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Where Jarvis Cocker became Jarvis Cocker ...,
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This review is from: Pulp [DVD] (DVD)
"Can you walk a little faster?" said the whiting to the snail. "There's a porpoise right behind me, and he's treading on my tail ..."
More an off-beat comedy than a drama - which may not appeal to some - PULP is a nice little blend of Alfie and Harry Palmer, and is a sadly unregarded gem that has nevertheless become a bit of a cult film loaded with many inside jokes. The 'three Michaels' - Mike Hodges, Michael Caine and Mike Klinger - may not have hit similar paydirt as with their Get Carter, but the sheer knowing coolness of pulp writer Mickey King's (Caine) Chandleresque voiceover dialogue is carried off with caustic wit, panache and style ("The day started quietly enough, then I got out of bed."); in fact, there are four Michaels if one adds Mickey Rooney - and a fifth if one includes the main character, Mickey King. Fearing possible stereotyping as a Hard Man, PULP was intended to be the opposite of Caine's hard-hitting Jack Carter character: affecting the relaxed raffish air of the self-satisfied ex-pat (he left London and his lucrative job as a funeral-director, and elbowed the wife and three kids), Mickey King glides about the Mediterranean in a dapper white corduroy suit (it's where Jarvis Cocker got both his 'look' and the band's name!), churning out cheap gangster fiction paperbacks under ludicrous aliases (Guy Strange, Gary Rough, Dan Wilde, Les Behan, newly-discovered Indian writer Dr. O.R. Gann, and struggling Nigerian author S. Ódomi) and hard-boiled titles (Kill Me Gently, The Kneetrembler and My Gun Is Long). In fact, his voiceover dialogue of heroic action is the opposite of his real-life reaction when confronted with dangerous situations - starting with a succession of taxis completely ignoring his hails!
Neatly filmed on Malta, G.C., the film is an odd joy from beginning to end, with several little pastiches that are hommages to John Huston (the FBI agent who appears to be Bogart enquiring from whom appears to be Peter Lorre after what turns out to be a Maltese falcon ...) and wonderful quirky characters. King's publisher, Markovic, is "a Greco-Albanian born in Budapest" with a bladder problem. Obviously vegetarian, the Mysterious Englishman, Mr. Balmoral (Dennis Price), is reading Alice In Wonderland for the 118th time, and so well able to insult steak-eatin' folks from steak-lovin' Texas; could he be part of the developing mystery? Lionel Stander puts in a nice turn as a laid-back, ageing wiseguy ("His name was Ben Dinuccio. It was the nicest thing about him."). Starting at the Temples of Zonq, leggy Nadia Cassini (Liz Adams, who became a starlet in Italian trash flics and softporn films) shows why hotpants were - and still are! - great. Swarthy and moustachioed, Al Lettieri (Ben Miller) plays ... well, Al Lettieri, the stereotyped rôle he can never get away from: the 'heavy' - as he did in THE GETAWAY and MR. MAJESTYK - who dons the priest's garb and eventually meets with an undignified (for a heavy, that is) end. One of Gilbert's ex-wives, sexy-voiced Lizabeth Scott (Princess Betty Cippola) shmoozes suggestion as she knows The Establishment are really In Control of events.
But the real treat is Mickey Rooney as the faded film star, Preston Gilbert, ejected from Hollywood for his Mob associations. In a villa on a private island, with his deaf mother, companion Liz (he's her sugar-daddy) and his PR-man Dinuccio, semi-reclusive Gilbert lives the life of the wealthy idler reliving past glories by playing old 78s and corny soundbites from his Cagneyesque old gangster films, and inflicting practical jokes on unsuspecting tourists. Delightfully hamming it up, his poncing around in his skivvies [I creased-up at the double-mirror bit] and applying his toupée is a marvellous send-up of himself! With the Big Sleep approachin' Gilbert hires King to ghostwrite his lifestory plus a few revelations - "a death-rattle in paperpack, eh?" according to a sceptical King. Preston insists the book come with an opening quote from Samuel Goldwyn, "We all passed a lot of water since then."
Hodge's cutaway scenes show a nice eye for detail. Elections are due, so throughout there are street marches by elderly and not-very-impressive hangers-on of the New Front party of creepy law-and-order politician Prince Frank Cippola - a comment on then-topical real-life Prince Borghese and the quasi-establishment, certainly neo-Fascist, Spada movement. "The wizard ringing in," the dignified pain of ashamed former Partisan Signor Lepri, and the "retired gunman who drew too late - twice" supping cola at the 42nd Street Bar (King sits under a plaque saying Ave Maria) add to the quirky mystery.
Poignant are the closing scenes. Whilst King feverishly hammers out the imagined ending to his own ordeal (in which he rehashes passages from previous novels), Cippola's shooting-party have hounded a wild boar toward his shooting platform (in a scene that would be unacceptable today). Trapped in a dead-end, the wretched beast has nowhere to go. Safe from the boar's frantic attempts to charge the wire, it's an easy shot, no real competition. Having bagged his kill, unassailable aristocrat Cippola raises a glass of champagne to the camera. "I'll get you, you bastards ..." wails King, unable to scratch an itch ...
Pity the only DVD 'extras' are subtitles in several foreign languages. But to fans it's still a gem.