“Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart,” by Stefan Kanfer; Knopf (290 pages, $26.95)

 Considering he may be the most enduring of Hollywood movie stars, Humphrey Bogart sure didn’t look the part.

Even Lauren Bacall, his doting fourth wife, picked up on it, in their best movie together, “The Big Sleep”:

Bacall: “You’re a mess, aren’t you?”

Bogart: “I’m not very tall either. Next time I’ll come on stilts, wear a white tie and carry a tennis racket.”

Bacall: “I doubt if even that will help.”

The inside joke of that scene is that, before he was Hollywood’s top tough guy — “Tough Without a Gun,” as Stefan Kanfer’s new biography describes him — he did carry a tennis racket. Bogart famously got his start playing juveniles in a string of less than successful Broadway plays, entering the scene more often as a narrative transition than a fully realized character to be reckoned with.

How he transformed himself into a star to be reckoned with — how he became even a bigger star after his death from cancer in 1957 at the age of 57 — is Kanfer’s focus. Unfortunately, the author never really manages to get Bogart himself into focus.

It doesn’t help that Bogart’s story has been told and retold. Born into a world of privilege but with distracted parents, he was from the first a rebel, as much out of boredom as principle. A middling stage career led to a middling movie career, then back to the stage, where he eventually landed the role of a desperate outlaw in “The Petrified Forest,” which thanks to the support of co-star Leslie Howard got him back to Hollywood.

After that, it took years of supporting parts and ridiculous roles — you have to hear Bogie’s Mexican accent in the Errol Flynn Western “Virginia City” to believe it — before he became a top-of-the-line star in 1941, with “High Sierra” and “The Maltese Falcon.”

In quick order, Bogart played some of the most iconic figures in American moviedom: Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon,” Rick in “Casablanca,” Philip Marlowe in “The Big Sleep,” Fred C. Dobbs in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” Charlie Allnut in “The African Queen,” Captain Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny.”

Along the way, he constantly fought with his bosses and made a very public showing of being his own man.

That’s the Bogart persona that lives on: the hardened man of principle who, echoing (as Kanfer does, several times) Raymond Chandler’s knight errant, goes down those mean streets “neither tarnished nor afraid.”

But en route to those mean streets, Bogart does something that doesn’t fit the script: He gives in. He goes on suspension rather than take substandard parts, but caves in when he’s afraid he’ll lose his job. He goes to Washington to stand by the Hollywood Ten, but when the hate mail comes in, he writes a high-profile article claiming he was duped.

In Kanfer’s “and then he made” approach to Bogart’s career, he never really gets the iconography and reality to match up. So, what you’ve got is a filmography seasoned with irony.

In an all too brief final chapter, Kanfer rounds up the varying ways in which Bogart lives on after his death, from inspiring French New Wave directors and Woody Allen to the cult that has grown up around “Casablanca.”

Years later, Ingrid Bergman said of her “Casablanca” co-star, “I kissed him, but I never really knew him.”

After “Tough Without a Gun,” we don’t know him a whole lot better.

“Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart,” by Stefan Kanfer, offers a glimpse of one of Hollywood’s most enduring movie stars.

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