Sir Michael Caine
Sir Michael Caine has carved a successful – though patchy – career out of wooden acting; and while he was lucky with roles early in his career in Zulu, The Italian Job, Get Carter, and The Ipcress File, it is the past glory of these roles that has more than made up for what is undeniably limited ability in front of the camera, despite the accolades of a fawning film world.
Born Morris Joseph Micklewhite on 14th March 1933, in Rotherhithe, South East London, he was the son of a Billingsgate fish market porter, and a tea lady. A bright lad, Caine won scholarships to grammar schools where he shone academically before taking a job as a clerk and messenger boy for a film company, where his desire to be an actor was kindled.
After completing national service in the British Army Caine pursued acting and took a number of minor roles in theatre before winning the role of army officer Gonville Bromhead VC in the 1964 film Zulu in which he shouted the immortal line “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” and was falsely credited with two others: “Zulus, bloody thousands of ‘em” and “Don’t you, throw spears, at me.”
While his first major role spoke with an English upper class accent, it was for his deadpan London accent that Caine became known for. In 1966 he played maverick English spy Harry Palmer in the Ipcress File, and this critically acclaimed movie was soon followed by the popular zeitgeist Alfie, in which Caine played the eponymous philanderer.
There followed two more roles as Palmer in Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion-Dollar Brain (1967), before ending the ‘swinging Sixties’ – for which Caine was now the undisputed ambassador – in the highly successful Italian Job (1969) which saw Caine’s character mastermind a gold bullion robbery in Italy from London’s Kings Road, with the help of Union flag festooned minis.
The Seventies began well for Caine, in the gritty gangster flick, Get Carter, but the decade was a lean one for an actor draped in Sixties’ cache, with his only real success being alongside Sean Connery in the adaptation of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975).
The Eighties were a bit better for Caine, as he was lampooned for his choice of roles in such cinematic disasters as The Island (1980), The Hand (1981), before winning his first Oscar in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and then misguidedly wandering into the acting twilight zone of comedy in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988).
The Nineties didn’t start that well for Caine either as he was out-acted in The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992), and was only his reputation from the Sixties that kept his career alive as he floundered from one flop to another before winning a Goldon Globe award in 1998 for his role in Little Voice; a springboard for his Oscar winning performance in Cider House Rules (1999).
Caine has since restablished himself in the hierarchy of Hollywood, with roles in the Austin Powers series, as Alfred the butler in the Batman series, and grittier roles in the Quiet American (2002) and Children of Men (2007).
Sir Michael Caine lives in Surrey, England, with his wife since 1973, Shakira Baksh; he is an avid supporter of Chelsea Football club.