With the death of James Caan, American cinema loses one of its favorite “bad boys” and New Hollywood, one of its leading figures.
Transported to the age of 82, this strong-tempered actor is forever associated with the role of seething Sonny, in The Godfather (The Godfather), made a unique journey. After experiencing lightning-fast popularity in the 1970s, he retired in the early 1980s. Then, when he was rumored to be done, he gently reverted to the game before making a brilliant early 90’s throwback in Success. Miserywhich brought him back to the fore.
Ironically, this role as a writer kidnapped by his “most ardent admirer” (Oscar winner Kathy Bates) fell to him after the likes of Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, William Hurt, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and other Robert Redford all rejected him. That is to say how much it was no longer the flavor of the moment.
Born in 1940 in the Bronx, New York, James Caan first became interested in sports, working at a young age in the butcher shop of his father, a German Jewish immigrant like his mother. At Michigan University, he is on the football team. Then, at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, he developed an unexpected passion for the game, where he met a certain Francis Ford Coppola.
Back in New York, he perfected his acting training for five years. His film career quickly took off. Thus, after an appearance in Irma the sweet (Billy Wilder, 1963), gets a first lead role in suspense Lady in a cage (Walter Grauman, 1964), as a criminal who terrorizes a woman trapped in an elevator. In 1967 he replies to Simone Signoret in Games (The devil at threeby Curtis Harrington), a variation of diabolical by Clouzot. The following year, he was the protagonist Countdownby Robert Altman, as an astronaut preparing to land.
The consecration, however, arrives in 1969, when his friend Coppola directs him, in front of Shirley Knight, in the drama The people of the rain (rain people). As a student expelled following a football injury, then rejected by his family, Caan is distraught. The film was a commercial failure, but the actor’s talent did not go unnoticed: in the meantime he was entrusted with the role of another footballer, the real one: Brian Piccolo, overwhelmed by cancer in full glory at the age of 26. The TV movie Brian’s song earned him an Emmy Award in 1970.
The glorious decade
At the time Francis Ford Coppola was already preparing The Godfather and, after legendary deliberations with the studio, Caan was offered the role of Sonny, the eldest of the Corleones, the most explosive and Casanova of the three brothers (in the city, Caan was married four times and had five children). When it was released in 1972, the film – a true phenomenon – cemented the status of James Caan, who also won an Oscar nomination.
Two of his best compositions follow: as a sailor who falls in love with a single mother prostitute Cinderella Freedom (allowed to loveby Mark Rydell, 1973), and as a compulsive gambler literature teacher in The gambler (The high rollerby Karel Reisz, 1974).
Over the course of the decade he has multiplied starring roles in a very heterogeneous variety of projects, from cult science fiction roller ball (Norman Jewison, 1975) to the musical funny lady (Herbert Ross, 1975), passing through the magnificent westerns Another man, another chance (Another man, another chanceby Claude Lelouch, 1977), with Geneviève Bujold, e Comes a Knight (Breath of the storm, by Alan J. Pakula), with Jane Fonda. In 1981, he was brilliant Thief (The lonerby Michael Mann), as a safe puncher.
In the early 1980s, however, the decline of the “auteurist” movement associated with New Hollywood and the dominance of candy films and blockbuster films with special effects did not fit his vision of the craft. To theOrlando SentinelCaan also confided in this regard in 1992: “Back then, a lot of mediocre films were produced. […] It was a moment when I said to myself: “I won’t work anymore”. “
Another factor that pushed the actor out of the spotlight was the death of his beloved sister, Barbara Caan, from leukemia at the age of 36. To combat depression, James Caan becomes a sports coach for the little ones, including his son Scott Caan, himself a future actor.
In the end it is the lack of money that brings him back to the game. Los Angeles Times, he explains, in 1991: “I broke like a nail. I didn’t want to work, but my dogs were hungry and I could see their ribs. So I decided it was time to go back to doing it. “
Coppola the indestructible
However, if his glory years are behind him, his vision of the craft has not changed.
So dissatisfied with the spy drama script The Holcroft Pact (The Holcroft Pact), withdraws in extremis : a decision that, combined with a side that he himself defines as “talkative”, has earned him a poisonous reputation as a “difficult” actor. He is also credited with being addicted to cocaine, but the actor denies this, stating that it is part of the “bad boy” aura that sticks to his skin.
Either way, when he chose James Caan as a veteran turned instructor Stone gardens (stone gardens, 1987), Francis Ford Coppola had to fight with the studio to defend his choice. The result is a beautiful, moving and nuanced performance.
The thriller was immediately mentioned in 1990 Misery acts as an electric shock on Caan’s fragile career. Bedridden for most of the film, he manages to maintain his natural charisma and expressive face by helping them. Knowing his first hit came from a movie, Lady in a cagewhere he was tormenting an immobilized protagonist, there is a form of poetic justice there.
This belated triumph alone is enough to secure a final golden act to James Caan’s professional life. Among the thirty films in which he participates until 2021, we will keep the black country Flesh and bone (The linkby Steve Kloves, 1993), as a murderous patriarch; Rocket bottle (Wes Anderson, 1996), as a cunning thief; The Yards (Betrayalby James Gray, 2000), as a shady businessman; Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003), short but memorable as a gangster dad; And elf (Elfby Jon Favreau, 2010), as tasty as a bitter editor who softens.
It was said to be extremely funny and full of self-mockery. For Deadlineaccomplice Coppola said Thursday: “Jimmy has been in my life longer and closer than any other movie figure. From the beginning onwards. The people of the rain, through all the stages of my life … His films and the many great roles he has played will never be forgotten. “