There’s no particularly pressing need for a second autobiography from Michael Caine: In addition to his acting-tips-plus-anecdotes volume Acting In Film, he already gave the world What’s It All About? 18 years ago. The point back then, he explains in the prologue of The Elephant To Hollywood, was “to round off my professional life; and that, as far as I was concerned, was that.” Since then, Caine has had a late-career resurgence: a second Oscar for The Cider House Rules, a knighthood the same year, new leading-man parts, and a role as Christopher Nolan’s good-luck charm from Batman Begins onward. So though Caine makes no apologies for “telling some of the old stories” once more, he has plenty of new ones, and nearly all of them, old and new, are good fun.
If The Elephant To Hollywood wasn’t ghostwritten (Caine claims not), readers could be forgiven for thinking it was: The first sentence is “Well, it’s a long way from London’s Elephant and Castle to Hollywood.” This is old-school autobiography, rambling through time as Caine sees fit, and skipping over lesser films with an apologetic sentence or parenthetical. Caine’s main agenda seems to be to walk back some of the more acerbic or objectionable statements of his first memoir, where he bragged about his sexual conquests and explained why women belonged at home with the children. (“The answer to that one seems obvious to me: a mother’s breasts produce the milk on which babies used to feed before infant formulas and vanity took its place.”) There are no such ill-advised moments of honesty in Elephant: The closest he gets here is the euphemistically underwhelming statement “I have always been fascinated by beautiful women.” Join the club.
In spite of its stylistic lumpiness and evasions, The Elephant To Hollywood is relentlessly entertaining, a steady stream of excellent anecdotes about Caine’s many rich-and-famous friends. Some stories are insightful, like his tale of how the Spanish town of Almeria—a popular site for spaghetti Westerns—was so overcrowded with location shoots that his group of Rommel’s Afrika Korps was “confronted round one of the dunes by a horde of American Indians in full battle-cry in pursuit of a nineteenth-century stagecoach.” Some are starstruck Hollywood gossip, like tales of visiting Rita Haywroth in alcoholic decline or spotting Klaus Kinski buying an ax at a hardware store in Beverly Hills. “Never has a shop full of DIY aficianados cleared so quickly,” he notes. Some are just notes on parties attended by the most improbable groups of people. Nearly all of it is absorbing.
On and on it goes: aside from a dull “content in retirement” closing-out, most of this is one excellent story after another, along with some amazing photos (Charles Bronson and Caine high-kicking with the Rockettes in 1985 is a typical one) that make the hardcover almost essential for fans. Deathless literature this isn’t; as a couple of hours sampling the anecdotal well, though, it’s great fun.