Time To Celebrate JAMES CAAN!
Take a moment. He deserves it. In movie history, very few Actors have made the impact that James Caan has made. Need proof?
More on this photo in a second, but first, let’s look at the evidence:
His son was Buddy the Elf. He was the hot-headed heir to a mobster’s bloody throne. He was a Thief, a Gambler, John Wayne’s little buddy “Mississippi”, and let’s not forget: his son was Buddy the Elf!
Godfathers, Gamblers And Knee-Capping, Too!
Get ready to count down the ten best movies in James Caan’s career!!!
10 – Misery. 1990. Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning performance as a deranged fan is just one reason to love Director Rob Reiner’s terrific thriller.
Here is the IMDB summary: Best-selling novelist Paul Sheldon is on his way home from his Colorado hideaway after completing his latest book, when he crashes his car in a freak blizzard. Paul is critically injured, but is rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes, Paul’s “number one fan”, who takes Paul back to her remote house in the mountains (without bothering to tell anybody). Unfortunately for Paul, Annie is also a headcase. When she discovers that Paul has killed off the heroine in her favorite novels, her reaction leaves Paul shattered (literally)…
Annie Wilkes: It’s the swearing, Paul. It has no nobility.
Paul Sheldon: These are slum kids, I was a slum kid. Everybody talks like that.
Annie Wilkes: THEY DO NOT! At the feedstore do I say, “Oh, now Wally, give me a bag of that F-in’ pig feed, and a pound of that bitchly cow corn”? At the bank do I say, “Oh, Mrs. Malenger, here is one big bastard of a check, now give me some of your Christ-ing money!” THERE, LOOK THERE, NOW SEE WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!
After angering his biggest fan, Caan makes an even bigger mistake: killing off his main character in his latest novel:
[Annie has just read Paul’s latest novel]
Annie Wilkes: YOU! YOU DIRTY BIRD, HOW COULD YOU!
Paul Sheldon: What?
Annie Wilkes: She can’t be dead, MISERY CHASTAIN CANNOT BE DEAD!
Paul Sheldon: Annie, in 1871, women often died during childbirth. But her SPIRIT is the important thing, and Misery’s spirit is still alive.
Annie Wilkes: I DON’T WANT HER SPIRIT! I WANT HER, AND YOU MURDERED HER!
Paul Sheldon: No I didn’t.
Annie Wilkes: WHO DID?
Paul Sheldon: No one did! She just died! She… she… slipped away!
Annie Wilkes: SLIPPED AWAY! SLIPPED AWAY? SHE DIDN’T JUST SLIP AWAY! YOU DID IT! YOU DID IT! YOU DID IT! YOU MURDERED MY MISERY!
A great, restrained performance by Caan…but if you want him fighting back, look no further than this classic Sam Peckinpah film:
9 – The Killer Elite.
All the tough guys worked with Director Sam Peckinpah. The legendary Director of “The Wild Bunch” and “The Getaway” with Steve McQueen was as notorious for his drunken brawls away from the set as he was behind the camera. James Caan worked with “Bloody Sam” on this revenge action drama from 1975. He stars with Robert Duvall as a pair of CIA operatives who find themselves double-crossed and set up to die.
James Caan is Mike Locken, unwilling to accept the politics of his plight – he just wants revenge. Lots of slo-mo gunplay and real live Ninjas fight their way across the screen, and is the only film that features both character actors Burt Young AND Gig Young, so there you go.
7 – El Dorado.
In 1966 James Caan was still a rising young Actor – he had gotten his movie start in a small role in 1963’s comedy “Irma la Deuce”, but it was this role alongside The Duke – John Wayne – that got Hollywood’s attention. He was a cocky young gambler who had a way with a knife – which was a good thing since he couldn’t shoot straight AND he wore a funny hat.
Along with some great action, Caan got to provide a lot of comic relief next to The Duke. Caan’s character was memorably named “Mississippi.”
John Wayne: Don’t you know better than to follow a man that way?
Mississippi: Sorry… I didn’t know there was another way.
Director Howard Hawks adds Robert Mitchum to the cast and this old-fashioned western is a lot of fun, and Caan shines.
Now time to look at the funny side of James Caan…
7 – Honeymoon In Vegas.
Can Caan do Comedy? With Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker? And ELVIS? Of course! In 2000, Caan steals Parker away from her hapless fiancé, who just can’t resist a poker game in Vegas before he gets married. so what happens? Cage LOSES Sarah in the game to Caan aka Tommy Korman, a Vegas mobster who just wants Parker to marry him…
Once Tommy Korman explains the bet to Parker, she screams at Cage when she finds him: “you turned me into a whore, Jack, you turned me into a whore!” Cage ends up chasing them from Las Vegas to Hawaii and back again…its alot of fun, Caan shows a natural gift for comedy – and is the only movie I know that features “The Flying Elvises!”
Now back to some good old fashioned action!
6 – Rollerball. 1975. In the future, there are no wars. There is no crime. There is only…Rollerball.
This 1975 sci-fi action thriller imagines a time when brutal athletes battle in a stadium to entertain you, and the lethal game they play is Rollerball. Caan shows off his athletic ability while skating around a rink and bonking guys in the head….not a bad way to earn a living. If you ever saw the disasterous remake, wash that memory out of your head by seeing how the pros do it.
According to the great website IMDB, the Rollerball sequences were filmed in the Olympic Basketball Arena in Munich. Munich citizens were invited to the filming to serve as spectators to the games. Norman Jewison intended the movie to be anti violence, but audiences so loved the action of the game that there was actually talk about forming rollerball leagues in the wake of the film which horrified him.
Now, an obscure mix of action AND comedy!
5 – Freebie and the Bean.
Very popular when it came out in 1974, this cop action-comedy teamed up Caan with Alan Arkin as two cops who break all the rules to solve a crime. Not an original concept, but in 1974 this was the first movie to turn a city into an obstacle course, with huge action sequences that laid waste to much of San Francisco.
Hated by critics, this is actually a funny, over-the-top film that many call the original “Lethal Weapon.” This dialogue confirms it, as Caan has to call for some help – after driving his car INTO a building…
Freebie: “Hi, Fred. We got a little accident. Could you send a tow truck, please, to 618 Elm Street? Hold it. It’s the, uh, third floor, apartment 304.”
Caan has an under-appreciated sense of humor, perhaps because he simmers so seriously, like this this classic film:
4- The Gambler. 1974.
“The Gambler” showcases Caan at his best, in a gritty drama written by James Toback and directed by Karel Reisz. It stars James Caan, Paul Sorvino and Lauren Hutton. Toback wrote it as a fictional story using his own teaching career and gambling addiction as inspiration.
Caan was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, as a guy who just can’t stop making bets…his scene in the bathtub listening to the end of a basketball game is classic…
3 – Cinderella Liberty. 1973.
If you look at the poster, you will see Seattle’s 1st avenue in the early 70’s…a rundown skid row, and it was here that James Caan filmed one of his best roles ever!
Caan plays a lonely Navy sailor who falls in love with a hooker and becomes a surrogate father figure for her son during an extended liberty due to his service records being lost.
John Baggs Jr.: Would you call yourself a “Champagne cocktail-sippin’, cock-teasin’, downtown barroom whore”?
Maggie Paul: [bursting into tears] Second generation!
Marsha Mason is Maggie Paul, and their relationship makes for a compelling slice-of-life, shot on the streets of Seattle.
According to IMDB, while walking the streets of Seattle in the movie, James Caan is approached by a panhandler who asks him for change. The man was an actual panhandler who didn’t see the cameras on the street, and mistook Caan for a real sailor!
Now, time to look at two classic crime films that showed up Caan at his best!
2 – Thief!
Before Michael Mann directed “Heat”, he made this 1981 action thriller about a Thief who doesn’t want to join the mob. Caan is an independent jewel thief who resists an offer by the local Mobster to join the team. They make him pay, of course, but when you are James Caan, you make them pay right back.
This is Director Mann feeling out the crime genre, while Caan plays a tough guy who doesn’t want a boss…and Jim Belushi very strong in a supporting role as his co-worker. Tough, gritty character-driven action film.
But perhaps nothing can top Caan’s all-time greatest role:
1 – The Godfather.
He was hot-headed Santino “Sonny” Corleone in the greatest movie ever made. Caan was never better than he was here, as quick to bang a bridesmaid as he was to punch out a wall.
There are scenes of iconic violence alongside touching moments when Caan lets his temper cool off and horses around with his brother Mikey. In a movie of BIG BIG moments, Sonny’s death is one of the most memorable.
Caan was Oscar-nominated for Supporting Actor alongside co-stars Al Pacino and Robert Duvall – perhaps that’s why they all lost of Joel Grey in “Cabaret.”
Sonny: “Hey, listen, I want somebody good – and I mean very good – to plant that gun. I don’t want my brother coming out of that toilet with just his dick in his hands, alright?”
Clemenza: “The gun’ll be there.”
Caan WAS voted “Italian Of The Year” after this performance, and here’s what he had to say:
I’m a Jew from the Bronx. I feel guilty about accepting these awards, but they wouldn’t let me turn them down.”
George Lucas considered Caan for the role of Hans Solo in “Star Wars” – imagine how this tough guy would have done in outer space!
If you want to see who auditioned but DIDN’T get the role of Sonny Corleone, check out my story here:
Let me know your favorite Caan role!
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“Brian’s Song” great performance.