Skip to main content

He was constipated with pulp, and now it was coming out, all over me.

Pulp
(1972)

(SPOILERS) Pulp has undergone something of a reassessment since its initial release, to a resoundingly underwhelmed response from audiences and critics alike. Some have even suggested it’s on a par with Get Carter, Mike Hodges and Michael Caine’s classic collaboration from the previous year. This is very much wishful thinking. Pulp isn’t a bad movie by any means, but it’s a pastiche doodle of detective fiction, never quite as clever or spry as it thinks it is, so leaving the viewer shrugging at it as much as Caine’s protagonist Mickey King does throughout when confronted by a succession of oddball – but never truly outrageous – incidents.

Caine is undoubtedly the highlight, dressed as almost a caricature or of his typical 70s style – those sunglasses are voluminous, the hair at its most flowing – and responding to events in a mostly very laidback, bemused style, as if Parky has him in the guest chair and he’s being asked to respond in a characteristically witty fashion with an anecdote or observation. No one else is quite up to par, though. Dennis Price is good in about two scenes as a very rude Englishman, fond of insulting Texans while quoting Lewis Carroll, and Lizabeth Scott, returning to the screen after a decade and a half absence, makes a strong impression as Princess Berry Cippola, wife of the gangster-politician at the heart of the plot (and yet, almost entirely oblique to the movie itself).

But Mickey’s attentions are mostly focussed on Mickey Rooney’s retired movie star with mob connections Preston Gilbert, who wants him to ghost-write his autobiography. Mickey, an author of pulp fiction (hence the title) under such pseudonyms as Les Behan and S Odomy – at times, given Mickey’s response to a cross-dressing hitman, it’s difficult to be sure how much of Hodges’ screenplay is sly commentary on the lowest common denominators of the genre, and how much it is symptomatic of the same – and titles (My Gun is Long, The Organ Grinder). When Gilbert is murdered, we learn this was over fears that he was poised to reveal his and Cippola’s dirty secrets (the picture concludes with King recuperating from a gunshot wound “at Cippola’s pleasure”; whether he gets remission is anyone’s guess).

Unfortunately, Hodges plays the material so larkily – King assumes the role of gumshoe, complete with lazily conversational narration, given to the lurid and thus reflecting and or subverting what we see on screen; at least, in theory – the actual mystery never takes on any significance, not in any way that encourages viewer investment. Which means it’s left to the incidentals and characters to sparkle.

Occasionally, they do. The opening, with a typing pool enjoying Mickey’s colourful prose (“Blood spattered everywhere like a burst watermain”) sets a tone the rest of the picture can’t match, and there’s often a very witty turn of phrase on Mickey’s part, ready with the quip off the page as well as on. But the proceedings are equally prone to the tiresome. There’s an overdone routine with Mickey’s weak-bladdered publisher. And while Rooney may be some people’s cup of tea, he’s irritating enough without also playing an irritating character (Gilbert delivers a clumsy waiter routine at a restaurant party, impromptu, at the expense of some unrelated fellow guests). Lionel Stander does Lionel Stander as Gilbert’s right-hand guy (“He shoots very well for a public relations man”), while Nadia Cassini is the girlfriend character. Al Lettieri is the on-again-off-again hit man/ priest/ corpse pursuing Mickey (“Bodies belong in the mortuary, not in my bath”).

I’ve seen Pulp a few times, and I always expect it to grow on me, but it never quite does. Caine keeps the proceedings right side of watchable, as a man under no illusions about his art (and with no regrets that he left his wife, three children and funeral business to pursue it). The Malta locations are also memorable (shot by Ousama Rawi, who would work with Caine again a couple of years later on The Black Windmill; also involved are George Martin providing he score and future Bond director John Glen as editor). It would be nice to suggest Hodges began with a double as impressive as Danny Boyle with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, but Pulp strays closer to the trying-too-hard of A Life Less Ordinary, failing to hit its stylistic groove and thus falling victim to the broadness that would characterise the director’s 80s work.

Christopher Bray, in Michael Caine – A Class Act, testified to the picture’s qualities, calling it a deceptively “tightly constructed little comedy thriller”. But it’s too leisurely (as he also described it) to deliver the thrills and too unfocussed to consistently land in the comedy stakes. There’s no zip or energy that isn’t coming from its star. As such, Bray’s right that Caine’s performance is “a masterpiece of gentle fun”, but I disagree that’s enough. The author namechecks other neo-noirs of the period (Chinatown, The Long Goodbye) but maybe he should have focussed on Play it Again, Sam, which manages to have fun with the genre while also investing it with a plot you’re invested in.








Popular posts from this blog

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989) (SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch , or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins . Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon.  It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy ( Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Bi

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the