So far on this blog British cinema has primarily given us either historical biographies or literary adaptations. That all changed in the decade known in Great Britain as the swinging sixties. One film that perfectly exemplified that time period was Lewis Gilbert’s Alfie which featured a breakout performance from a man named Michael Caine.
The film sees Caine portray the titular ladies’ man with the narrative allowing him to constantly break the fourth wall in order to inform the audience about his many relationship rules. Though on the surface Alfie is a smooth-talker underneath he is as emotional as the rest of us and throughout the film he learns lots of life lessons. He becomes a father however the mother of his son chooses a more dependable father figure, he is sent to a rest home after the doctor finds a shadow on his lung and he also forces one of his married lovers to have an abortion in what is probably the film’s most shocking scene. The film comes full circle as he rejected by the much older Ruby, played with gusto by Shelly Winters, when he discovers she has a new lover who is younger than he is. The end line is the one most associated with the film as the character asks us ‘What’s it All About?’ followed by the title theme sung by either Cher or Cilla Black depending on which version you watched.
Alfie is certainly an unusual film as far as the 1960s go as the character is constantly addressing the audience and also there are no title credits as Caine tells us ‘this is where you’d expect the titles to be’ instead we have an elaborate end credit sequence featuring pictures of both cast and crew members. I have to say the character of Alfie did take a while to settle into because at the end of the day he is a bit of an ass and treats women as objects often referring to them as ‘it’. However Caine is such a charismatic presence that he is able to carry this off for the most part especially in the more dramatic moments when Alfie has a breakdown or sees the aborted foetus of his married lover. Otto Heller’s cinematography shows a bustling London where everybody is dressed smartly however director Lewis Gilbert combines this with an underbelly of backstreet terminations and pub brawls. I feel that Alfie is a much different film than the ones we’ve watched before, especially those that have been tasked with presenting Britain in a certain way, and I have to say it is refreshing to see a film that is so brutally honest in a presenting a character who isn’t totally likeable. Overall a unique film with a superb lead performance, some stunning cinematography and a cracking end credits sequence.