Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Remembering John Cazale
John Cazale appeared in just five films over a period of six years in the 1970s (before cancer ended his life), but each one is a classic of cinema. Three of these films won the Best Picture Oscar. The other two were nominated for Best Picture. Cazale is best known as Fredo, the overlooked brother of the Corleone family, in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. It was his childhood friend Al Pacino who helped Cazale win the part of Fredo. Can we imagine anyone else in it? (Cazale even appears in a flashback sequence, from Part II, in The Godfather Part III, and that was nominated for Best Picture as well!) While reprising his role of Fredo for the sequel, he also played Stan, opposite Gene Hackman's surveillance expert, in Coppola's cautionary tale of the right to privacy, The Conversation. That film competed against The Godfather Part II for the Best Picture Oscar of 1974. The following year, he appeared as Sal, alongside his friend Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Sidney Lumet's brilliant take on a true story of a bank robbery gone awry. His last film was Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter -- winner of 1978's Best Picture of Oscar. It examines the affects of the Vietnam war on group of buddies from Pennsylvania. During the filming of The Deer Hunter, Cazale met, fell in love with, and became engaged to then unknown actress, Meryl Streep, his co-star in the film. When executives at Universal Pictures discovered Cazale was dying of bone cancer, they wanted him removed from the cast. Streep threatened to quit if he was fired. He stayed on, but died shortly after filming was completed. What an amazing body of work over such a short amount of time. One can only wonder if he would have maintained the level of excellence had his career been longer, or if it would have spiraled down into lesser, derivative roles. My guess is, had he lived, Cazale would now have a much-deserved Oscar. Luckily, he left us these five films by which we can remember him.