Not long ago I spied a 4-in-1 set of autobiographies for an excellent price. It's a Reader's Digest book that is out-of-print now, and was bought because of the Michael Caine and Andre Agassi autobiographies. (For those curious, there was also Fern Britton and Susan Boyle.)
The book was entertaining overall with plenty of good anecdotes including growing up during the war, strokes of luck, how he got his stage-name? but you couldn't go a few pages unfortunately without a famous name dropped here and there preceded or followed closely with "my good friend"! This was not irritating at the beginning, but then after half way through it became a bit of a repetitive spell that wasn't particularly necessary. I appreciate that such a prolific actor will probably have a fair few friends, but nearly everyone given a mention throughout his life was one of these 'good friends' or 'close friends'!
I did enjoy following all his projects over the years with nice little stories from some of his most famous films. It is also admirable the time-scale of his portfolio of films and he fully deserves to be a household name. His own personal beliefs are highlighted and overall the book did read to be quite an honest and "if you don't like it, leave it" account of his life from the beginning. Poor upbringing, war, starting as a fledgling actor with not much luck, big films, love life? It truly reads like a life well-lived.
Part of the rating is also based on something I'd read after reading the book. I'm one who likes to know how others have received the book after I've read it, especially if I finish a book with mixed feelings. I can say it was disappointing to hear complaints that his book has many stories re-used from his previous autobiography. Actually, in the preface of my copy he does mention this clearly and makes no apology for it since he feels it is part of his story. But I do think some readers will be disappointed since it isn't simply one or two stories lifted.
Overall, I would give this book 3.5 stars. I hope I've managed to give a general overview of the book and really think that 'thedevilinme' has done a great job to give a detailed review of more specifics. If you're a die-hard fan or simply curious and have no other knowledge about Michael Caine, then chances are you will enjoy it more than you dislike it. It is quite inspiring since he was a struggling actor for many years and has achieved success beyond words.
Michael Caine has passed from movie star to leading man to supporting actor, openly admitting he has written his second autobiography 18 years after his first because of that fact, a less than subtle exercise in reminding his fans about the true great he once was, the book an old mans ego boost before he croaks. Hollywood stars don't like not being as famous as they once were and Caine very open about that fact in this less than revelatory new edition of an old story.
"A movie star gets the top role and allowed to change it to suit him; a leading man reads the lines and gets on with it".
(Michael Caine, 2008)
Michael is still one of the great iconic British actors though and deserves to be heard and if you haven't read his first book then you will enjoy this although this quickly tails off, all the new stuff about his avuncular roles not as sexy as the young thrusting Alfie days the first book fizzed with. In fact the good bits are mostly bits taken from the first book. Playing butlers in Batman and Austin Powers is hardly the selling point for a new book.
The early days for Caine were like that for most working-class lads with dreams of acting. He was born in the East End rubble of the blitz and his old mam was a 'true diamond', the fact he had made it out of the slums a fact he won't let the reader forget. I wouldn't say Michael has a chip on his shoulder but more a show off for beating his upbringing. After the war only 20% of the country would be described as middle-class and so high demand for blue collar talent and so not a big wall to break down that he makes out. He was good looking cheeky chap so why would he aspire to or work in a factory, even though he did do his fair share of mundane jobs for ten years between jobs before he made it.
Of Irish laborer descent he was born with big ears and Blefora, a condition that makes your eyes bulge, mum pinning his ears back with sticky plasters at a young age so he didn't grow up being teased too much, a touch of rickets responsible for his striking size on screen. But it would be those distinct facial features that would make his name on screen as fete already had a movie career planed for Maurice Micklewhite, something he jokes about in the book, Caine always the magnanimous working-class hero in the interviews, those eyes as menacing on the big screen as they were come to bed eyes.
His dad died at 22 and Caine an evacuee during the war, bussed out to rural Norfolk to escape the bombs here he was regularly locked in the cupboard under the stairs with bread and cheese at the weekends as the host family went away. He would later live in that region when he was famous in his middle years before moving to his current farm in Box Hill, Surrey.
Between menial office jobs in East London and national service in Korea his Hollywood dream didn't get going until 1964 with Zulu and then the Iprcess File, and at the grand old age of 32, 10 long years of small film and TV roles in the late 1950s keeping the dream alive, a road well travelled by many thespians. But it would be 'Alfie' in the swinging 60s that would make his name, a film that captured the time and moment. Iconic films like The Italian Job and Get Carter followed before he arrived in Hollywood and pretty much took any film they offered him in the 1980s, 'The Swarm' and 'The Hand' two of the biggest stinkers and playing transvestite in Dressed to Kill and having to kiss Christopher Reeve in Deathtrap. Michael admits in the book he is not pretentious or precious in the work he does and will take what's offered, within reason.
It's the middle of the book where Caine lights up his cigar and namedrops galore, reeling off the Hollywood anecdotes, including the torching of the Ipcress File script by director Sydney Lumet and the oddball reveal that Woody Allen's dad used to sell watches on his sons movie sets, all manner of tales from parties and soirées in the old Hollywood, Caine a full on tax exile and happy to walk amongst the greats. He also talks about how he met his beautiful Indian wife Sharika and how famous people get to pick and choose their partners, a young shakira catching Michael's eye from a Maxwell House coffee commercial.
The Hollywood star stories raise a smile but you can feel Caine's desperation to tell you just how famous he was back then and so the reader ends up tasting his disguised sadness when he had to sell up and leave Hollywood, he says for his love of England and his old mum, we say because the work dried up and the star had faded. Many oldies refuse to let go and become recluses in the Beverly Hills hotel and the surrounding houses in the rustic Beverly Hills, forgotten legends; Caine only to happy to write books and return to British films once again in the 1990s to wisely avoid that.
"You can tell who the most famous people are in Hollywood as they never put washing the washing out"
(Mrs. Mickclewhite, New Yorker magazine 1975)
But in the older years came the accolades, six Oscar nominations with two wins, Hannah and her Sisters and the Cider House Rules victorious, honoree Oscars for a past it actor if we are honest as nowhere his best two films and performances, his erudite alcoholic in Educating Rita passed over, the role that defines all that Caine is for me and the obvious winner. There is always that social class anxiety going on with Caine and very prevalent in his films. I think he secretly hates being working-class and furthermore desperate to be middle-class, something you can't buy with all your millions in England.
"People assume I left all my friends when I became famous. The truth is they all left me when I was an out of work actor who couldn't afford a round".
(1999, Variety Magazine)
There were tabloid tales too, including Caines secret half-brother, hidden away for decades in an asylum because of his mental illness, mum keeping it that way as she felt it would damage Michaels career. When the story broke ten years ago Caine had no idea about this guy.
As this picks up from his first book that was released in 1992 it quickly falls off the edge and begins to tire the reader with too many near the end fillers, lots of waffle about his good friends, favorite movies, business deals, nice restaurants and favorite recipes (apparently he hates Blue Cheese and Olive Oil) rather tedious. It's a shame really as he has been involved in some big movies in the last decade or so but doesn't want to talk about them much, many with Christopher Nolan, like The Prestige, Inception and Batman, films and content his younger audience love. Even though this book is supposed to be about the later films and his life he doesn't really want to linger on those bit parts too much as it reminds him of what was, as I said not the purpose of the book, the kids only knowing him as the butler Alfred from Batman if we - and he - are honest. The younger film book reader would like to learn more about behind the scenes stuff in modern movies, especially comic book ones. I'm not saying Caine is no longer able but if you are going to write a new biography then give us something new mate.