James Caan: 1940-2022 | tributes

Playing Sonny in “The Godfather” earned Caan an Oscar nomination and made him a star of the 1970s, an era where he was offered just about every solid male role and turned down quite a few of them. He was born in the Bronx and raised in Queens, the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany. Caan played football at school (he always kept his formidable physique), then went to Hofstra University, and one of his fellow students there was Francis Ford Coppola, the director of “The Godfather.”

Caan studied serious acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse for five years, and this paid off, because at his best he was very in the moment, and this is what made his Sonny Corleone so alive. “I just fell in love with acting,” he said. “Of course all my improvisations ended in violence.” He made TV appearances in the 1960s, put a knife around the neck of future erotica director Zalman King for an episode of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”, and he turned down a regular TV series because he was more interested in it. prove themselves as an actor and less interested in making a lot of money.

“Lady in a Cage”

Caan threatened Olivia de Havilland in the exploitation photo”Lady in a cage” (1964), where he walked around in ultra-tight jeans and showed off his hairy chest while rubbing poor de Havilland’s nose in the lowest vulgarities he could think of. Like many actors of his day, it was clear that Caan was influenced by the rebellious mannerisms of Marlon Brando and James Dean, and with Caan this mimicry was spiced up with its own very distinctive sexuality, which is why his Sonny Corleone sometimes walks around like a peacock. and girls whisper and laugh at his carnal intensity. Caan collaborated with Howard Hawks on “Red line 7000” (1965) and “The Golden” (1967) and Robert Altman on “countdown” (1968), and he continued to show promise and a smiling confidence that could sometimes have a nasty edge.

Caan showed some range when he was cast by Coppola as a former footballer who was mentally challenged on the pitch in the moody character study’The Rain People” (1969), which contains one of his most appealing and vulnerable performances, but he got more attention for the TV weepie”Brian’s song” (1971) before Sonny Corleone made him a star and he went on a star tour that involved a lot of drug use and many visits to the Playboy house.

It cannot be said that Caan always chose his projects wisely in his heyday in the 1970s. He had some chemistry with Barbra Streisand in “Funny Lady” (1975), especially in an obviously improvised scene where they throw face powder on each other, but in other films saw Caan casting way beyond his best levels, such as “Chapter Two” (1979), where he is very unconvincing as a Neil Simon-esque playwright and seems to know how misguided he is. When he directed a movie called “Hide in plain sight” (1980), did not find it an audience.