CITY BOYS by Robert Sklar


Cagney, Bogart, Garfield
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 Solid cultural and political history of film icons James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and John Garfield--and how, through their performances, they achieved their images as explosive, larger-than- life Manhattan city boys. This time out, Sklar has narrowed his focus to three brilliant actors and proves himself a livelier writer than in his good, clear, thoughtful earlier books (Prime-Time America, 1980, etc.). The liveliness doesn't come so much from the Warner Brothers studio history that fills many pages here--since Warner's was the studio for big-city social dramas in the 30's--or from the actors' battles with the studio for fairer wages and stronger scripts. It's more from Sklar's eye for the telling detail in the actors' styles and in variations of style throughout their careers. He takes smoldering Method-actor Garfield's later roles in Force of Evil and We Were Strangers and finds them wanting in ``psychological dimension--the sense that what was being communicated through repression was a complex inner life,'' which at that time was forcefully communicated by up-and-coming Method actors Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando. Following Bogart's acting style from juvenile to heavy to his restrained humors as romantic hero, then to comic actor (The African Queen) and to later tries at widening his image, Sklar skillfully contrasts the star's two portraits of paranoid characters, Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, and finds the much- praised Queeg far less complex or convincing than Dobbs, and in fact excruciating. And Cagney ``does not merely inhabit or present [the figure of Tom Bowers in The Public Enemy]...he creates it...His short, quick movements, his clipped diction, his mobile eyes and mouth, are counterpointed almost sultry languor.'' Very rare--a movie book really about acting. Worthwhile and serious. (Forty b&w illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-691-04795-2
Page count: 344pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1992