The complicated thing about Michael Caine is that he has made almost as many (and some would say more) bad movies than good ones. Yes, he’s recognized as an outstanding actor, winning numerous Academy Award® nominations and winning Best Supporting Actor Oscars® in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986) and “The Ciderhouse Rules” (1999). But for every “Hannah” there has been a stinker that sank almost as fast as another of Caine’s soggy sequels, “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” (1979). That is the mystery of Michael Caine: he’s an obviously talented actor who obviously cannot always recognize quality material.
Michael Caine was born Michael Micklewhite in South London, England, on March 14, 1933. Caine’s father was a laborer and his mother was a domestic. The family was very poor and Caine spent his youth getting into fights and occasionally looking for work to help his parents make ends meet. He loved acting, however, and although it wasn’t the fastest way to a steady paycheck, he pursued it with a passion. After a name change and years of work in repertory theater he landed a role in a forgotten film, “A Hill in Korea” (1956). The film did nothing for his career, so it was back to theater and TV before Caine made his cinematic comeback in “Zulu” (1964). The part won him attention and led to a role in another quality picture, “The Ipcress File” (1965). It was a modest beginning, to be sure, and certainly could not have prepared him for the stardom that was to follow when he starred in a seminal 1960’s flick, “Alfie” (1966). The movie was a box-office smash and Michael Caine was turned into a superstar. He received an Academy Award nomination and launched into a period of heavy drinking, womanizing, and brawling.
The tough guy image fit Caine well and he carried it over into a multitude of tough guy pictures including “Gambit” (1966), “The Battle of Britain” (1969), and “Get Carter” (1971). “Carter” was a gritty, modern noir that went on to influence a new generation of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino. But Caine’s portrayal of Carter was very close to the real Caine,” brutal, violent, lost. His marriage to an exotic beauty, Shakira Baksh, gave him domestic stability and his work in “Sleuth” (1972) gave him another Oscar® nomination. He would work constantly over the next 15 years, sometimes appearing in great films like “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975) and sometimes adding his weight to stinkers like “Swarm” (1978). Regardless of the quality of the roles, Caine earned a great deal of money. While happily married, he continued to enjoy the good life and became the owner of several outstanding London restaurants. He also wrote a well-received biography and taught screen acting.