Michael Caine’s latest book, The Elephant to Hollywood is, to quote another writer, both the “best of times, the worst of times.” Sir Michael has definitely lead an extraordinary life but, unfortunately, he doesn’t share much beyond the surface here.
This relatively short book – and a quick and easily enjoyable read- covers the gamut of Caine’s live from his earliest years as a struggling actor to the pinnacle of success as a multiple Academy Award winner. His position in history is also somewhat unique as he is one of those limited few who are young enough to have worked with some of the great stars of the classic era but also not old enough to not be continually relevant.
Want to hear any vignettes on working with Shelley Winters in Alfie? Not a chance. Most of his extensive filmography gets little more than a paragraph or two – and many don’t get a mention at all. Perhaps the most detailed analysis, if you could call it that, is of working with Lord Olivier in the classic Sleuth in 1972.
Outside of that you definitely get the feel that this might have been a throwaway career, which most assuredly isn’t the case. Most of the films, which is where most of my interest lies, get a simple “that was fun” or “that wasn’t a very good picture.” Unintentionally he conveys the impression that in many cases his perspective is “have check, will act.”
Beyond that, the insight into Caine’s personal life is a bit deeper, but still not exactly the deep end. Now granted, I care less about the personal side outside of the larger milestones. I’m still of the mind that a personal life should remain personal.
I would agree that given this is Caine’s second autobiography (the first being 1992’s What’s It All About?) some problems arise. Having not read the original presumably quite a bit of time may have been spent their detailing his career in more depth. However, that was almost 20 years ago and Caine has been in countless films since then.
One thing I did enjoy about the book (and it WAS an enjoyable book) was Caine’s rather poignant stories, which obviously owe a bit to the style and perhaps wit of David Niven. Of course the stars aren’t quite as classic, but nonetheless interesting all the same.
Perhaps best along these lines is the two intertwined stories of his knighting and the later knighting of his close friend Roger Moore. Sir Michael details the precise instructions he was given by his handler on the process. Even more touching is sharing Roger’s trepidation at perhaps being unable, at his advanced age, of rising from the cushioned kneeler after being knighted. From all accounts, Sir Roger pulled it off with no undue problems.
For those rather unfamiliar with Michael Caine- as I confess I am, at least in detail, this is a wonderful greatest hits package of the actor’s life. My challenge was that given my interest in the genre I had specific areas where I wanted more and it wasn’t there.
For the novice get this one – I for one learned a tremendous amount about Caine the man, just perhaps a bit less about Caine the actor than I would have liked.