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Mike Hodges' Pulp (1972) is one of a string of 1970s private eye movies that spends as much time referencing old films as it does generating a new plot. In his review of Pulp Roger Greenspun, an apparently exasperated critic for The New York Times, wrote, "I know I'm wrong, but it feels as if every week for the last six months at least one new imitation private eye movie has opened in New York City." Although it's not an outright classic, movie buffs will surely get a kick out of Pulp's numerous nods to old genre films, and will enjoy seeing a handful of older actors who weren't getting tons of work during the "Me Decade."
Michael Caine plays Mickey King, a writer who has no respect for his own abilities and will crank out pretty much any type of novel that will earn him a buck, including tawdry sex and crime stories (one of his pen names is actually "S. Odomy!") King is hired to ghost-write the autobiography of a man named Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney), a former movie star who has Mafia ties and is living in retirement with his mother and mistress in Malta. There are people, though, who apparently don't want the book to be written, and Mickey finds himself being drawn deeper and deeper into a dangerous situation that has as many twists and turns as the roads that wind through the Hollywood Hills.
There are numerous intense and deadly developments in Pulp, but they unfold in a tongue-in-cheek manner that diffuses the anxiety with knowing laughs. It may not be quite as clever as it wants to be some of the jokes are eye-rollers - but it's still a lot of fun to watch.
In his engaging autobiography, What's It All About?, Caine writes that one of the more enjoyable aspects of film stardom is being able to perform with actors who first entered his consciousness through movie matinees when he was a child. Pulp contains two of them, Lizabeth Scott and Mickey Rooney, and they turned out to be utterly different types of individuals.
Caine was in for a bit of a shock while shooting his first scene with Scott, who, he says, was rather mysterious, and was never spied in social situations. During the scene, in which he and Scott are sitting at a table having drinks, the actress couldn't raise the glass to her lips without her hand shaking uncontrollably. During a lull in shooting, Caine, who was starting to get annoyed, asked Scott what was wrong. "This is my first take for fifteen years," she replied. Caine then realized that the woman sitting across from him may have once been a big star, but was now just an actress who hadn't worked in years and was afraid she had lost her chops. Luckily, Caine calmed Scott down, and she was fine after that.
Caine writes, however, that Mickey Rooney was "the complete opposite" of Scott, always boisterous, telling jokes, and offering advice. Rooney told Caine that the most important thing to do in life is to save money, since he'd been working for years, and, at the time Pulp was being filmed, was completely broke. Caine happily notes that Rooney's fortunes seemed to turn around after the film's release, and his career as a character actor was back on the right track. (Rooney's most recent film was the hit, Night at the Museum (2006), which he completed at the ripe old age of 86.)
In an amusing side note, Caine also says that Rooney, who was supposedly quite religious and "belonged to some small sect or other," wasn't completely capable of keeping his bawdy side in check. "...I remember how he used to tell me the filthiest jokes," Caine writes, "with every four-letter word imaginable. At the end of the joke he would clasp both my hands, a pious look would come over his face and he would say, 'God bless you, my son,' with complete sincerity."
Director: Mike Hodges
Producer: Michael Klinger
Screenplay: Mike Hodges
Editor: John Glen
Cinematographer: Ousama Rawi
Music: George Martin
Production Designer: Patrick Downing
Costume Designer: Gitt Magrini
Art Designer: Darrell Lass
Cast: Michael Caine (Mickey King), Mickey Rooney (Preston Gilbert), Lionel Stander (Ben Dinuccio), Lizabeth Scott (Princess Betty Cippola), Nadia Cassini (Liz Adams), Al Lettieri (Miller), Dennis Price (Mysterious Englishman), Amerigo Tot (Sotgio), Leopoldo Trieste (Marcovic), Robert Sacchi (Jim Norman).
by Paul Tatara