I found this on the bargain shelf of the already bargain video store--meaning it is the crap OF the crap video store--and snapped it up the second I saw it is written and directed by Mike Hodges, of what many consider [with reasonable validity] to be the greatest British film of all time, Get Carter. And it stars Michael Caine, star of that film. Then I went to the IMDb, where many consider this to be brilliant, but the vast majority consider it to be utterly worthless garbage. All of which can only get me REALLY riled up to see it.
So you know that feeling when you're a few minutes into a movie and the good vibes wash over you as it becomes apparent that you're in the hands of a really talented writer-director who is going to expertly guide you through a carefully and brilliantly turned-out experience? That feeling comes mere seconds into this film. We start with an Italian typing pool listening to tapes narrated by Caine, and typing out what he says. It is kind of a charming reminder of such a time, and caused me a little bit of shock to realize that back then, once the novel is typed out, THAT is it, that ONE copy is all that exists! No infinitely reproducable and sendable computer files--that printout is IT. Anyway, all the pretty young Italian typists are scandalized at the novel's erotic content.
Caine is Mickey King, who writes as many different names, and we hear his voice-over, in Caine's beautifully droll tones, describing what we see him doing on screen: a clue that what he's about to experience IS a pulp story exactly like those he writes. He tells us he is about to narrate the "bizarre adventure that put three people in the cemetery and ruled me out as a customer for laxatives." By now, since we've lived through any number of ironic indie movies with self-consciously 'hip" writing, such statements are sort of common, but here they are delivered with such freshness I had to laugh. I also laughed when Caine speaks in a loving tone about "My wife, who I deserted along with my three children." King picks up the printed novel from the boss of the typing pool, who is VERY excited by the highly-sexed material [way tame by our standards now]. When he asks King who normally types his material, Caine deadpans "My mother." Soon he accepts a mystrious assignment--to ghost write the life story of some guy who must remain secret for some reason. Against his better judgement, King accepts.
The first thing that happens is that King is sent on a boring 5-day bus tour. He assumes that one of the people on the tour is the representative of the person he'll be writing about, leading to a hilarious scene where King is making all sorts of insinuations about "knowing what he's up to" to someone who has no clue what he's talking about. He keeps encountering this guy Miller [Al Latteri of The Getway], who soon ends up dead. King realizes that he and Miller switched rooms--the killer meant to get HIM--and that the killer is on the tour bus with them... and it's only a matter of time before the killer realizes that King isn't dead.
SPOILERS > > >
King is soon introduced to his real client, who is a washed-up actor, Preston Gilbert, played by Mickey Rooney. He is shown getting ready in his room for a long time before coming out to see King, and there's a hilarious bit--done TWICE and just as funny each time--in which Gilbert stares deeply at his reflection in these two mirrored doors, as though drinking in his reflection for savoring while he's choosing his clothes, only to part the doors to reveal ANOTHER mirror, right inside. He then comes out and we see his anxiety to get King to sit, so he doesn't spend too long towering over the tiny Gilbert. King realizes that something is way amiss and he is "in too deep."
Now follows a long centerpiece scene in which many of Gilbert's friends and enemies are gathered, most of them sick to death of his relentless showboating antics. I'm going to cut off the synopsis here because a) here's where it starts to lose a little bit of focus, and b) we've hit the major highlights. So let's pop out of the spoiler zone!
< < < SPOILERS END
One thing you'll have noticed is that this movie has a lot of comedy of the innocent bystander being killed, which maybe starts to wear a bit by the third or fourth bystander. The other thing is that Caine is just impossibly, impossibly cool in this movie. What I mean by that it is is NOT POSSIBLE for anyone to get any cooler than he is in this movie--and he ALREADY IS Michael Caine at the zenith of his powers, as my friend was quick to point out. But seriously, Brooklyn hipsters should purchase and STUDY his performance here because Caine shows how to wear outrageously huge glasses with massively ostentatious outfits, yet still carry it off like everyone ELSE are idiots.
What else? Nothing really, only this film is a real pleasure, that maybe doesn't remain perfect all the way to the end, but has so many strengths on the way there you won't really mind. And it's SO nice to just lay back and know you're in the hands of a really smart writer-director and talented star, and let them show you a good time--which is exactly what they do.
I think so! You'll get extra enjoyment if you like pulp novels and noir movies.