Saturday, August 12, 2006

John Cazale: Where would he be if he was still alive? Where would we be if he never existed?

The answer to the first question: Probably retired, emerging for an infrequent role in a Coppola movie or a supporting turn on Broadway.

The answer to the second: Streepless and Pacinoless, at the very least.

John Cazale would've been 71 years old today. After a prolific theatre career, he made his first feature film in 1972 at the age of 37. He'd make four more through 1978, when he died of bone cancer. All of his movies were best picture nominees, two of them winners (The Godfathers). Pacino and Cazale were acting partners, and who knows where Al would be now if he hadn't gone with John, arm in arm, from Provincetown to New York in 1968. Nine years later, Cazale's lover Meryl Streep took her career-igniting role in The Deer Hunter just to be close to him as he died.

Cazale was the Great Enabler -- quiet, kind, not so much a chameleon as a phantom. Five classic films, and he had not a moment of volume in any of them. Instead, actors used him as a sounding board and entered the pantheon of greats. Cazale played hapless to Pacino's lethalness in The Godfathers. In Dog Day Afternoon, it was the same passive-and-active dichotomy for the pair (the way he delivers his sad-sack answer to the question "So what country do you wanna go to?" is representative of his onscreen humility). In The Conversation and The Deer Hunter, Cazale's roles (and performances) seem like an afterthought compared to Gene Hackman in the first and Christopher Walken in the second.

His roles were in the background. A lesser actor would've tried to throttle them forward. Because he didn't, we still remember him today.

22 comments:

Kamikaze Camel said...

Wow. For some reason I always just assumed he was still working in movies I hadn't seen.

I've seen all five of his prolific movies and... yeah, I so didn't know he was dead.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I've read a little bit about Cazale before, and about how he was the one great unsung performance of the Godfather movies. I'm glad to learn more about him.

Reel Fanatic said...

Great stuff ... He rarely gets the respect he so dearly deserves .. though I must confess, I didn't know he was dead either!

John T. said...

He really should have been nominated for an Oscar at some point-whether it was for his lamb against the lion in Godfather Part II or his silent, confused criminal in Dog Day Afternoon.

adam k. said...

I've read that Meryl actually met him on the set of the Deer Hunter and then vowed to quit the film if they fired him (after they found out he was sick).

If that's true, Meryl met and got engaged to both John and Don within like 2 years. Crazy.

Anonymous said...

Actually, "The Deer Hunter" won Best Picture also, which gives Cazale even better stats.

J.J. said...

Yes, yes, how could I have forgotten Deer Hunter also won? Silly me.

There appears to be various tellings of the Streep-Cazale romance as it pertains to The Deer Hunter. But one thing for sure is that, yes, she did marry Don Gummer in short order. According to the dates on IMDb, Cazale died in March '78 and Meryl married that September. But based on the endurance of their marriage, it looks like it was a wise move.

adam k. said...

Hey, when you know, you know. Cazale's death probably taught her to sieze life by the horns.

It's crazy to think that she's been married since before she even got her first oscar nomination. That whole career, she was married. What a rarity.

Scott said...

Cazale is literally one of my favorite actors of the 70s. I was truly saddened to find out, when I first started noticing him, how young he died. Such a shame. He was terrific.

Anonymous said...

'Cavatina' is playing in my head *sniffle* as I'm reading these posts. Thanks for the well-deserved tribute to a great and underappreciated actor. Cazale left his mark, no doubt about it. Too bad he died so young, or he could have left an indelible one (sigh).

Marco

Anonymous said...

I saw "Dog Day Afternoon" when I was fourteen (!) years old. Cazale's portrayal of Sal left an indelible impression on me. I recently watched the movie again and wow, does it ever stand the test of time. When you watch John Cazale's movies, you realize how dumbed down most movies are today. He was a quiet yet amazingly articulate actor, one whose brief shining moments on screen will always stay with me.

Anonymous said...

Cool blog, interesting information... Keep it UP Water and filters http://www.quit-smoking-8.info/Search-dial-up-networking-nt.html Earthlink dial up number michelle hardcore Agent pierce national life insurance company Levitra pi sports frames license plate triathlon broadbsatellite internet access

Mark Shell said...

Every film John Cazale made, every performance he gave on film was tremendous. Truly one of the greats, not only of the best decade in film history -- the '70s -- but of all-time.

Watch "Dog Day Afternoon" today, and it has an energy, a vibrancy, you rarely see in film. At the time, it seemed "Cuckoo's Nest" was a deserved Best Picture winner, but in retrospect, the honor should have gone to DDA.

Not that Oscar doesn't get it wrong more often than it gets it right, of course ...

Anonymous said...

I believe if John Cazle had still
been living, Al Pacino would have
gotten him roles in Scarface and

Carlito's way, do you guys agree?

Anonymous said...

First, whoever thought Cazale is still alive and doing movies is one of those guys that the networks interview and ask stuff like..."who was the first president of the united states" and they respond with stuff like Ben Franklin or John F. Kennedy or Reagan. Second, whoever says that Cazale played his roles with humility and another is on the right track. I think Pacino and Streep must miss him a lot, even today.

Anonymous said...

I have got to agree with the earlier poster. If he was still alive he would have been a shoe in for a support role in Scarface and possibly Carlito's Way. Great actor. Such a shame he was cut down so early. God rest his soul in heaven.

mcacand2@verizon.net said...

what an actor john cazele was,and
yes he would have won an oscar
sometime in his career at one point
may he rest in peace miss you john
mcacand2@verizon.net

Anonymous said...

we miss you john what an actor
he would have won an oscar at some
point in his career

OJ Simpson said...

he was a great and brilliant actor

Heelloo said...

J.J There appears to be various tellings of the Streep-Cazale romance as it pertains to The Deer Hunter.

Hello, but they became being together in 1976 after premiere of Measure for Measure ;)

Anonymous said...

"I believe if John Cazale had still
been living, Al Pacino would have
gotten him roles in Scarface and
Carlito's way, do you guys agree?"

I would like to think that John would have gotten Pacino work in those movies....

Kaim said...

God, people! Meryl&John became a pair during the play Measure for Measure in NY Public Theater and it was in 1976, so I nearly died when I read your posts about this relationship made to give The Deer Hunter bigger fameeeeee : |
andd few months after his death she met a friend of her brother - Don and they quickly fell in love and I'm so grateful for Don for what he's made for her, because what else could she do if not marry him. if he hadn't become his wife he would have been thinking about John and John endlessly even though he was with Don. she needed this marriage. she was broken, this death was a shock for her and her own words were that if she hadn't met Don he would have been emotionally dead and etc.