Few actors have a resume that is quite as varied as Michael Caine. Even in the present, well into his 80s, Caine continues to be one of those guys who has the potential to show up in just about anything. This has led to some strange roles in his long career. There are also a number of interesting collaborations to be found, in terms of the many, many directors Caine has worked with. His time with Mike Hodges (Flash Gordon, Croupier) yielded two excellent films. The first was the original version of Get Carter. That film remains one of the best British noir films of all time. The second collaboration gave us Pulp, which is considerably stranger, perhaps even meaner, than anything the brutal, bleak Get Carter threw at us.
Get Carter is probably the better known of the two. Even so, Pulp, which depicts a hack pulp writer (Caine) becoming immersed in the nightmarish aftermath of the death of a once-great actor (Mickey fucking Rooney), is not without its admirers. Get Carter is seen as a classic of its genre. Pulp is more of a cult classic, but its appeal and influence are nonetheless profound, and worth noting. Arrow has certainly taken note, giving the movie a DVD/Blu-ray release of considerable depth and value.
Movies have long celebrated and parodied noir, and Pulp wasn’t revolutionary in its attempt to parody the genre while also relying its staples in order to convey tension. However, if you are looking for particularly great examples of movies which combine comedy and suspense in a way that demand to be taken seriously, Pulpis essential viewing. It’s also a rollercoaster. As Caine’s Mickey King falls head over ass into the kind of ludicrously elaborate circumstances that comprise his novels, we experience crazed slapstick, banter, playful jabs at noir tropes, more than a few direct and indirect references, and humorous twists that actually come from the movie’s story and characters, rather than acting as a self-aware approach to what typically comes next in a story like this. Pulp plays around with, and sometimes indulges, our expectations, then throws a few genuine surprises at us. The extent to which Hodges (who also wrote the script) succeeds at creating a noir parody that is also a serious entry in the field is impressive, and makes Pulp bothone of the best genre subversions and staples of all time.
There’s a special emphasis on darkness. Caine and Mickey Rooney both understand what the movie is trying to achieve, and each takes dramatically differing approaches to embracing it. Rooney in particular gives what might be the best performance of his long, often bizarre career. His faded movie star Preston Gilbert specialized in mob types and also spent most of his life hanging out with them. Not surprisingly, this has consequences. Rooney doesn’t exactly poke fun at someone like Sinatra, he captures their essence in what can only be described as a very Mickey Rooney sort of way. Preston Gilbert is a pathetic, pitiable, yet hysterically funny figure who provides a great contrast to the smug cynicism of Caine’s Mickey King.
Of course, as the movie goes on, and jumps through and around tropes with maniacal glee, that smug cynicism dies a hilarious death. Caine doesn’t give the character any more depth than he needs, but he does handle King’s understated, yet profound transformation with an attention to detail that also finds room for his own natural charm. I wouldn’t call it one of the best Michael Caine performances of all time, but it comes close.
Pulp isn’t for everyone. However, those who do experience this clever, surreal classic will appreciate the attention Arrow has paid to the DVD/Blu-ray release. Beyond the 2K/1080p restoration of the film, which looks pretty fucking great, the disc features several interviews with the crew. The interview with Hodges is above and beyond the best of the lot, offering insights into the making of the film that are compelling, and often hilarious. Perhaps the most interesting bit of trivia associated with Pulp involves its popularity with writers, such as J.G. Ballard.
While Arrow releases movies across a pretty wide array of genres, noir seems to be a significant favorite, with many of their releases are afforded a measure of care and respect. Pulpis definitely in that category, and fans of the film, as well as anyone who likes a good cold buy once in a while, will be pleased with the care Arrow has put into giving this movie the release it deserves.