Michael Caine is a contradiction of a man in a lot of ways. While in the ’80s, he opposed Margaret Thatcher and insisted he didn’t mind paying his taxes, he later threatened to move to the US if British taxes were raised. He has been married to a Muslim woman since 1973, but he supported Brexit. He kept his accent to let other working-class people know they could make it, too, and only changed his name because having a passport in the name of Maurice Joseph Micklewhite got tedious, but he was also the personification of Swinging London in the ’60s.
Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that what so many of us remember him for is his turn as Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Indeed, I know any number of people who think he should have won an Oscar for the role, though I myself wonder which category he would have been up in; for Supporting, I’m already busy being mad that Jaye Davidson didn’t win, and for lead, would he have taken the nomination of winner Al Pacino? Because while I don’t think Pacino actually deserved to win, not winning would have made him the record holder for most nominations without a win. I can easily accept his taking either Pacino’s or frankly even Eastwood’s spot for lead, though.
I admit I’m not a huge Dickens fan, but I still love Caine’s performance in the film. His Scrooge has the wry sense of humour you get in the best Caine performances, one that I’m not completely sure is in the book but which works for me nonetheless. (I’ve never gotten past the first page of the book.) However, that humour is never directed at the reality of his costars. It’s directed against them as characters—he can laugh at Bob Cratchit without laughing at the fact that he’s played by Kermit the Frog. He takes the Muppets completely seriously as “people,” treating them in a way appropriate to their position in the film. I think it speaks to his skill as an actor.
It’s not as though playing Scrooge was Michael Caine’s first experience as the Only Sane Man, either. Another movie of his that I love is Noises Off . . . . It’s a farce about the production and touring company of a farce. Caine plays director Lloyd Fellowes, and to explain the plot would almost miss the point. But there is one scene in it that is a masterpiece of physical and silent comedy, when various of the characters are fighting and wooing during a performance, all without letting the audience know what’s going on. Lloyd isn’t a great human being, but he’s at least got it more together than practically anyone else involved in the show.
Yes, I persist in championing roles, and movies, like that above his Oscar-winning roles in Hannah and Her Sisters (which I haven’t actually seen anyway) and The Cider House Rules (which frankly didn’t come in what I think of as a great year for the category but should have gone to Michael Clarke Duncan if anyone). It isn’t just that anyone can make a fuss over Sleuth or Educating Rita. It’s that I genuinely do like a lot of the smaller, more obscure roles better. Not that his Scrooge is small or obscure. Not that it should be.