Michael Caine has enjoyed something of a renaissance over the last few years as he's managed to shed the image of a once fine actor who appeared in some dire flicks after peaking in the sixties and seventies. As he gives impressive performances as a more mature man it's great to look back at films such as this which showcase an iconic performance from Caine who is simply incredible as hormone-led narcissist Alfie.
Breaking the fourth wall Alfie speaks to us as actual viewers of the film, even commenting that he bets we're expecting to see the opening credits. In just a few lines he summarises his philosophy when it comes to his 'little birds' and how he views girls purely as objects to fulfil his desires before he moves on. He tells us about his various women and as he appears in their dreary lives we hear jaunty music and can't help but be taken in by his charm. When he talks to the audience, it's just between us and him, perhaps that's why it's so difficult to dislike someone who is clearly a vile character, you have a one-to-one relationship with him. He dedicates time to us, gives us his attention - makes an effort.
He only considers his own happiness, even after becoming a father. His mistress Gilda is a loving, doting mother - and yet he plays with her mind and tries to persuade her to 'sell' the child to a rich family. He convinces her that it's the best thing for the baby and plants the seed that he'll have to leave otherwise. Alfie always manages to sound as though he occupies the moral high ground and twists words to make his arguments sound reasonable in support of his personal agenda, he's a master of emotional blackmail. Soon though it's evident that Alfie is susceptible to the same emotions as the rest of us when he looks at his son and admits "becoming quite attached to him" - it's clear from the montage of the following years that he's a besotted dad. His son represents the only relationship which means anything to him and is perhaps the only other person on the planet who brings him any sense of fulfilment.
It's difficult to break the habit of a lifetime though and pretty soon he's back into the old swing of things. Alfie leaves behind him a string of damaged emotions and broken lives whilst winking at the camera and making cocky comments - to him it's just a game. He's a great observer of life, he analyses people's behaviour with pinpoint precision and perhaps that's how he manages to distance himself from involvement or responsibility, he is genuinely convinced that you have to please yourself in life because it's inherent human nature and the natural state of things.
The majority of the film takes place in London, it's a gritty 1960s which captures the reality of the time with post-war blocks of flats and cramped houses. It's not just the architecture either, modern ways of thinking sit alongside more traditional views about women and their place to portray a spectrum of ideas, you can almost feel the collective social momentum slowly pulling against the old fashioned.
This DVD doesn't contain any bonus features other than a theatrical trailer which looks very outdated (watch it after watching the film and you'll feel that it seriously undersells it!). But Alfie itself has one of the finest scripts ever written, the screenplay is an absolute masterpiece. The sharp writing and the accurate observations of life result in some genuinely funny moments. This isn't a comedy but there are some laugh out loud instances scattered throughout the film. This has dated - but not badly, the 60s feel of the film highlights how times have changed but each of the characters could still easily exist today - especially Alfie himself. Despite his actions throughout the film he is incredibly likeable and is surely one of cinemas greatest antiheroes. He rarely shows emotion but this classic delivers one of the bitterest of bitter-sweet endings and a moment where Alfie witnesses the aftermath of his frivolity is almost unbearable to watch - we see nothing other than his expression as he breaks down in tears.
In a nutshell: Despite his derogatory comments about women and his dismissive attitude concerning the feelings of anyone else, you'll always find little things to like about Alfie. Despite his carefree attitude he's only human and not invincible. This film charts the path of a man who is forced to re-evaluate his life and what he wants from it - you might not be convinced that he'd a completely changed man by the end of the film, but sometimes a bit of self reflection can lead to bigger things
on 10 January 2006
This superb and poignant film directed by Lewis Gilbert shows the 1960`s as if it had been documented in it`s own time capsule. Wonderful performances by all the actors and of course the late Vivien Merchant on top form and the wonderful Alfie Bass playing the part beautifully as the recuperating and unsuspecting husband. British Cinema at it`s best. A definite one to watch for all generations.
Meryl Heasman (songwriter)
on 12 February 2012
I've seen both the original version of Alfie with Michael Caine and the remake with Jude Law. I enjoy both perhaps in equal measure.
Amazingly Michael Caine, (Alfie) refers to women as "Girl," and even more shockingly as, "It." He is a true cockney character and I'm not sure how many characters are still out there in modern day London who would today fit his mould, (although obviously it is a film!)
Alfie appears to have no moral compass and is literally only interested in having a good time with the women of his life.
One moment, (which is repeated in the remake) is when towards the end of the movie he goes back to visit an older lady, (who he had met previously when he was taking photographs of tourists at Tower Bridge), and he discovers she has another man in her bedroom. He is shocked that she has chosen another man over him and asks why to which he is told that he is younger! (This same event happens in the remake too).
On the surface it appears that he is living an amazing life going from woman to woman but he ends up losing Gilda who he had a child, (Malcolm) with. She marrys a bus conductor who in her words she doesn't love but respects. (I presume the point being she loves Alfie but doesn't respect him. She doesn't want a, "Weekend father.")
While in hospital he meets the wife of a patient and after leaving hospital has an affair with her. She becomes pregnant and she has an abortion in Alfie's flat. Which is a very harrowing experience for the both of them. She is devastated and Alfie equally so.
At this point the viewer is thinking is Alfie going to change his ways? Yet as he waxes lyrical at the end of the film next to the river Thames it is left open as to what he will do next.
Caine's performance is fantastic and although the movie was made in 1965 it doesn't seem to have aged that much. What I would say is that a lot of the characters sound very British. (I.e. not how they would sound today in modern day Britain).
on 4 May 2005
London was swinging in 1966. Mod fashion and the mini skirt were in vogue, discos featured the sound of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Sean Connery starred in the latest James Bond 007 flick, drawing in crowds at the cinema, the counter culture was defining itself, the availability of medically prescribed contraceptives helped usher in the Sexual Revolution, even though Women's Lib was still a ways off - and Director Lewis Gilbert's "Alfie" was released. It turned out to be the most talked-about, controversial film of the year, launching Michael Caine as an international film star, and earning five Oscar nominations. Although "Alfie" is very much a period piece, I saw it again recently and was tremendously surprised at how well it holds up, especially in the context of its time.
Michael Caine's Alfie Elkins is the ultimate ladykiller, a sexual predator who approaches women and relationships the way a serial killer homes-in on a victim. He objectifies females, and many of his women are, indeed, victim-like in their neediness and vulnerability. This 30-something misogynistic, working-class, low-class playboy epitomizes narcissism, as he travels from "bird" to "bird," single women and married alike, without responsibility or care, and without malice. And then he moves on to his next conquest. Michael Caine is superb and very believable as the reckless lover with the Cockney accent. His hard-core arrogance and brutal honesty, (with his monologues to the audience), are chilling and, at times, funny - but we're talking about very dark humor. This is a cold and distant man. Not to get too deep into psychology here, but Michael Caine is able to bring the depth of a damaged person to his outwardly cool cad of a character.
The talented Mr. Caine couldn't pull-off this performance alone, however, so credit must be given to his supporting cast. Caine's counterparts are extremely credible, even by today's much more feminist and politically correct standards. These women are not Playboy Bunny types. A few of them are almost plain, and there is no cleavage except for the abundance of Shelly Winters.' Gilda (Julia Foster), is the working class woman, desperately in love with Alfie, who bears him a son out of wedlock. Although he states from the start that the baby is not his problem, he shows more affection to the child than he does to all his women combined. Vivien Merchant is excellent as Lily, the drab, lonely, married woman whom Alfie seduces and impregnates. She winds up having an abortion and, I must say, that the scenes surrounding this traumatic event are shocking in their emotional intensity, even in today's world. Annie, (Jane Asher) is the forlorn hitchhiker Alfie picks up and takes home to be his house maid, among other services. He winds up referring to her as "it." Shelly Winters is Ruby, the vulgar older woman who dumps Alfie for a younger man.
I watched a double feature of this 1966 version of "Alfie" with Michael Caine, and Alfie, 2005 with Jude Law. I was curious to compare the two movies. The only comment I will make here, because I believe it is pertinent, is that although I like Jude Law as an actor, the remake is nowhere near as effective as the original - which I highly recommend.
on 8 May 2010
Great movie. Very well acted and utterly enjoyable. More than can be said for the quality of the picture.
It appears no attempt has been made to enhance the picture quality and its so poor, it's annoying to watch.
In dark scenes there are lines running down the screen as if the recording has been made by pointing a camera at a TV screen!
Certainly not up to broadcast standards and even worse than my original Alfie VHS cassette tape.
on 18 May 2009
Great film, the original and still the best.
I saw this film when it was first released in the sixties and have also seen the recent remake - no comparison. Micheal Caine is at his best here . well worth buying.
on 6 July 2003
Michael Caine is brilliant as Alfie. He is funny, cocky, likeable and at times chilling. An absolute commitment-phobe who causes mayhem and pain to the women in his life. Fascinating to watch for the sixties London locations, AND the sixties attitudes towards women. Never get tired of watching this one!
On the surface, Lewis Gilbert's famous 1966 film with its tale (based on Bill Naughton's play) of carefree philanderer (and cockney geezer) Alfie Elkins could be viewed very much as a film of its time, what with Otto Heller's snappily shot and evocative visual take on swinging sixties' London, plus Sonny Rollins' superb jazz soundtrack, but in fact its (OK fairly obvious) themes around masculinity, sexual promiscuity and lack of responsibility are arguably just as relevant today (despite what some of us 'modern men' might think!). Of course, Michael Caine in the lead role is, well, Michael Caine and this role, arguably more than any other - the film being sandwiched between two of his Harry Palmer portrayals in the Ipcress File and Funeral In Berlin, and predating his turn in The Italian Job by three years - established him as the archetypal London geezer, or stereotype, some might say (though Caine did, admittedly, broaden his 'acting palette' in later years).
The other context in which to consider Alfie is as part (albeit at the tail end) of the series of British New Wave films, which included the likes of Room At The Top, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life, although whilst Alfie has many things in common with such films (notably a working class, philandering anti-hero at its core), Alfie undoubtedly treats its serious underlying themes with a lighter, more comedic (maybe more Del Boy-like) touch. In fact, if one were being very (and unreasonably, I would say) harsh, it would also be possible to liken Alfie's tales of seduction of 'anything in a skirt' (or, preferably, out of it, ho, ho) - including a chiropodist, dry cleaning manageress (so he can get his snappy suits done at the same time), nurse, hitch-hiker and good friend's wife - as being a precursor to the Confessions Of.... series of films.
Gilbert's tale, though, has a good deal more cinematic flare than any such films. As well as featuring a, by turns, corny but often very funny script and some quite novel visual touches (most notably the approach of having Alfie narrate goings-on straight to camera), the film also includes a number of moments of poignant and moving seriousness as Alfie is brought up short, by, in succession, a taste of parenthood, his own mortality, being confronted with the distastefully real consequences of his actions (in the excellent sequence with Vivien Merchant's married woman, Lily Clamacraft) and, finally, being duped himself by Shelley Winters' mature 'woman of the world', Ruby. At the film's denouement, we are left with the impression that Alfie might perhaps follow a rather more considered trajectory for his future lifestyle, consigning his cynical, sexist, irresponsible past to the scrap heap (or maybe not?).
"Alfie," released in 1966, is considered one of the most famous, influential movies of that decade. It's credited with being a classic study of the 60's, and introducing London to the world, just as it began to swing. Also with making a big name of its star, Michael Caine, although by this time Caine had already starred in The Ipcress File [DVD] , and stolen Zulu  [DVD], a dandy war movie, out from under Stanley Baker. No matter, "Alfie" is still considered the sexy, handsome young Caine's star-making turn. The part, that of a London cockney lad about town, is one he was born to: he was, in fact, born to be a Covent Garden barrow boy, as was his father before him.
Alfie (Caine) is a London limo driver, a job that enables him to meet girls, girls, girls, and he does. Uses them, abuses them, moves on. The movie's based on the stage play of the same name by Bill Naughton, who adapted it for the screen, and was directed by Lewis Gilbert. It won five Oscar nominations, seven other awards, and 16 more miscellaneous nominations. Terence Stamp, cockney himself, and possibly the handsomest man alive at that time, was playing the title role on Broadway, but refused the movie, as he thought it "too immoral." Filmed on location in London and environs, Naughton "opened up" the play by adding many Thames-side scenes, making the mighty river another, mood-setting, reminding-us-of-eternity, character. Denholm Elliott has one unforgettable scene; Sydney Tafler and other cockney types provided Caine with excellent support; some of the women in Alfie's life were played by Shelley Winters, Jane Asher, Shirley Anne Field, Vivien Merchant, and Eleanor Bron.
When the movie first opened, it was accompanied only by a jazzy Sonny Rollins score. To sweeten things up a bit, the famous, award-winning song, "What's It All About, Alfie," was commissioned from Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The song, done by Cher for the American market, and Cilla Black for the English, was spliced into the movie. (Of course, Dionne Warwick had the big hit with it, on both sides of the Atlantic.) The song, however, is not an accurate summation of the movie, as it is generally considered. The song famously asks, "Is it just for the moment we live? Are we meant to take more than we give?" Well, Alfie, as Caine plays him, knows that he's been trying to live only for the moment, and that he's been taking far more than he's been giving, and he knows where it's gotten him.
He knows that he dislikes women -- calls them "birds," and occasionally, jarringly, "it." But he knows their power. He knows he has no education, money or position, and a woman such as the doctor Eleanor Bron plays has no interest in him. He knows he's alone, and getting older; were he to forget, Shelley Winters, in the part she was born to play, a rich American, is there to remind him. He knows that he's lost two sons, one by a second-stringer of his who married a nice man to get the support she needed. One by the character played by the greatly-admired Vivien Merchant, a married woman who feels an abortion is necessary.
The scene where Alfie recognizes just what abortion means is the most powerful in the movie. "You reap what you sow," is the lesson he's forced to relearn, and it's a painful one. At the end of the movie, he stands and faces the camera, says he's gotten the better of the many women in his life, and yet, they've moved on, presumably to happiness, and he has nothing, not even his "peace of mind." Our Alfie has been forced to learn what it's all about.
on 24 July 2002
Out on DVD for the first time is this movie which not only became one of the best in Michael Caine's stolid career, but also made waves as a solid English comedy-drama of the new wave of the Sixties.
Released in 1966 and directed by the evergreen Lewis Gilbert, "Alfie" follows the exploits of a young cockney man-about-town getting about, and finding his way through more girls than a six-pack!
Whilst many would declare this to be plain od fashioned sexism, i do not. Although it is true to say that a lot of what Alfie says and does in his relationships was plainly sexist by any standards, this only served to show the shallowness in his character whilst trying to find the answer of what it's really all about. A shallowness that came abruptly up on its heals when one relationship in particular goes badly wrong. This is a real taste of Sixties England, when women really did still come second best to men , and it was quite normal for the guys to get their way whenever they liked. It was a mans' world despite the Sixties Pap, and between them Gilbert and Caine captured it exactly.
Caine's performance in particular was cool, well thought out and extremely professional, and i have forever been at a loss as to why it didn't earn for him an Oscar.
If you like dramas and have never seen this movie before, then try it, you won't be disappointed. If however, like most of us you have seen it before this new release onto DVD will do you proud, just as it does for the film itself.
But who, i hear you ask, is singing the title song. True, it's not Dionne Warwick or Cilla Black. It's actually Millicent Martin who makes a breif appearance at the beginning and end of the film. Typical movie biznis, the girl who actually sand the number in the film doesn't even get remembered for it!