Alfie (1966)

screenshot from Alfie

Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Screenwriter(s): Bill Naughton (from his own play)
Starring: Michael Caine, Julia Foster, Jane Asher, Shelley Winters, Denholm Elliott, Vivien Merchant, Millicent Martin, Eleanor Bron, Graham Stark, Alfie Bass, Shirley Anne Field
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Country: UK
Running time: 1h 54m
Rating: 10 out of 10

It’s hard to imagine now that anyone else could have been Alfie, yet it was a role Michael Caine almost didn’t play, as Paramount executives originally wanted Caine’s former flatmate, Terence Stamp, who was the Broadway lead in the original play. In fact, Caine claims that ‘the role was turned down by every actor in England’. But director Lewis Gilbert’s son, Jonny, persuaded his father to take a chance with Caine and he rewarded them with a performance of astonishing confidence and conviction.

There’s not a lot of plot, as Alfie is, above all, a character study, and Caine breezes through the film. Alfie is not by any stretch of the imagination a good man. He’s amoral, selfish, boorish, constantly on the make at work and with women, but you see enough of him to know that he’s lying to himself about who he is and what is important to him. More to the point, at no time does the script shy away from showing you that Alfie’s behaviour is, even by the standards of the time, craven and unacceptable.

His straight-to-camera confessions were a revelation; although such a conceit is commonplace to modern cinema-goers, they are still refreshingly candid. Despite being rooted very deeply in the Swinging Sixties, the issues of the film – love, betrayal, unwanted pregnancy – are still very much current.

The film often has to cope with large swings in emotion, combining humour with pathos. In fact, it’s a testament to everyone involved that the scenes with Denholm Elliot’s abortionist, though harrowing, are not totally at odds with the light-hearted tone of the first half of the film, but serve to underline the moral of the tale. It’s an astonishingly frank look at the mechanics and the consequences of abortion and it’s hard to think that any of it would make it to the screen today in a mainstream movie. Even the scenes with Alfie’s best friend, Nat (Murray Melvin), where Alfie confesses to his feelings of sadness and inadequacy as a man for what he’s done, would never get near the screen.

The women in Alfie’s life – and there are many – aren’t treated well by Alfie, but they’re very well served by the script and the director. Gilda (Foster), ostensibly Alfie’s common-law wife and the mother of his child, is cast in a particularly sympathetic light. Her dilemma of wanting to keep their child, Malcolm, despite Alfie’s assurance that he’s never going to marry her, and whether she should marry her friend Humphrey (Stark, Simon Simon) for security is real and given proper weight within the film.

Jane Asher as the teenage hitchhiker Alfie picks up at a truck stop cafe has little to say but manages to deliver impact all the same, while Shelley Winters (who supposedly drank straight vodka throughout the shoot, so afraid was she of her sex scenes with Caine) adds an over-the-top cameo as the older lover who gives Alfie his own comeuppance. But it’s Vivienne Merchant, as his friend’s wife whom he gets pregnant, who is the absolute stand-out in a cast of strong female roles. She brings a very quiet dignity to the screen, with her knowing stoicism and practicality.

Alfie won a Golden Globe for Best English-Language Foreign Film and a Special Jury Prize at Cannes, while Vivien Merchant received the BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer. In addition, the film was nominated for five Oscars – Actor, Supporting Actress (Merchant), Original Song, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay – and six BAFTAs – Actor, Cinematography, Film, Screenplay, Editing and Most Promising Newcomer.

Be sure to watch the entire closing credits, which feature Cher singing the title song over still photos of the cast and crew taken throughout London. The Sonny Rollins score throughout is also notably good, but Cher’s version of Alfie will blow you away.


Jane Asher, who was engaged to Paul McCartney at the time, has a scene where she appears wearing only Alfie’s dress shirt. McCartney objected and insisted that an additional foot of material be added to the bottom of the shirt to protect Miss Asher’s decency.

Alfie started out as a BBC radio play, Alfie Elkins and his Little Life. The role of Alfie was played by Bill Owens, who would later play Compo in the BBC’s Last of the Summer Wine. Although Alfie is meant to be a young man, Owens was in his 50s at the time.


Jude Law as Alfie

Jude Law as Alfie alongside Omar Epps as Marlon

It was first rumoured back in 1999 that Natural Nylon – the production company once owned by Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Jonny Lee Miller and Ewan McGregor – would be remaking Alfie, with McGregor in the title role. Later, Brad Pitt was due to start filming in the lead role in spring 2003, but had to drop out due to pressure of work. Jude Law took over the role.

The film was released in October 2004. It was not good.

For your listening pleasure

SMERSHPod: Alfie

The pod is in swinging London for a deep bathe in sweet misogyny. There are laughs, tears, grime, and charm of a sort. Yes, it’s Alfie. Joining John Rain to ask ‘What’s it all about?’ is journalist, writer and broadcaster Samira Ahmed.

This site is not affiliated with SMERSHPod in any way. We just like it.