Arabicus Pulp was born in a Sheffield school. They ditched the Arabicus bit, pooled their influence from this Michael Caine thriller, and simply became Pulp. That is where one would think the influence ends, but there is more to Pulp than that. Thick rimmed glasses and over-sexualised lyrics were the forte of Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, but they are values seemingly instilled by this Caine-led piece from director Mike Hodges. Odd-fitting suits and narration that details the many mistakes Caine’s character has made. He opens us into his life abroad, and how the menial work his wife provided at the funeral parlour was not enough to satiate his desire to be creative, even if that creativity was to write salacious novels for a low-brow public.
Hodges and Caine work supremely well together, striking up those familiar notes of supercilious decision-making and cool, charming conviction. Mickey King (Caine) is a sleazebag writer. Pulpy novels are his speciality. There is a womanising effect to his writing. He writes of sex, so too does Cocker. With such charming, masculine effect comes the over-sexualisation of other characters. It does surprisingly little in the long run. King is tasked with writing a biography for a reclusive ex-actor. Those quirky mannerisms of the actor-in-hiding elicit similar tones to that of Sleuth, a Caine and Laurence Olivier collaboration that sees Caine meddle with a man suited to the creative arts. One of the key links throughout all of these, though, is the steady hand Caine provides.
“He’s headed for the last round-up, and wants something to be remembered by,” is the reason King is given for having to write a biography. With no experience in writing non-fiction, he is the wrong man for the job, but his client is insistent. “He identified himself with one of my books. A nice touch that, and good for my royalties,” King says. Despite being slightly in over his head, he is still thinking profit and imagery. What does his image tell those around him? It tells us he is a sleaze, somewhat refined, and in the business of minding his own. When he stands alongside the reclusive ex-actor (portrayed by Mickey Rooney), the differences are night and day. Preston Gilbert hides away but is still feeding off of the extravagance of power and fame. He croons alongside a band at the dinner table, annoyed that they are out of sync with him, but the patrons around him are unmoved.
“He’s doing that bit again,” one customer says of Gilbert. He is a shell of his former self, and that is likely why he wishes for an autobiography. He makes a foolish error of himself, acting out with joy as he pushes forth with random acts of slapstick, dressed as a waiter. He is living out his glory days, to the strained amusement of himself alone. There are some nice sight gags and a tongue-in-cheek tone running underneath Pulp that was thoroughly absent in Get Carter. It is clear to see which is the superior of the two when it comes to action, but it is hard not to get carried away with Pulp. Caine is always good fun, and his narration here proves an honest, interesting change. Why Mickey King is expected to do this is never explained. He is tangled in a web of lies, mobs and reclusive oddities. We’re taken along for a ride he doesn’t understand, yet it is better that way. Pulp gets by on the strangeness of it all, the blurring of so many genres, and those purple-tinted glasses and the ugly cream suit that inspired a band as sex-crazed as King was.