Mickey King (Michael Caine) is a writer; he used to be a funeral director but felt he had more to offer the world of literature so left his wife and children behind to travel to the Continent and follow his muse. Of course, it wasn't exactly highbrow stuff he was penning, and for that matter he wasn't typing them out either, as he found it far easier to dictate his books to a dictaphone and have a secretary transcribe them. And don't go thinking you've never heard of this Mickey King, because all of his books are paperback fiction published under an array of pseudonyms, doing very well for him across the globe. But now a screen legend (Mickey Rooney) wants him to ghostwrite his memoirs...
And that's where the trouble begins for Mickey, as his life turns into the equivalent of one of his novels, a notion that has served spoofs both on the screen and on the page for many decades, but was rarely so straightfaced as it was here. There are those who don't realise this is a comedy at all, and sit through it in stony silence, and to be fair it's more often than not the type of film that prompts wry smiles rather than blasts of hilarity, but the gags are there, you simply have to seek them out. Naturally, the touchstone for all this is Raymond Chandler's detective fiction, so Caine narrates throughout, sometimes not entirely in line with what we are seeing in front of us, which adds to the confusion.
Confusion, bafflement, obfuscation, it's all here, and you could be forgiven for reaching the end of the story and still not be wholly sure why any of this happened to Mickey, although he does offer a couple of near-throwaway lines at the end that tie things together. Adding to the sense of film noir was a cast that featured three somewhat past it stars from that era, although Rooney was not known for his thrillers, but Lizabeth Scott was, even if she didn't essay the femme fatale role here she still alluded to that kind of fiction by her very presence. The other star from those golden years was Lionel Stander, by now having carved out his own niche of brash Americans in movies from around the world.
Somehow, the characters these three play know all about what is going on, but Mickey, who after a while realises his life is in danger, does not. He is told to meet with a contact on a trip to the sun which turns out to be a coach party full of less than glamorous tourists, but he does indeed encounter someone he thinks is there to explain all to him, a chap called Miller (Al Lettieri) who is clasping one of Mickey's books. Except that Miller is apparently oblivious to Mickey's hints and coaxing, and may not know anything about the plot at all: it's difficult for the author to tell as soon after their meeting, and a mix-up with their hotel rooms, Miller is found by the writer dead in the bath.
Pulp was the second collaboration Caine and director Mike Hodges made after the worldwide success of Get Carter, and although it had a similar structure, the results could not have been more different. This was no capable tough guy cutting a swathe through a gangster subculture, it was a stumbling jumble of bemusement clinging onto any scraps of reason thrown his way: he's trying to hold it together in his tinted glasses and white suit that he never seems to take off, but this was not Caine being ice cool as he had been in that previous effort. This could be why Pulp was not embraced by the kind of fans who liked to see their movie stars in control in their vehicles, as Caine is sending himself up here, though not in an over the top or camp manner that might signal it. Rooney almost steals the film as a ghastly parody of himself, but he's not in it for too long, leaving Caine's deadpan exasperation with the disparity between his exotic books and his actual experience the overriding mood and a film that asks you to go to it instead of having it bound up to you. Music by George Martin.
British director, from television, with an interesting take on crime movies. His first film was the gritty, gangster cult Get Carter, but the offbeat follow-up Pulp was not as successful. The Terminal Man was a Hollywood science fiction thriller, and Flash Gordon a gloriously over-the-top comic book epic which showed Hodges' good humour to its best effect.