Alfie (1966, Gilbert)
It is no surprise that Alfie is based on a play. Michael Caine spends more of his time talking directly to the camera than he does talking to actual people. His womanizing self is always evident but it his frankness about it is constantly hidden. That is where his narration comes in. It allows us to see and for him to be unabashedly himself. This makes the lessons that he learns all the more effective.
Breaking the fourth wall is a very hit or miss tactic. It works in something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and fails miserably in something like Whatever Works. It all depends on the film and the way it is done. In Alfie, there is so much narration to the camera that it feels like the entire film. I am pretty sure that 99% of all actors could not pull this off. Michael Caine can though. He takes it and runs with it. He makes it feel so natural that you actually want him talking to you. He has a rare gift to take something very stagy and to make it feel very cohesive with the film. Caine makes the technique seem like something the film is doing to appease the character and not something that he material has forced onto him. His character is appallingly hateful towards women as he uses them solely for pleasure and utters lines like “Call them birds or it”. Very few people can depict a character like this in a way that makes him likable to watch despite how horrible he is and Caine has that rare quality as well. He also makes the very few human moments that Alfie has seem palpable because he depicts Alfie’s own surprise as his emotions so well. It happens only a few times but each time feels human and natural to the character and his growth.
The problem with this film is the length. It takes far too long to get to the issues at hand and there are far too many women clamoring for attention here. About 2 of them could have been cut. The main plot points; the women he has the child with, the older women he has a relationship with and the women who he sleeps with who he gets to have an abortion, are the issues at hand but a lot of the film deals with other things that could have been cut out. Each scene shows Alfie treating women like dirt in dozens of different ways and 20 scenes of it are not necessary; 5 will suffice. By showing his treatment of women through the situations he finds himself in, which the film does, is much more interesting than showing scenes of him emotionally abusing and using women that do not contribute anything to the plot. About 20 minutes from the film could have been and should have been cut. This is a major flaw in the film as the pacing is completely dragged out because of it.
Still though, Alfie is a film that by all accounts should not have been successful but is. It really delves deep into the lifestyle of the Swinging 60’s and the new values that were being ushered in at this point in history. The best scenes were anything involving Alfie talking about his child (particularly the long scene in the doctor’s office), any scene with Shelley Winters because it is Shelley Winters and the abortion scenes which I would imagine were very risqué at the time and features 2 upsetting and moving scenes. The first is Lilly (the woman getting the abortion) after being induced. The second is when Alfie comes back after she has finished and his reaction at seeing the aborted fetus. It is a bravado moment both in performance and in the way it is shot by director Lewis Gilbert. He keeps the camera close on the face and particularly on the eyes as Alfie tries to hide his emotions even from the camera but he cannot escape its ability to capture his breakdown.
All in all an insightful and wonderfully dated yet still relevant look at the 60’s in London featuring a star making performance by Michael Caine. It is almost undone though by its redundancy and unnecessarily long running time. Special props are to be given to the title song sung by Cher at the end. Best song ever.