Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Alfie (dir by Lewis Gilbert)


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One night, in the UK, in 1965…

In a London flat, a phone rings.  Up-and-coming actor Terrence Stamp answers.  On the other end, the producers of an up-coming film called Alfie ask Stamp if he would be interested in playing the lead role.  In many ways, Stamp seems like the obvious choice.  After all, he already starred in the stage version of Alfie.  He knows the character and everyone knows that he’s going to be a big star…

And that’s why Stamp turns down the role.  The character of Alfie is an irresponsible and self-centered womanizer who, over the course of the play, has numerous affairs, arranges for one illegal abortion, treats almost everyone terribly, and, at the end of the movie, ends up alone.  Not only will the film’s risqué subject matter provide a challenge, even if it is being made in “swinging London,” but Alfie just isn’t a heroic figure.  He has some good lines.  He makes a few good jokes and, after arranging an abortion for one of his girlfriends, he realizes just how empty his life really is.  But, as written, Alfie is hardly sympathetic.

Stamp says he’s not interested in playing Alfie on screen and then he hangs up.

Two minutes later, the phone rings again.  Stamp answers.  It’s the producers of Alfie.  They ask to speak to his roommate, a cockney actor who was born Maurice Micklewhite but who, at the start of his acting career, changed his name to Michael Caine.

And that’s how Michael Caine came to star in the 1966 film, Alfie.

Alfie not only made Michael Caine a star, it also landed him his first Oscar nomination.  It was especially a popular film in the States, where it tapped into a youth culture that was obsessed with all things British and a desire, on the part of many filmgoers, to see films that deal with “adult” topics that American films, at that time, wouldn’t dare touch.  Though Alfie may seem rather tame by today’s standards (for a film about a man obsessed with sex, there’s actually not much of it to be found in Alfie), one can still see why it would have taken American audiences by surprise in 1966.  At a time when American films still starred Doris Day and Bob Hope, here was a British film about a working class cockney who screws almost every woman he meets, both figuratively and literally.

And really, it’s fortunate that Michael Caine accepted that role.  Along with Stamp, Alfie‘s producers also tried to interest Richard Harris and Laurence Harvey in the role.  All three of them would have brought a harder edge to the character.  However, Michael Caine has just enough charm to make Alfie likable, even when his actions are not.  Since a good deal of the film is made up of Alfie breaking the fourth wall and talking straight to the audience (and, often times, not exactly saying that most charitable of words), that charm is essential to the film’s success.  Michael Caine’s Alfie is self-centered but, at the same time, you never doubt that there’s a better man lurking underneath the surface.  You forgive Alfie a lot because, thanks to Caine’s performance, you can see the man that he’s capable of being.

Alfie is pretty much Michael Caine’s show but he’s ably supported by the rest of the cast, especially Jane Asher as a poignantly insecure hitchhiker and Shelley Winters as a cheerfully promiscous American.  And then there’s Denholm Elliott, who plays an abortionist with a seedy intensity that catch you off-guard and drives home the dark reality lurking underneath Alfie‘s charm.

For a film that is often described as being very much a product of its time, Alfie holds up surprisingly well.  It was nominated for best picture but it lost to something far more sedate, A Man For All Seasons.

 

Halloween Havoc!: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (Amicus 1971)


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Hammer Films wasn’t the only British company cranking out the horrors back in the 60’s and 70’s. American ex-pats producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg formed Amicus Films in 1962 and after a couple of films aimed at the teen audience (with American rockers like Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, Freddy Cannon, and Gene Vincent) began concentrating on horror. The team specialized in the anthology genre, or “portmanteau” as the intelligentsia call them. I’ll stick with anthologies!

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was a 1971 effort written by Robert Bloch, forever known as “The Guy Who Wrote PSYCHO”. The nail to hang Bloch’s four tales on concerns the disappearance of famous horror actor Paul Henderson, who was last seen at the old house in the countryside. Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) of Scotland Yard (where else?) arrives on the scene and speaks with the local constable, who warns Holloway about mysterious doings past:

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In “Method for Murder”…

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Cleaning Out The DVR #37: A Room With A View (dir by James Ivory)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!!  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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Poor Cecil Vyse.

The 1986 film A Room With A View is a love story.  It’s about a young woman who meets a young man in Florence, Italy and then, upon returning to England, she discovers that the same young man and his father are now her neighbors.  From the minutes they meet, it’s obvious that the young man and the young woman are destined to be together.  The only thing that’s standing in their way is the strict culture of conformity of Edwardian England.  That and the fact that the young woman is engaged to Cecil Vyse.

Cecil represents the establishment.  He comes from a good family.  He’s well-educated.  He talks about the right subjects.  He holds all the right opinions.  He’s not an exciting man but he’s a good man who is destined to have successful but not very interesting life.  From the minute that we meet him, we know that our heroine is not meant to stay with Cecil.

And it’s heart-breaking because the film goes out of its way to show that Cecil is not a bad person.  In his own befuddled way, he’s one of the most likable people in the entire film.  He may not have an interesting mind but he does have a good heart.  When the moment comes that Cecil’s heart is broken, the film treats him with respect.

Of course, it helps that Cecil was played, in one of his first roles, by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Day-Lewis plays the role with a quiet dignity.  Instead of just turning Cecil into a mere nuisance that has to be pushed out of the way in the name of love, Day-Lewis emphasizes Cecil’s humanity.  There’s a quiet scene where the recently heart-broken Cecil ties his shoes that is an example of truly great acting.

As for the two young lovers, Lucy Honeychurch is played by Helena Bonham Carter while George Emerson is played by Julian Sands.  Both of them are achingly beautiful and, even more importantly, they both look as if they belong in Edward England and with each other.  Still, seeing this film today, it takes a little while to adjust to seeing both Bonham Carter and Sands playing such … normal characters.  We’re so used to seeing Helena killing people in Tim Burton movies that it’s nice to see her getting to rather sweetly fall in love for once.

The entire film is full of great British actors, all at their best.  Denholm Elliott plays George’s father and gets to deliver a rousing defense of both true love and free thought.  Maggie Smith plays Lucy’s overprotective aunt while Rosemary Leach is Lucy’s supportive mother.  And then you’ve got Simon Callow as an eccentric vicar.  (Because every British film needs an eccentric vicar.)  Lucy’s younger brother is played by an actor named Rupert Graves and he’s so adorable that I kind of found myself wishing that he could have had a spin-off movie of his own.

A Room With A View is a wonderfully romantic film, one that I could easily see myself spending days just watching over and over again.  A Room With A View was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far less romantic Platoon.

(For those following at home, I now have one more review to go to reach my goal of reviewing 38 films in 10 days!)

Horror On TV: Hammer House of Horror Ep. 3 “Rude Awakening”


Originally broadcast in the UK on September 27th, 1980, this episode of Hammer House Of Horror deals with a sleazy real estate agent (played by Denholm Elliot) who finds himself besieged by dreams about seducing his assistant Lolly (Lucy Gutteridge) and murdering his wife Emily (Pat Heywood).

Featuring an outstanding lead performance from Elliot and strong direction from Peter Sasdy, this is a good one.