Not a lot of people know that
Is the catchphrase that many impersonators use in mimicking Michael Caine which came from his habit of informing people of obscure facts that he had remembered.
Celebrating his 90th birthday only a couple of weeks ago, Michael Caine has not only appeared in over 160 movies that has spanned over seven decades but he is also a beloved British cultural and film icon.
Born Maurice Micklewhite in 1933, he started acting in school plays as a child and in 1952 was called up to do his national service where he saw active service in the Korean War.
He resumed his acting career after his national service but it barely took off until by chance he landed the part of a foppish officer in the 1964 film Zulu after he had initially shown interest in the part of a Cockney private. Initial expectations were low for Caine but he confounded everyone with his excellent performance which he followed up with two of his best known roles – the rough-edged petty-crook-turned-spy Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1965) and the womanising young Cockney in Alfie (1966).
Re-watching Alfie a few weeks ago I thought it hasn’t aged well although Caine is splendid in his first Oscar-nominated role; but The Ipcress File, for me, still stands as one of the best spy thrillers from the 1960s. Every time it features on Fox Classics I always catch it (and I even have my own digital copy of it as well).
With Alfie, Caine now became a big name in America and roles beckoned over there, but one thing that has always marked Caine’s career over the years is that he has appeared in quite a number of turkeys over the years. If anyone can explain The Magus (1968) please comment !
Caine had a huge hit with the 1969 comedy caper The Italian Job where he plays the leader of a Cockney criminal gang released from prison with the intention of doing a “big job” in Italy to steal gold bullion from an armoured security truck. It is one of the most celebrated roles of his career.
In 1971 another iconic role was as the violent and vicious gangster Jack Carter in Get Carter. It’s a pity Caine didn’t explore more of the dark side in the roles he played over the years, as he’s particularly menacing in this film.
Caine continued with successes including Sleuth (1972) starring opposite Laurence Olivier and The Man Who Would Be King (1975) co-starring his good friend Sean Connery, in which both films received widespread acclaim.
In the later 70s he continued his knack for appearing in some awful films with The Swarm, Ashanti and Beyond The Poseidon Adventure.
He was cast against type in the psychological thriller Dressed To Kill (1980) and in 1983 was superb as the alcoholic and jaded teacher in Educating Rita. He finally won his first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his part in Woody Allen’s ensemble comedy Hannah And Her Sisters.
He continued his list of turkeys with Jaws: The Revenge. However, Caine said “I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it was terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
Caine also played a suave English conman, opposite a grifting American played by Steve Martin, in the comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) – a far superior remake to the original Bedtime Story (1964), where Caine showed his gift for comedy timing.
Parts came harder to come by in the 1990s and in 1993 he wrote his the first of his three volumes of memoirs, What’s It All About? in 1992, The Elephant to Hollywood in 2010, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: And Other Lessons in Life in 2018. All three are terrific reads.
Caine has continued to work extensively this century particularly featuring in almost every one of Christopher Nolan’s films including The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar etc. And it looks like he will continue to act so long as directors and audiences want him too.
So what makes Michael Caine so special ? For me he has been personifying British cool since the 1960s. He has brought some of British cinema’s most iconic characters to life and introduced his very own laid-back Cockney gangster into pop culture. He has doggedly retained a regional accent where his accent has become his calling card. There’s just something about him that I just like as a person, someone you could easily have a beer or wine with to pass the day away.
I’ve only detailed a handful of his films and performances, I’m sure Cats will have their own special memories of a true legend of cinema.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . Follow the money.
31 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #64”
Don’t forget his comedic roles in the Austin Powers franchise.
The Cockney rhyming slang scene is particularly amusing.
His book of anecdotes is worth having too. It has such memorable quotes asDorothy L. Sayers (saying) “She was the original Good Time, who was had by all”.
I saw The Ipcress File when it appeared in Sydney in the 1960s. I was still in high school back then, and was most ipcressed, sorry, impressed by it. Zulu is a classic, of course, but I think my favourite is The Man Who Would Be King.
Don’t forget The Wrong Box, where he played the young man getting interested in the girl next door (Nanette Newman) while his uncles fought over surviving and inheriting the Tontein, a large box of cash. The cast was stellar, and included Peter Sellers, Pete & Dud, John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Tony Hancock.
Keep ‘em coming Cats . . .
Obviously with over 160 films to his credit I couldn’t cover them all or Dover would have had a fit with the potential War & Peace post !
Thank you WolfmanOz.
Not forgetting his Television work as well.
One of my fave actors, and I especially love Get Carter as well as The Man Who Would Be King, those two movies alone demonstrate his range, whilst at the same time he was also just being “Michael Caine”.
Harry Brown (2009).
An unrelentingly depressing portrayal of a London gone to the dogs. Sean Harris is magnificently malevolent in his cameo as a drug kingpin on Harry’s local estate.
Impressive. I remember an interview where this was mentioned and also the number of very forgettable movies on the list.
His answer, and I paraphrase, was that acting was work, and he always accepted work. He liked to work, and as he enjoyed acting so much he really didn’t consider it work at all. I don’t think he ever read many reviews, nor often watched the finished article. His job was in front of the camera reading lines someone else made up.
In other words, he’s an actor, not a celebrity. I like him very much.
Might have to do a Michael Caine binge for the sake of the widow’s son.
Thanks for the memories, or perhaps i should say reminders. A quick check on Youtube shows the some of the movies mentioned are available, including Zulu which I watched recently, and The Wrong Box mentioned by Anchor What.
My only disagreement with your views is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which I thought not a patch on the original with David Niven and Marlon Brando. That’s largely because I find it impossible to stomach more than 5 minutes of Steve Martin.
I have a copy of The Ipcress File from the library on my bedside table and will enjoy watching the movie again.
MC took his name from The Caine Mutiny which was showing at the Odeon Leicester Square when he was on the phone to his agent. (I used that phone box in my youth). His agent suggested that he was unlikely to get work with the name Micklewhite. He looked across to the Odeon and suggested Michael Caine. (From a Michael Parkinson Interview)
I also enjoyed his performance in the adaptation of Neil Simon’s California Suite.
He and Maggie Smith were made for each other. At least in front of the cameras.
Good comments calli.
Yes he was very good in California Suite (by far the best of the 4 episodes). Maggie Smith won a Best Supporting Oscar for her performance but Caine was equally good as her gay husband.
Blame It On Rio (1984) was another of Caine’s comedies.
This film is notable for 3 reasons.
The first reason is that the closing shot of the film is Caine talking directly into camera.
The other two reasons belong to the young Demi Moore and you can even find them on imgur. 😉
Put me down for The Man Who Would Be King. A decrepit one eyed Michael Caine chatting on a train with Rudyard Kipling is a fine thing. I liked the movie a lot better than the novella, which is a tribute to the storytelling in the movie. Pity Hollywood can’t seem to write fun screenplays anymore.
Sleuth was remade with Caine as the older person and Jude Law as the younger person
Not a lot of people know that !
The stagey Deathtrap is a hoot.
Get Carter was grim, but a good film, how he treats a certain lady dispels any thoughts hes a “diamond in the rough” or a hero of any sort.
And stayed married to one lady, surely an aberration in Hollyweird.
Michael Caine in X Y and Zee
Get out of here you slut!
Nothing compares to Zulu, either in Caine’s performance, or in the category of the film. I’m also with Rabz on Harry Brown.
Caine’s performance as an older resident of an increasingly “seedified” neighbourhood in Harry Brown, who, because of the growing threat of gang crime, realises that nothing will be done to stop the violence unless someone stands up against it. Simultaneously, grim and heroic, yet never cliched, is Caine’s performance.
Regarding Michael Caine – what a down to earth person he seems in every interview he has done. Suggested is that he is an old school “journeyman actor”, which in no way is demeaning of him or his craft. Instead, he practices his trade professionally but without the absurdity of celebrity.
The opening to Get Carter thrills me
Top comment BBS. Harry Brown was probably Caine’s last top leading performance.
thefrollickingmole yes it was appalling what Jack Carter did to that woman in Get Carter. Also Caine has been married twice, but he has been married to Shakira for 50 years now.
Now that’s quite funny chrisl – although the remake of Sleuth was a pale shadow of the original.
Don’t forget Stella Street, Sure it isn’t the real Mc’Coy but a hoot.
There is nothing pretentious about Michael Caine.
Considering the business he’s in, and the heights he’s scaled in it, that’s quite something.
Ah, the Magus, it’s a movie you only watch one , like Eraserhead.
Interesting but in the end what was it all about… hmmm.
C4ap movies bought Michael Caine a large house.
Don’t forget Stella Street, Sure it isn’t the real Mc’Coy but a hoot.
Thanks Wolfman. One of the greats. Harry Palmer and Harry Brown.
Halfway through your first paragraph I found myself reading it in Michael Caine voice and tempo in my head…
You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off…………………..lol
Admirable fellow – rightly saw it as a job, not a soapbox. Could do anything from melodrama to farce. Definitely not a snob.
One of the few actors many of us would like to have a drink (or three!) with.
Caine in Youth with Harvey Kietel.Weird movie but the universal theme of ageing is always interesting.
Great swimming pool scene as well.
The interviews he did with Parkinson are great. Down to earth. A favourite for sure.