Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tough Without a Gun by Stefan Kanfer

Tough Without a Gun
The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart
by Stefan Kanfer
Hardcover - February 2011
9780307271006 $26.95
Paperback - February 2012
Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)

In a corrupt world he kept his own code of honor, without the consolations of religion or social approval. - Stefan Kanfer

[Bogart was] the only man I have ever known who truly and completely belonged to himself. - Lauren Bacall

The term "tough without a gun" comes from author Raymond Chandler. Chandler said "Bogart can be tough without a gun... he has a sense of humor that contains the grating undertone of contempt." Bogie was a man's man. He was the man. He was tough with or without a gun. You watch him, you admire him, you fear him and you want to be him. The most important thing you need to know about Bogie was that he was always himself. He was never molded or shaped. Instead, he stayed true to what he was and it showed on screen and off.

Stefan Kanfer's book, Tough Without a Gun, focuses on the film career, personal life and the posthumous development of the cult of Bogie. I really wish Kanfer had dedicated more time to the Extraordinary Afterlife part. We get 227 pages of Bogie's life and death and only 27 pages of his afterlife. However, those short 27 pages do provide a lot of insight into why, almost 55 years after his death we still idolized Bogie.

In the book, we get to glimpse at a very young Bogie who came from a well-to-do WASP family. His mother was an illustrator (she drew the famous Gerber baby but Bogie was not the model contrary to popular belief) and his father was a doctor. He was a privileged kid but when he became an adult a lot of things changed. His mother and father's marriage went south (although they didn't divorce), his father got himself into bad debt and his sister, after having a child, suffered from post-partum depression which led to her alcoholism. We see that Bogie's early dramatic career, on stage and in movies, was very much a way for him to earn money to help his family.

Kanfer glosses over what he thinks are Bogie's smaller films and Bogie's biggest films are given more time, back story and explanation. He spends a lot of time talking about High Sierra (1941) , Casablanca (1942), The Maltese Falcon (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The African Queen (1951), etc. Do be aware that he does give away entire plot lines. If you haven't seen a film he's talking about, skip over that section and come back to it after you've seen the film. Kanfer also looks closely at Bogart's four marriages including the most well-known (and romanticized) one he had with Lauren Bacall as well as his friendships with directors, actors and actresses and his relationship with his two children.

Tough Without a Gun is chock-full of interesting anecdotes and insights. And the funny thing is, the most interesting ones are not about Bogie at all. However, they do relate to Bogie in some way and are put into context. Here are my favorites:

- James Cagney operated a 100 acre farm in Martha's Vineyard (I want to find this!)
- Edward G. Robinson had a huge collection of art work.
- Joan Bennett's husband shot her agent out of jealousy. Bennett was blacklisted from films even though the agent wasn't fatally wounded and she never cheated on her husband. Bogie helped her get her role in We're No Angels (1955).
- On the Waterfront's plot may be Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan's response to the HUAC.
- Peter Sellers was an expert Bogie impersonator and did some of the dubbing in Beat the Devil (1953).
- Casablanca almost didn't make it onto film because of the Post-Code issue of the two main characters being lovers previous to the story.
- Director Edward Dmytryk  gave many more names to the HUAC than Elia Kazan and he also spent time in jail for his Communist ties.

Also, Kanfer's book has a major error in it that I spotted right away. And it's not about Bogie! Kanfer says the following about Paul Henreid's role in Now, Voyager (1942): "On a cruise, the ugly duckling meets the unhappily married Henreid, and under his ministrations turns into an enchanting and self-assured swan." NO! That is NOT what happens. By the time Bette Davis' character makes it onto the cruise she's already a swan and it's under Claude Rains' ministrations that she makes her transformation. For those of you who are fans of the film, you may recall Henreid's character being shocked by a picture of her in her ugly duckling stage. I really hope the publisher fixes this error before the paperback publishes.

Kanfer reveals a lot about Bogie without dishing dirt. This book is great for those of you who love Bogie but don't want gossip-ridden fare. Kanfer's portrait of Bogie is both kind and realistic. The book is insightful and you'll come to understand why Bogie became such an iconoclast. So what are you waiting for? Get your read on!

Full Disclosure: I asked the publisher for a review copy.


  1. "Tough without a gun" sure fits him. Great review!

  2. nice review! love those anecdotes! in the end credits for Lust for Life they thanked many people for the use of Van Gogh's original artwork, including Mr Edward G Robinson :) there's also a story of Garbo going to his house one day to ask him for advice on a painting she was interested in buying. i can just hear him saying "Miss Garbo..." in that unmistakable voice! if i recall the story correctly she never even went inside just spoke to him on the front porch and then left. def sounds like something she would do, lol.

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