Mike Hodges was a gifted director with an eclectic mix of genres but will perhaps be best remembered for his Brit crime film ‘Get Carter’ a film that all subsequent films in the genre would be forever measured against.
Born 29th July 1922 in Bristol he left school and began work for a chartered accountants before joining the Navy for two years working on a mine sweeper in the North of England where he became aware of the area’s deprivation. It played a major impression in his script and the Newcastle locations in Get Carter. After leaving the Navy he made his first steps into the film and TV industry working as an autocue operator and had also married his first wife. He soon began writing his own scripts and started producing and directing of which the first were two thrillers for ITV playhouse in 1969. It was these two thrillers that drew attention to his potential and he was offered the chance to adapt the Ted Lewis novel Get Carter, a working class thriller that saw a London based gangster who returns to Newcastle seeking to avenge the murder of his brother. It was and remains possibly the best British crime film ever made and Hodges and his star Michael Caine reunited the following year for ‘Pulp’ with Caine as an author hired to ghost write the memoirs of an aging actor played by Mickey Rooney.
Hodges followed it with 1974’s The Terminal Man, an adaptation of a pre Jurassic Park Michael Crichton novel. It fared poorly at the box office due to distribution issues but it did gain him two notable fans namely Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick whose letter to Hodges was used in the films publicity. It was from here on that his next few films became increasingly eclectic in genre with his next film ‘Omen II : Damien’ a much anticipated sequel to the 1976 blockbuster but Hodges and his single mindedness about the project saw him at loggerheads with the producers and the direction of the script which his version had included themes of big industry corruption and environmentalism. Things soon got increasingly fractious and it was rumoured that it all came to a head in a meeting where he found a pistol deliberately placed on a coffee table as a means of trying to intimidate him and bend his will. They failed and Hodges left the production having already started shooting (a symbolic scene with Damien emerging from behind a garden fire were typical of his creative style). It was perhaps the first indication that Hodges was very much his own man.
Flash Gordon (1980) followed and he was the first to admit that having taken over from Nicholas Roeg who had left the project, he had little idea what he was going to do with the film. With a soundtrack by Queen (for whom he would direct a couple of videos) and a cast that included Max Von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton and of course Brian Blessed uttering the line, ‘Gordon’s Alive!’ that would forever be associated with the actor ( we worked with him many years ago and he loved bellowing the line whenever asked!) . The film made a modest $27m worldwide but became something of a cult classic. By now his choice of film genre was really going off at a tangent with the helming of comedy duo Smith & Jones feature film, ‘Morons from Outer Space’ which the comedians had written themselves. It was rumoured to be a far from happy experience for both the comedians and director who reportedly clashed and the film was flop becoming something of a career low point for both Hodges and Smith & Jones
By now Hodges was divorced after 19 years of marriage and part of the reason for doing Morons had been financial as well as having struck a deal for his next film to be financed it never happened). But the experience left him re-evaluating his own work and lifestyle. Living in London’s Notting Hill and having a second home, a farmhouse in Dorset, a couple of cars , kids in private school and all manner of material goods affected his mind set and he rejected it all selling up his London home and eventually moving permanently to his Dorset farmhouse deciding to only helm projects that he wanted to do. It didn’t necessarily work out for him with 1987’s A Prayer for the Dying starring Mickey Rourke, Bob Hoskins, and Alan Bates a film which he later disowned having been barred from final edit and the film ultimately flopped earning a meagre $1.4m worldwide. It was the start of a run of bad luck with 1989’s ‘Black Rainbow’ a decent supernatural thriller that again failed due to the distributors falling into financial difficulties. This was followed by TV film ‘The Healer’ where he found himself clashing with writer G.F. Newman who was also producing and insisted that the production had vegetarian catering which was the least of several bigger issues Hodges had. But his run of bad luck continued with 1998’s ‘Croupier’ starring Clive Owen. Generally well regarded nonetheless the film bombed in the UK though did very well in the US earning a re-release in the UK. By which time he Mike Hodges decided to retire though he returned momentarily in 2003 to direct Clive Owen again in ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’. It was a return to the acclaim he had with Get Carter. But by then Hodges had had enough. Having remarried in 2004 he found contentment in his Dorset garden and would write a novel in 2010 and a collection of short stories in 2018.
We had the good fortune to work on one of his films back in the 1990’s and he was engaging company fiercely protective of his ideas and single minded often to the detriment of getting his own scripts financed. Sometimes irascible but always absorbing in any chat we had with him whether it be Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Hitchcock’s thrillers or his own work in different genres. His work had had something of a re-appraisal over the past twenty years and he was a director who should have been allowed to make far more films.
He died on December 17th 2022 aged 90 years old.