ALFIE is a surprisingly successful exercise in dramatic irony: the title character, a charming mediocrity who fancies himself a ladykiller, delivers a running commentary on his tawdry sexual conquests and penny-ante criminal ambitions, cheerfully oblivious to an audience that knows more about him than he will ever know himself. Screenwriter Bill Naughton had already employed this rather stagy strategy in a play and novel of the same title; that Alfie's extended asides work so well on screen is due to the disarming appearance of naivete with which Michael Caine is able to address the camera. Alfie uses women shamelessly and without malice; when they demand commitment or emotional engagement from him, he's perplexed. Among a series of lovers, the most shabbily treated are Gilda (Julia Foster), his pregnant common-law wife, and Lily (Vivien Merchant), a married woman who looks for passion but finds pregnancy and abortion, both arranged by Alfie. In its time, the film was praised for its sexual frankness and persuasive rendering of Swinging London; both seem quaint by contemporary standards. Caine's Cockney Don Juan, however, is sui generis.