Yugoslavian postcard by Cik Razglednica.
The working-class bloke with glasses and a down-home accent
In 1930, Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in London, to Ellen Frances Marie Micklewhite-Burchell, a cook and charlady, and Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, a fish-market porter. He has two brothers. Younger brother Stanley Caine appeared in at least three of Caine's films: Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Play Dirty (1969) and The Italian Job (1969). He did not know about his elder half-brother David until their mother died in 1989. For more than forty years, Caine's mother had paid periodic visits to a ‘cousin’ in a mental hospital. David suffered from epilepsy and lived till his death in 1992 in the hospital.
Michael left school at 15 and took a series of working-class jobs before joining the British army and serving in Korea during the Korean War, where he saw combat. Upon his return to England the 20-years-old Caine gravitated toward the theatre and got a job as an assistant stage manager. He adopted the name of Caine on the advice of his agent, taking it from a marquee of the Odeon Cinema that advertised The Caine Mutiny (Edward Dmytryk, 1954).
In the years that followed he worked in more than 100 television dramas, with repertory companies throughout England and eventually in Lindsay Anderson's West End staging of Willis Hall's The Long and the Short and the Tall (1959). He was Peter O'Toole's understudy in that stage hit and took over the role when O'Toole left to make Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962).
Caine's first film role was as one of the privates in Stanley Baker's platoon in the British war film A Hill in Korea (Julien Amyes, 1956). A big break came for Caine when he was cast in the Cockney stage comedy Next Time I'll Sing To You (1963). He was visited backstage by Stanley Baker, the star of A Hill in Korea, who asked him for his upcoming film Zulu, a film Baker was producing and starring in. Zulu (Cy Endfield, 1964) is the epic retelling of a historic 19th-century battle in South Africa between British soldiers and Zulu warriors. Instead of being typecast as a low-ranking Cockney soldier, he played a snobbish, aristocratic officer.
Zulu was a major success, but it was the role of the spy Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (Sidney J. Furie, 1965) and the young womanizer in Alfie (Lewis Gilbert, 1966) that made Caine a major star. He epitomized the new breed of actor in mid-1960s England, the working-class bloke with glasses and a down-home accent.
Some excellent films followed including his American debut Gambit (Ronald Neame, 1966) with Shirley MacLaine, the Harry Palmer spy film Funeral in Berlin (Guy Hamilton, 1966), the caper The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1969) with Noël Coward, Battle of Britain (Guy Hamilton, 1969), and especially the crime film Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) and the mystery thriller Sleuth (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1972) with Laurence Olivier, for which he earned his second Oscar nomination.
Spanish postcard by Productos Compactos S.A. Photo: publicity still for The Ipcress File (Sidney J. Furie, 1965).
British postcard by Boomerang. Photo: Everett Collection.
What's it all about?
During the bigger part of the 1970s, Michael Caine seemed to take on roles in below-average films, simply for the money he could by then command. There were some gems amongst the dross, however. He gave a magnificent performance opposite Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston, 1975) and turned in a solid one as the commander of a Luftwaffe paratroop unit planning to kidnap Winston Churchill in The Eagle Has Landed (John Sturges, 1976). Caine also was part of an all-star cast in A Bridge Too Far (Richard Attenborough, 1977), was part of the ensemble in the comedy California Suite (Herbert Ross, 1978), and slashed Angie Dickenson in the thriller Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980).
Highlights during the 1980s were Educating Rita (Lewis Gilbert, 1983), earning him the BAFTA and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and Hannah and Her Sisters (Woody Allen, 1986), for which he won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He was not present at the Academy Awards ceremony because he was filming Jaws: The Revenge (Joseph Sargent, 1987), for which he was nominated for worst supporting actor at the 1988 Razzie awards.
His other successful films were the war film Escape to Victory (John Huston, 1981), the Ira Levin thriller Deathtrap (Sidney Lumet, 1982), and the beautiful neo-noir mystery Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1986) with Bob Hoskins. Caine was excellent as Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992). In 1992, he also published the autobiography What's it all about? It was a decade later followed by The Elephant to Hollywood (2012). He was awarded the CBE (Commander Of The Order Of The British Empire) in the 1993 Queen's Honours List for his services to drama.
Having by that time practically retired from acting on the big screen, he enjoyed a career resurgence in the late 1990s. He received a Golden Globe Award for his performance in the musical Little Voice (Mark Herman, 1998) and his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Cider House Rules (Lasse Hallström, 1999). In 2000, he was awarded a Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire.
In the last decades, he often played mentors and father figures to younger characters in films. In every film Caine made with director Christopher Nolan, his character either assists, guides, trains or educates the protagonist. In The Prestige (2006), Caine portrayed a magician who teaches the main character the art of illusion. For Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy - Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - Caine played the supporting and nurturing butler Alfred Pennyworth to Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Christian Bale). For Inception (2010), Caine depicted the father of the main protagonist, Cobb, and aids him by recruiting one of his students. In Interstellar (2014), Caine portrays a professor/engineer, who invites and encourages the central character, Cooper, to lead an important space mission that will determine the future of planet earth.
Among his other more recent films that have been widely acclaimed are the British/German drama Last Orders (Fred Schepisi, 2001) with Tom Courtenay, the parody Austin Powers in Goldmember (Jay Roach, 2002) as Austin’s father, the Graham Greene adaptation The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002) with Brendan Fraser, Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) and Pixar's Cars 2 (John Lasseter, 2011). In the remake of Sleuth (Kenneth Branagh, 2007), Caine took over the role Laurence Olivier played in the 1972 version and Jude Law played Caine's original role.
Michael Caine married twice. In 1955, he married his first wife Patricia Haines. They divorced in 1958 and have one child, Dominique (aka Nikki). His current wife is Shakira Caine, whom he married in 1973. They have one daughter, Natasha. Caine has he has a granddaughter and two grandsons.
Modern postcard by Classic.
Trailer Get Carter (1971). Source: MOVIECLIPS Classic Trailers (YouTube).
Ytailer Dressed to Kill (1980). Source: MOVIECLIPS Classic Trailers (YouTube).
Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.