Book Review-The Elephant To Hollywood by Michael Caine
Michael Caine - Actor and Story Teller
Michael Caine is a Londoner and proud of it - born in Southwark in 1933, he spent most of his life up to becoming famous living in the capital and indeed many times during this second autobiography he returns to those places which he believes have shaped him as an individual.
Michael Caine is a born storyteller - I bought the Kindle version of this memoir but would quite liked to have listened to it in audio-book format because has a wonderful conversational style of writing.
It is as if you're having a cup of tea with him and he's telling you his life story.
This is the area of London to which Michael Caine moved after being evacuated to Norfolk during World War 2.
The Elephant & Castle
London has some unusually named place but perhaps The Elephant and Castle is one of the more unusual names.
Its name comes from the fact that a coaching inn called 'The Elephant and Castle' was situated in that area in the eighteenth century.
Michael Caine moved there after being evacuated to Norfolk during the Second World War.
His childhood years were ones of hardship but also much love and he discusses his father's job at Billingsgate Fish Market and of the long hours he worked, leaving Michael and his brother Stanley much of the time with his mother.
He has enormous love and respect for his mother and this really comes across in The Elephant to Hollywood. She was clearly someone who wanted the best for her boys and did her absolute best to make sure they got what they needed.
Michael Caine Knows Himself
One of the most noticeable things about The Elephant to Hollywood is Michael Caine's name-dropping and when you read famous name after famous name - Jack Nicholson, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Terence Stamp, etc etc you get quite jaded by it.
This is mainly because the stories are very superficial for the most part. Yes, we get to hear about Jack Nicholson and I don't doubt they had some adventures together when they were both single but Michael Caine is first and foremost a gentlemen - and gentlemen keep their secrets.
My desire to read some rip roaring tales of hard partying were not satisfied but I enjoyed this book nonetheless. Caine's book is not about what he got up to in his time off, it's about how he became the man he is now and that is a much more interesting story.
Michael Caine in this country is much imitated - his voice is perhaps one of the most recognisable to movie audiences because he has made so little attempt to give up his cockney dialect. He discusses this in the book and indeed some of his earlier movies, Alfie, The Italian Job and The Ipcress File all have his Cockney accent as an important element of the character; they identify him to the audience as a man from a certain place in the world with a certain British street smartness perhaps not seen in Harry Palmer's alter-ego, James Bond.
The video I have included has him dong an impression of people doing an impression of him - it is very funny, Michael Caine has always been able to laugh at himself.
No Overnight Success
Part of the joy of reading this memoir is Michael Caine's honest opinion of himself as someone who had been sometimes unlucky, sometimes lucky and was often in the right place at the right time.
After Caine appeared in a TV play,'The Compartment', Roger Moore saw him and Terence Stamp in the west end of London. Moore wound down the car window and shouted "Weren't you in 'The Compartment'?" Caine nodded, amazed to see Roger Moore, then already a big international star in 'The Saint' addressing him in person. Moore continued "I just want to tell you, you're going to be a big star." smiled and drove off.
When Stanley Baker visited him backstage when he was performing in a play 'Next Time I'll Sing To You' to tell him there might be a part for him in a new movie he was making, 'Zulu' Caine went to the audition only to be told he didn't look Cockney enough but because he was tall and blonde, he could pass for a British officer.
Although amused by this, Caine got the role and was offered a 7 year contract with Embassy Films on the back of his audition success.
After the movie, Embassy Films' boss Joe Levine released him from the contract telling him "I know you're not but you gotta face the fact that you look like a queer on screen." Embassy Pictures wanted romantic leads and Levine just didn't see Caine as 'romantic'. Poor Michael.
This could have put some people off altogether but not Michael Caine. On more than one ocassion he was warned off becoming an actor by producers, directors and even his own agent but he kept followed his dream.
Eventually, he was offered the role of Harry Palmer in 'The Ipcress File' and then 'Alfie' "because 'you're a Cockney bloke who likes women." and in turn 'The Italian Job' and 'Get Carter'.
Many of Michael Caine's movies are considered 'iconic' now - a spy who wore glasses and cooked (in the sixties? Unheard of!), a womaniser without conscience who talked straight into the camera, a heist using Mini Cooper cars and the mastermind skills of Noel Coward and a hard man returning to his urban past to 'remove' those who have killed his brother.
Michael Caine got lucky with scripts but he brought something of his own to the screen - real talent; even if he didn't realise it at the time, Roger Moore was right - he was going to be a big star.
For all of the impressionists this side of the Atlantic who have mercilessly portrayed him as a perennial Cockney, Michael Caine has shown himself to be a very good actor.
He admits throughout the memoir that he sometimes took work because either he needed money or he needed to keep himself out there so that directors knew he was still out there. He has, as a result, made some absolutely awful movies. He wasn't bad in them, they were just bad movies.
He has been Oscar nominated a number of times and won twice for Woody Allen's 'Hannah and Her Sisters' and more recently for 'Cider House Rules'.
Other movies for which he was nominated get a mention in the book, among them 'California Suite' and 'The Quiet American'.
At the end of the memoir he also discusses his favourite roles. I rather enjoyed this part of the book because it is always interesting to read about why actors are tempted by certain roles.
His Favourite 'Own' Movies
The Ipcress File
The Man Who Would Be King
The Italian Job
Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels
The Quiet American
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Cider House Rules
Which of his favourites is your favourite Michael Caine movie?
- 14% Zulu
- 7% The Ipcress File
- 14% Alfie
- 0% Sleuth
- 0% The Man Who Would Be King
- 0% The Italian Job
- 29% Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
- 7% Get Carter
- 0% The Quiet American
- 0% Hannah and Her Sisters
- 7% The Cider House Rules
- 0% Harry Brown
- 21% None, I have my own favourite
This poll is now closed to voting.
Michael Caine Is Still A Star
In his memoir Michael Caine comments at length on the movie industry's movement towards blockbuster action movies and the like but he still seems to seek out the smaller or more different roles.
He also accepts that with age come different sorts of roles.
This has not stopped him remaining a popular actor and he does comedy very well, appearing in 'Austin Powers- Goldmember' as Austin's father to great applause. He also appeared as Ray Say in 'Little Voice' to great effect.
More lately he has taken over the role of Batman's butler, Alfred. A role he says he rather enjoys.
If you have read his first autobiography, 'What's It All About' then you may be disappointed to discover that he does cover some of the same ground in 'The Elephant To Hollywood' but personally, I did not feel that this spoiled the book. It is some time since I read it and it was just as interesting reading about his time spent with his greatest mentor in America, Shirley MacLaine and his acting with Laurence Olivier as it was in 1992.
Michael Caine truly is a star and has been a star since the early sixties. He has grown with each new role and still has the star quality on screen now to have viewers admire him in the ways they did back in 1964.
I recommend this memoir if you want a truthful account of a nice Cockney boy's journey from his working class home to the Hollywood Hills.
It is a well paced, conversational memoir without any bitchiness (for a change) that shows that Michael Caine throughout his life has managed to keep one foot firmly in the Elephant and Castle whilst enjoying the stardom and all that entails in Hollywood - he has done well for himself and he knows it but he never takes it for granted.
Many thanks for reading.
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