The gala tribute to internationally acclaimed actor Michael Caine by the Film Society of Lincoln Center on April 26 was one of the best in its annual series of fund-raisers honoring notables of the screen. Films clips of Caine's worked combined with the wit of the speakers and the personality of Caine himself made for an entertaining, well-earned salute in Avery Fisher Hall that seemed to race by in comparison with some such events that seem interminable.
The clips chosen and integrated into the program confirmed what Caine admirers know. He always gives an interesting performance whether the film is a gem or an also-ran. Speakers can sing praises, but the impressive achievements of the London-born actor were best exemplified by samples of Caine's voluminous work in such films as "Educating Rita," "Sleuth," "The Man Who Would Be King," "Alfie," "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Quiet American," "Deathtrap," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Cider House Rules."
Among those paying tribute, Steve Martin stole the evening with his very funny comments, including twitting the speaking appearance at a movie event of Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the President of Iceland. Martin joked about the coup of getting him. (He happens to be a friend of the honoree.) Martin also kidded himself, saying that he is the speaker one gets when Woody Allen doesn't show up. (Allen paid tribute on a video.).
Martin also asserted that the Film Society had made more money on this fund-raiser than on any other, except, he joked, for the deduction of Caine's fee. A highlight among the clips was a hilarious one from "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," in which Martin, faking paralysis, is painfully being whipped by Caine as a bogus doctor to test his reflexes while Martin must not show any reaction.
Andrea Marcovicci was also entertaining as she reminisced about absurdities during the making of "The Hand," in which they acted together. The film involves a hand severed in an accident. Marcovicci demonstrated how, as the hand clutched her neck, she was directed to both try to pull it away and hold it close to her for camera purposes. "I haven't sent such mixed signals since high school," she said. Others who took part included actors Benjamin Bratt and Ian Holm, and director Phillip Noyce.
Caine, who received rousing standing ovations before and after he took to the microphone to thank the Film Society, appeared to be genuinely touched. He talked about his early life in England and his path to becoming a film star. He also spoke of how much New York meant to him and of his long attraction to the city. Caine flashed a wry sense of humor throughout his comments.
No surprise there. Among several interviews I did with him was one in a flat he had on Grosvenor Square with a view of the U.S. Embassy. Every time he looked out the window he saw the American eagle insignia on the embassy building. "Sometimes I think I should hang out the Cockney sparrow," he remarked.
The tribute was programmed and directed by Wendy Keyes and produced by Tony Impavido.