Alfie (1966) Poster


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Classic study of 60s manners
wrenster13 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I only realised last night that I had not seen Alfie all the way through, but I'm glad I did now. This was a real eye-opener, not only from a historical point of view but also proof once again that Michael Caine is a British treasure, and one of the screen greatest actors.

I read the script for the original play a few years ago and found that I totally disliked the character of Alfie. But seeing Caine playing the role, and although I didn't like his whole attitude to women (calling them "it"), you cannot but like him. Caine plays the cheeky chappy so well that it's no wonder women would fall for his charm.

But the true taste of the pudding is the scene after the abortion, when Alfie enters the kitchen. A truly emotional sequence that shows the true power of Caine's acting ability.

It was also an interesting study of life in 60s London. Not the swinging, hippy sixties of Carnaby Street that is so often shown in most 60s London films. And as a piece of historical social study, you can't get better than this.
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More than a comedy
andrew715 January 2002
Watching this marvellous film again last night, I began to think about how peculiar that a film which has so severely dated in so many respects still manages to say something profound today. In certain respects, this film just couldn't be done today. First of all, gender roles have changed a great deal, and many of Alfie's "birds" simply wouldn't be plausible in a modern film. Second of all, sex has changed so much. Back in the 80s, we had plenty of films (usually bad ones) which took a similarly cavalier attitude toward sex, but that's a relic of a simpler, pre-HIV world that's gone forever.

But "Alfie" still manages to say something, even to a modern audience. On one hand, it's got a very funny script, and Michael Caine plays Alfie with such an infectious charm that it's impossible not to smile. But also, there's a deeper layer of meaning to the film. "I never mean to hurt anyone," Alfie says. "I know," says Harry, "but you do." Alfie ignores this lovely and rare moment of real honesty, but the audience shouldn't, because the heart of the film is right here.

Alfie himself is such a fascinating character. At first, he seems like simply a rogue, a rascal. But there's a helluva lot going on under the surface. His deep, deep insecurities, his tragic loneliness (he wouldn't see it that way, naturally), his pathological inability to have a real relationship with anyone. Especially his own son, whom he obviously loves very much.

While it's easy to see "Alfie" as a tragic story and feel sympathy for the character, it's important to hold onto the hatred. Alfie is a cruel, merciless, and heartless man. He is self-absorbed, utterly insensitive, and totally domineering. He cheerfully holds his "birds" to standards of loyalty he himself needn't bother with. He ruthlessly undermines the individuality and autonomy of everyone he is with, even when pretending to be a liberating force. Notice in his scenes with Gilda how his words sound as though he's endorsing freedom, independence, and self-determination, but the effect of those words is to keep her right under his thumb where she belongs. Alfie deserves our sympathy, yes, but he also deserves our hatred, loathing, and utter contempt.

Anyway, like the DVD box says, this is just a sweet, frothy little comedy, if you like, and it's very enjoyable as such. But, if you care to look deeper, there is so much more to behold. The tagline to "American Beauty" was "look closer", but all of its profound ideas and insights (if any) were plastered right across the screen. "Alfie" is a film which asks you to look closer, and it rewards the effort.
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Cheeky Cockney Chappy
foz-39 November 2000
This is one of Caines best films and proof that with the right material he can be a very good actor. The story is based on the popular 1960's British theme of human emotions and how the central character faces up to their shortcomings. Alfie, the character, is a dinosaur by today's standards, but there were, and still are men who behave in this way. The film broke new bounds at this time, particularly with the abortion scene. It is said that many cinema-goers walked out in disgust at this harrowing point in the film. How times change. Denholm Elliot's short performance as the sleazy abortionist is worth a mention here as it captures the filthiness of the moment perfectly.

In fact all the supporting roles are excellent. As a period 1960's piece, the film is almost flawless and Sonny Rollins' jazzy soundtrack is beautiful. The ending of the film is very moving with Caine summing up his life and the arty end credits being run whilst Cher sings Burt Bacharach's "Alfie" theme tune. Watch it and your views on life will change.
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An excellent introduction to Michael Caine's work
RubyVendetta15 November 1999
Having seen most of Michael Caine's work before, it was a pleasant surprise to see one of his first films. You can tell that it is one of his early roles and was not made with a large budget, but, as a good film should portray, it is quite clearly the quality of the script and the acting that outshines the sets and other superfluous aspects.

Caine's character is inherently unlikeable, but, he exudes such a strong charisma that one warms to him gradually. The films choice of supporting actress is also well done as they are controlled by Caine's character, but not upstaged.

The ending, for me is the key point in liking Caine's character, as without spoiling the film, the final scene, set against the Thames at night, is an outstanding piece of writing and direction.

Alfie is an excellent introduction to Michael Caine's work and, for all its flaws, it remains an outstanding film.
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Great period piece dealing with universal questions
loenk23 October 2004
This movie has long been one of my favorites. It is one of the few quintessentially "60's" movies, using filming methods that were quite unusual at the time (the direct dialogue between the main character and the audience, for example). While its style is clearly confined to that era, and England in particular, its subject matter is profoundly universal.

The subjects of love and devotion, or more accurately their opposites, philandering and infidelity, are treated with a unique sensitivity in the script. Michael Caine is at once both lovable and detestable, perfectly characterizing the age-old dynamic between the need for love and the need for physical pleasure. But this is not a feel-good movie, it is a movie that explores the difficult decisions that confront a person as they mature in both life and love, and it conveys the basic feelings that are present in all human beings, regardless of outward appearances.

I would recommend this as a thought-provoking exploration of human nature.
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A classic in any era.
ian-25620 February 2004
I have just managed to pick this film up on DVD for a bargain price for what is a classic in any era. The way the film is shot, Caine's acting and the music score just draw you in to Alfie's tale. The film does not hide from the grim consequences of Alfie's selfish life but at the end of it you feel sorry for him as his life is really empty as a result. A Film with a message & Caine is mesmerising in the lead role. Great soundtrack from Jazzman Sonny Rollins & the end theme by Burt Bacharach (and sung by Cher) is a classic ballad that leaves you in deep though after what you have seen ...
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Caine's star making role
rosscinema21 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
There were many films that capitalized on the mod-scene in London during the swinging 60's but very few of them have stood the test of time but this film remains as a solid reminder of how morals and ethics were starting to be portrayed in films and the main reason it still holds up is the unabashed performance of the lead. Story is about Alfie Elkins (Michael Caine) who is the ultimate ladies man in London and he seems not to just conquer his women but to own them as well. Even when living with someone he still keeps his options open and has a few ladies on the side from Gilda (Julia Foster) to the American Ruby (Shelley Winters) who is actually much like Alfie herself.


Alfie ends up getting Gilda pregnant and she eventually has a boy that he learns to care for but he doesn't have any aspirations of getting married and Gilda later marries another man. Alfie ends up in the hospital with an infection and while there he meets Lily (Vivien Merchant) who's the wife of his roommate and later starts an affair with her. He also meets a hitchhiker named Annie (Jane Asher) who tries to make him feel more domesticated but Alfie gets fed up and forces her to leave but he also gets Lily pregnant and helps her get an illegal abortion and it's at this point that Alfie starts to think about his life and where he's going.

This film is directed by Lewis Gilbert who is a very talented and respected director who would work with Caine again in the future with "Educating Rita". This script is from Bill Naughton and his play and at times the film has a stage feel especially when Caine turns to the camera and talks to the audience about his inner thoughts. The character Alfie is depicted in a brutally honest manner and the best way to describe him is either as a cad or a rogue but this is partly why Caine's performance is so riveting. Caine was a working actor but after this film was released it made him a worldwide star and gave him a celebrity status where he never had to look back. Caine's screen presence is part of his performance and the way he can look at the camera and stay in character can be hard to pull off but Gilbert's intuition in casting Caine was correct and ultimately vital to the film. This is Caine's first great performance and he does add many layers to his character from being incredibly selfish and cynical to moments of remorse and disgust of his own actions. The supporting cast is also excellent and actress Merchant is nothing short of memorable with her role as a vulnerable middle age woman. This film is almost 40 years old and was made when morals and ethics were being questioned and along with Caine's unflinching performance this still holds up very well after all these years.
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Deeper than it seems at first glance
Art Kaye (kayester)20 June 2003
This is a seriously good comedy. Michael Caine is delightfully saucy as the title character. He ought to seem a cad, and at times he is, but he takes his lumps too, and takes them in stride. The supporting cast is very effective, with especially excellent performances by Jane Asher, Shelley Winters and Millicent Martin. The camera work is also notable, and London serves as an effective backdrop. Definitely worth a look, and a reminder Michael Caine was as good then as he is now.
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The Dark Side of the Sexual Revolution
James Hitchcock30 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Caine made several good films in the sixties and early seventies, such as "Zulu", "The Ipcress File" and "Get Carter", but in my opinion "Alfie" is his best from this period, and only equalled among his later films by "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Educating Rita". It is set in what might be described as the kitchen sink end of swinging London. The anti-hero, Alfie Elkins, is a young working-class Cockney who works as a mechanic and driver for a car-hire company. In some respects the film looks back to the social-realist school of the late fifties and early sixties. Alfie is in some ways a very traditional character. He lives in the sort of drab, seedy flat familiar from "kitchen sink" realist films and hangs out in old-fashioned East End pubs rather than discos. He dresses smartly but conservatively, at one stage even sporting an RAF blazer. Not for him the long hair, sideburns, bell-bottom jeans, loud shirt and kipper tie which constituted the uniform of the sixties trend-setter.

In one respect, however, he is very different to the traditional social-realist hero. The "angry young men" from films such as "Look Back in Anger", "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner" and "Room at the Top" were characterised by anger and resentment against the Establishment. Resentment is an emotion quite alien to the happy-go-lucky Alfie, whose main preoccupation is not settling scores with "the system" but rather scoring with women. He is a practised seducer, and the film introduces us to a number of his conquests. The nearest thing he has to a steady girlfriend is Gilda, the mother of his young son Malcolm, but even she tires of his infidelity and refusal to commit to her. Eventually she leaves him to marry her long-time admirer, bus conductor Humphrey. Humphrey is everything Alfie is not; he is far from handsome, but is caring, faithful and deeply in love with Gilda. Alfie suffers a setback when he is taken into hospital with a suspected lung infection, but he is soon well enough again to go back to his old ways, taking advantage of Lily, the wife of a fellow-patient. Among his other victims are unhappily-married Carla, home-loving Northerner Annie, and wealthy older woman Ruby.

"Halliwell's Film Guide" describes the film as a "garish sex comedy", which strikes me as a misconception. Despite a certain superficial similarity in plot to the likes of "Confessions of a Window Cleaner", the film is actually a deeply serious one. Certainly, Alfie himself is a bit of a comedian who sees life as one big joke, always endeavouring to look on the bright side. Cheerfulness can in some cases be an admirable attribute, but in Alfie's case it goes hand-in-hand with a crass insensitivity to the problems and emotions of others. What he wants out of life is commitment-free relationships which will enable him to find sexual satisfaction with as many women as possible. Perhaps the most telling detail about his character is that he habitually refers to women as "it" rather than "she".

Only at the end of the film does it start to dawn on him that there might be more to life than a series of one-night stands, and he starts to ponder the question "What's it all about?" (The question is enshrined in the famous song which we hear at the end of the film as Alfie stands by the Thames pondering his future). There are three key moments in Alfie's gradual enlightenment. One comes when he wanders into a church where Gilda and Humphrey are having their first child baptised, and he realises that he is missing out on family life. Another comes when he discovers that Ruby has dumped him in favour of an even younger toyboy. For the first time he is being used in the way he uses others, and he doesn't like it. The most moving comes when, after Alfie has bullied Lily, whom he has got pregnant, into having an illegal abortion, he is shocked by the sight of his dead unborn child.

Caine gives one of his best performances as the cheerfully immoral hero, and he receives good support from a number of others, especially Vivien Merchant as the tragic Lily, Alfie Bass as her invalid husband Harry and Denholm Elliott as the cynical abortionist.

The film is firmly rooted in the working-class London of the mid-sixties, and reflects the Zeitgeist of that period. It was a time when the Pill was a recent invention, when the sexual revolution was just beginning but when older, conservative, attitudes towards sex were stronger than they are today. Although Alfie's conquests are played by some of the best-looking British actresses of the period, such as Shirley Anne Field, Julia Foster and Jane Asher, they are not mini-skirted dolly-birds, but basically old-fashioned girls, conservatively, even dowdily, dressed. All of them, except the sluttish Ruby, are looking for love rather than sex, and he is smart enough to know this and cynical enough to exploit it.

In some respects the film was a progressive one for its period, both in its stylistic devices, such as having the hero speak direct to camera, and in its frankness about sexual matters, especially the highly controversial topic of abortion (still illegal in Britain in 1966, although it was to be legalised the following year). In its view of social matters, however, it is more conservative; its attitude towards abortion, for example, is more pro-life than pro-choice. The film can perhaps be seen as a critique of the sexual revolution, showing how greater sexual freedom was giving irresponsible philanderers like Alfie more opportunities to seduce women. The irony is that Alfie ends up ruining his own life as effectively as he has ruined theirs. Beneath its permissive surface, "Alfie" is a devastating exposure of the dark side of the sexual revolution. 9/10
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