Pulp (1972) Blu Ray starring Michael Caine (Arrow)
A pulp writer ends up in a pulp novel-style plot
Michael Caine plays Mickey King, a ghostwriter of pulp novels living in an unnamed Mediterranean country. One day he is approached by Ben Dinuccio (Lionel Stander) the agent of a George Raft-style retired actor with mafia connections named Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney) who wants him to write his biography before he goes on “the big sleep”.
Ben arranges for him to be met by a contact named Miller (Al Letteri) who is to guide him to a secret location. When Mickey and Miller stop over at a hotel for the night a mix-up results in them swapping rooms. However, when Mickey is due to meet the latter for further information that would lead him to Preston, he finds him dead in a bloody bathtub. Thus begins a convoluted tale of intrigue and murder - placing the pulp writer into something resembling one of his own novels.
Watch a trailer:
Another forgotten Mike Hodges film
Poor Mike Hodges. His big-screen debut Get Carter (1971) starring Michael Caine was a success at the British box office and went on to be widely regarded as one of the country’s finest gangster films of all time. However, most of the numerous films which he subsequently made haven’t been so fondly-remembered. Okay, so Flash Gordon (1980) is an exception, albeit more as an immense guilty pleasure than anything else.
His second film Pulp, despite reuniting him with Caine, is amongst his endless series of nearly-forgotten endeavours. To be frank, it’s not hard to see why this is the case; in terms of both plotting and overall tone it’s something of a mess. Is it supposed to be a slapstick comedy? A self-aware spoof on the pulp detective novel with Caine’s character narrating lines in his own head in that style? A convoluted mystery thriller which plays like Get Carter in the sun? A political satire? An offbeat, quirky character comedy?
A curious mixture
I don’t think it’s an outright bad movie so much as a strange one that doesn’t quite pay off. There are all sorts of odd touches that seem to have been thrown in for the sake of it. For instance, there’s a moment when Mickey looks in Miller’s suitcase after his death and discovers (from the clothing inside) that he’s a cross-dresser. There’s a comedic interlude related to a publicity stunt pulled off by a local politician where a bunch of nubile women hold up letters spelling out his name. After the stunt, when a character accidentally knocks over an object some of women turn around and the letters that they hold up spell “F**K” (complete with the asterisks).
The script never makes it clear which Mediterranean country it is set in but the film is quite obviously shot in Malta judging from the landmarks and English-language shop signs. However, on occasion some of the characters talk in Italian dialogue and Preston sings an Italian song in one scene, thus giving the impression that it was supposed to be set in Italy. It’s somewhat baffling since one character mentions that he has a Maltese falcon (Aha! I see the sneaky double reference) and the filmmakers have put a prominent thank you note to the people of Malta in the end credits.
The film does have some redeeming qualities. The performances by the three main actors are fine: Michael Caine is wonderfully laconic, Lionel Stander plays his usual gravelly-voiced heavy act and Mickey Rooney steals every scene he’s in as a brashly eccentric and extroverted actor. Ousama Rawi’s cinematography is beautiful and a minority of the humorous moments do hit the funny bone. One of the best scenes has Preston playing a practical joke on a couple dining at an outdoor restaurant. Some of the narrated lines are also amusing, such as “It was a ghost town: two crossed coffins in the Michelin guide”.
Fans of Italian exploitation fans may find some curiosity in the cast. Nadia Cassini, who later appeared in Starcrash (1978), plays a sort of love interest character here. Alas, while she gets a fair amount of screen time she fails to make much impression against the heavyweight male stars. Luciano Pigozzi and Janet Agren also pop up for one scene apiece.
There are a lot of good ingredients in Pulp but it doesn’t blend into a particularly tasty or satisfying dish. Still, if you’re a big Michael Caine fan then it’s worth a look. Put it this way: while it’s far from his best film it’s also far from his worst, as anyone who has viewed The Swarm or Jaws: The Revenge will attest.
Runtime: 95 mins
Dir: Mike Hodges
Script: Mike Hodges
Starring: Michael Caine, Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander, Lizabeth Scott, Nadia Cassini, Dennis Price, Al Letteri, Luciano Pigozzi, Janet Agren
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The sunny cinematography looks fabulous in this 2K restoration; the Maltese locations come out in rich burnt oranges and yellows. Sound-wise it’s also fine.
Interview with Mike Hodges
This is one of the most enjoyable directorial interviews I’ve seen for some time. Mike reveals that he took the film’s backstory from Italian politics at the time: firstly, the re-emergence of the Fascist party and secondly, the Montesi scandal. The film was originally supposed to be located in Rome - but since shooting there would have necessitated dealing with the local mafia they decided to relocate to Malta.
Mike also points out the uncanny resemblance that Jarvis Cocker - erstwhile singer to the band Pulp - used to have to Michael Caine’s character in the film Pulp. However, when he asked Jarvis about this he maintained that he had never seen it! Finally, there’s a wonderful anecdote about a trailer which he shot with Lionel Stander talking directly to the camera. Although it was never actually used to promote the film it popped up on YouTube. It turns out that the user who posted it up found it in a film library in Russia!
Interview with Ousama Rawi
The film’s cinematographer (who helped to restore the film) discusses how he achieved various shots as well as its brownish colour palette. He went as far as respraying cars brown in order to stay consistent with the overall look. He also reveals that he was amazed at the number of mansions hidden away on the island of Malta in which he was able to shoot.
Interview with John Glen
A brief interview with the film’s editor, who reveals that he carried out his work during one of the early 1970s UK miner’s strikes, meaning that he had to work around regular power cuts.
Interview with Tony Klinger
Tony is the of the film’s producer Michael Klinger and also assisted with getting hold of various items required for the production. This was a challenge since most of them needed to be brown. He also discusses the film’s box office failure, which was partially attributable to it being put on a mismatched double bill with the Frank Sinatra comedy western Dirty Dingus Magee!
A trailer round out the extras.
While I am not a big fan of the film it’s undeniable that the restoration work is superb. I also enjoyed the interviews, in particular the one with Mike Hodges. It’s a pity they couldn’t have got Sir Michael Caine to do a piece, but never mind.