Retro Review: Alfie (1966)

I went to see this when I was around 15 years old, attracted by the cast, and the reputation of director, Lewis Gilbert. I had never seen the play, nor read the book, so had little idea what to expect. It is often described as a ‘romantic comedy’, but it is far from that, in my opinion. The lighter moments conceal a dark core, with an insight into the ‘Swinging Sixties’ in London, and the treatment of women by some men at the time.

Michael Caine’s career was taking off. After ‘Zulu’, and ‘The Ipcress File’, it seemed he could do no wrong, and he was undoubtedly the perfect choice for the manipulative Londoner Alfie, a man with no conscience. He commands the film in every way, and we feel for him whilst despising his callous actions and selfishness. It was very unusual at the time for the lead character to address the audience so frequently, breaking what is known as ‘The Fourth Wall’. I found that incredibly interesting, and Caine’s natural ease with the process left the audience feeling that he was just chatting to each of us individually.

The story concerns a chauffeur, Alfie, and his various female conquests. This man has no ‘type’ as such, and as long as he can get his way with a woman, he seems not to care too much about her age, appearance, or background. The co-stars who feature as his objects of desire are a mixed bag indeed. Singer and comedian Millicent Martin plays a married woman he abandons, and Julia Foster is ideal as Gilda, the submissive younger girl who adores him, and lets him treat her with no respect. She even bears him a son, though Alfie initially shows little interest in the boy. Vivien Merchant is superb as Lily, an older dowdy woman who falls for his charms, and American audiences are well served by the inclusion of the lively Shelly Winters as Ruby, the only woman who sees through his shallow character, and gets the better of him. Signature sixties girl Jane Asher appears too, as a hitchiker who accepts a lift from Alfie, and becomes his live-in lover.

The tale is not without moral repercussions though, and Alfie’s easy life begins to disintegrate. A chest X-ray reveals a shadow on his lung, and he is forced to take stock. Ruby abandons him for a younger lover, and although he has now become fond of his son, Gilda decides to marry a local bus conductor, who treats her with affection and respect. He discovers Lily is pregnant by him, and afraid to tell her unwell husband. So Alfie arranges an abortion for her, then finds he is badly affected by the outcome, after the event.

This is an excellent film, and a real insight into the 1960s, and the way life was becoming free of so many social restrictions. It crams so much into the 112 minutes, the viewer’s attention never flags. Caine holds everything together perfectly, going from careless cad to selfish worrier with ease. Great location filming in the London of the 1960s is a real treat, and everyone involved hits the mark, in just the right fashion.

(It was remade in 2004, starring Jude Law. Best avoided.)

49 thoughts on “Retro Review: Alfie (1966)

    1. I met a few like Alfie over the years, Pam. They never have real friends, just people they use.
      Unfortunately, they rarely get their comeuppance.
      I thought the wonderful Vivian Merchant was heartbreaking as Lily. Such poignancy.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Nice review Pete but I’m going to have to be careful when reading reviews of older films by you. There are some spoilers here. The film is 53 years old but hard to track down. I have seen the remake which covered similar plot developments but its the original I want to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should have stated that ‘Retro Reviews’ often contain spoilers, I suppose.
      I (wrongly) assume that most people have seen them. My normal reviews have a ‘no spoilers’ advice at the start, usually.
      That said, the style of ‘Alfie’ alone makes it worth watching, whether you know the outcome or not.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review Pete.
    I agree a very dark (and in these times disturbing) film. Showed the down side to those swinging 60’s! And nobody today would know about a Sanatorium. My late father in law was in one in the early 50’s.
    But Caine is a much better actor than given credit for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, John. I agree about Caine. Because he took many bad roles for the money, (like The Swarm), people forgot about just how good his natural acting style is. I also love him in ‘The Quiet American’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. I think the style makes it worth watching. Alfie talks to the viewer in such a familiar way, and Caine makes that work so well. The story and setting make it interesting from a historical perspective too.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kudos, little old man. (Sorry. I still laugh when I think about that.) You have saved me from having to review this as you’ve captured all of the major talking points perfectly. I have never understood, though, why to this day this is passed off as a “comedy” (being richly imbued with wit only makes the dramatic elements more affecting) as if it would comfortably fit into a double-bill with “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming”? Has Caine ever been better (he wears the role like a second skin)? Perhaps, but if so, that is only a tribute to the depths of his talent when wedded with worthy material.

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    1. It is still my favourite Caine performance. I come from the same part of London where he grew up, just a few streets streets away in fact. So his accent was my accent, and that of my friends and family, which endeared me to him from the start.
      I don’t get the ‘comedy’ either. I always considered it to be a misguided selling point.
      Glad you liked the review, and best wishes from England as always.
      Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love Michael Cain….never saw Alfie for it came out when I was in the miltary and just never thought about it but now thanx to you I may watch it….not soon for there is a long list of shows waiting to be watched…LOL chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This does sound like a great film, Pete!💙 I love watching films that b show you the differences between a time period. It definitely sounds like Alfie experienced some life lessons after his disrespectful ways. I will definitely be putting this movie on my To Be Watched list after reading your fantastic review!💜 I am very much intrigued.💙 I will have to see if they have this movie on Kodi when I get more stable internet service. Thank you so much for sharing this awesome review with us!😀😘💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A pleasure to introduce you to a British classic, Dani.
      I hope that you do get a chance to watch it one day. It is very different to modern films.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Like

  6. I remember the movie well. I can still hum and sing the song. “What’s it all about, Alfie…”. Yes, it was dark in many ways, but the outstanding cast pulled it off beautifully.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jennie. That theme song was a huge hit indeed. As well as Cilla Black’s version, it was covered by Dionne Warwick, and many others. Written by Bacharach and David of course, so a great pedigree.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A brilliant theme tune by the saxophonist, Sonny Rollins, though I did read he was difficult from the start, arriving in the London studio. And far worse than the Jude Law remake, in my opinion, was the Alan Price sequel. I think they’ve buried that one though it has appeared on youtube.

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