Michael Caine is Alfie, a Cockney cad and a bounder who learns about love, life and more the hard way in 1960s London.
Alfie (1966) – Trailer, YouTube Movies and photos © Paramount Pictures.
The first impression of our leading character Alfie Elkins in the Alfie (1966) trailer is he’s a charming, lovable and comic scamp. It doesn’t last. The film tells of the anti-hero Cockney, working-class Alfie who never commits to anyone or anything in his life. Especially not the numerous married (and unmarried) ladies he’s bedded then discarded without a second thought.
Alfie talks to you the audience via the fourth wall. Narrating his story as you watch his many sexcapades with many women throughout this London based 1960s British movie. The film is based on Bill Naughton’s novel and play, which made it to Broadway with Terence Stamp in the titular role a few years before this movie.
On rewatching this film set in London in the 1960s, I found Alfie much more dislikeable, self-centred and selfish than the trailer suggests, in time slowly becoming a nicer bloke just before the ending credits ran. Alfie’s character arc in this dramatisation feels more of a dramedy on the perils of promiscuity, as our anti-hero lead finds out to his cost.
This 1960s film adaptation has Cockney born and bred Michael Caine as the confident and constantly cheating cad. Alfie giving us an uncensored, brutal but honest commentary via the fourth wall about the women – as “it” and “birds”- and his London life. This is one of the first of Caine’s more controversial roles (at the time) due to an illegal abortion storyline.
The film role was turned down by Richard Harris and Lawrence Harvey to name but two. However, this then daring role won Caine his first nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars. This film garnered a further four nominations at this ceremony.
The film starts in a nighttime scene, accompanied by a jaunty sixties jazz theme – but no opening credits – with a homeless dog crossing Waterloo bridge. Just so you don’t think you’ve switched on The Littlest Hobo (1979-85) in an origin story movie for this much-loved children’s TV canine.
This dog – now with another dog in tow – passes by a parked car with steamed-up windows. The amorous couple inside the car is in the throes of obvious passion. Their comic Cockney commentary giving us the lowdown of those illicit happenings. We learn afterwards she’s a married woman, Siddie (Millicent Martin) and he’s Alfie (Caine), her bit on the side.
Alfie’s with Siddie just for some no strings attached love making and her for an escape from her dull but attentive husband. Alfie feeling he’s doing this married woman a favour by sleeping with her. He promptly dumps her – not that she knows – after she invites him to a social do which she and her husband are attending.
He even boasts on his return home he has a “stand by” woman, this to the poor woman with who he lives. He believes she is on “the simple side”, he happily tells the fourth wall, and this adding to the nastiness of his character. Alfie living with unassertive yet loved up Gilda (Julia Foster). Gilda hopes for a commitment from him and willingly does his housework.
Gilda stays with him even though Alfie treats her badly. He never responds to her affectionate comments and belittles her feelings. He also cheats on her with others and treats her like crap. We learn almost immediately, that Alfie’s a dapper handsome young man, but a heartbreaker.
He has no love or respect for any of his women. Alfie likes sex and is happy to do it with women of all kinds be they young, old, attached and not attached.. as long as there’s no commitment or he has to declare love, he’s happy. His caddishness and cruelty are seen at their worst after Gilda learns that she’s pregnant.
He suggests an abortion but she wants to give the child up for adoption. Gilda later wants to keep their child and becomes more assertive with Alfie. Not that Alfie seems to care or notice – as a montage with a bevvy of 1960s babes shows – as he selfishly brags to us how the women in his life not only serve to help meet his needs sexually but will willingly treat his corns or dry clean his suits.
Alfie bonds slowly with their child, Malcolm. He even begins to become close to Malcolm in his early life, but still shows no signs of settling down with Gilda. Gilda is wooed by a loved up bus conductor neighbour Humphrey (Graham Stark). She marries Humphrey rather than wait for Alfie to respect, love her and marry her.
Humphrey offers to be a full-time father to her son and respects her. Gilda cuts Alfie out of their child’s life. However, things continue to look bleak for Alfie, as after talking with a doctor he learns he has tuberculosis with a shadow on his lung. He’s advised to rest and he collapses from the shock of this news and the strain of Gilda’s refusal to let him see their son.
Alfie recuperates in the country hospital making friends with his bedside neighbour Harry (Alfie Bass) and his wife, Lily (Vivien Merchant). Alfie still catches the eye of the nursing staff. It’s implied one nurse Carla (Shirley Anne Field) willingly meets all his needs during visiting time.
Harry confronts Harry on his womanising. Alfie cruelly suggests to Harry the devoted Lily has been unfaithful to him. On Alfie’s discharge, he continues his friendship with Harry. After giving Lily a lift home one day he sleeps her on their way home from the hospital.
Simultaneously -after taking up a new job as a chauffeur – Alfie picks up a young redhead, hitchhiker Annie (Jane Asher). Annie, left Yorkshire coming to London to get over a breakup. Annie moves in and sleeps with Alfie, washes his clothes, cleans and cooks for him.
This latter behaviour bordering on obsessive according to Alfie. He states her zealousness in her housework is apparently in penance for her unrequited feelings for her ex-boyfriend. She’s dumped after his friends in the pub tell him he’s put on weight since meeting her.
During this time, Alfie charms and beds a brash American older woman, Ruby (Shelley Winters). This woman wants the same as him from relationships, that is no commitment and uncomplicated sex. This making them the ideal pair.
However, Alfie in time shows romantic feelings for her than the others. Even if it’s in the way he warmly calls her a “sexpot”. This is a new feeling to him and it even surprises himself (and us) that he wants to settle down with her. At this time he also learns the still hospitalised Harry’s wife Lily is pregnant from their fling. These and other events act as a wake-up call to this cad.
Caine acts in a brutal, uncaring way as a remorseless cad for much of this movie. His character speaks candidly to the fourth wall, like you his companion and accepting of his behaviours. Speaking in a matter of fact way about his behaviours, he has apparently no insight into his bastard like behaviour or its effect on others. His character appears unaware of the hurt he causes others. This hurt is heard in Gilda, Annie or Harry’s voice.
Gilda is hurt as does not respect her or provide his child with the full-time father (and husband) she wants. Harry is hurt as Alfie talks of his wife meeting someone else after his death.
As Alfie talks about the women in his life, and unthoughtful and callous behaviour seen towards Gilda and Lily and the others shows it’s all about sex to him, nothing more. He is all too willing to sleep with them, but not to take responsibility for the consequences of this. This is seen in his impersonal and cruel comments about these women and his behaviour with them.
Yet, you wonder if this bravado is an act. His apparent upset seen on observing Gilda with her newborn child and Humphrey with Malcolm seems at odds with his initial behaviours. It is seen that Alfie cares more for his children (both born and unborn) than the women he created them with.
After his health scare, Alfie instead of reflecting on his behaviour still manages to sleep with a nurse (while she’s at work!) and betrays his friend, Harry by making love to his wife. This encounter with Lily appears to be a one-off impulsive moment, after giving her a lift home after visiting her husband at the hospital. He’s also happy to be an older woman’s toyboy, and he still plays the field (yet he can’t accept her sleeping with others).
Alfie’s character slowly changes towards the end of the film. This is as he begins to develop feelings for Ruby, even buying her flowers. He even shows a caring side to his nature as he supports Lily in the illegal abortion of their child. Even if he doesn’t admit to the child being theirs with the abortionist, he still pays for the abortion. (Denholm Elliott appearing in a small unforgettable and chilling role as the man who induces this unwanted pregnancy.)
Caine showing these conflicting sides to this more complex character has us hating Alfie one moment, and feeling sympathy for him the next. You hope for a happy ending for Alfie, where having learnt from his previous behaviours he becomes a better man.
Especially after seeing him as more vulnerable during the abortion scenes and apparently caring towards Ruby. This feeling heightens after he sees Gilda and his child, Malcolm with Humphrey and their new baby. These later events make this now lonely man question his behaviour.
But having seen the trailer for the sequel with Alan Price as Alfie, he’s bizarrely – and sadly – now the subject for what appears to be a seventies sex comedy. In this sequel – Alfie Darling (1975) – Alfie apparently hasn’t moved on from those womanising days. It appears Alfie is now bedding a bunch of lovelies including Joan Collins, Rula Lenska, Hannah Gordon and Jill Townsend.
Both the original Alfie film and this 1970s portrayal of the character were written by Naughton. It was a surprise to learn of the content of this sequel movie and see this character’s apparent regression to his earlier lifestyle. Although more shockingly he does appear to declare love to one woman.
Both these films were then given an unwanted reboot – or a third in the trilogy – with Jude Law in Alfie (2004). This is a film, I’ve seen and not enjoyed as I feel this updated film loses a lot of the punch of the original time, place and attitudes. But both these later “Alfie” movies are not a patch on the original Michael Caine one, as Alfie, Alfie Darling is not the man you thought he was.
Weeper Rating: 😦😦😦😦😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂/10
This post was added to Taking Up Room‘s The Third Broadway Bound Blogathon. Michael Caine stars in 5 films from the 70s and 80s, The Swarm and his tag is HERE with many more of his movies. He also features as the subject of my blogathons. Denholm Elliott stars in Madame Sin, Quest For Love, Voyage of the Damned and A Room with a View. Julia Foster stars in Half a Sixpence and Jane Asher in Henry VIII and His Six Wives and Death at a Funeral. Millicent Martin stars in Frasier and Glitter. Shelley Winters starred in Buona Sera Mrs Campbell, He Ran All the Way, The Poseidon Adventure and The Devil’s Daughter. She also features in my Blogathon HERE.