Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Alfie Darling (1975)

Having loved Alfie the classic 1966 film with Michael Caine and the play/novel (and writing in general) of its creator Bill Naughton, it surprises me that it's only now that I've actually settled down to watch the largely forgotten sequel from eleven years later, Alfie Darling.

The film is based on Naughton's own follow up novel which, published in 1970, came out four years after the successful film adaptation and tie in novel of the play he wrote in 1963.  That's a few years down the line for the character of Alfie Elkins in every genre, though little has changed. Alfie here, portrayed by former Animals musician Alan Price, is just as much a lothario as before, only this time he works as a lorry driver - an excuse to show Alfie shagging his way around Europe. Indeed the film could have been called The Not So Loneliness Of The Long Distance Lorry Driver! 

Alfie Darling is a joy for retro and nostalgia lover as the film looks beautifully 70s, in the same way that the same studio (EMI) big screen spin off of The Likely Lads and  O Lucky Man, which ironically also featured the music and acting of Price, seriously you can almost taste the Blue Nun and Vesta curries! 

But it's that unmistakeable 70s ambience that is also the film's problem; the years have passed and Alfie hasn't changed, despite what realisation had occurred to him at the end of the first film/play/novel. Played by Price he's also not aged either (be fair, he's actually gotten younger, seeing as Caine was older than Price when he played the part) and also, he's changed from being a Cockney to a Geordie! I have a soft spot for Alan Price, he's a good musician and his previous film associations, as himself (and rather drunk) in DA Pennebaker's Bob Dylan fly on the wall documentary Don't Look Back, and in O Lucky Man, were not without charm. He's not without charm here either, as is required, but he's simply not good enough an actor to carry a film by himself, and the breaking of the fourth wall that was such a delight in the first film feels contrived here when it finally begins, 30 minutes in and continued half heartedly throughout, and shows just how incapable an actor Price is. He is certainly no Michael Caine, and that's essentially what a film involving Alfie needs.

Story wise the sequel isn't actually that different from the original either. Alfie is a likeable working class Romeo who, inbetween all the one night stands and ongoing affairs (including an already past it looking Joan Collins) finds a woman who is actually his match. In the original it was Shelley Winters as the brash American Ruby, here it's American actress Jill Townsend (famous for TV's Poldark) playing the British jet set journalist Abby. She's quite a progressive character Abby, a high flier with seemingly no glass ceiling and I'm sure many a feminist will delight in the notion that, after much persistence, when Alfie finally does get her into bed, he's impotent. Alfie really has been bitten by the love bug with Abby and he even proposes only for her, in another clever twist, to run a mile. By the final lap of the film everything looks set for a happy ending, until Alfie is faced with a huge personal tragedy and wake up call, similar in a way to the abortion he was confronted with in the original. 

Further similarities to the original continue with the film securing Cilla Black (who got the theme 'Alfie' to the UK charts in '66) to sing the theme song 'Alfie Darling', though Alan Price sings (and plays) for his supper too, naturally.

In conclusion Alfie Darling isn't a success by any means, but I did enjoy it and there is indeed still much to enjoy, especially if one can dismiss the thought of Caine, though that's no easy feat. We all know an Alfie, or indeed have maybe we've been a bit of an Alfie ourselves in our time, so Naughton's stories always speak to us personally in one shape or another, and this is no different. One thing is for certain it's a damn sight more agreeable than the pointless remake of Alfie starring Jude Law.

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