Review: Alfie [1965] - dir. Lewis Gilbert

Alfie is a young man from the working classes of London. He is confident, charming, totally self-centered and very successful with the ladies; using them for his immediate pleasure without emotional involvement and leaving a trail of emotional devastation. His callousness toward these women contrasts with the delusion that he causes no harm; he is just teaching life's lessons.

London was most definitely swinging in 1966. Cutting edge fashion, mini cars and mini skirts were the new vogue, the counter culture was defining itself, the availability of medically prescribed contraceptives helped usher in the Sexual Revolution (the rest of the UK would have to wait until the 1970s) - and Director Lewis Gilbert's Alfie was released.
On release it transpired that it was to become the most talked-about, controversial film of the year, launching Michael Caine as an international film star, and earning five Oscar nominations. Although Alfie is very much a period piece, it is surprising how well it holds up, especially in the context of it's time, much like Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
Michael Caine's Alfie Elkins is the ultimate ladykiller, he objectifies females, and many of his women are, indeed, victim-like in their neediness and vulnerability. This 30-something misogynistic, working-class, low-class playboy epitomizes narcissism, as he travels from "bird to bird," single women and married alike, without any sense of responsibility or care, but also amazingly without any true malice. Michael Caine is at his very best, his characterization leading to a barrel full of impressionists spawning long careers off the back of his iconic role. His hard-core arrogance and brutal honesty, (with his monologues to the audience), are chilling and, at times, desperately funny - but don't mistake this film for a comedy, this is the dark side of humour that only the British seem to be able to carry off successfully. The character is damaged, from what we never really know, but damaged nonetheless, and with it he brings joy and pain into the lives of everyone he comes into contact with along his journey.

The talented Mr. Caine couldn't pull-off this performance alone, however, so credit must be given to his supporting cast. Caine's counterparts are extremely credible, even by today's much more feminist and politically correct standards. These women are not Playboy Bunny types. A few of them are almost plain, and there is no cleavage except for the abundance of Shelly Winters' Ruby. Gilda (Julia Foster), is the working class woman, desperately in love with Alfie, who bears him a son out of wedlock. Although he states from the start that the baby is not his problem, he shows more affection to the child than he does to all his women combined. Vivien Merchant is excellent as Lily, the drab, lonely, married woman whom Alfie seduces and impregnates. She winds up having an abortion and, I must say, that the scenes surrounding this traumatic event are shocking in their emotional intensity, even by today's standards. Annie, (Jane Asher) is the forlorn hitchhiker Alfie picks up and takes home to be his house maid, among other services. He winds up referring to her as "it" for the rest of their brief triste. Shelly Winters is Ruby, the vulgar older woman who plays Alfie at his own game, and successfully crushes his ego. A special mention has to go to the late Denholm Elliot who steals the show with very little screen time , but a truly chilling performance as the abortionist who Caine hires to terminate Lily's pregnancy.
Alfie moves , amuses , and challenges the viewer, at every turn, forcing them to think about life , death, relationships , and most importantly the consequences of our actions and the hurt people can cause to each other.If you have never seen this fine picture , headed by a marvellous , iconic actor , then do yourself a favour, because Alfie is quite possibly THE Brit flick of the sixties


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