WolfmanOz at the Movies #64

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.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #47

Men of Harlech

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift between a small British army contingent and a huge army of Zulus in January 1879 was memorably presented in the splendid 1964 film Zulu which depicts how 150 British soldiers successfully held off an army of 4,000 Zulu warriors.

The battle followed on after the Battle of Isandlwana fought a few days earlier where a British army of 1,800 men was utterly defeated and routed by the Zulus.

Rorke’s Drift also saw the awarding of 11 Victorian Crosses the greatest number ever awarded for one single engagement. Also the basic premises of the film is largely true and accurate, but it is not a historical re-enactment of the actual events.

The heavily outnumbered British successfully defended Rorke’s Drift more or less as portrayed in the film. Director and co-writer, Cy Endfield, even consulted a Zulu tribal historian for information from Zulu oral tradition about the attack. There are, however, a number of historical inaccuracies in the film but in the overall scheme of things are relatively minor.

The film was largely instigated by actor/producer Stanley Baker and is also the film that first introduced Michael Caine in a major role, ironically playing a foppish British officer rather than the cockney role for which he would become world famous for.

Despite the overwhelming odds, the discipline and training of the British army enabled them to repel the first Zulu attack.

Where at the film’s climax the two armies compete against each other with their chants and songs. History tells us there was no stirring rendition of Men of Harlech but who cares, in this film it is magnificently staged as a prelude to the final slaughter.

Zulu also boasts a terrific supporting performance by the criminally under-rated Nigel Green as Colour Sergeant Bourne, a seasoned officer who plays a key role in organising and leading the British defence

Nearly 60 years after it first released, Zulu has remained a constant favourite of many a film goer in its numerous re-releases and then as a perennial television fixture. It’s been a favourite of mine ever since I saw it on one of it’s many re-releases.

In 2018 Chief Mangosuthy Buthelezi defended the film’s cultural and historical merits, stating that there’s “a deep respect that develops between the warring armies, and the nobility of King Cetshwayo’s warriors as they salute the enemy, demanded a different way of thinking from the average viewer at the time of the film’s release. Indeed, it remains a film that demands a thoughtful response.”

And as a final note, the film boasts an outstanding score by one of my favourite film composers in John Barry.