(Fox Cinema Classics) It isn't so hard to explain the appeal of even the weirdest-looking movie star from the '60s and '70s, but Michael Caine mostly remains a mystery. The core Caine persona was forged in the mid-'60s, in The Ipcress File, where he played a streetwise spy more ballsy than Bond, and Alfie, where he played a Cockney cad living the sweet life in Swinging London. The Caine of those two films was charming but rough, and more than a little plain. He was interesting for what he didn't do as much as for what he did. But because he could fit discreetly into just about any role, by the '70s, Caine had become as exciting as a rented tux. Witness Peeper, a bland 1975 private-eye comedy that, in spite of a script by W.D. Richter, comes off as a thoroughly generic vehicle for a thoroughly generic star. Caine got some great roles in the decades after Peeper, but for a long stretch, he was stuck in movies where it's hard to believe any producer ever said, "We need Michael Caine!"
Along with Peeper, the increasingly inaptly named "Fox Cinema Classics" collection is offering two other not-that-fondly remembered Caine pluggers, both from 1968: the John Fowles adaptation The Magus, and the hard-edged caper picture Deadfall. Of the two, The Magus comes closest to being an underrated gem, if only because it's been so widely derided. Though Fowles adapted his own beguiling bestseller, he failed to make the largely interior story of wealthy Greek gamesman Anthony Quinn and wary joiner Caine conform to an audiovisual medium. The movie settles for "Alfie meets The Prisoner," with Caine playing a callow man getting a soul-diagnosis from the mysterious Quinn, who might be a doctor, a movie director, or a ghost.
As for Deadfall, it's handsomely shot and vigorously scored by John Barry, but it comes out like a small glass of very dry gin, with no kick. The movie's one bravura sequence has Caine trying to crack a safe during a classical guitar recital, backed by Barry's cascading score. But even that heist pales next to Topkapi or Caine's own Gambit, and eventually, Deadfall devolves into a passionless psychological study, spiked with shock-for-shock's-sake revelations of homosexuality and incest. In the middle of it all stands Caine, fast becoming a walking '60s-cinema cliché: terminally aloof and not as tough as he pretends.
Key features: Featurettes on each disc that have little to do with Caine, a nice salute to Barry on Deadfall, a probing biography of Fowles on The Magus, and a pointless appreciation of film noir on Peeper.