Friday, June 10, 2011

Alfie (1966)

Alfie and "what it's all about"

-  If you were looking for a phrase to put on Alfie Elkin's tombstone when he died, it would be this: "Alfie loved women." Of course, in Alfie's case, you would be using the word "love" in the loosest and least-meaningful of definitions. Women are not people to Alfie, they are an "it," a "bird;" existing only as a weeknight activity and are at his disposal at any time. If a bird's feelings are hurt, big deal - he will be moving on without any troubles and she will have learned his idea of what the essential cold hard lessons of life are. Lovin' and leavin' when it suits him best, Alfie is a swingin' 1960s tom cat and he is having a great time. But Alfie's care-free life of bird browsing and calloused cynicism finally catch up with him and suddenly he is on the receiving end of pain and life's essential cold hard lessons.

Alfie really is a terrific film - a very well-done, funny, and meaningful character-driven film with unexpected added shots of intense drama. Easily recognizable as a very-60s film, Alfie manages to capture the 1960s without being terribly dated. What is particularly interesting about Alfie is the film's very 1960s yet counter-1960s-culture feel. Alfie feels very "60s" but issues that are brought up and painted to look undesirable in the film are some of the same things that many were enjoying at the time and that many would fight for the right to do for years to come.

Bill Naughton adapts his story from its previous novel and play form wonderfully into the film's excellent screenplay. Alfie has the perfect mix of funny and dramatic - when you are laughing, you are laughing hard, and when the film turns dramatic, you see just how powerful those scenes are when you realize that your entire body has tensed up. Jazz sax legend Sonny Rollins drops a very cool mood on you with his soul-filled and shoe-tapping score and director Lewis Gilbert forms the film to perfection with uniqueness and charm (and the fourth wall is completely non-existent here). Also, with some help from cinematographer Otto Heller, Gilbert creates a very stylish picture and generates a fantastic atmosphere.

As with the majority of Michael Caine characters, it is Caine himself who is most responsible for the effectiveness of the Alfie Elkin character. Alfie is not a nice guy most of the time and yet we like him thanks to Caine's performance. There is no doubting that the Alfie character is written very well but Caine gives him the one of a kind Caine-treated line deliveries and the subtle as well as obvious characterization we see in every scene. Michael Caine shows his versatility in Alfie - not only when comparing his performance here in Alfie to others he has given throughout his career, but also just throughout this one film. Caine leaps from laid-back to uptight and funny to serious without a misstep or trace of incredulity. It is a truly fantastic performance and Michael Caine really makes the film.

CBC Rating: 10/10

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