Blowing the Bloody Doors Off… and other lessons in life, by Michael Caine
(Hodder & Stoughton, £20).

 

Michael Caine

 

 

Michael Caine, who at 85, is fast becoming a national treasure, is probably one of the most successful actors Britain has ever produced. He has appeared in well over a hundred films and is still working. He appears to have a compulsive need to work and at times thought that his days as an actor were up. In the past, he tended to accept a scattergun approach to films, rarely turning down an offer, just in case it was the last. He need not have worried, although in the late 1990s he wasn’t getting enough acting work, so decided to retire from performing and went into the restaurant business. It was Jack Nicholson who persuaded him to come out of retirement and appear alongside him in Bob Rafelson’s Blood and Wine (1996) which he did and since then has never looked back.

 

Looking back seems to be something that Caine doesn’t do very often, according to his new book Blowing the Bloody Doors Off. He would rather look forward to the next project on the horizon, particularly if the current one is not so hot. Just do the work, get on with it and look to the future is his philosophy and one that runs right through the book. It is subtitled ‘… and other lessons in life’, so it’s not so much an autobiography as a vade mecum for budding young actors looking to enter the profession. Caine’s previous book, The Elephant to Hollywood, detailed his career progress from modest beginnings in south London to the dizzy heights of Tinseltown. Although he here mentions some of the films he made, he is more interested in imparting the background details, showing how to approach an acting career, how to get there and what direction to take once you have arrived. Don’t, he warns, try to be rich and famous because it may never happen. Carry on working and it just might.

 

Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite in 1933 in Camberwell to a Billingsgate fish porter father and a charlady mother. He and his brother were evacuated during World War II and had a terrible time of it. He left school at 16 and went into boring office jobs before being called up at age 18. He was sent out to Korea, undoubtedly the worst year of his life. Oddly enough the first half decent part he landed in films was in 1956 as a Private in A Hill in Korea, which turns up from time to time on the Talking Pictures TV channel, showing Caine hovering in the background behind the star Stanley Baker. His very first appearance on film, however, was in Sailor Beware earlier in the same year. However, it took him a long time to get that far.

 

The acting bug for Caine started in his teens when he joined the drama group at a local youth club. His first role was as a robot with one line. As he couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do in life, Caine pursued acting as a career. However, he  didn’t know how to get started until, working in a butter factory, a mate suggested he buy The Stage newspaper. Scouring the ads he found a repertory theatre in Horsham and got the job. Caine worked in rep on and off for about ten years, coupled with small appearances in film and television shows until Zulu came along, his first big break. Stanley Baker remembered him from A Hill in Korea and had also seen him in James Saunders’ play Next Time I’ll Sing to You in 1963 at the New Arts Theatre in London.

 

Baker asked Caine to test for a cockney role in Zulu, but when he arrived at the audition, director Cy Endfield had already cast James Booth in the part. As Caine left, Enfield called him back and asked “Can you do a posh British accent?” Caine had played all kinds of nationalities and accents in rep, so managed to land the part in Zulu, which was a great success and led to his starring in The Ipcress File and subsequently Alfie, the first of Caine’s films to reach the USA. After that he was made and he never looked back – he didn’t have to! More major films followed with the likes of The Wrong Box, Gambit, Funeral in Berlin, Hurry Sundown, Billion Dollar Brain, Play Dirty and, course, The Italian Job in 1969, in which one famous line gave work to many a Caine impressionist and the title of this book. Most will remember it, following an almighty explosion, Charlie Croker, the Caine character, announces: “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” The rest of Michael Caine’s film career is cinematic history.

                                                      

His book is based on Acting in Film, a masterclass he recorded for BBC Television many years ago. Reading the book you can hear Caine’s own voice as he prepares his readers for an acting career. Always be ready for an audition or a rehearsal, know your lines and try to be confident. Do your research beforehand and always carry a pencil to make notes the director may give you. Be prepared to fail but never stop learning. Make sure you master your craft and be ready to do the right thing. Try to be real and look for the truth behind any character you are playing. Don’t put yourself above anyone else and compete with nobody but yourself. Perhaps the wisest advice of all is to have no regrets. These wise words and many others make for a very interesting and entertaining read and not only for students of drama. Sir Michael Caine’s legion of fans will also enjoy his philosophy on life and work.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

 

Blowing the Bloody Doors Off is also available as an audiobook. Details on www.hodder.co.uk