Cast Michael Caine ... Alfie Elkins Shelley Winters ... Ruby Millicent Martin ... Siddie Julia Foster ... Gilda Jane Asher ... Annie Shirley Anne Field ... Carla Vivien Merchant ... Lily
The 1960s The 1960s: For some, it marked the end for 'Victorian values' and the beginning of the permissive society. It was a time of freedom, a decade of social unrest, innocence lost, scandal, war, sex, drugs and rock and roll... But the 1960s had its fair share of darkness too…
The Pill and the Sexual Revolution “The sexual revolution seemed very promising at first, but in the end it had very different outcomes for the sexes: Women had more opportunity to express themselves sexually, but no longer had a legitimate reason to say “no”. Men on the other hand, had the opportunity to have sex more freely than ever before without having to take responsibility”. Germaine Greer
Class in 1960s Britain: In the 1960s there was a shift away from dominance of Middle Class British culture towards a Working Class dominated one: The working class increasingly perceived themselves to be at the centre of most aspects of British life: “..there was a liveliness and spirit of innovation not seen in British society for generations through pop music, photography, fashion and the cinema.” Arthur Marwick Social and economic improvements such as a demand for skilled labourers needed and unionisation of the workplace gave the working classes greater class confidence.
British Films in the1960s ‘Alfie’ was not the first British study of male behaviour in films during this decade: the previous few years had seen ‘Look Back in Anger’ (1959), ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ (1960), ‘A Kind of Loving’ (1962) and ‘Billy Liar’ (1963). But , Caine'sAlfie, was a rare southern challenge to a largely northern character type and astonished audiences for its honestyand amorality.
New Wave films of the 1960s Billy Liar (1963) Kitchen-sink realism meets airy fantasy in this much-loved Sixties comedy Kind of Loving, A (1962) New Wave film about a man torn between desire and responsibility Look Back in Anger (1959) Richard Burton stars as archetypal disaffected youth Jimmy Porter Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) Classic slice of Northern gritty realism that made a star out of Albert Finney Taste of Honey, A (1961) New Wave classic about a pregnant teenager facing an uncertain future The 'new wave' films of the 1950s and 1960s gave a voice to a working-class that was for the first time gaining some economic power. Previously, working-class characters in British cinema had largely been used for comic effect or as 'salt of the earth' cannon fodder. Here we see their lives at the centre of the action. That action, such as it is, details everyday dramas - hence 'the kitchen sink' tag. We see events through the emotional journeys of the characters.
1960s cinema This affluence, confidence and rebellion against middle class conformity found expression in the representation of the working class hero in the New Wave films and in Michael Caine’s screen persona. Between 1955- 1963 there was a shift in British cinema- audience figures were down by two-thirds and half of the cinemas had closed. The predominate audience was the young, working class male- a fact that was exploited with emergence of new working class Londoner actors, such as Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Richard Harris, Terence stamp and Michael Caine:
American audiences also responded to novelty of British actors who did not conform to the established stereotypes such as David Nivon and Lawrence Olivier
Michael Caine Whilst Finney, Courtenay and Harris were known as angry, tough, and intense in their roles but Michael Caine was very different. Caine’s public image from the mid-1960s onwards was carefully constructed through the media and built around his identificationwith the values of the newly ascendant, young, urban, working classes. Caine’s became an immediate icon of the fashionable working class male, even his NHS specs became part of the downbeat image! His persona brought together a sense of ordinariness , which made it easy for audiences to identify with him: a feeling that his rough-edged, quick wittedness was the essential ingredient in his success, a quality any working class lad might equally possess.
“Caine was one of those names lending a stamp of approval on where to eat, where to dance, where to take your “birds”, what after-shave and shirts to wear” (Daily Express article, 1965) “the crafty Cockney Lothario….never a romantic hero, marked indelibly as basically “an ordinary bloke” by his accent” (Caughie and Rocket, 1996) “the world of models, photographers, actors is the New Aristocracy” (Michael Caine)
Caine as ‘Alfie’ The role of the 1960s working class hero was taken to new levels by Caine’s ‘Alfie’ and he became synonymous with the part, e.g. in the promotional posters: ‘Michael Caineis Alfie, is Wicked, is Crafty, isIrresistible.’ Caine/Alfiepresented as theembodiment of the new Swinging London meritocracy. When Alfie declares “I've been doing things all my life I'm not supposed to” the audience is invited to cheer on his rebellion (even if this is achieved through a single-minded pursuance of his own personal pleasure at almost any cost). The Sonny Rollins jazz score + the careful use of London locations + attractive actresses (who find his charms impossible to resist!) = male joyful hedonism of the mid 60s.
Audience Sympathy Key to Caine’s achievement in drawing the audiences sympathy was him was the technique of speaking directly to the camera. Through his intimate, personable tone, the audience felt that Alfie is one of them.
The version of masculinity in ‘Alfie’ ‘Alfie’ reflects many of the confusions apparent in mid 60s notions of male identity: - a celebration of a liberated , hedonistic working class male who is characterised by self confidence and dynamism. AND - a concern for the possible negative moral consequences of his selfishness and shallowness. A more conventional social role is held up as exemplar (Humphrey) and Alfie’s last words: “I aint got my peace of mind, and if you aint got that, you aint got nothing” serve as a cautionary message .
Ideology ‘Alfie’ is about a lot more than the headlong pursuit of skirt. As early as 1966, it passed withering judgment on the two great fallacies of the 1960s: that promiscuity leads to personal liberation and that social barriers were in the process of crumbling, allowing the dustman to dine with the duke. By the end of the film, the Cockney chancer who had flirted for so long with the West End is left firmly in his place, alone, broken and back out east!
Is the moral tone convincing? “Alfie was an infinitely sad character. He was a charming rogue. He was immoral but the damage he inflicted was on himself that came out at the end of the film” (Lewis Gilbert, director) “Alfie is a genuinely muddled 1960s male whose “attitude to women is less misogyny than a failure to communicate on anything but the most basic level” (Robert Murphy) “his clear eyed amorality (“I don’t want a bird’s respect wouldn’t know what to do with it”) , so unflinchingly conveyed by Caine’s voice over narration , is far more convincing than the cautionary moral at the end” (Alexander Walker)