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  Alfie Cockney Casanova
Year: 1966
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Stars: Michael Caine, Shelley Winters, Millicent Martin, Julia Foster, Jane Asher, Shirley Anne Field, Vivien Merchant, Eleanor Bron, Denholm Elliott, Alfie Bass, Graham Stark, Murray Melvin, Sydney Tafler, Tony Selby
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Right, you all settled in? Then we can begin. His name is Alfie (Michael Caine), and he's what you might call a lothario, considering himself something of an expert in women and how to pick them up. And of course, how to let them go when they start to get too close: take Siddie (Millicent Martin), he's just been having a bit of fun with her in his car tonight, she's a married woman so Alfie's advice about picking them up is to make them laugh - don't try that too often with the single girls or a laugh could be all you'll get. But she wants him to meet her husband, always a bad sign, so he knows when to back off...

The film that made Michael Caine an international star wasn't this controversial comedy drama, it was The Ipcress File which had sent his profile into the world's attention the year before, though when he was Oscar nominated for Alfie, it sent him on a course of fame, recognition and success that never fell away for him. Even into his seventies, he was appearing in blockbusters and with prominent billing, not to mention headlining his own films, and for that we can look to the impression he made with efforts such as this. There are some very good performances in Alife, but it was Caine who everyone recalled most vividly.

No wonder, as Bill Naughton's script, adapted from his hit stage play, revolves around the character so much so that even though we can see he is pretty reprehensible, there were few who would condemn him outright. If anything, Caine was too good in the role, with his final comeuppance nothing that the audience gloats over as perhaps they should have, but actually feels sorry for the heel who has nobody but himself to blame for his troubles. It could be that the reason we sense a companionship with him is that he spends the movie chatting away to us, breaking the fourth wall in a manner not seen since Groucho Marx fired off his asides to us back in the thirties, and with similarly humorous effect.

There's no getting away from it, Alfie is a seriously charming fellow, which at least explains how he has all these women at his beck and call. Women like Gilda (Julia Foster), who he has recently got pregnant, not that he's planning to hang around for much longer after the baby is born as he encourages her to give the infant up for adoption, even though - as time skips on swiftly in this story - once she gives birth he finds himself growing attached to the little guy. This, to him, is more evidence that he must not have any emotional ties, and soon he has seen to it that Gilda has support in the form of bus conductor Humphrey (Graham Stark), a meek sort who is in love with her though she simply "respects" him.

So Alfie gets away again, and moves on to the next "bird", all of whom he refers to as "it" rather than she, as if he doesn't consider them quite real as people. He is given pause when the doctor tells him he has an ailment ("Shadders on me lungs?!") and has to rest at a sanatorium, but this simply gives him the excuse to seduce the nurses and make a play for the wife of the sad figure of Harry (Alfie Bass), who is in the bed next to him and has been ground down by life in a way that the protagonist can barely comprehend. Lily (Vivien Merchant) spends the day with him while her husband recuperates, and one thing leads to another, which in turn builds up to that comeuppance (and a superbly seedy one scene appearance from Denholm Elliott). The truth of it is, you get the impression that while the film wants Alfie to change his ways, it doesn't want him to change so much that he loses his roguish glamour, which leaves the story pulling in two directions. It is saved by the brilliant lead performance, though. Music by Sonny Rollins.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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