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United Kingdom 1966
Directed by
Lewis Gilbert
114 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Alfie (1966)

Although for a good deal of its running time it appears to be a laddish English comedy Alfie belongs with the 1960s school of social issue or kitchen sink films such as Karel Reisz's Saturday Night And Sunday Morning   and Tony Richardson's A Taste Of Honey (the male lead of that film, Murray Melvin appears here as Alfie’s downstairs neighbour), works which dealt with the problems facing working class people (commonly, young males) in Britain of the day.

Scripted by Bill Naughton from his novel and play it tells the story of Alfie (Michael Caine), a charming but feckless opportunist who beds women without a thought to their feelings. Eventually however, after having an illegitimate child with one and procuring an abortion for another he begins to see the consequences of his action. Swinging London and the changing sexual mores of the 1960s are but a distant backdrop to this ultimately rather seedy but very English world of petty deceit and small-minded drabness (the film's colour pattern is quite deceptive in this respect) though which Alfie navigates..

The film, which was a huge hit in its day, gave us both the Burt Bacharach and Hal David title song (for some reason sung by Cher in the film but a Top 40 hit for Cilla Black) and Michael Caine, Oscar-nominated for this his first leading role.  Much of Caine’s time is spent talking directly to the camera, expounding his various theories about "birds" (who include Shelley Winters and Vivien Merchant) and as his ideas are pretty much of the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em variety, this tends to wear thin but there is enough irony and sense of redemption to carry the film just over the line.

Somewhat of an entertainment hybrid, the jazz score is by Sonny Rollins whilst tavern singer Queenie Watts delivers a couple of numbers during a silly Western comedy bar-room brawl. Although an iconic film it is somewhat dated today and perhaps the most interesting things about it is Alfie’s direct-to-camera opening address and the end–credits (there are no opening credits) which include photographs of the leading crew including director Lewis Gilbert along with the lead actors. The film was nominated for 5 five Academy Awards but won none, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s title song losing to “Born Free”.

FYI: Gilbert later directed a trio of James Bond films, and reunited with Caine for the 1983 film Educating Rita. A belated sequel to Alfie appeared in 1975 with Alan Price in the lead and none of the original cast and sank like a stone.

 

 

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