of British cool in the 1960s, leading action star in the late '70s,
and knighted into official respectability in 1993, Michael Caine has
enjoyed a long, varied, and enviably prolific career. He remains one
of the most established performers in the business, serving as a role
model for actors and filmmakers both young and old.
The son of a fish-porter father and a charwoman mother, Caine's beginnings
were less than glamorous. Born Maurice Micklewhite on May 14, 1933,
in the South London neighborhood of Bermondsey, he got his first taste
of the world beyond when he was evacuated to the countryside during
World War II.
After Korean War service, he joined a rep company as an assistant stage
manager and took easily to acting. He changed his name to Michael Caine
after seeing ‘The Caine Mutiny’. He had walk-on roles in
TV and films, including ‘Sailor Beware’ and ‘A Hill
in Korea’ (both 1956), but plodded on largely unnoticed, often
uncredited, for nearly a decade.
Caine's big break occurred in 1963, when he was cast in a leading role
in the epic, star-studded historical adventure film ‘’Zulu.
Not overawed by the already established Stanley Baker he played the
part of Bromhead well and gave the sense of a man on a journey. Suddenly
finding himself bearing a modicum of importance in the British film
industry, the actor next played Harry Palmer, the bespectacled secret
agent of ‘The Ipcress File’ (1965); he would go on to reprise
the role in two more films, ‘Funeral in Berlin’ (1966) and
‘The Billion Dollar Brain’ (1967).
He went on to gain international fame in his next film, Alfie (1966),
in which he played the title character, a gleefully cheeky, womanizing
cockney lad. For his portrayal, Caine was rewarded with a Golden Globe
award and an Oscar nomination. However next came the film for which
he will probably be best remembered that of the loveable rogue Charlie
Croker in the 1969 comedy ‘The Italian Job’. This was in
many was considered by many to be the celluloid manifestation of all
that was hip in Britain at the time).
was Joseph L. Manckiewicz's Sleuth (1972), in which he starred opposite
Laurence Olivier and won his second Oscar nomination. He then went back
to his roots with the critically accailmed Mike Hodges ganster movie
‘Get Carter’ (1971). Later in the 70’s he would star
with Sean Connery in a couple of films – the first was John Houstons
‘The Man Who Would Be King’ (1976). This adaptation of the
famous short story by Rudyard Kipling tells the story of Daniel Dravot
and Peachy Carnahan, two ex-soldiers in India when it was under British
rule. They decide that the country is too small for them, so they head
off to Kafiristan in order to become Kings in their own right. Kipling
is seen as a character that was there at the beginning, and at the end
of this glorious tale.
His international status was further confirmed with his role in the
much-acclaimed California Suite (1978), in which he headlined a cast
including Jane Fonda, Maggie Smith, Walter Matthau, Bill Cosby, and
Caine had two of my favourite roles in the seventies, firstly as Col
Steiner in the John Sturges film ‘The Eagle has Landed’
(1976). He played a non-nazi German Officer enlisted to kidnap Churchill
with the help of Donald Sutherland playing an IRA agent. Caine's first
scene where he debates the morality of killing Jews with an SS General
is not easily forgettable. In another military role Caine played an
Irish Guards Colonel in Attenborough's ‘A bridge too far’
(1977). For any of you who have seen the film may well remember the
‘you don’t know the worst of it…but
this part here…it’s the wide bit’