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Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
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The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart

A-Tough Without a Gun.epsStefan Kanfer's previous books include biographies of Lucille Ball and Marlon Brando, as well as Stardust Lost: The Triumph, Tragedy, and Mishugas of the Yiddish Theater in America (2006).

The Topic: Humphrey Bogart wasn't as crooked as he was supposed to be. The actor who played so many down-on-their-luck heroes with persistent personal codes of honor in fact came from a well-heeled East Coast family, but he never quite lived up to his parents' expectations. Despite his great legacy, he wasn't an instant success in film, either: he didn't make his big break until his 40s, an age by which many of today's young stars will likely be forgotten. But Bogie keeps on going, remaining one of the most recognizable and respected figures of old Hollywood. While providing a biography and commentary on the actor's major films, Kanfer explains why Bogart had such appeal in his own time and in ours.
Knopf. 304 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780307271006

Slate 4 of 5 Stars
"Kanfer has sounded [Bogart] out beautifully with this swift, smart, scrupulous book. It brims with insights no less piercing for the modesty with which they are framed." Tom Shone

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kanfer provides a satisfying summary of [Casablanca] in film history. He provides similar summaries for other films. ... The value of this book, then, lies in Kanfer's insights into and analysis of the way that Bogart worked and how it made him ‘the most perversely attractive actor in the history of cinema.'" Roger K. Miller

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kanfer's bibliography lists two dozen books devoted to Bogart, and that's not counting the study of his mother's work or the memoirs of his colleagues. Why another one, and why this one? Kanfer makes the case, mustering superlatives." Holly Brubach

Entertainment Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Kanfer ... labors to bring us the man behind the star, but he never gets beneath the celluloid surface. Tough Without a Gun presents a relatively comprehensive guide to the straight facts of Bogart's life--his tony upbringing, his years in theater, his battles with the House Un-American Activities Committee. But it's not quite the stuff that dreams are made of." Keith Staskiewicz

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"It is a shame ... that Kanfer's biography is so inadequate to the task of shedding new light on Bogart's life, or even explaining the attraction he continues to hold for audiences. Kanfer leans heavily on his sources, devoting the most space to films ... about which much has already been written." Saul Austerlitz

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2 of 5 Stars
"In Kanfer's ‘and then he made' approach to Bogart's career, he never really gets the iconography and reality to match up. So, what you've got is a filmography seasoned with irony." Chris Foran

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"[L]et's give [Bogart] credit for effectively translating the ideas, images and words of others in a bare handful of memorable films. Let's not weigh him down with the burden of being a flesh-and-blood superhero of American morality." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

A few book and film critics did their best to round up Bogart quotations they could tweak to trash Tough Without a Gun. Various reviewers panned it as thin, a rehashing of existing material, and inadequate to its self-proclaimed mission of explaining Bogart's appeal. But a few other critics claimed that just as Bogart was a different kind of actor, Tough Without a Gun is a different kind of book. Since the man's life and his iconic films have already been well-studied, they argued, Kanfer fills the need for a synthetic work that brings together the existing scholarship and uses it to explain Bogart's appeal. Many experts were not persuaded: this biography is one for Bogart aficionados only.