This was the first film to receive the "suggested for mature audiences" classification by the Motion Picture Association of America in the US, which evolved into the modern PG rating. The film had its World Premiere at the Plaza Theatre in the West End of London on 24 March 1966.
Handsome Cockney chauffeur Alfie Elkins (Michael Caine) enjoys the favours of women, while avoiding any commitment. He ends an affair with a married woman, Siddie (Millicent Martin), just as he gets his submissive single girlfriend, Gilda (Julia Foster), pregnant. Although Alfie refuses to marry Gilda and cheats on her constantly, Gilda decides to have the child, a boy named Malcolm, and keep him rather than give him up for adoption.
Over time, Alfie becomes attached to his son, but his unwillingness to commit to Gilda causes her to break up with him and instead marry Humphrey (Graham Stark), a kindly bus conductor who loves her and is willing to accept Malcolm as his own son. She also bars Alfie from any further contact with Malcolm, forcing Alfie to watch from a distance as Humphrey steps into his fatherly role. When a health check reveals Alfie has tubercular shadows on his lungs, the diagnosis, combined with his separation from his son, leads him to have a brief mental breakdown.
Alfie spends time in a convalescent home, where he befriends a fellow patient named Harry (Alfie Bass), a family man devoted to his frumpy wife Lily (Vivien Merchant). When Alfie flippantly suggests that Lily might be cheating on Harry, Harry confronts Alfie about his attitudes and behaviour. Alfie is released from the home and meets Ruby (Shelley Winters), an older, voluptuous, affluent and promiscuous American, while freelancing taking holiday photos of tourists near the Tower of London. Alfie returns to the convalescent home to visit Harry, who asks him to give Lily a ride home. Neither Alfie nor Lily initially want to spend time together, but they agree to please Harry, and the ride home turns into a one-night stand.
Later, Alfie picks up a young hitchhiker, Annie from Sheffield (Jane Asher) who is looking to make a fresh start in London and moves in with him. She proves preoccupied with a love left behind, scrubbing Alfie's floor, doing his laundry, and preparing his meals to compensate. He grows resentful of the relationship and drives her out with an angry outburst, later regretting it. Around the same time, Lily informs him that she is pregnant from their one encounter, and the two plan for her to have an illegal abortion to keep Harry from finding out. The abortion proves traumatic for both Lily and Alfie, with Alfie breaking down in tears upon seeing the aborted fetus.
The stress of the situations with Annie and Lily makes Alfie decide to change his non-committal ways and settle down with the rich Ruby. However, upon visiting Ruby, he finds a younger man in her bed. He encounters Siddie again, but she has lost interest in him and returned to her husband. Alfie is left lonely and wondering about his life's choices, then asks the viewers "What's it all about? You know what I mean." The film concludes as Alfie comes across an old, stray dog that he encounteres at the beginning of the movie and they walk the empty street together.Michael Caine as Alfie Elkins
Shelley Winters as Ruby
Millicent Martin as Siddie
Vivien Merchant as Lily Clamacraft
Jane Asher as Annie
Julia Foster as Gilda
Shirley Anne Field as Carla
Eleanor Bron as the Doctor
Denholm Elliott as the Abortionist
Alfie Bass as Harry Clamacraft
Graham Stark as Humphrey
Murray Melvin as Nat
Sydney Tafler as Frank
Queenie Watts as the Blonde Pub Singer (uncredited)
The film is unusual in that it has no opening credits and the end credits feature photos of the principal actors, as well as of the main technical crew, including director Gilbert and cameraman Otto Heller. It was shot at Twickenham Studios with scenes shot at several locations in London; including Waterloo Bridge which is seen at the beginning and end of the film where the title character walks into the distance accompanied by a stray dog and Tower Bridge which is the backdrop for the photography scene with Shelley Winters.
Several well-known actors, including Richard Harris, Laurence Harvey, James Booth and Anthony Newley turned down the title role due to the then-taboo subject matter. Despite having played "Alfie" on Broadway, Terence Stamp categorically declined to reprise the role on film, so he and casting agents approached his good friend and then roommate Michael Caine: not one to then snub a role about a common man, Caine agreed to do it. He won huge acclaim for the breakthrough role of his career and continued to land better parts.
The original film soundtrack featured jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins with local musicians from London including Stan Tracey on piano, who improvised "Little Malcolm Loves His Dad" (although never credited), Rick Laird on bass, Phil Seamen on drums, Ronnie Scott on tenor sax. The released soundtrack album, recorded in the United States with orchestration by Oliver Nelson, featured Rollins with J.J. Johnson – trombone (tracks 1 & 2), Jimmy Cleveland – trombone (tracks 3-6), Phil Woods – alto saxophone, Bob Ashton – tenor saxophone, Danny Bank – baritone saxophone, Roger Kellaway – piano, Kenny Burrell – guitar, Walter Booker – bass and Frankie Dunlop – drums
The title song, "Alfie", written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was sung by Cher over the film's closing credits in the US release. It became a hit for British singer Cilla Black (whose version was used for the original British soundtrack), and for Madeline Eastman and Dionne Warwick. Numerous jazz musicians have covered it and it has become a jazz standard.
Alfie garnered critical acclaim, currently holding a 100% "fresh" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Academy AwardsBest Picture (Lewis Gilbert) - Nominated
Best Actor (Michael Caine) - Nominated
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Vivien Merchant) - Nominated
Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Bill Naughton) - Nominated
Best Original Song (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) - Nominated
BAFTA AwardsBest British Film (Lewis Gilbert) - Nominated
Best British Actor in a Leading Role (Michael Caine) - Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Vivien Merchant) - Won
Best British Screenplay (Bill Naughton) - Nominated
Best Cinematography (Otto Heller) - Nominated
Best Editing (Thelma Connell) - Nominated
Golden Globe AwardsBest English-Language Foreign Film - Won
Best Director (Lewis Gilbert) - Nominated
Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama (Michael Caine) - Nominated
Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Vivien Merchant) - Nominated
Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Shelley Winters) - Nominated
Best Screenplay (Bill Naughton) - Nominated
Best Original Song (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) - Nominated
Cannes Film FestivalJury Prize (Lewis Gilbert) - Won'
Palme d'Or (Lewis Gilbert) - Nominated
The 1966 film was followed by Alfie Darling (1975), with Alan Price replacing Caine. An updated 2004 remake starred Jude Law in the title role.Much dialogue from the film was sampled by the band Carter USM for their 1991 album 30 Something.
The LP, "Nino Tempo's Rock 'N Roll Beach Party" (1956 Liberty Records … LRP3023) can be seen hanging in Alfie's apartment in several key scenes.
New York post-hardcore band Polar Bear Club references "Alfie Elkins '66" in their song "Drifting Thing" off their 2009 release Chasing Hamburg.
The soundtrack to Austin Powers in Goldmember (in which Caine co-stars) contains a song entitled "Alfie (What's It All About Austin)" performed by Susanna Hoffs. This song is a cover of the original film's title song, with all occurrences of "Alfie" replaced with "Austin".
The film inspired The Divine Comedy's Becoming More Like Alfie, which samples its opening dialogue in its introduction.