PULP (1972)


A movie that wants to have its cake and eat it too. It’s both a satire of pulp fiction while at the same time trying to produce the kind of serious thrills this sort of genre was famous for (the title comes from the magazines that were known for their lurid and exploitative short stories and were printed on cheap paper, or pulp). Caine plays Mickey King, a successful writer of, appropriately enough, pulp novels. Now living in Italy (where taxis do nothing but run into each other or get their doors taken off by reckless drivers), his publisher is contacted by Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney—yes, Caine and Rooney in the same movie, talk about doing the time warp), an actor who played and hung around with gangsters and who now needs a ghost writer for his life story. And with that King heads off to Gilbert’s home on the Island of Malta (yes, Virginia, there is a Maltese Falcon joke). Needless to say, pulp ensues as people start turning up dead. It never quite works, though it’s not a complete loss. The dialog is very witty, especially King’s genre dictated voiceovers (“It looked like her honor was on the missing list. So was her cash. I got the feeling it was too late to retrieve either.“). The acting is up to the task. Caine usually scores in this sort of dry, self assured character. Rooney is actually kind of fun and has some clever line readings. And it never hurts to have gravelly voiced Lionel Stander around. But though the plot has some clever turns, I was getting lost rather quickly and by the time it was over I wasn’t quite sure who killed who and why. The whole middle section has no forward momentum and the movie finally feels like it takes forever to do anything. What probably also doesn’t help is that it’s one of those movies where for reasons that are never very convincing, a character doesn’t call in the police when they find dead bodies are when someone tries to kill them. It’s also known as Lizabeth Scott’s last film, that bass voiced actress from film noirs of the 1950’s whose career never really went anywhere (and who, legend has it, was drummed out of Hollywood due to being a lesbian). The writer/director Mike Hodges has done some interesting (and at times better) work with such films as Flash Gordon, Get Carter and especially 1998’s Croupier.

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