Alfie (Lewis Gilbert, 1965) is 50 years old and so am I. What a change that 50 years has seen. Sexism and misogyny isn’t gone, it’s just gone underground. But watch a relic like Alfie and you will be pleased to see how much the lives of women have changed.

Alfie-1966

Alfie is played by the ever-wonderful Michael Caine. I am a late convert to this actor’s brilliance, maybe because he’s in so very many films, so many of them bad. This is one of these films. The back cover of the DVD reads ‘Alfie is not really a bad sort.’ On the contrary, Alfie is a pig. The synopsis continues ‘Alfie is a ribald and wild comedy…’ I was driven wild alright. Wild with rage.

Award-winning sexism

Just to put some context on the whole thing, Alfie actually won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1966. What’s more incredible is that some genius had the idea to remake it. With Jude Law as Alfie. I can only imagine the contortions the writer would have to have gone through to update this serial sleaze merchant for a 2004 audience. Unsurprisingly perhaps it did not make its producers rich. No, I haven’t seen this version and I don’t intend to.

Other men’s wives

First up Alfie is shown in a cinch with someone else’s wife. Siddie (Millicent Martin) is married to someone. Alfie tells us this, direct to camera, making us complicit. He likes wives (other people’s) but not when they hang around or want to introduce him to their husband. The wife, enamoured of course, asks him if they can meet up. Alfie asks if her husband will be at said do. Oh yes, I’d love you to meet him. Well that’s it for Alfie then.

Orig 431

Alfie and some of his ‘girls’

Her and it

Alfie generally refers to women as ‘her’, and sometimes as ‘it’. There may actually be an instance or two where we hear a woman’s real name but very few. He’s a chauffeur, he lives in a shithole but with that beautiful male arrogance believes himself to be lord and master over any woman. Of course all women seem to be captivated by his meagre charms and drop their knickers at any chance. About the only woman he doesn’t have sex with is the doctor who diagnoses his TB, but he gives it a red-hot go.

Pregnancy

Alfie’s doorstop girlfriend Gilda (Julia Foster) gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby even when Alfie has no intention of making her a ‘respectable’ woman. Alfie does bond with the little boy (thank god for him it wasn’t a girl). Luckily Gilda has enough sense to accept an offer of marriage from a fellow bus conductor who is happy to take the child on as his own. The bus conductor is short and ugly, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and being adopted myself, I know being a single mother in the 1960s was no fun.

Alfie and doctor

Alfie giving it a red-hot go

Another pregnancy

Alfie, being the charmer that he is, bangs the wife of a friend of his who is recuperating from TB in the same ward as him. Lily (Viviene Merchant) falls pregnant too. Let us all raise a silent thank you for the pill. This time Alfie gives her the money for an abortion but leaves her to it. When he returns he is distraught at the aborted foetus. Children yank Alfie’s heart-strings. That seems to be about all that does.

The red-head

We meet a funky young woman hitchhiking, on her way to London for a new life. Played by Jane Asher, she’s a reminder of how young women started yearning for lives of their own. Annie gets a lift with a truck-driver and the inference is clear?—?she’s his now and will at some stage have to repay her debt. Alfie lures her away. What a charmer! The next time we see her she’s scrubbing Alfie’s floor and bleating on about what she’s going to make him for dinner. Here is the free spirit, on her knees, desperate to please. Alfie chucks her out because she can’t stop mooning over some other man. Turns out Annie’s not running towards a life of her own at all, but away from a man who rejected her.

Jane Asher – another doormat

A woman with balls

Ruby (Shelley Winters) is the only woman strong enough to take on Alfie. She’s independent, lives alone, and has a ferocious sexual appetite. Alfie decides she’s the one. Of course, women being bitches and all, she’s already got someone else in her bed when he shows up with flowers. I’m guessing we’re meant to feel sorry for him when he slopes away, but with so many women tossed aside like detritus, I hoped a car would run him over.

Then and now

As a young girl I looked at my mother’s life, and I looked at my father’s life, and I quickly figured out what looked more interesting. My generation were the women who hung up the tea-towel and left home. Many of us didn’t marry, many of us didn’t have children. We wanted to be in the driver’s seat. We haven’t made as much progress as we would have liked, but Alfie is a great reminder of how much progress we have made.

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