The movie that rocketed Michael Caine to stardom cemented his image as a cockney lothario and gave him one of his most enduring catchphrases - so much so he called his autobiography "What's It All About?" The role of womanising cad Alfie Elkins fit the 33-year-old Londoner like a glove and earned him his first Oscar nomination, though on the night he lost out to Paul Scofield in "A Man For All Seasons". (Alfie was nominated in five categories in all but failed to take home a single award.)
Based on the play by Bill Naughton, Lewis Gilbert's film broke new ground by interspersing its amorous anti-hero's sexual conquests with frank and witty confessionals delivered straight to camera. Such is Caine's ease in front of the lens that this inherently theatrical device works beautifully on-screen, especially when Alfie begins to query the value of his rootless, carefree existence.
Viewed from a post-AIDS perspective, Alfie's dalliances with brassy Millicent Martin, mousy Jane Asher, and vulgar American Shelley Winters seem positively suicidal. But Alfie's casual promiscuity is not without repercussions, and the most powerful sequence comes when he is forced to arrange an illegal abortion for one of his mistresses.
Denholm Elliott's performance as a seedy, backstreet abortionist is easily the best thing in the film, which treads a fine line between glorifying Alfie's amorality and castigating him for his sexism. The hugely entertaining result is both a minor British classic and a valuable record of the hedonistic Swinging 60s.