I'm watching this film for the August Supporting Actress Smackdown at StinkyLulu's blog.
I hadn't seen the 2004 remake of this film with Jude Law, so I didn't really know what to expect going into it except for lothario antics from Michael Caine. I was also under the impression that it was a comedy - an impression that was quickly dispelled.
'Alfie' is actually deep, very sad and very touching. Michael Caine's Alfie is a despicable character, but the intuitive direction certainly helps you to understand him. Alfie is misogynistic, but the film isn't.
Michael Caine's performance isn't a masterpiece of variety, but he makes some interesting choices in showing us traces of repressed psychological turmoil - his reaction to the funeral procession just before the scene in the doctor's office gives us a revealing glimpse into Alfie's own thoughts and fears regarding mortality.
The supporting female cast generally play their parts well - Shelley Winters is quite funny, and Jane Asher and Julia Foster are good if not especially memorable. The real standout here is the unconventionally beautiful Vivien Merchant, who charges each smile and glance with a tangible sadness. Her pivotal scenes in Alfie's apartment are harrowing - I'm very glad she got the nomination this year. I've looked up some of her other work online, and I've moved "The Homecoming" right to the top of my Netflix queue (apparently she's fantastic in it).
Michael Caine's fourth wall-breaking banter with the audience seems clever at first, but as the film wears on it seems more and more like a superfluous tic. I wish they hadn't used it so much, but it was useful in keeping the lead character from dissolving into a one-note cad.
Techs are good all around. Direction keeps things moving along snappily and the story is nicely reined in - one scene, however - a fight in a bar - is very silly and a lot of fun but doesn't seem like it belongs in the film. The point of the film - that indulgence only leads to pain and despair - is delivered with a heavy hand but, then again, this was the era of hyperbolic film messages (this was made one year before Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, go figure). I also wish it could have been subtler with Michael Caine's casual sexism - having him refer to a woman as 'it' was a bit obvious.
Definitely worth a watch. I bought the DVD at a department store, but I don't know if I'll see it again in its entirety - Vivien Merchant is worth another look, though.