The only time I remember my Dad talking to me about why he left my mother and us he blamed Michael Caine. He said that a working class lad like himself was raised to think that there was a certain path your life would take: school, work, marriage, kids. So he did all that like he thought he was supposed to and by 1962 at the age of 25 he was a cab driver with a wife and two kids living in a crumbling council flat in Fulham. But then the Swinging Sixties happened and along came a new generation of stars in movies, music and the arts like Caine who were from the same working class background as my Dad and didn’t following the old, class-defined rules. Suddenly the possibility of a different kind of life appeared, just because you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth you didn’t have to be a cab driver, you could be an actor, a singer, a painter, a photographer — anything you wanted. So my old man ran away to join the theatre, hoping to become the next Michael Caine. That’s how he attempted to explain it to me anyway, personally I thought it sounded a little like self-justifying bullshit, but I don’t know how I’d feel if I found myself with a wife and two kids with an itch I’d been told I couldn’t scratch and society suddenly moved the goalposts on me like that.
There were other English actors at the time who came from similar backgrounds — Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, Terence Stamp — but none of them had the same iconic status that Caine attained with roles like Alfie Elkins, Harry Palmer, Charlie Croker, and Jack Carter which established him as the embodiment of 60s English cool, the good-looking lad from Rotherhithe with the birds and smart suits who even made glasses look sharp. And it wasn’t just my Dad, at some point in his life hasn’t every bloke wanted to be Alfie?
Download: Alfie – Cher (mp3)
Download: Get Carter (Main Theme) – Roy Budd (mp3)
Before I was old enough for “Alfie” and “Get Carter” my own formative memory of Caine revolved around the 1967 movie “Billion Dollar Brain” which was the third in the Harry Palmer series. I first saw it on telly when I was a kid and it’s just the sort of colourful spy romp that would get stuck in a young boy’s head with it’s rather comic-booky, bizarre plot involving a talking super computer, eggs full of deadly viruses, a crazy Texas oilman with a private army, and a sexy Russian spy (played by the heavenly Francoise Dorleac who was Catherine Deneuve’s older sister and sadly died in a car crash just after the film was finished.) With the lurid direction of barmy old Ken Russell it’s like a James Bond movie on drugs and nothing like the first two Palmer films which were rather dour, gritty affairs, almost like kitchen sink spy movies. Most critics hated it but I still think it’s terrific and I’m a lot older now. It also has great opening titles and the theme music by Richard Rodney Bennett is just gorgeous.
Download: Billion Dollar Brain (Main Theme) – Richard Rodney Bennett (mp3)
(Apparently it was Michael Caine’s birthday last week which had nothing to do with me writing this post. Just one of those weird coincidences.)