Pulp Blu-ray Review: A Discombobulating Crime Comedy

Michael Caine returns with his Get Carter filmmakers to make a movie that is completely different.
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In 1971, three guys named Mike (Hodges the director, Klinger the producer, and Caine the star) made Get Carter, what is now considered the seminal British gangster movie.  In 1972, they teamed up together again for Pulp, something completely different. At its heart, Pulp is also a crime thriller but its tone, its writing, and its performances are something altogether weirder, funnier, and so completely out there as to defy expectations.

Caine plays Mickey King, a writer of pulp novels (with titles such as My Gun is Long and The Organ Grinder) whose in it for the writer’s lifestyle more so than any literary ambitions.  He narrates the film like he writes - salaciously, loquaciously, and with a lot more excitement that his actual life has.  It's narrated like he’s in one of his own books. For example, at one point the voiceover details how he was put on a private plane, given lots of drinks, and fawned over by the stewardess when in reality he’s on a crowded, stinking bus.

He is invited by a rough-looking old man (Lionel Strander) to ghost write the autobiography of someone famous, but he won’t say who.  Money talks and King agrees, but is first taken on that long bus ride with overnight stops, oddball meetings, critiques by fans, murder in bathtubs, and interviews by a beautiful woman.  All that before the plot really gets going.

The celebrity turns out to be Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney in a performance that just has to be seen to be believed), an actor known for playing gangsters on film and who has real gangster connections.  Did I mention there was a murder earlier?  The man on the bus who criticized King as a writer, who King initially thought was his contact, gets knifed in the bathtub during an overnight pit stop on the way to Gilbert’s.  King assumes it was meant for him (as their rooms got accidentally switched), a thought which solidifies as he continues to be shot at throughout the film.

King turns into an actual gumshoe for part of the film but this is just as quickly tossed to the wayside as do most other plot strands.  This film really is all over the place storywise and the tonal shifts come often and fast.

It's loaded with visual gags, many of which you have to be paying attention to catch.  Early in the film, King is in a cab that keeps smashing into other cars.  After bumping into another cab, the driver opens the door to yell at the other driver and a truck comes rumbling down the road ripping the cab's doors off.  Later, we very briefly we see a cab driving the streets missing its doors.  The film is brimming with throwaway gags like that.  I suspect it is a film that gets better on multiple viewings, but frankly my initial viewing was not interesting enough to really make me want to revisit it again.

It is so all over the place, seemingly throwing gags and new storylines at the audience every few minutes that it's a very discombobulating experience.  I couldn’t ever get a good hold of what was going on and the humor never really worked for me.

The audio visuals are up to Arrow Video standards.  It's a very clean print even if the visual concepts make it look very dirty, if that makes sense.  It has a very brown and dingy color palette, but according to the liner notes, this was intentional, and Arrow Video has done a good job making it look exactly that.  Audio is good.  It's a very talky movie and I never had any trouble understanding any of it and the score by none other than George Martin comes in clean and clear.

Extras include multiple (and rather short) interviews with the director, editor, cinematographer, and producer’s son plus a stills gallery and trailer.  Arrow has also provided the usual booklet with color photos and a a nice essay.

Pulp is an odd little film.  As the name implies, it's a pulpy crime novel wrapped up in a goofy comedy that never quite works but is certainly worth watching at least once.  Arrow Video has done their usual masterful job presenting it.

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