Sir Michael Caine’s ability as an actor seems indelibly entwined with his universal likeability as a person. For all the method and technique involved, he is proof that having the audience on board from the get-go is half the battle. He is an expert at mingling his own inherent charms with the character that he is playing to add humanity and humility to the wide-ranging roles in which he is cast.
This blurred self and character coolness on screen falls in the tradition of the late great Jean-Paul Belmondo. In fact, you could almost trade Caine’s name in place of the late French actor in Quentin Tarantino’s appraisal of Belmondo and it would fit like the proverbial glove: “When Paul Newman played a bastard, like in Hud, he was still an enjoyable bastard. But the guy in Breathless wasn’t just a sexy stud prick. He was a little creep, petty thief, piece of shit. And unlike in a Hollywood movie, they didn’t over sentimentalise him… That’s why Cliff appreciated [Belmondo] not doing that with his little shitheel in Breathless.”
Perhaps the original, and best, proponent of this effortless character acting style was Humphrey Bogart. Thus, it is no surprise to find out that Michael Caine’s favourite film has ‘Bogie’ at the helm: Casablanca. Speaking to Entertainment Ie, Caine remarked: “Casablanca would be my one, I love some of the lines in it.” While the star didn’t venture to offer up his favourite quote, with golden script snippets like, “Because my dear Ricky I suspect that under that cynical shell, you’re at heart a sentimentalist,” it’s not hard to see where he is coming from.
The iconic 1942 film now resides in cinema as a culture permeating feat. The internal battle that Ricky faces of trading in his equanimous shelter of indifference for the dangers of pursuing sentimental fulfilment is one that has been repeated endlessly on screen. Very rarely, however, has it ever been tied together quite as beautifully as the ending to the original epic.
As Caine said when he had the pleasure of opening a re-run of his favourite film at the Electric in London: “I’m probably one of the few people here who saw this film when it came out. I was a young man who wanted to be a young actor, and Humphrey Bogart was, and still is my favourite actor of all time. I’d seen many Bogart movies, and even at the time, I thought this is one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. And to this day, it still is.”
Adding: “It’s one of the great romances of our time. And, the leading lady and the leading man didn’t really like each other and didn’t hit it off at all. I know a great deal about the movie from later, because Howard Koch, who was one of the writers, was the boss of Paramount when I got there. He was the man who green-lighted Alfie, and The Italian Job….. This should be the wonderful script that everybody set out to make, but it wasn’t like that at all. It was a hodge-podge of a thing. The first coupling of it was Ronald Reagan and Anne Sherry.”
As it happens, Caine eventually filled the boots of his beloved Bogart in a literal sense. As he explained when choosing five of his favourite movies that he got the chance to star in, with his second pick, The Man Who Would Be King. As soldiers who adventure into Kafiristsan, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer brought director John Huston’s vision scintillatingly to life. Caine declared that the three actors were already friends long before the film, but “I had never met John Huston,” Caine adds, “But he was my favourite director.”
“I got a call in a hotel one night […] and it was John Huston. And he said, ‘I’m doing a Rudyard Kipling movie, would you like to come and see me’, and I said ‘Yes, I’d love to come and see you, when shall we meet?’ and he said, ‘I’m in the bar next door’.” Thereafter, Huston revealed to Caine that he would be playing a role he previously intended to cast Humphrey Bogart in before he died. “Bogart was my favourite actor,” Caine explains, and with glee, he recalled, “I was going play a part that Bogart was going to play and I was going to be directed by John Huston!” Thus, once more the script business cropped up whereby Huston said he’d send one over and Caine replied, “It’s okay, I’ll do it, don’t worry.”