Frank McLynn

In It For the Money

Michael Caine: A Class Act


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Like many cinephiles, I suspect, I have enjoyed an up-and-down relationship with the movie actor Michael Caine (real name Maurice Micklewhite). His early cockney Jack-the-lad portrayals in Alfie, The Ipcress File and The Italian Job left me cold, and I was about to dismiss him as yet another pointless Sixties phenomenon when he turned in the riveting performance in Get Carter, Britain’s best-ever crime film. For a while thereafter he rode the crest of the wave, easily holding his own against Laurence Olivier in Sleuth and then giving the performance of his career in The Man Who Would Be King. But the wave he was riding turned out to be an oceanic monster, for Caine’s plummeting fall into the trough was sudden and precipitous. Has any other film actor ever been in such a succession of turkeys as those that occupied Caine from the mid 1970s on? To hear the roll call is to be stunned by its awfulness: The Swarm, Ashanti, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, The Hand, Blame It On Rio, Water, Jaws: the Revenge, etc, etc. Caine’s defence of this cavalcade of garbage is well known: ‘You get paid the same for a bad film as a good film,’ and (in reference to Jaws): ‘I have never seen the film but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I HAVE seen the house that it built, and it’s terrific.’ This sort of cynicism – supposedly a by-product of his poverty-stricken East End childhood, which made him neurotically insecure about money impressed few. Only in the late 1990s was there a partial return to form, with movies like The Quiet American.

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