I am crushed to learn of the passing of actor James Caan. Not because he was a great actor (he was), but because he leaves us without the recognition from his industry he so greatly deserved. Mr. Caan passed away today at the age of 82.
My first recollection of seeing James Caan on screen is of watching the television film “Brian’s Song.” The story of terminally ill Chicago Bear Brian Piccolo (Caan) and his friendship with teammate Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), the 1971 film would be the start of what became an amazing decade for the actor. The next year he starred as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather,” earning him his first -and, criminally – only Academy Award nomination. The role made him a star! Caan used to joke that Sonny Corleone made such an impact on people that, for two years in a row, he (Caan) was named Italian American of the year, even though he was Jewish.
Among his other great performances in that decade: “The Killer Elite,” “Rollerball,” “Cinderella Liberty” and “Harry and Walter Go to New York,” a musical comedy that showed Caan was more than a tough guy. Films like “Funny Lady,” “Chapter Two,”“Kiss Me Goodbye” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” showed a gentler side with a good sense of humor to boot. He still excelled in dramatic roles, of course, among them “Gardens of Stone,” “Alien Nation” and “The Program.”
But there are two performances I want to highlight, both of which should have earned Caan Oscar nominations. The first is “Misery.” As an author who is taken in and nursed back to health by and overzealous fan after an auto accident, Caan matches Kathy Bates, who won the Oscar that year for Best Actress, stride for stride. The second is “For the Boys,” a period musical that teamed Caan up with Bette Midler. As song and dance man Eddie Sparks, Caan takes the character from 35 to 85, living his life with no apologies, even when those apologies may have made that life better. Midler earned an Oscar nomination for her work but, again, Caan’s performance was ignored.
I’ll close this with a few lines from Eddie Sparks’ signature tune:
When my life is through
And the angels ask me to recall
The thrill of them all,
Then i will tell them i remember,
Tell them i remember you.
Rest in Peace, sir. I’ll always remember you.