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Alfie (1966)

Whats it all about... Alfie.

Directed by:

Lewis Gilbert

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 114 minutes

US Certificate: Approved UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United Kingdom

The Michael Caine who plays ‘Alfie’ is the Michael Caine that countless impersonators have based their send-ups on. He’s all hard stares and firm Cockney brogue, pointing right at the camera and telling us what his name is. It’s fantastic to watch.

Alfie, of course, isn’t the nicest bloke in the world. His life is spent leaping from one woman’s bed to the next, treating none of them particularly kindly, and then bragging about it to us, the audience. When one of his many ladyfriends (Julia Foster) gives birth to their sprog, his advice to her is “you shouldn’t let yourself get too attached to him.” And later, when biscuit woman Jane Asher makes him a lovely helping of steak and kidney pie, he chucks the whole lot against a wall (presumably because he was hoping for a packet of Hob-Nobs, what with her being Asher and all).

In short, Alfie’s a complete sod – but stories about sods are often the most interesting. He starts the film thinking himself almost untouchable, crowing arrogantly about the joys of a bachelor’s life and sneering at those he meets who want anything more. But then things start to go slowly wrong: a doctor diagnoses him as having “shadows” (I think Cliff Richard might have come down with that once) and he’s forced to organise a back-street abortion when he gets a friend’s missus (Vivien Merchant) pregnant. What’s it all about? By the end of the film, he seems none the wiser.

It’s Caine’s performance rather than the film itself that sticks with me the most. I’m not always a fan of seeing characters talk to the camera, but Caine proves it’s a skill that when handled correctly can really turn a decent movie into a truly memorable one. There’s one scene in particular where he flits repeatedly between talking to us and talking to his doctor (Eleanor Bron), and it’s fascinating to watch him switch from one conversation to the other, the doc wholly unaware that each time she speaks she’s actually interrupting his latest diatribe.

It’s perhaps telling that the film was nominated for five Oscars, but won none of them. At times it seems more a showcase for Caine’s talent rather than a piece of entertainment in its own right, and with that in mind it’s probably spot-on that it gained recognition at the time without quite being accepted as one of the very best. For Caine’s career as a major star, this was only the beginning.

It's Got: Denholm Elliott as a creepy abortionist.

It Needs: To perhaps do without the over-long comedy bar brawl.

DVD Extras Just a trailer. What’s THAT all about?? DVD Extras Rating: 1/10

Alternatives:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (for another example of getting talking-to-the-camera right)., Alfie

Summary

Michael Caine proves he knows exactly what it’s all about, even if his character doesn’t.

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