A meticulous but dry biography of the British director, himself a meticulous but dry filmmaker. Sir Carol Reed's reputation, once quite grand, has fallen considerably in recent years. As even London journalist Wapshott (Rex Harrison, 1992) reluctantly admits, with the exception of his very best films--The Stars Look Down, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, and The Third Man--Reed's work is impersonal, commercial, and merely competent. The filmmaker was a highly private man, in large part because of his origins. As Wapshott copiously chronicles, Reed was one of several illegitimate children fathered by the great actor-producer Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree; although Tree lived intermittently with Reed's mother and was very supportive of his ``second'' family, as an adult Reed himself was very guarded in any discussions of his private life. Like his father, the director was a big man, gentle and outgoing. His career was boosted early on by a professional friendship with the popular novelist and playwright Edgar Wallace, who led him from theater into cinema. After he began directing in the mid-1930s, his career became a parade of ``one picture after another'' (as Reed himself put it), and so does Wapshott's book. The author is frank about Reed's disastrous first marriage to actress Diana Wynyard and his often childish behavior at home. He also writes well about the circumstances surrounding the director's major films, particularly the humiliating experience of grappling with Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty, which led to Reed's firing after a year of work that produced seven minutes of footage. However, Wapshott has little of interest to say about the films themselves, relying mainly on quotes from contemporary reviews. Proficiently written and well researched, this book begs a simple question: If Reed's work is for the most part undistinguished, why bother?