Bookmarks Issue: 

Portraits and Conversations

A-WhoHellsInItBogdanovich, director of numerous films including The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, tumbled head over heels for movies when he was a kid. He began keeping a card file of every film he saw, and by the time he was 30, his inventory surpassed 5,000. Who the Hell’s in It is, essentially, a manifestation of that same childhood desire to chronicle his love for cinema. Here he presents 26 interviews and profiles of actors with whom he shared a friendship or a film set. ("Some thirty years ago," he begins, "in Rome, Orson Welles and I were having a late-night drink…") Some, such as River Phoenix, will be very familiar to younger readers, but most, such as Montgomery Cliff, Sidney Poitier, and Humphrey Bogart, will be startlingly fresh. And that’s Bogdanovich’s aim: to illuminate an era for those who missed the fun.
Knopf. 528 pages. $35. ISBN: 0375400109

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Peter Bogdanovich’s superb collection of movie-star profiles and interviews—a sequel to Who the Devil Made It, his interviews of top film directors—begins with an affectionate tale about Orson Welles that reminds us just how intimate the author’s connection to Hollywood’s greatest has been. But contrary to what we’ve come to expect from dime-a-dozen celebrities and celebrity interviews not worth two cents, the tale avoids bromidic egotism and journalistic platitudes." Jan Herman

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In a breezy and anecdotal manner, the author sets a glamorous stage, establishes authority, suggests a historical perspective, drops a big-time name … and he hasn’t even finished his opening sentence. If you’re a movie fan … [y]ou know you may be in for a dishy read, and Peter Bogdanovich delivers." Jeanine Basinger

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Who the Hell’s in It is not the volume of an obsequious fan but a collection of thoughtful love letters written by a man who’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. … Bogdanovich laments the fact that many filmgoers today have no knowledge of—or even worse, no interest in—films made before 1980." Melissa Anderson

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"One feels that he doesn’t want to dig too deeply into what his subjects actually did or did not accomplish in the movies, lest he offend them—and never mind that most of them are now dead and gone. On the other hand, there is something seductive about Bogdanovich, something about him that you can’t help liking." Richard Schickel

Critical Summary

As they did with his 1997 compendium on film directors, Who the Devil Made It, critics embraced Bogdanovich’s Who the Hell’s in It, his paean to legendary Hollywood actors, most of whom are now dead. Reviewers applaud the detail and care with which Bogdanovich paints his subjects—Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich, among them—and the professional insight he brings to this collection. "Inside the bon vivant and raconteur that is today’s Bogdanovich," writes the Washington Post, "is an honest-to-goodness film historian." They agree Bogdanovich is singular when he allows Lauren Bacall to reminisce about Bogey and prompts Jerry Lewis to hold forth on Dean Martin. However, several conclude that Bogdanovich’s friendship with his principals sometimes obscures his ability to view them with the cold eye necessary for objective analysis.

Supplemental Reading

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film | David Thomson (2002, 8th ed.): 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2003. One man’s highly opinionated catalogue of film, with over 1,300 entries.