Finally seeing PULP was a bit of a revelation for me. This tonally almost polar opposite of 1971’s Get Carter brings together writer/director Mike Hodges, Michael Klinger and star Michael Caine in a pretty unusual black comedy/crime story, newly restored by Arrow Video with a few nice special features. You’ll also get to see Mickey Rooney in his underwear (eek!), some fine supporting roles from Lionel Stander, Al Lettieri, and Nadia Cassini, with a too brief appearance by Lizabeth Scott in her final film role.
Caine plays Mickey King, a writer of pretty tawdry crime novels who gets the call to ghost write the life story of Rooney’s pint-sized Preston Gilbert, a former movie star with organized crime connections that come back to bite him hard. With his cheap, bland corduroy suit and middle-aged dad body, King still gets by with the ladies and his writing is so terribly risqué even the male owner of the typing pool churning out his latest novel slips him his home number. Mickey is thrust into the film’s events after he gets that Gilbert gig and things start falling apart as a few bodies fall before the credits roll.
The film’s excellent use of King’s voice over (which tells a very different story at times than the film does) shows Hodges’ skill impeccable skill for comic timing in both his writing and directing. The simple act of getting a taxi ends up wrecking a few cars and property (no one can drive a straight line without hitting something), and during one sequence where a bumpy car ride to meet Gilbert is intentionally sped up, I found myself cracking up because it was a cheap effect that made perfect sense. Rooney’s somewhat abrasively annoying character seems to have been modeled on George Raft, but Rooney looks more like a miniaturized, toupee-wearing Harvey Korman here.
Gilbert ends up getting bumped off in a somewhat inconvenient yet amusing manner and King suddenly finds himself playing detective to see if he can uncover the mystery of who the killer is. It’s kind of easy to figure out if you pay attention, but half the fun here is hanging on to your seat as the film plays out as it turns out Gilbert’s demise was more of a ripple in a much larger swamp. In one of the special features, Hodges notes he was inspired by a few crime and political scandals of the era, which ends up being somewhat funnier (but also not so funny) in this particular day and age.
(Thanks, ALIM ASV!)
The 2K transfer is pretty good overall, but there’s a bit of grain happening in some scenes, or perhaps I need new glasses (which are arriving in a few days, by the way). While the score is by George Martin (yep, that one), Hodges tells the story of the time Mickey Rooney called him up in England from California at 3am (UK time) playing the piano and saying he had written a score for the film. My guess is Hodges didn’t really appreciate that wake-up call and too-cheery voice on the other end of the line, but that’s just a guess from the peanut gallery in my brain.
Still, you have to laugh with a film that slides in a quick reference to The Maltese Falcon pop out of nowhere near the ending complete with an actor who looks like Humphrey Bogart and another not quite looking like Peter Lorre other than in terms of height and hair color. That Bogey impersonator (Robert Sacchi) ends up getting some choice lines in at King’s expense soon afterwards, which in turn leads to a coin toss of an ending that might leave you guessing a bit. Or not, as this is one of those films you’ll like right from the get-go or dislike because you were expecting it to be something a bit more conventional. Me, I’m old and like quirky flicks such as this arriving to bust up a fairly awful month, so I was all in from the moment I pressed PLAY on that remote.
Score: B+ (85%)
Review copy provided by the publisher