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On Aug. 24, 1966, Paramount brought Michael Caine’s Alfie to theaters. The film went on to be nominated for five Oscars at the 39th Academy Awards ceremony, including best picture and actor. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Alfie is a contemporary Tom Jones, a young man pursuing what he calls the “birds” with relentless and apparently inexhaustible energy. His object is sex: cheery and irresponsible. He is caught up and changed when he finds responsibility is inescapable. Lewis Gilbert’s production for Paramount is an amusing, moving and meaningful picture.
Although for much of the way it tinkles along with the innocent merriment of a carousel, it dips into reality for its climax, and makes a valid and indelible impression. It will be a big box-office success, one of the year’s leaders. Gilbert directed, as well as produced, and he has handled the mercurial and prickly elements with a sure, certain hand.
Bill Naughton did the screenplay from his own play. It details the adventures of a young man, Alfie, who flits from one amorous adventure to another. He is apparently irresistible to women, and indefatigable in his ability to please them. Naughton and Gilbert handle this material in such a way that it seems stronger than it is. With the technique of stage asides, Alfie speaking directly to the camera for exposition and humor, startles and delights as much in its manner as its content.
Alfie wants girls to be girls, and he draws off only when, as he says, “they come over all mumsy.” By which he means, they indicate they would like to make the relationship more homelike, with all the legal steps a man and woman usually undertake when setting up a home. He has five or six girls in the course of the story, and none of them makes much impression on him until one of them is forced to have an abortion. Through the circumstances of his economic position, Alfie is forced to be part of this dreadful experience, and it makes an impression on him.
This portion of the film has been so publicized, with delay in granting it a Code Seal because of it, that the overall mood of the picture is likely to be misunderstood by those who haven’t seen it. It should be emphasized, even at the risk of further misunderstanding, that Alfie is predominantly a comedy.
With this film, Michael Caine, who plays the title role, moves into the select class of top international stars. His low-key style, his immobile face, his deliberately flat voice, all seem to work against the role of invincible bird hunter, even birds of a generally rather pitiful sort. It is Caine’s success that he uses all these negatives to create a positive, a screen personality of compelling interest and impact.
Shelley Winters is in briefly, but forcefully, as one of the ladies who falls for Caine, although she gets her own back when she later shows him the door. Vivien Merchant is achingly pathetic as the woman who must undergo the illegal operation. Miss Merchant is a prime candidate for best supporting actress of the year. Millicent Martin, Julia Foster, Jane Asher and Shirley Anne Field do very well as other of Caine’s conquests. Denholm Elliott is vivid in a sequence as the abortionist.
Otto Heller’s photography, in Technicolor and Techniscope, is an alert, penetrating ally of the story, whether in London streets or London hotels and slummy London apartments. Thelma Connell’s editing is first-rate. Sonny Rollins did the music, which effectively illustrates Alfie’s irresponsible but generally likeable character and adventures. — James Powers, originally published on Aug. 23, 1966
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