Photography: Sarah Lee/The Guardian
Mike Hodges, the British director known for films like Get Carter, Croupier, The Terminal Man and Flash Gordon, has died at the age of 90.
Mike Kaplan, longtime friend and producer of Hodges’ latest feature, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, confirmed his death to the Guardian. Hodges died on Saturday at his home in Dorset. He has not been given a cause of death.
Hodges’ career ended with British gangster films: Get Carter (1971) and Pulp (1972), then Croupier (1998) and his last film I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003). He was also known for his campy cult classic Flash Gordon.
Related: How We Made Flash Gordon – by Brian Blessed and Mike Hodges
Born in Bristol in 1932, Hodges first worked as a chartered accountant, then spent two years serving on a Royal Navy minesweeper in fishing ports in the north of England. It was there that “witness[ed] appalling poverty and deprivation that I was unaware of before,” an experience he later said he informed Get Carter. “I entered the navy as a newly qualified accountant and compliant young Tory,” he wrote in a letter to the Guardian, “and came out an angry radical young man.”
Hodges entered show business as a teleprompter operator in British television, where he was able to observe how television was made. He started writing screenplays and soon his talent saw him move into producing and directing news and documentary series. He wrote, directed and produced two thrillers for the ITV Playhouse, entitled Rumor and Suspect, in 1969 and 1970, which led to his being approached to adapt Ted Lewis’ novel Get Carter.
Related: Get Carter’s Review – Michael Caine delivers a chilling crime classic
Set in a working class setting in Northern England, Michael Caine plays the titular London gangster who seeks his own form of justice after his brother is killed in Newcastle. Released in 1971, Get Carter was a smash hit and was soon regarded as England’s answer to The Godfather. The following year, Hodges and Caine reunited for their next film, Pulp, which saw Caine play an author who is asked to write the memoirs of an aging actor famous for playing gangsters (Mickey Rooney), and suspected to have links with reality. gangster. When the actor is killed, Caine’s character goes on the hunt for the killer.
Hodges’ 1974 film The Terminal Man was a loose adaptation of a novel by Michael Crichton, in which a computer scientist goes on a rampage after electrodes are inserted into his brain. The film did poorly in the US due to distribution problems, but earned Hodges the admiration of Stanley Kubrick, who called the film “amazing,” and Terrence Malick, who wrote to Hodges, “Just got back from seeing The Terminal Man and I want you to know what a magnificent and overwhelming image it is…. Your images make me understand what an image is and.” Malick’s letter was later used in an advertisement for the film.
Hodges co-wrote and was set to direct the 1978 horror film Damien: Omen 2 but left the project after three weeks on set. Hodges said a producer pulled out a loaded gun and placed it on the table during a heated conversation about budgets. “I found it very scary, I must confess. The whole film was very menacing,” he told the Guardian in 2003. “I never should have gone through that film in the first place. I needed the money and the whole thing was a disaster. The gun was accidental.”
Hodges then made the space opera Flash Gordon in 1980, having been brought on board after director Nicolas Roeg left the project. “I had no idea what I was going to do when I took over,” he told the Guardian in 2020. “I think that’s part of the success of the film. It’s like a soufflé. We managed to put in all the right ingredients and somehow it rose, in some mysterious way.
It was around this time that Hodges “rejected materialism in any excessive form”, having undergone a divorce which he said “partly came from the struggle to maintain a way of life for the family”.
“I found myself doing all the things I swore I’d never do,” he said in 2003. in every room… once all the economic pressures and worries are removed, you immediately feel freer. And then you can start making the movies you really want to make.
Related: ‘I was angry’ – Mike Hodges on his lost film Black Rainbow saved after 31 years
He directed Mickey Rourke’s 1987 thriller A Prayer for the Dying but later disowned it, saying he had no control over the editing. His 1989 film Black Rainbow, starring Rosanna Arquette as a mysterious medium who catches the eye of a reporter when she appears to be predicting a violent murder, didn’t make much impact when its distributors fell into financial trouble. “By the time I made Black Rainbow I was kind of used to it,” Hodges told the Guardian in 2020. “I was quite upset, obviously, but here we go. One of those things.
His 1998 film Croupier, starring Clive Owen as a dealer in a gambling den who is then forced to rob it, bombed in the UK. Hodges thought her career was over and she decided to retire. But the film played in the US to rave reviews and its success earned it a second UK release. “You think your movie is going to the bathroom and then it freezes. And then it comes back again,” she told the Guardian in 2003.
Hodges came out of semi-retirement to reunite with Owen in his last film in 2003, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, with Owen playing a criminal bent on revenge after the rape of his younger brother (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) by of a London Gangster (Malcolm McDowell). The Guardian called the film “surprisingly bleak; a no-nonsense existential gangster story that, at best, exudes the same reptilian menace [Hodges] shown on Get Carter. It certainly touches on similar themes: honour, revenge, male violence».
Hodges experienced a belated burst of appreciation in the last two decades of his life, as his films that were hit with distribution problems in the 1970s and 1980s were restored and re-released. “He’s a rare character in British cinema, and I’m just glad he’s getting some recognition,” McDowell, a longtime friend of Hodges, told the Guardian in 2003. “I’m pissed it’s taken 35 years, but this is typical of England.We never realize what we have until it’s almost too damn late.
But Hodges had no plans to return to films and said in 2020 that he was happy growing vegetables in his Dorset home and writing noir novels; she published a novel, Watching The Wheels Come Off, in 2010, and a collection of short stories, titled Bait, Grist and Security, in 2018.
He is survived by his wife, Carol Laws, his children Ben and Jake, and five grandchildren, Marlon, Honey, Orson, Michael and Gabriel.
• This article was edited on December 21, 2022 to correct a misspelling of Clive Owen’s surname.