable of making fresh and challenging features: Peter Collinson’s absurdist/surrealist thriller The Penthouse (1967); Alastair Reid’s Baby Love (1968), another film that focused on a sexually precocious young female, but with an ambitious narrative style that included flashbacks and nightmare sequences; and Mike Hodges’s ambitious and brutal thriller Get Carter (1971). Although Get Carter is now routinely discussed as Hodges’ directorial triumph, it was Klinger who had bought the rights to Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home because he sensed its potential to imbue the British crime thriller with the realism and violence of its American counterparts and who had succeeded in raising the finance through MGM-British all before Hodges became involved.

In his excellent interview with Cinema Jam, Tony explained:

“He [his father, Michael Klinger] learned to be a producer on the job and it was this and the many productions of a huge variety of films that culminated in Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac with director Roman Polanski that, as a result gave him the launch pad to become a fantastic international producer, probably the most successful in the country for about fifteen years. My dad and I came into film making from opposite ends and for years there was a general lack of respect for each other. I’d come from the floor of film sets and knew all the technical grades whereas he’d learned the industry totally from the other end. It was only when someone suggested we work together and as a result gained a lot of respect.”

Picture: Tony Klinger

Tony Klinger began his career as an Assistant Director on The Avengers TV series. In his interview with Cinema Jam, Tony retells some wonderful tales about his life in show -business and gives some tremendous insights into his father, The following extract is from the interview in Cinema Jam:

“I know I was working on the best and biggest budget show in the world. We were an American show and often ABC executives would come over. The directors on the show were either the greatest coming up like rockets or the veterans on a gentle slope down. People like Peter Yates, Charles Crichton, John Hough, Don Chaffey and Leslie Norman.

My partner, Mike Lytton and I used to borrow equipment from series we were working on at the weekends, well borrow without asking but returning it all in one piece before anyone noticed. I was on The Avengers and he was on Department S or Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). Without thinking about it we created the best film school in the world. On The Avengers we sometimes had five units shooting to keep up with the broadcast scheduling requirements out of New York. So when someone on staff fell ill, you’d be told to take their place and you either learned what to do really fast or someone would take your slot and you went back down the ranks. It was an incredible experience.

Suddenly from being a third assistant director I could do the odd day as a camera assistant or help out with the sound department which proved invaluable for me later as a film maker. And at nights and weekends, whenever no one was around we would be taking cameras out of the studio and shooting our own tiny films and editing them overnight in the studio cutting rooms. I don’t think anyone ever found out or maybe people just turned a blind eye to our nocturnal activities!”

The following two questions and answers come from the Cinema Jam interview:

How much has the industry changed in terms of securing the kind of deal that got a film like Get Carter made?

“Get Carter still could happen today. It was a medium budget film for its’ day and decisions like that could still be made by a brave executive like Bobby Litman who was then the newly appointed head of MGM Europe and we were lucky to know from his time as an agent. The timeline is impressive. From the day we first had the book, Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis in galleys to when the film was first released in cinemas was a total of 37 weeks. It was a classic case of the stars aligning and the perfect storm.

The flat you see in the opening shot in Get Carter was found through a girl I was dating who knew a British gangster who owned the place and was OK with our using it to film in. Euan Lloyd was not the same type of man as my father. That’s not meant to be a critique of Euan but if you read Andrew Spicer’s fine book about dad, The Man Who Got Carter, you’d soon discover their many differences. Michael Klinger was the best Script Editor and Producer and had a tremendous ability to sell. Producers today have become more supplicant in their approach and there were only a handful in my father’s day that had that gift, even less today. It’s no accident that my father made so many fine films when he was left to his own devices. He also could pick talent and nurture it. People financing films today tend to think in terms of the tax deals and soft money being the key to making a film.”

Get Carter is the yardstick by which all subsequent British Gangster films are compared. Why do you think it has endured today?

Attitude. My old man came from Soho, which was a tough area at the time he was growing up in the 1920s. It was effectively a Jewish village, next to an Italian village next to an Irish village, much like New York. Some people said that it would be fine in one area, but if you tried crossing the street to the next area and you would have to fight. My father encountered a lot of gangsters between engineering and Film and at one point, when he ran a nightclub, some gangsters came along demanding protection, but he chased them away. Real gangsters don’t threaten, they just do. When I worked as a projectionist at fifteen, I was being threatened, but this one gangster came up to the guy doing it, whispered something in his ear and the guy’s face turned pale and the trouble stopped. Scorsese has that attitude in Goodfellas and it’s that attitude that has come across in Get Carter. It had never been covered in British Cinema up to that point, although there were examples like Brighton Rock that covered similar ground. Get Carter also touched on Child Pornography and other pornography.

It was shot in Newcastle and I was up there for two weeks. Part of the appeal was Newcastle and how it was, that was exciting and kind of untamed and very different from London. I had the best time while filming our own locations for our documentary, Extremes. But being close to the filming of Get Carter confirmed me as a huge admirer of Michael Caine and a firm fan and friend of director Mike Hodges. When it was first screened on BBC they cut it telling us they were doing the filmmakers a favour. The attitude was the big mistake with the Stallone remake, because that film was about redemption, which is the complete opposite to what the original film was. An interesting footnote to the film is that in the climactic scene, there is a ship in the background. Somebody actually tracked that ship afterwards, it’s entire history right up to four decades later when it was demolished for scrap. That’s what the word fan really means!”

Klinger

And THAT Famous Line From Get Carter? Tony Klinger Explains How It Came To Be Included In The Script…

As mentioned above, Tony visited the Ian Hendry Appreciation Society Facebook Page and, unprompted, posted this:

“The famous line from my dad’s production, “Get Carter” about Ian, “eyes like piss holes in the snow” was the way my grandmother used to describe me, which was then lent to the wonderful script written by my friend Mike Hodges.”

So there you have it from the ‘horse’s mouth’! It was Tony’s grandmother who provided the inspiration for what has become the memorable line from the film.

I asked Tony if he remembered Ian and if he had any recollections from being on the set of Repulsion. His answer was candid and made me smile; it seems that he did remember meeting Ian, but at the time his main focus was elsewhere!

“Ian wasn’t a good actor, he was, sadly for him, a great actor. That plus his love for a little something to drink and his penchant for speaking his mind, meant he was a triple threat. I’m pretty sure there were “stars” who didn’t want to work with him because he’d act them off the screen. But yes I knew and liked him from the set, but in Repulsion I have to admit that even as a kid I only had eyes for Catherine Deneuve!”

I replied:

“Thanks for sharing that, Tony – appreciate your insight. And I can understand how you might have been distracted a bit by Catherine Deneuve! Were you on location for the duration of the filming of Repulsion and Get Carter? And have you written about those experiences and, if so, could you share where? It’s quite something to have been on set for two films that both became classics I’ve come across some good pictures of your Dad on set, this is one of my favourites…”

Picture [l-r]: George Sewell, Michael Klinger, Ian Hendry and Michael Caine.

Tony expanded a little more:

“I am trying to limit my inputs about all the film set experiences I’ve had on both my own and my dad’s productions because, amongst other things, I have to keep some stuff for my own memoirs which I have recently started to write. Suffice it to say I was on the set for a week or so while I was filming my own documentary called Extremes in the same wonderful city of Newcastle. We were very busy having a great time. I was about 19 at the time and was easily distracted. Besides which our financier and distributor and executive producer thought we were in Glasgow. On Repulsion I was about 14 or 15 and was purely a visitor.”

I shared a few more picture with Tony; of Ian with his father, Michael. They seemed to get on very well:

Picture [l-r]: Michael Caine, Ian Hendry and Michael Klinger.

Picture [l-r]: George Sewell, Michael Klinger, Ian Hendry and Michale Caine.

Picture: The chairs – Get Carter [1971]

And Tony’s closing thoughts to me were:

“Great photos by the way. My dad really liked and appreciated your uncle.”

Origins

And The Origins Of THAT Line..?

Piss-holes In The Sand [and Rissoles In The Sand!]

I dug a little deeper to try and find out more and it’s not quite as straight forward an answer as you might expect. But let’s start with Dylan Thomas.

Dylan Thomas [27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953] spent much of his last few years reading his poetry, writing film-scripts and consuming vast quantities of alcohol on lecture tours across the United States. Just before he set off on his last trip across the Atlantic – he died in New York aged 39 – he wrote a comic, caustic account of the U.S. lecture circuit entitled ‘A Visit to America.’ It is from a little-known collection of Thomas’ broadcasts for the BBC called ‘Quite Early One Morning’ and is a gem of a piece.

It was eventually broadcast by the BBC on 30th March 1954, some five months after his death.

Extract:

“And, in their diaries, more and more do such entries appear as, ‘No way of escape’ or ‘Buffalo!’ or ‘I am beaten,’ until at last they cannot write a word. And, twittering all over, old before their time, with eyes like rissoles in the sand, they are helped up the gangway of the home-bound liner by kind bosom friends (and all kinds and bosoms) who boister them on the back, pick them up again, thrust bottles, sonnets, cigars, addresses, into their pockets, have a farewell party in their cabin, pick them up again, and snickering and yelping, are gone: to wait at the dockside for another boat from Europe and another batch of fresh, green lecturers.”

Rissoles in the sand? I was confused.

From Wikipedia:

A rissole (from Latin russeolus, meaning reddish, via  in which “rissoler” means “to [make] redden”) is a small croquette, enclosed in pastry or rolled in breadcrumbs, usually baked or deep fried.

So perhaps Dylan Thomas was referring to the eyes as being reddened and dry, as opposed to having any resemblance to pastry?!

Whilst it works in the literary sense, it is clear that it is a euphemism for what Thomas probably wanted to say,  to soften the words, which, after-all, were to be broadcast on the BBC.

Thomas had written a letter several  years earlier [c.1932] which mentioned that:

“I have the villain of a headache, my eyes two piss holes in the sand, my tongue like fish and chip paper….”

So here is a clear reference to a similar phrase, which describes feeling and looking unwell. And piss-holes was used, not rissoles!

What is not clear is whether Thomas had created this phrase himself or whether he was merely repeating one that was in common use at that time. This theme and a theory is is returned to again below.

What is clear, though, is that the quote he used related to sand and not snow.

 

Piss-holes In The Snow

The first literary reference I could find for a similar phrase, that mentioned snow, was in ‘Prince Bart – A Novel Of Our Times‘ written by Jay Richard Kennedy and published in 1953.

Kennedy writes:

“Like the welcome?” Mills asked. “Isn’t worth a pisshole in the snow.”

This alludes to value, something being of little worth.

Some have suggested that the phrase may have a military origin. That was certainly the view of one comment I saw on a forum online:

Piss-hole in the snow” is a negative assessment of value (around World War II) much like “rat’s ass” [which referred to ‘not giving a damn’]. And “rat assed” also evolved to mean drunk, as did ‘piss-holes in the snow’. 

And that idea is further supported by a comment from Judy on the Facebook page:

“Goes back at least to WW2, maybe even WW1, as a description of battle fatigue.”

Others have suggested that it was a British street-culture adaptation of a WWII expression that got picked up by writers and introduced into mainstream media. More likely, though, is that it entered into everyday use in it’s original unaltered form.

We also know that Tony Klinger’s grandmother was fond of using this expression with Tony, when he was a child growing up in London in the 50s. So whilst it was popular in the military during WWII, it is also quite possible that it’s origins predate that.

 

Piss-holes In The Sand + Piss-holes In The Snow

– Both Of Military Origin?

Thomas mentioned this phrase in a letter, so it seems unlikely that he created it and that it then entered into everyday use; his letters were only published many years later. It seems more likely that he took a phrase which was in everyday use at the time to describe his own condition. If it was in common use, then, I wonder whether it could have had a military origins too? Perhaps with the reference to sand, being used to describe a soldier’s battle fatigue from desert warfare?

Given that Dylan Thomas was using it c. 1932, if it’s roots were in the military, one theory is that it might have originated or been used extensively during the desert campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa in WW1. Some more ‘digging’ would be required, though, before we could be sure that that was the case.

So just to recap, piss holes in the snow has been used to describe something of low value, but also has the meaning of looking unwell/ suffering from battle fatigue.

It appears that it was a key phrase in the military and very similar to the expression used by  Thomas c.1932; and quite possibly amended to refer to  battle fatigue in colder climates.

At some point, then, it’s likely that the two expressions were both in common use:

  • Piss holes in the sand‘, as used by Dylan Thomas in his letter c.1932 [when clearly referring to feeling unwell, quite possibly from drink!] was probably already in common use at that time; gradually becoming the less well-known and used version.
  • Piss holes in the snow’ also referred to feeling tired/ battle fatigued and looking unwell [as well as something of low value]; but over time, it slowly won in the ‘popularity contest’ and became the phrase of choice.

And then later on, possibly sometime after the second world war was over, it’s usage changed again or rather evolved. It was still used to describe someone feeling unwell/ looking tired, but rather than the cause being battle fatigue, it was the result of a hangover!

 

One thing that we can be sure of, though, is that in the film “Get Carter” (1971), the expression finally entered into the mainstream.

And has remained there ever since.

______________________________________

 

Michael Klinger + Tony Klinger – Golan Heights In ’73

Picture: “This was dad and me on an old burnt out tank trying to make the biblical love story of Rachel and Jacob just after the ’73 war on the Golan Heights. Not the best choice of venue for that particular production and one day worth at least one chapter in my memoirs.”

 

A big thanks to Tony for ‘dropping by’ and sharing some of his memories. His memoirs will undoubtedly be fascinating and compelling reading. I’ll let you all know when I hear any news on their publication.

___________________________

You can keep up-to-date with all our latest articles and updates by following us on Facebook and / or Twitter:

Ian Hendry Appreciation Society Facebook Page 

and:

Ian Hendry Tribute – Twitter Page

Until next time,

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Tribute To Ian Hendry

Further Reading

A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography:

Read: ‘Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry’ by Gabriel Hershman

Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

More From Ian Hendry