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12 Underrated Michael Caine Films


A screen legend, Michael Caine has made over 100 films spanning more than 60 years. In amongst those are plenty of solid gold classics, including Zulu (1964), The Ipcress File (1965), Get Carter (1971) and The Man Who Would be King (1975). Admittedly, there are quite a few not very good ones too, including stinkers like The Swarm (1978), Jaws - The Revenge (1987) and Bullseye! (1990).




But in between those two extremes there are plenty of Michael Caine films that get unfairly overlooked. As Gill from Real Weegie Midget Reviews has brought back the Michael Caine Blogathon, I've decided to take a look at some of those films. For this article, I have chosen twelve Michael Caine films that I think are underrated, unfairly maligned or just need some more love.


12. Jack the Ripper (1988)


Michael Caine won a Golden Globe award for this two-part TV film that saw him return to British television for the first time in nearly twenty years. Caine plays Inspector Frederick Abberline, a real detective who investigated the killings in Whitechapel in 1888. Jack the Ripper was produced to mark the centenary of the Ripper murders and the identity of the murderer was kept a closely guarded secret until broadcast, with several alternative endings being filmed. Michael Caine's co-stars included Lewis Collins (above left, with Caine), Ray McAnally, Jane Seymour and Armand Assante, the latter showing that the makers had at least one eye on the American market. Caine's wilderness years in the 1990s included a lot of forgettable TV movies, but Jack the Ripper is a cut above those. Michael Caine teamed up again with director David Wickes two years later for the not quite so successful TV film Jekyll and Hyde


11. Sweet Liberty (1986)


This comedy was written and directed by Alan Alda, who also stars as a history professor who has written a book on the American Revolution. When Hollywood comes to town to make the film version, Alda learns that the film isn't going to be quite what he had in mind. Among the big names descending on small town America are leading lady Faith Healy (Michelle Pfeiffer) and libidinous British film star Elliott James (Michael Caine). Sweet Liberty's satire on Hollywood is very mild, but Caine is clearly enjoying himself in this role and almost walks off with the whole film. 


10. Water (1985)


In this comedy, Michael Caine plays the Governor of a small Caribbean island that becomes the subject of a tussle involving the British Government, American corporations, Cuban-backed rebels and French-backed mercenaries, when valuable resources are discovered there. Not gold and not oil, but mineral water! Well, this is the 1980s. Water harks back to the British comedies of the 1950s and was written by British sitcom maestros Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (Porridge, The Likely Lads, Auf Wiedersehen Pet) with Clement directing. It's fairly funny for the most part, but does run out of steam towards the end. The eclectic supporting cast includes Leonard Rossiter (above left, with Caine), Fred Gwynne (The Munsters), British TV presenter Paul Heiney as a German mercenary, and Billy Connolly in an early role as Delgado, “the singing rebel”.


9. Funeral in Berlin (1966)


Caine's 1965 hit The Ipcress File spawned two 1960s sequels, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain. The best of the two is Funeral in Berlin, directed by James Bond regular Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger). Caine again plays reluctant spy Harry Palmer, who is involved in another complex Cold War conspiracy. Palmer is sent to West Berlin to help organise the defection of a Soviet intelligence officer, Colonel Stok (Oskar Homolka), and smuggle him over the Berlin Wall. But does Stok really want to defect, or does he have something else in mind? Funeral in Berlin is a good sequel to The Ipcress File, and Caine is again on top form as Harry Palmer.


8. The Fourth Protocol (1987)


In The Fourth Protocol, Michael Caine plays a British agent who uncovers a plot by rogue Russians to smuggle an atomic bomb into Britain and detonate it on an American airbase. The lead Soviet spy is played by none other than Pierce Brosnan (above right, with Caine and Joanna Cassidy), who had just missed out on playing James Bond when he won this alternative spy role. The film is based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth, is scripted by the author himself, and directed by John Mackenzie (The Long Good Friday). The Fourth Protocol mixes James Bond-ish thrills with John le Carré-style politicking and skullduggery. Not quite up to the level of The Day of the Jackal (1973) but a very decent spy thriller that has to fight it out with The Odessa File (1974) for the title of second best film based on a Frederick Forsyth novel.


7. Battle of Britain (1969)


This spectacular all-star war epic tells the story of the aerial battle with Nazi Germany for air supremacy over Britain in 1940. James Bond producer Harry Saltzman rounded up almost everyone working in the British film industry in the late 1960s, including Laurence Olivier, Robert Shaw, Edward Fox, Susannah York, Ralph Richardson and Michael Redgrave. Michael Caine also inevitably appeared, as he was under contract to Saltzman after signing up to star in The Ipcress File. He plays a Royal Air Force Squadron Leader in the forefront of the battle, and acquits himself well, despite his relatively limited screen time. Battle of Britain was not a box office success outside the UK, but it holds up well and is one of the best of the 1960s and '70s World War Two epics.


6. The Wrong Box (1966)


This engaging comedy is loosely based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story. John Mills and Ralph Richardson play Masterman and Joseph Finsbury, two brothers in Victorian London. The two men are the last remaining members of a tontine, an involved lottery where the winner is the last person surviving. The elderly Masterman decides that he can't wait any longer to receive his payout, and so plans to do away with the oblivious Joseph. So ensues a complicated black comedy involving switched containers, attempted murder, a train crash and the Bournemouth Strangler. Michael Caine plays the slightly colourless hero, but he's supported by a cast made up of a wealth of British comic talent, including Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock, Irene Handl, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The first of two films Caine made for writer-director Bryan Forbes; the other, 1968's Deadfall, is well worth skipping.


5. Gambit (1966)


Try and erase any memories of the embarrassing sort-of-remake with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz, the original version of Gambit is in a different league altogether. In his first American film, Caine plays a charming Cockney crook, who teams up with a young woman (Shirley MacLaine) who happens to be the spitting image of the late wife of a mysterious multi-millionaire, Mr Shahbandar (Herbert Lom). Together the two plan to steal a priceless work of art from Shahbandar, but the plot soon becomes a lot more complicated than that. This is a charming comedy caper with a smart script by Jack Davies and Alvin Sargent and appealing performances from Caine and MacLaine.


4. Without a Clue (1988)


In this comedy, it's Dr Watson who is the brains of the Sherlock Holmes-Dr Watson partnership. Watson (Ben Kingsley) is a crime-busting amateur detective, but to stop his sleuthing from interfering with his medical career, he invents a fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, to take the credit. When the public expects to see this Sherlock Holmes, Watson has to hire an alcoholic actor, Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine), to take on the role. The two are called in to foil a plot to flood Britain with forged bank notes, masterminded by Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman). Ironically, this film about a dim Sherlock Holmes is one of the cleverer takes on the Holmes stories. The star pairing is a delight, with Kingsley's frustrated Watson matched by Caine's mostly hopeless and frequently drunk Kincaid.


3. The Whistle Blower (1986)


In this spy drama, Michael Caine plays a businessman and army veteran whose son (Nigel Havers) works as a linguist at the British intelligence services listening post at GCHQ in Cheltenham. When his son dies in suspicious circumstances, Caine uncovers a conspiracy that goes right to the top. Not really a spy thriller as such, this is a cynical, bitter and serious drama about the murky world of the intelligence services in the Cold War. Caine gives one of his best performances of the decade as an ordinary man who is in danger of uncovering too much.


2. The Last Valley (1970)


So obscure that even the people who made it have probably forgotten it exists, The Last Valley is one of what must be a tiny number of films set during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The film was written and directed by James Clavell (author of Shogun) and stars Michael Caine as the leader of a group of mercenaries who arrive in a peaceful and remote village untouched by the war. They are persuaded by a former teacher (Omar Sharif) to spare the village from destruction and winter there instead. But for these men, violence is never very far away. The Last Valley was an expensive production filmed on location in Austria. It ran in cinemas for a few weeks, bombed spectacularly at the box office, and promptly disappeared. But it's an intelligent and literate historical epic that's worth making the effort to seek out.


1. Too Late the Hero (1969)


Director Robert Aldrich had just enjoyed a huge hit with his cynical World War II film The Dirty Dozen (1967), when he embarked on Too Late the Hero, an even more cynical World War II film, starring Michael Caine and Cliff Robertson. Robertson (above right, with Caine) plays Lieutenant Sam Lawson, an American interpreter in the Pacific, enjoying his life far from the front line. Lawson's comfortable existence is rudely interrupted when he's ordered to act as an interpreter accompanying a small British patrol in their mission against a Japanese outpost. Among the British soldiers is Michael Caine as a cynical private and medical orderly. The mission is led by the incompetent Captain Hornsby (Denholm Elliott) and is a disaster, mainly due to Hornsby's poor judgement and Lawson’s reluctance to vary from his original orders. When the British soldiers flee from the pursuing Japanese, they make a discovery in the jungle that throws their escape into serious doubt. Too Late the Hero is one of the great unsung WWII films and one that explores moral dilemmas and the nature and purpose of heroism. It's also an exciting action film with a finale that, although contrived, must rank as one of the most gripping scenes in any war film.


For this list I also considered another WWII film, Play Dirty, but didn't think it was quite good enough, the spy thriller The Black Windmill, and the crime drama Mona Lisa. I decided the latter wasn't really underrated, although it probably isn't talked about quite enough.

If you have any Michael Caine films that you think deserve more praise, then please share them in the comments.




This post is part of the Marvellous Michael Caine Blogathon, hosted by Real Weegie Midget Reviews.


Comments

  1. Great list. Quite a few there I still need to see. I think he did some of his best work in that Jack The Ripper minseries. He is hilarious in Without A Clue. I really like him in The Statement, in which he plays a former Nazi trying to evade capture. He's also good in Shiner.

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    1. I havent seen The Statement so I'll have to check that one out.

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  2. I was only thinking a few weeks back that I would love to see Jack The Ripper again one day soon.
    Not seen Sweet Liberty or even heard of Water! Really enjoyed The Fourth Protocol when it came out. Do like a good Cold War tale. It's great to think that his Squadron Leader from the Battle Of Britain could of been the same Squadron Leader on Nolan's Dunkirk. (that is if he survived in his spitfire)
    Not heard of The Wrong Box either. Love Gambit, I do have a soft spot for Shirley MacLaine. Without a Clue has been on the to watch list for ages. I know I'm going to love that. I'm pretty positive I haven't seen The Whistle Blower. Added to the list.
    You put me on to The Last Valley last year. I know I'm going to really like it just haven't got to it yet.
    I was trying to guess number 1. Didn't guess it. I did really enjoy that film.
    Top list and real good to remember the great man's work.
    "Pulp" might be one I'd like to add though I can't vouch for it LOL. I've really liked it when I saw it around 20 years ago. But since others have said it's not great I'm determined to see it again.

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    1. I like that you were trying to work out what was number 1 - and that I managed to surprise you! You've got some great films to look forward to from the ones you haven't seen. It was fairly easy to pick the top 5 or 6 films, it was the ones lower down that were harder to choose and I could definitely have made the list longer. Pulp is quite an interesting film and would likely be in a top 20.

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  3. You chose some great lesser known Caine films. I saw the Jack the Ripper show way back when and thought it was very good. I love Funeral in Berlin and Gambit is a new discovery that I really enjoyed.

    Get Carter is rightly considered a great classic and so is Zulu. But while I love Caine, I consider Zulu a Stanley Baker movie. I fell madly in love with him after watching Zulu. :)

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    1. Everyone thinks of it as a Michael Caine film now and that's unfortunate because, yes, Zulu was Baker's pet project as producer and star. The copy I have has a very nice picture of Caine on the cover, but no sign of poor Stan!

      I'll have to consider putting a Stanley Baker feature on my to-do list, I know there are other fans around.

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    2. My absolute favorite, other than Zulu, is Hell is a City. But really Chance Meeting, The Criminal and Hell Drivers would all be good candidates for a review.

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    3. I'll see what I can do!

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  4. Thanks for such an indepth post and bringing this to my blogathon. Reviewed quite a few of these myself so always good to see them reviewed as agree quite a lot of his work needs more attention. Thanks again from Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews

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    1. Thanks Gill. I was happy to take part and pleased that you brought this blogathon back this year.

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  5. As a closet WWII nerd, I can't agree more on the "underrated" nature of "Battle of Britain," "Too Late the Hero," and even though it didn't make the cut. "Play Dirty."

    As for other "underrated" movies I would add, in a bit of shameless self-promotion, I would include the movie I contributed to this event, "Victory." It's easy to dismiss it as just a "sports" movie, and there's the ever-present "Stallone" factor, but if for no other reason, Max von Sydow makes a tremendous Nazi.

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    1. Play Dirty has quite a bit in common with Too Late the Hero, but it's never quite as good as I want it to be. It does have a fantastically cynical ending though.

      Escape to Victory is a bit cheesy, but good fun.

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  6. This is a terrific list of lesser-known Caine films. I'm a bit embarrassed to say *whispers, looks around* I have seen any of them. However, I'm keen to tackle a few of these titles right away. So, thank you in advance. :)

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    1. I'm glad you said that. I would have been disappointed if everyone said "Yeah, I've seen all those..."

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  7. I really enjoyed your review of underrated Michael Caine films, of which some you mentioned are quite enjoyable. I actually remember watching Jack The Ripper on Australian TV on its' release and I loved it then, as I still do now (even if their theory of the killer is hogwash). Additionally, I like The Holocroft Covenant, The Battle Of Britain and Gambit. In his autobiography, Caine states that he doesn't remember The Last Valley either! You don't mention Escape To Victory but I also feel that it's an underrated film of his - and also lots of fun. Thanks for a great review!

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    1. I didn't know that about The Last Valley, but I'm not surprised he's forgotten it - so has everyone else!

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  8. Amazing list! I did not know he was in Jack the Ripper, I need to watch it asap, thanks! How can any Michael Caine film be overlooked, right? The man is the legend and therefore any film with him must be good - I mean, he is in it so it is worth watching!

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    1. Interesting point of view! I'm not sure I agree, though. Watch Bullseye! or Jaws - The Revenge and then get back to me!

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  9. Nicely done. Love that final choice, Too Late the Hero. Fine film. I too thought of his supporting turn in Mona Lisa as a film not talked about enough and when it is I'm not sure people recall he's in it. He also did well in another supporting role opposite Jack Nicholson in Blood and Wine.

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    1. Thanks Mike. The final scenes in Too Late the Hero genuinely have me on the edge of my seat, even though I've seen it half a dozen times and know exactly how it ends.

      He's good in Blood and Wine as well, although his part is a bit small. I hesitated over Mona Lisa because it was nominated for and won awards and stuff at the time so was not underrated, but it has slipped off the radar a bit.

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