March Feature – REMAKES – Alfie

Alfie vs. Alfie

Growing up and moving into an adult context for a relationship is something that we all must do, but not too many of us can continue to do it beyond a certain age. Some of us can avoid that last step of adulthood, chasing skirts and drinking as long as you can. It’s easy to dream, it’s easy to bed hop and it certainly is easy to not be able to move from a certain point in your life. If there ever was a movie made about a guy who can’t move forward from a certain point in his life, Alfie would be it.

Alfie is the story of an Englishman named Alfie Elkins. Alfie has a rather charmed life; a girlfriend who is in love with him, plenty of willing attractive women willing to sleep with him, and a job that affords him the means and opportunity to live a rather charmed life. While everyone and everything changes in his world, Alfie keeps trying to cling to the things that keep him distracted from his rather shallow existence until finally he has nothing left.

Alfie was originally made in 1966 starring Michael Caine as the British playboy. For Caine it led to an Academy Award nomination and was the launch of a long career as a leading man. It was his personal showcase, and a star was born. It’s his signature role, the one he’s still known for (despite winning two Academy Awards for other roles and starring in many other great movies as well) almost 40 years later.

In 2004 it was remade with Jude Law in the title role and seemed to be the death knell for Law’s career as a leading man. With six movies involving him in various roles, 2004 was supposed to be the year he became a huge star and stepped up into the rarified air of a successful leading man. Well, the “Sexiest Man Alive” as voted by People Magazine (2004) went from one box office failure to another. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow failed to draw huge ticket sales despite rave reviews, and Alfie was his next stab at commercial success. Mixed critical reviews as well as opening opposite of one of the biggest movies of the year both critically and commercially, in The Incredibles helped contribute to another in what was a series of box office failures for Law that year. If anything, Alfie was the signal that while Law has the acting chops to be a leading man, the people who have to believe it the most (the movie-going audience) didn’t think so.

Movie VS Movie

Winner :1966 Version

1966’s Alfie is an all-time classic while the 2004 version was one of my favorite movies of last year. I’ll go with the original, as the 1966 version has a much better portrayal of Alfie himself.

Michael Caine’s Alfie was a Romeo whose world had passed him by, a man upon whom lost it all by thinking there was something else waiting for him. He was a jerk, but a jerk with feelings and heart. Alfie is a womanizer and a philosopher at the same time; he isn’t sympathetic, but he’s fascinating. It is a command performance

Jude Law’s Alfie is not someone you feel sympathy for but at the same time, the way he goes through life, you have a sense that it’s him getting his just deserts rather than an epiphany.

Caine gets an emotional rain check while Law gets an emotional hip-check, and in the end its Caine’s character that touches more of a raw nerve than Law does.

Acting then VS Acting now

Winner :2004 Version

While the original is more acclaimed, I will give the nod to the cast of 2004’s version. They are given more to do in the movie and shine accordingly; the dialogue in the original is centered on Alfie, with Caine getting the bulk of the work. The cast in the original functions as a device for Caine to tell his story, to interact with as if he can walk in and out of any scene. It’s more of a real-time narrative than it is a series of events and thus the rest of the cast does not have as much to do; they are more interacting and reacting to Alfie than they are engaging in the world.

Jude Law in the remake has less to say than Caine did, but in the remake its’ not just Jude talking to the camera and working through a narrative as much. Marissa Tomei and Susan Sarandon, the two great loves of his cinematic life, do much more than just interact. They provide a much more solid ground than the original cast did, as we can tell where they want things to head even if Alfie doesn’t. They have much better, more complex motivations and directions to go in than they did in the original. With more to do, they can shine and create more in their scenes than the original did.

Direction VS Direction

Winner :1966 Version

The actual look and feel of both movies is remarkably different for the same inherent story they tell.

The look is the biggest difference of the two movies. In 1966’s version, they don’t rely on as many glowing shots and scenery as they do in the 2004 version. London is a much more gritty and devoid of the same sort of glowing shots possible in 2004 New York.

The feel of the movie is much different in 2004 as well. To be able to tell the story of Alfie effectively, one has to be able to put the womanizing and revelry in its’ proper context. This is what the 1966 version still manages to do better; Alfie is sympathetic in 1966 but not in 2004. A lot of this has to do with how he’s shown. In 1966 he’s just a jerk who lets life pass him by as he womanizes; in 2004 he’s much more of a hedonist looking for the next attractive woman to fancy.

Story VS Story

Winner :1966 Version

The story of Alfie Elkins is kept in tact, more or less, in the nearly 40 years since it was first brought to the silver screen. The heart of the story is still the same, as we are featured to a cad of a man finding that everything good in his life he screwed up and over. Thing is that to keep the story current, a lot has to be changed in any remake due to the feminist movement and women’s liberation.

Alfie’s one true love doesn’t need to be married or have a man in 2004 New York, but needed to in 1960s London. So in the remake she really didn’t need to push Alfie to marry her to make their little family whole, she just wanted someone to be with. His best friend’s woman becomes much more different in the remake; in the first, she is just someone there for convenience that ends up becoming part of his downfall. In the second, she is first a symptom of just how little self-control he has with women and ends up being the final symbol that what he’s been selling he can’t buy anymore.

There isn’t much that was changed for the remake, as the story itself was kept in tact more or less, but the 1966 version wins this battle because Alfie’s fall from grace (as it were) is less of his own doing than the 2004 version’s is. The heart of the story is still there, but the 1966 version is better at telling it.

Side by Side: Which movie had/was

1) Better Acting? 1966
It all comes down to who is a better Alfie. And while Law was wonderful, Caine was magnificent. The supporting casts are both equal in terms of acting ability and performance, but the key in this movie is the lead and Caine is flat out better.

2) Better Directing? 2004
The new version has a much better flow, moves much more fluidly in terms of Alfie’s live events; instead of Caine narrating what’s happening all the time, Law narrates just some of the time and we’re treated to much more of the story than in the original.

3) Better Story? 1966
Both movies have the same basic story, but it’s a matter of perspective for both. 1966’s Alfie is just a jerk who finds out how big of one he’s been where in the second Alfie is a lazy womanizer who talks big but has no real ambition to pursue it. He’s more concerned with wine, women and song than in attempting to take that final step in life. Caine is someone you can feel bad for, Law is someone you feel sorry for.

4) Better Dialogue? 1966
The remake’s dialogue is a bit more stifled than the original; the original is much more natural and fluid. A lot of the problems with the remake come with the fact that the dialogue is stilted and attempts to be cute more often than not. The remake cuts more to the heart and is more straight-forward.

5) Better characters? 2004
Caine is a better Alfie, and a more enjoyable one, but the remake has a much more developed supporting cast. While Caine is a much better developed character as Alfie than Jude Law is, Law’s supporting cast are given motivations of their own that are more evident. The women are not just playthings with accents, they are much more three dimensional than in the first.

The women in his life (The one who got away, the woman he shouldn’t touch, and the rich woman) are much more well-rounded in the remake than they are in the original; Alfie gives them a meaning, a bigger purpose in the movie, in the original whereas in the remake they are given motivations outside of Alfie that are much clearer and more concise.

6) More enjoyable? 1966
The original is a better movie if only to the performance of Caine. His energy is infectious and he brings you into the movie and the character of Alfie much more smoothly and effectively than Law does. Law has the look, but Caine has the wit and charm. Caine’s world crashing comes down in a much more dramatic way, as it’s a bit less predictable and lot more note-worthy than Law’s.

7) More relatable? 2004
We all know someone like Alfie in our daily lives, or are Alfie ourselves. 2004 Alfie is a much more selfish, pleasure-driven beast than the 1966 version, and there’s always someone you know or have known that falls into this category. We can see his character in our ordinary lives much more often than we see Caine’s. Caine is jerk, for sure, but he’s a jerk who is in the same sort of predicament a lot of us could get in. He’s made bad choices; Law’s Alfie is just having the sort of consequences that are a logical progression based on his actions, a natural comeuppance. Caine gets his just due, for sure, but it’s not as much of his own design as it is Law’s.

The Inside Pulse:
Both movies I own and enjoy, but the difference between them is simple. 1966 is an all-time movie classic, 2004 is a good movie. While the Jude Law version is really enjoyable, the little differences in it kept it from becoming the memorable career-making role that propelled Michael Caine to the heights he achieved from it. The 2004 is a darn fine movie, but the original is one of the top movies of all-time.

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