BOGART by Jeffrey Meyers


A Life in Hollywood
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 The man now considered America's greatest movie star is chronicled seriously and fully, but not always movingly or with new critical insight. Unsurprisingly for a work by a veteran literary biographer (Robert Frost, 1996, etc.), Bogart radiates an erudition uncommon to film bios. It skillfully interweaves quotes from disparate sources (Umberto Eco, Michael Curtiz, and Groucho Marx within six paragraphs), and makes a logical link between Bogart and his tough-guy contemporary Ernest Hemingway; the book's opening pages are devoted to detailing the parallels between the two men. Meyers's respectful approach fits his subject, whom he presents as intellectually restless, morally upright, politically aware, and courageous in facing the esophageal cancer that killed him. As befits the genre, there are plenty of anecdotes, though some, like the Bogart-Bacall meeting on To Have and Have Not and George Raft's rejection of the lead role in The Maltese Falcon, are familiar. Meyers's look at Bogart's relationship with John Huston provides insight into how both worked, and the stormy marriage to Mayo Methot is played out in nice detail. Bacall comes off a bit tarnished here: She loved Bogart but was extravagant, infatuated with Adlai Stevenson, and had an affair with Sinatra at the end of Bogart's life. Most amusing are the author's throwaway lines (``Huston had always wanted to direct a movie from horseback. . . .'') and his list of Bogart's films, which are divided into four categories: Best, Important, Good, and Poor. In addition, there is ample film analysis (``Casablanca transcends its absurdities''), but little revelatory to readers familiar with the usual critical suspects. Still, the book succeeds at conveying Bogart's enduring strength as a star, a figure who, 40 years after his death, remains culturally and aesthetically alive. A refreshingly serious film biography that movie lovers will appreciate for approaching Bogart as a subject, not a celebrity. (49 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 18th, 1997
ISBN: 0-395-77399-7
Page count: 367pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1997


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