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Chansons d'Amour: Alfie Darling on Blu-ray

  Alfie, the 1966 comedy drama that consolidated Michael Caine as a movie star, may not have needed a sequel, but it got one nine years later with Alfie Darling, based on the novel by Bill Naughton, who had penned the original's source material as well as contemporary kitchen sink cult films The Family Way and Spring and Port Wine. Something along those lines might have gone down better than this sequel had, as critics and public alike were disdainful of its attempts to make lightning strike twice, and the film was a flop all round. However, actor fanciers would find a lot to hold their interest with this line-up.

Caine was otherwise engaged, and starting to get on a bit too, so playing the youthful lothario was not up his street anymore, therefore the star they brought in to replace him was Alan Price. Yes, that famous Cockney Price - no, wait a minute, the Jarrow Song singer was a proud Geordie, and there was no explanation as to how Alfie had this new accent other than a possible Doctor Who-style regeneration. He had appeared on film before, though his sixties band The Animals never had a Beatles-copying A Hard Day's Night cash-in, but in 1973 he was the composer and performer of the soundtrack to cult classic O Lucky Man! and had appeared as himself in it.

Alfie Darling was a considerable step down from that Lindsay Anderson effort, but presumably Price had been bitten by the acting bug by agreeing to appear in this, though he was given an antidote shortly after courtesy of the reviews and public indifference. Still, the list of pop and rock stars who think they can act is a long one, from Tommy Steele to Ed Sheeran and with countless points in between, and as we followed Price's Alfie across the beds of Northern Europe - he was now a truck driver - there was no denying he encountered some interesting women along the way. In the plot, Jill Townsend was the main object of desire.

Townsend played a magazine editor and was supposed to be out of the earthy Casanova's league, to which the audience would only say, damn right she is, but this unattainable quality only served to make her more attractive to Alfie. She was best known for her stage work, though her career was overshadowed by her marriage to Shakespearean thespian of volcanic temperament Nicol Williamson which came to define her, and not to her appreciation either. But did she release any records? She may have had the voice of an angel, but she did not have a hit single, unlike Cilla Black who was drafted in to perform the title track.

Our Cilla had become well known for her rendition of the 1966 source's title song, though Cher had performed that in the actual film, so it was obvious to choose her for the sequel; again, not a hit, and she did not appear either, her one and only film role being Work is a Four Letter Word, one of the strangest films of the sixties. But others in the cast did release records aside from Price, even if they would not eclipse his success in the charts; take Vicki Michelle, a familiar face from the seventies who gained fame in the eighties as Yvette from sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo. Here she was onscreen for about a minute, long enough to appear topless and hitchhike out of Alfie's life.

But though she did not pursue a pop career, she did release a record with TV co-star Gorden Kaye as Rene for a comedy cover of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's Je t'aime... moi non plus, the sixties megahit, basically a comic skit from a time when such things were falling out of favour. At least you can say she had a nice singing voice. Hannah Gordon, meanwhile, had a couple of scenes as a stopover who mothers Alfie; she never had a singing career either, though some fondly recall her guest appearance on The Morecambe and Wise Show in 1973, the Christmas Special no less, where she performed Windmills of Your Mind from 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair.

Rula Lenska was in the French sequence as a lonely wife of a café owner, striking a note of poignancy as she loves Alfie but he simply sees her as a fling (and an excuse for director Ken Hughes to get more nudity in the film). Her big break, aside from shampoo commercials, was on drama serial Rock Follies, where she sang in what was fair to say not quite as accomplished a style as her two co-stars in the fictional group she belonged to, The Little Ladies, though her huskier tones were not unappealing. There was a spin-off and Lenska, Julie Covington and Charlotte Cornwell hit the charts for OK? with Sue Jones-Davies, reaching no.10 with a rock-pop effort in keeping with the show.

Scottish jazz singer Annie Ross played Alfie's neighbour down the hall who openly despises him, but as many viewers will expect ends up seducing him in the last act, perhaps surprisingly also getting her kit off (if it's any consolation, Price is seen in the buff a couple of times as well) for a comedy bit. She may be best known for terrifying kids when she was turned into a robot in Superman III, but she had well-considered albums out too, her best known song being the tongue-twisting, skippy little ditty Twisted, which wasn't a hit single but made an impression when on various early 1960s episodes of variety television.

The most famous conquest of Alfie was Joan Collins, in pre-Dynasty seventies phase of taking any job she could get to keep her head above water, which may make you more sympathetic towards her in this as the posh bird our antihero beds as much for her pleasure as his own; she has a few words of wisdom too. Her most notorious effort as far as singing went was on the 1983 single she released with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as a tribute to John Lennon, that's right, her cut glass vocals spoke (rather than sang) the late Beatle's Imagine over a cringemaking over the top backing, heavy on the violins. Her performance of The Boys in the Backroom on Dynasty is notable too.

Sheila White was Alfie's live-in girl who oddly didn't live with him, but her vulnerable nature was supposed to show how callous he was as he reassures her then has his wicked way with her anyway. She had a dual career as a professional singer, best known in France with a light, pleasing style and songs like Olive - no, she wasn't in sitcom On the Buses, but she was in Confessions of a Window Cleaner and its sequels. Someone else was in the cast who had a singing career, but not until the eighties, for Patsy Kensit played Hannah Gordon's little daughter briefly, she would find brief fame with Eighth Wonder and big hit I'm Not Scared in 1988 before acting resumed as her concern.

In smaller roles were television presenter Jenny Hanley as a receptionist at the magazine - she didn't release any records - and Minah Bird, who plays the fiancée of Alfie's best pal Paul Copley, who does not appear to have released any either. None of these compares to Price's endeavours in music, which he may have wished he had stuck with after O Lucky Man!, but Alfie Darling does at least pickle in time a very specific set of attitudes towards women in the seventies that you could argue have not entirely been shaken off in many quarters. That it ends on a forced note of tragedy to try and one-up the original is a mistake: sticking with the humour might have been a better bet, but fans of music-related movies (Price had a couple of self-sung tunes on the soundtrack) would be captivated.

[Alfie Darling is released by Network, fully restored, with the trailer and an image gallery as extras. Click here to buy from the Network website.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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