I have been quite Francophile in my choice of subjects for several of my articles on ViaRETRO (both here and on the Danish site as well). Admitted, this probably reflects the fact that I am somewhat Francophile in real life as well – to some extent at least. Though when it comes to the cars I have owned, then – apart from a few Citröens – it hasn’t been immediately obvious. But life obviously can’t be all about the French, and one of my all-time movie heroes is anything but. I’ve always been fascinated by Caine and the role of the cold-tempered type he so often plays – it’s about time to become anglophile, I think.
My favourite movies starring Michael Caine are “The Ipcress File” and “Get Carter”. Both movies are British and in the Film Noir genre from 1965 and 1971 respectively – and as a result, most of the cars are from that period as well…
In real life, Sir Michael (born: Maurice Joseph Micklewhite) came quite late to driving a car. He turned 50 before even bothering to get a driver’s licence – though he had at least acquired “a license” to women well before that, so to speak. But due to the lack of a driver’s license during the shooting of the two mentioned movies, he doesn’t drive a car himself, but is instead degraded to just a passenger during the car scenes.
When Caine finally did get his driver’s license, he promptly decided to skip all the various stages of car ownership (a simple beginner’s car, then a car for the slightly advanced driver and so on), and instead jump directly to a “proper” car right from the beginning. At that time, Caine had moved to Beverly Hills where it was an absolute must to have your own car – and not just any car either! He therefore decided to purchase a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow as his first car. However, due to the newly acquired driving license, it became so expensive in car insurance that it would actually have been cheaper to hire a driver – what a paradox!
A small anecdote to this story about his first car: When Michael Caine entered the first Rolls-Royce dealer, Caine experienced being humiliated and treated very condescendingly because of his very strong cockney accent! This made Caine so furious (for good reason too) that he left the dealer in anger. But Caine definitely still wanted a Rolls-Royce, so he went straight to another dealer in the neighbourhood and bought the Rolls-Royce there instead! (I wonder if the scriptwriter of the Pretty Woman movie had heard of this episode in Michael Caine’s life? A very similar scene was used in the movie).
In “The Ipcress File”, Michael Caine plays the role of the MI5 agent, Harry Palmer, who is pursuing a hostile Eastern European power nation (of course!) which abducts scientists and subsequently brainwashes them by using sound torture. During his quest, Harry Palmer was equipped with a Ford Zodiac Mk3 as his company car – the very top-of-the-range from British Ford.
In the film, his colleague, Jock, drives a Jaguar Mk2 and at some point Jock borrows the Zodiac from Palmer. He should have stuck with his Jaguar though, since a hitman looking for Palmer targets the Zodiac believing Palmer is in it. Swapping a Jaguar for a Ford cost poor Jock his life!
Despite such risks, being a British spy in the 60’s was clearly not a bad job at all, neither car wise nor women wise (in any random order) – as so clearly portrayed in various James Bond movies as well…
Yet Bond and Palmer are certainly not alike in every aspect. Palmer – unlike Bond – is supposedly a rather talented cook and not least somewhat hedonistic as well. He initiates every morning by grinding his coffee beans before making plunger coffee. Throughout the movie, food actually plays a relatively large part – even as a tool for getting Palmer out of quite awkward situations. During one scene, Palmer’s female colleague has “penetrated” his apartment (maybe she’s playing a “double role” in the plot?!?) and awaits him with a gun pointing towards the door, just waiting for him to come home. However, Palmer senses something isn’t right – well, he is a spy after all – so he opens the door, with his own gun pointing straight towards “whoever” is there. It’s a standoff…
But within a moment, the scene changes and the mood immediately goes from being quite hostile, almost ready to shoot each other, to being decidedly friendly – to say the least! Accompanied by Mozart, Palmer is in the process of making an exquisite omelette for his female colleague and the whole scene is wrapped up with more than a hint that there could be a very different kind of “penetration” going on…
As mentioned, the food was quite essential throughout the movie, probably due to the fact that the author, Len Deighton was and is a gourmet. A fine little anecdote goes with this: It was one thing that Michael Caine couldn’t drive the cars in the movie, but he equally couldn’t break the eggs for the omelette with one hand either. That’s why Deighton’s hand is seen in the movie.
Another example is the scene where Palmer’s boss, Major Dalby, meets with his former boss, Colonel Ross, in his club, simply because the kitchen had an excellent sole on the menu that particular day!
Getting back to the cars, the distinguished Major Dalby drives in a nice Old English White MGB roadster in the movie, but what car brand the Colonel drives remains unknown.
Although the enemy is both cruel and from Eastern Europe, they clearly still have exceptional taste in cars. Outside the Royal Albert Hall, Harry Palmer spots them in a Bentley R-type Continental, and soon after gets into a scuffle with them. They thereafter make a rapid escape in the stylish Bentley…
Eventually, Palmer ends up falling into the hands of the enemy, and it becomes obvious that there is a bad egg in the office!
The story now moves on to the North-East England.
In “Get Carter”, Caine plays the hitman Jack Carter; a tough, cynical guy and a womaniser (a “Film noir” angle to the stereotype hitman). From London, Jack returns to his childhood city, Newcastle, to bury his brother who has been mysteriously killed in a car accident. During his train ride to Newcastle he (naturally) reads “Farewell, My Lovely” by Raymond Chandler – it is after all Film noir, so I suppose it was inevitable…
When he arrives at Newcastle, he finds that not only was his brother murdered, but in addition his teenage niece (or perhaps daughter… it’s never quite clear whether it’s his niece or daughter?) has also been abused in a pornographic film. Needless to say, hitman Carter is furious and initiates a personal vendetta against the local underworld. It can really only end in one way and, despite his “toughness”, one can’t help but feel some compassion for him considering the tragedy that drives him to the inevitable ending of the story, where the victorious are (unfortunately) the bad guys.
But, now let’s get back to the cars…
The funeral procession starts from the deceased brother’s home in the desolate working class neighbourhood – in two Rolls-Royces: a Phantom III for the coffin and a 25/30HP for the ensemble.
After the funeral, Carter’s boss in London sends a couple of men to Newcastle, in a red Jaguar Mk2, to ensure that he doesn’t do anything rash. They want him back in London.
There’s a conflict in that Carter’s boss also has “business” in Newcastle, and the personal vendetta which Carter (quite understandably) is executing up there, is bad for business.
The Jaguar Mk2 does painfully get its front door ripped off, when Carter flees in a Cortina Mk2, after the two men – uninvited – entering the pension where Carter is staying only to find him in bed with the hostess. A quite subtle but brilliant little detail in this scene: Carter and the hostess seemingly didn’t worry too much during their exploits, about the sign above the bed stating: “What would Jesus say?”.
The two men in the Jaguar Mk2 reappear on The High Level Bridge where Carter quarrels with his brother’s mistress, Margaret. In the movie, the bridge is renamed “The Iron Bridge”, but The High Level Bridge is the correct name for it. It’s the road and railway bridge spanning the River Tyne between Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead in North East England. It’s considered the most notable historical engineering work in the city. After all, who wouldn’t recognise it from Newcastle Brown Ale bottles?
In the scene on the bridge, the front door is still missing, so it’s easy for the two men to get out and continue the chase. Luckily for Carter, Glenda appears (out of nowhere) in her white Sunbeam Alpine. She’s part of the gang connected to one of the local gangster bosses, Kinnear. Yet again, another beautiful woman shows great interest in Carter, and yet again the storyline suggests more might have happened between the two…
Note that once again, Caine finds himself in the passenger seat. Glenda however has her own sensual way of handling the gearshift in her Sunbeam Alpine. May I suggest that rather than merely taking my word for it, you might want to experience this delight for yourself in the Get Carter trailer:
But there’s another link between Carter and Glenda (and not a “lucky link” so to speak), since she too participated in the pornographic film in which Carter’s niece (or daughter?) was abused. As Glenda seemed to have more than just an acting role in the film, Carter makes sure that she ends up in the trunk of her own car, which is then pushed into the harbour. Glenda is of course still in the trunk – Carter watches the bubbles rise…
Glenda, before ending at the bottom of the harbour, did tell Carter that another of the city’s gangster bosses, Bromby, is “the main man” behind the pornographic film.
Bromby also drive a “proper” car… a Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible; style is of course a necessity. This is exemplified perfectly during a scene, where he and his wife arrive at their home (earlier than planned) in their Corniche only to realise that their daughter is having a wild garden party without their knowledge. Among other things, Bromby finds a teenager about to vomit in the garden pool, just to mention one example…
The unfortunate teenager is then, by the venerable Bromby, with a thoroughly “sweet spot” kick in his posterior “sent” directly into the pool, and immediately thereafter Bromby announces that the party is “over and out”. The peace and the stylish “Keeping up Appearances” is thereby back in order.
But Bromby’s fate is sealed, and he ends his days as he is pushed from the top of the multi-story car park, at which he is putting the final touches to the interior design for a – stylish (of course!) – restaurant. But instead of the expected “thud” when Bromby impacts the ground, the sound is a little different. A deeper and softer bump is heard, followed by a car horn which has stuck! Bromby landed on the roof of a Ford Zephyr 4 Mk3, in which there is a mother and her two children.
In general, women are clearly attracted to Carter. This even applies to the girlfriend of Carter’s boss, played by the beautiful Swedish actress, Britt Ekland, who in a – quite long – scene “shows her pleasure and appreciation” of Carter with very sensual movements in her bed, while on the phone with him. He certainly seems to have an effect on women!
Their conversation – if you can call it that – and her sensual wriggling continues, right until her boyfriend (yes, Carter’s boss!) enters the room, and asks if she is suffering from stomach pains…
It’s a given that Michael Caine has always been a women’s man, but when it comes to it, maybe it was only on the surface that he appeared as a car’s man. After only 20 years with a license, he decided to stop driving when he was 70 years old…
If you haven’t seen these great movies yet, I can highly recommend them (and the cars)… Enjoy!
“The Ipcress File” named after Len Deighton’s novel of the same name (1965)
“Get Carter” named after the novel by Ted Lewis: “Jack’s return home” (1971)
Classic Driver. Caine’s Cars: Rebel without a License. August 5th, 2013.