Sunday, 21 November 2010

Jack's Return Home - Ted Lewis

I’ve been tempted to pick this up a few times over the years but finally did so recently. The reason I hadn’t before was that I thought it would be a run-of-the-mill crime novel. I was wrong; it’s a very good crime novel, even though the film was constantly being projected onto the back of my mind, and the image of Michael Caine was Jack impossible to shake off. A film being projected is pertinent to the story, as you probably know. It turns out that, despite not being a Northerner, Caine was a superb choice, which is obvious from the film, but when you read the book you realise how right he was, being the king of ice-cool detachment whether he’s waving away a blubbering ‘bird’ or dishing out the violence.
   Mike Hodges made a few changes when he rewrote the book for the screen, but nothing that really betrayed the source. The now legendary line Jack says to Cliff Brumby in the film: ‘You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me it's a full time job. Now behave yourself.’ Was originally ‘Cliff, you’re a big bloke – you’re in good shape. But I know more than you do.’ Brumby’s demise is less dramatic in the book too. Jack almost throws him over the edge of a balcony instead of actually throwing him from a multi-storey car park. Jack’s final scene is also different in the novel and I don’t understand why that was changed, but I’ll say no more in case you read it.
   What you get in the novel is a sense of Jack’s roots in the North and his relationship with his brother. Since the medium of film necessitates brevity these elements are lost. Watching ‘Get Carter’ I actually forget that he’s a Northerner, but it would have been too much to expect Caine to come up with a London accent tinged with a Northern one.
   One of the pleasures of the book is the feeling you get for the culture of the times. On the walls of Doreen’s bedroom there are ‘pictures of The Beatles, and the Moody Blues, and the Tremeloes and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich’. In Frank’s room there are books by J. T. Edson, Louis L’amour, Alistair Maclean and Victor Canning, amongst other paperbacks. The presence of Maclean resonates strongly with me since his novels were always appearing in our house around the same time. His records include Mel Torme, Band of the Coldstream Guards, Ted Heath, Frankie Laine and This is Hancock – such details are what novels can deliver and films rarely do, these markers of a person’s taste which represent something of their character. ‘Yobboes’ have ‘Open-necked shirts and Walker Brothers’ hair cuts’, which seem a little outdated by ’69, but that’s the North for you (ha-ha). Jack drives past ‘Woolworth’s and British Home Stores and Millet’s and Willerby’s’. Then there’s The Cecil pub, of which somebody had once said ‘they should advertise it as having ‘Singing till ten, fighting till eleven.’’ Well, perhaps nothing’s changed in that respect.

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