Alfie (1966)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Alfie</strong> (1966)

(On TV, November 2018) Twenty-first-century cinephiles may be forgiven the occasional pang of synthetic nostalgia for some periods as depicted by the movies. 1960s London, for instance, has been portrayed in exuberant ways by an entire sub-genre, celebrating the excesses of the time while downplaying its less playful aspects. Ironically, it takes another movie to deconstruct the archetype of the 1960s London playboy: Alfie, made at the height of the Swignin’ Sixties, pulls no punches in depicting the kind of flawed personalities that would embrace such a lifestyle, and the consequences that come with it. One of Michael Caine’s earliest claims to fame, Alfie follows a young man with more “birds” than a pet shop, and with enough charisma to turn to the camera and tell us, the viewers, what he’s thinking. Alas, the charm grows thin and the self-deception becomes impossible to ignore the longer the film goes on as his romantic problems grow bigger, he’s afflicted with health issues and distances himself from his own son. It gets much, much worse. And even then the protagonist tries to make light of the situation by trying to get the audience on his side. It doesn’t work, though, not in the film’s second half. It’s difficult to realize today how groundbreaking the film was by the standards of the time, not only in showing the playboy lifestyle, but also the darker side of it. But seen from today, it feels like a near-contemporary commentary (much like Saturday Night Fever) on something that later movies have attempted to romanticize beyond recognition. Alfie remains a good movie … but don’t be surprised to realize at the end that you will never want to watch it again.

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