The 1970s films of Michael Caine: Ashanti

Ashanti poster
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It’s time for the penultimate 1970s film starring Michael Caine to go under the microscope – it’s 1979’s Ashanti…

The 1960s was Michael Caine’s breakout decade, giving us some of his most iconic performances in films such as Alfie and The Italian Job. However, the 1970s was much more of a mixed bag, with some genuine bona fide classics (Get Carter, Sleuth) alongside tons of flops and oddball curiosities that have now been mostly forgotten.

Who remembers that he starred in a historical epic with Omar Sharif? Or that he was in the sequel to The Poseidon Adventure? And what the heck could the film Peeper be about? So, film by film, I’ll be taking a look at Caine’s 1970s filmography to see what hidden gems I can unearth…

Spoilers for Ashanti lay ahead…

The film poster for Ashanti, starring Michael Caine

Directed by: Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Vikings, Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green, Mandingo, Conan The Destroyer)

Tagline: “Slavery…today!”*

*Unlike the film’s sombre opening card seriously addressing the ongoing slavery issue, this tagline actually seems pretty excited about the idea.

Other Featured Geezers: Beverly Johnson as Dr Anansa Linderby, Peter Ustinov as Suleiman, Kabir Bedi as Malik, Omar Sharif as Prince Hassan, Rex Harrison as Brian Walker and William Holden as Jim.

Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Last Valley
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Too Late The Hero
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Get Carter
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Kidnapped
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Zee & Co
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Pulp
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Sleuth
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Black Windmill
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Marseille Contract
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Wilby Conspiracy
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Romantic Englishwoman
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Peeper
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Harry And Walter Go To New York
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Eagle Has Landed
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in Silver Bears
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in A Bridge Too Far
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in The Swarm
Previously: Revisiting Michael Caine in California Suite

What’s it all about, Alfie?: Dr David Linderby (Caine) alongside his wife, and fellow medic, Dr Anansa Linderby (Johnson) are on a mission for the World Health Organisation in West Africa inoculating villagers when Anansa, mistaken for a local because of her race, is kidnapped by a band of slave traders led by the slimy Suleiman (Ustinov), something which thankfully was a much rarer occurrence during the covid vaccine rollout. With the police being of no help, David must venture out on his own across Africa, without even Google Maps, to track down his wife before it’s too late, enlisting the help of various rogues and oddballs along the way and occasionally getting into altercations with camels.


Caine-ness: Caine is first billed, and the film’s central character, with a major reoccurring supporting role for his back sweat (courtesy of location filming in sunny Africa). I imagine with hindsight he wishes that he, and his sweaty back, had stayed far away as he frequently cites Ashanti as his worst film, and one that he acted in purely for financial reasons.

The film opens with a jeep driving through an African landscape. It soon parks up to reveal that it is a W.H.O jeep. Coincidentally at this point the audience are also asking who’s jeep? This question is then answered as out gets Caine as Dr David Linderby and Beverly Johnson as his wife Dr Anansa Linderby.

Although personally I don’t think this is his worst film, or even a terrible performance from Caine, I can also see why he wouldn’t be entirely happy with it. He’s certainly not at peak physical fitness or looking at his leading man best, clearly having not yet worked off the tub of caviar and nachos he ate during California Suite, and rather than the suave and cool Caine we’ve got so often before, here we get strong frumpy middle-aged Dad on a holiday that he doesn’t want to be on vibes.


We get plenty of shouty and pointy Caine acting, which is certainly justified here as he’s shouting and pointing his hardest to try to find his kidnapped wife. He even shouts and points at a camel in a slightly demeaning scene (for both Caine and camel) in which he tries to tame the unruly beast, falls off it, and makes angry throaty noises at it before threatening to punch it. This anger towards the camel community was somewhat justified as apparently, due to extremely high temperatures, one camel collapsed on top of Caine during the shoot (something which never happened when he was working with the much more professional Dame Maggie Smith).

Here Caine is playing a normal bloke who, out of his depth in an unfamiliar continent, ends up at breaking point, resorting to any measures to save his wife, and to get revenge, which ultimately results in him shooting Suleiman to death in cold blood (I don’t blame him though, Ustinov’s accent was starting to grate by that point of the film).

I did find Linderby’s climatic rescue unintentionally amusing as when he’s finally found Anansi on the Prince’s yacht, his plan for rescuing her is just picking her up and chucking her into the sea before shortly afterwards jumping in himself. They’re not even near the shore! The film ends with them passionately kissing in the middle of open water. A boat does pass by, and so I assume it will pick them up, but it cuts to the credits before that, so for all we know they could have just trod water for half an hour whilst preoccupied with their kissing and then drowned (which would explain the lack of Ashanti 2).

Linderby proudly displaying the Blue Peter badge he was awarded for wife rescuing:


Caine-nections*: Omar Sharif also starred alongside Caine, in a more substantial role, in 1971’s The Last Valley.

Caine awkwardly rode a camel in this film and awkwardly rode a donkey in 1977’s Silver Bears (okay, okay, I know this connection is a bit of a stretch but I couldn’t find any others).

*I’m only counting from Caine’s first starring role in Zulu onwards.

Best Non-Caine Actor: My favourite character was the man on the bus with a nice hat and a cheeky grin who offers Linderby a bit of his fruit. What could have been the start of a great buddy movie is sadly cut short by Linderby refusing this offer and then this man doesn’t appear in the film again. A massive missed opportunity, this is when I knew I wasn’t on the same page as the filmmakers.

A stranger offers Michael Caine some fruit in Ashanti.

The second lead after Caine is Beverly Johnson, an actress who I was previously unfamiliar with. Johnson had started her career as a supermodel (becoming the first black woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue magazine), but apart from some questionable pretending-to-be-drugged acting, she’s charismatic and engaging throughout and makes the most of a slimly written part.

Also, a slightly misleading title thing, especially when looking at the poster, is that I initially assumed Johnson was playing a character called Ashanti (it doesn’t help that her name is the similar sounding Anansa) but this is the name of the African people that her character is descended from.

Seeing Peter Ustinov’s name in the cast, I was surprised to then see him as the main villain, Suleiman the slaver, (I wasn’t surprised he was playing a different race to his own and doing an exaggerated accent), as he usually has such a charming and avuncular presence. This actually becomes one of the film’s main issues as he’s still doing his standard lightly comic schtick whilst playing a completely morally repulsive character in a film that otherwise is treating the issue of slavery relatively seriously.

Peter Ustinov in Ashanti


It would be a fun performance in a different film, and he sports some snazzy sunglasses worthy of a lead singer of a Britpop band, but here he just feels out of place. He gets some moments of cold brutality, such as when he shoots his second in command in both feet and leaves him to die in the desert, but mostly it’s just Ustinov bumbling and mumbling around saying the occasional amusingly dry comment.

My favourite performance was Rex Harrison’s. Although apparently a nasty piece of work in real life, he has a fun and laidback screen presence and gets an excellent introductory shot in this film; louchely leaning on his elbow and lighting a haggard old lady’s massive pipe (not a euphemism). Who that woman was, or exactly what was going on here is not explained (was he chatting her up? If that’s his type, good for him, there’s no judgement here) because as soon as he spots Linderby, he gets up and introduces himself, leaving her to really go to town on her pipe (again not a euphemism). I would rather this film had been a romantic comedy about these two, but alas, again, the filmmakers squandered another perfect opportunity.

A man stands next to a woman smoking a pipe in Ashanti.

William Holden is also entertaining in the small role of a mercenary helicopter pilot, and Kabir Bedi is an intense presence and the film’s go-to action man. I was surprised to see Omar Sharif in such a small (he only appears in the last 20 minutes) and unflattering role. Having played a diverse range of characters, unfettered by his Egyptian background in a presumably less tolerant age when it came to casting, in films such as Dr Zhivago and Funny Girl, it was a little sad to see him here playing the crass stereotype of an amoral middle eastern millionaire.

He buys Anansa from Suleiman, even after finding out who she really is, as a sex slave for his dying father (he may be without morals, but at the very least he makes an effort for Father’s Day), coldly ignoring her pleas for freedom and offering her a cucumber sandwich instead. It made a little more sense when I learned that Sharif was originally slated to play the more heroic, and interesting, Lawrence of Arabiaesque character of Malik that Kabir Bedi ended up playing instead. When Sharif was not able to commit to the larger role, he took the smaller one of the Prince instead. Apparently, because of this, the part of the Prince was beefed up with additional writing by the author of the Flashman novels, George Macdonald Fraser (but arguably still not enough to make it worthy of Sharif’s involvement).

My Bleedin’ Thoughts: Hearing about the film’s plot, Caine’s disavowal of the film, and seeing the poster did initially give me some concerns about how problematic this movie would be to 2023 sensibilities, but actually on the whole it’s not too bad. The leery poster suggests a much more seedy and exploitative film than you ultimately get (which I imagine disappointed a lot of Dads renting this from Blockbuster back in the day).

However, it’s still just not very good. It’s too goofy to be a serious drama tackling a real-world issue (which it seems to want to be), and it’s dealing with too grim a subject matter, and is too dry, to be a fun adventure romp or so-bad-it’s-good camp either. So, it’s stuck in-between prestige drama and action romp without fully satisfying either tone.

Director Richard Fleischer had an eclectic career that included sci-fi classics (Fantastic Voyage and Soylent Green) true-crime dramas (Compulsion and The Boston Stranger), Arnold Schwarzenegger fantasy movies (Conan The Destroyer and Red Sonja) and even the musical Doctor Doolittle and the horror sequel Amityville 3-D! He seems to have gotten this particular gig because of his previous hit slave-themed exploitation film Mandingo.

With its location shooting there are some dramatic and atmospheric scenic shots, but these are somewhat spoiled by the dodgy musical score which, instead of dramatic orchestral bombast to match the epic vistas, goes for a slightly sleazy 1970s sitcom vibe and to cap everything the end credits feature an incredibly naff crooned ballad.

There were a few good scenes, such as the tense auction in which Linderby and Malik have to work out which of the men there is Suleiman, with the auctioneer giving them a cue when the right man bids. There are some impressive helicopter stunts and an intense, well executed action sequence where Malik wipes out a bunch of slavers (which is hindered a little by the aforementioned score, and then Malik undercuts his coolness when he realises he’s killed the wrong slavers and so halfheartedly lobs a vase at a tent in anger and strops off).


Trivia (Courtesy of IMDb): This film features two Bond villains – Kabir Bedi played the henchman Gobinda in Octopussy and Eric Pohlmann was the voice of Blofeld in From Russia With Love and Thunderball.

When nobody met Rex Harrison after he arrived at the airport in Israel for filming, he just flew back to Hollywood again. Whether or not he lit any old ladies’ pipes in the brief time he was waiting has not been documented.

William Holden mainly accepted this small role so that he could work on location in Africa where he owned a safari club.

Overall Thoughts: Despite what Caine says, I don’t think this is his worst film, but still it isn’t very good. It’s a tonally confused oddity, and certainly in the lower tier of lead roles from Caine. One for Caine completists only.

Rating: 2/5 Sweaty Backs

Michael Caine's sweaty back in Ashanti.

Where You Can Watch This: This is not currently available to stream, or to purchase on any physical media. Therefore, reading this review and picturing it in your mind’s eye is legally your best option for experiencing this movie. You shouldn’t worry though, as you’re not missing out on much.

Up Next: After 20 outings with many highs, many lows, and a few in-betweens, it’s the last of Caine’s 1970’s movies! Will he end the decade on a high? Well, it’s an unasked for/unneeded/mostly unconnected sequel to The Poseidon Adventure helmed by the director of The Swarmso, er, you be the judge, it’s Beyond The Poseidon Adventure.

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