Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Michael Caine is one of the great actors of the 20th Century. He did so many wonderful movies that some have been lost from our collective appreciation. Today he is considered, and cast, as a first-rate character actor. His work in 'Batman Begins' as Alfred or the elder hippie Jasper in 'Children of Men' seem to be his current bread and butter. But I just saw a British film with him back in the lead. 'Harry Brown' stars Caine as the aging version of the tough guy seeking to clean up his drug-ridden neighborhood. He has become a much-appreciated actor. And that appreciation is well deserved. I saw an interview with him in which he was asked why he had made some bad movies. He replied that he is an actor. He would love to make only masterpieces, but he took work to fill his schedule. Such honesty is missing from many celebrities.
But I want to look at some of his early films. I hope to jog some people's memories of the fabulous films of his early career or to inspire some newer movie fans to pick-up copies of some under viewed classics. Enjoy!
This list is limited. One hint. If you hear that a Caine film is being remade-get the original. It is probably very good.
The Man who Would be King
I wrote an entire article about this terrific film. You can read the details here. This is the crowning jewel of Caine's career. He and Sean Connery star as two British soldiers looking for adventure in India/Pakistan/Afghanistan of the previous century. The go on an emotional, physical and spiritual journey that leads to Connery becoming King of Kafiristan. Wonderful interaction between Caine and Connery with a majestic setting and intriguing characters to boot.
The Italian Job
If you have seen the Mark Wahlberg remake don't be put off. This original is a top-notch heist film. The sequences with the minis make this film must-see by themselves. Caine is terrific as Charlie Croker. Croker is leading his unique group on a theft of magnificent proportions. Terrific chases and an ending that is to be seen to be believed.
The quintessential tough guy. Caine plays Carter. Carter is a man of questionable morals who intimidates, roughs up or does other violent work for his boss. When his brother turns up dead, in a suspicious car crash, Carter wants to know why. And by whom. He is warned off from investigating by almost everyone he meets. But, we know, he can't do that. Another film with a terrific final moment. Again, don't be turned off is you saw the Sly Stallone remake. Stallone might have a bigger chest, but I find Caine's Carter to be much more intimidating.
Dressed to Kill
Director Brian DePalma's 1980 film has generated much debate in the film community. Did DePalma "steal" from Hitchcock or is this an homage to the classic director. I believe the later, but I can understand anyone who thinks this is just a Hitchcock film under a different name. But if you are going to "borrow" why not borrow from one of the greats? Caine plays a psychiatrist who's patient has been murdered. A prostitute, played by the most-attractive Nancy Allen, is the only witness. The police suspect her and she must prove her innocence. The scenes in the museum and the elevator are extremely reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. If you enjoy his work you will enjoy this homage. Plus, as an at the time 19 year-old, Nancy Allen does look nice in all her outfits.
Acting battle between Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. I think Caine wins. Brilliant job by both terrific actors. Olivier's wife is about to leave him to be with the much younger Caine. Caine stages a robbery of Olivier's home to facilitate this change in relationships. There is a multitude of plot-twists as we race toward the climax. Each has their own motives and manipulations as they try to outdo the other. Who will emerge victorious? The viewers. Great acting, terrific direction and an intricate plot will entertain almost all. One bit of bad news. This DVD is out-of-print and quite expensive. It is also of less-than-stellar quality. This film is crying out of a Criterion reissue. I hope they are reading!