Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
In 1965's "The Ipcress File," Michael Caine as Harry Palmer made ordinary blokes with glasses seem as sexy in their own way as Sean Connery did in the James Bond films. In 1966, he won an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor in the title role of "Alfie," as a rake who outsmarts himself. Alfie fancies himself a man about town. He wants to be free and easy, but he's as trapped by the seduction game as any member of a chain gang. There's Ruby (Shelley Winters), a plump older woman who grows tired of him. There's Annie (Jane Asher), who loves him but cuts her losses when she sees him as he really is. There's Siddie, Gilda, Carla, and then there's Lily (Vivien Merchant), the most unassuming of them all. Lily doesn't understand Alfie's games, but gets dragged into them anyway, partly because of her own sad life, but mostly because Alfie believes he doesn't care whether he hurts her or not. He simply doesn't consider the possibility that the consequences of his actions might be irreparably devastating. The truth shatters and changes them both forever.
The unique thing about Michael Caine as Alfie is that he isn't strong (he spends time in hospital) or drop-dead-gorgeous, nor is his technique anything special. He simply does what he does because he doesn't think about it. We know that, because he speaks to the audience all through the film. We see and hear what he does and says, not with the self-knowledge that he will have after 114 minutes, but with the limited (and frankly, untested) insight that he has as he makes one mistake after another. Merchant, who also won an Oscar nomination, is immeasurably touching as the lonely wife of Alfie's fellow patient, and Denholm Elliot's career went into high gear after he played a sleazy doctor here: He would remain constantly employed until his death in 1992. Caine has the lion's share of screen time, after a full decade of slogging around the industry in small parts. Few deserve stardom as much, or sustain it as well as he does. Caine continues to grow as an actor with every role and I've yet to see him coast through a performance. It all started with this film. If he could reveal the aching humanity in "Alfie," he could and would do the same for any character, however sterling or reprehensible.
© 2000 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 4/5/00
"Movie Magazine International" Movie Review Index
"Movie Magazine International" Home Page