Down-on-my-knees respect for the legendary James Caan, who has sadly moved on to greener pastures at age 82.
Born in 1940 (three years younger than Warren Beatty and Robert Redford), Caan delivered fine performances in the ’60s and very early ’70s (especially in El Dorado, The Rain People, Brian’s Song and Rabbit Run) but didn’t hit the jackpot until he played Sonny Corleone in The Godfather (’72).
For the rest of the ’70s and into the early ’80s it was smooth sailing and mostly glory glory glory for this Bronx-born son of German-Jewish immigrants.
Caan made 15 films during an eight-year hot streak — Slither, Cinderella Liberty, The Gambler, Freebie and the Bean, The Godfather Part II, Funny Lady, Rollerball, The Killer Elite, Harry and Walter Go to New York, A Bridge Too Far, Another Man, Another Chance, Comes a Horseman, Chapter Two, Hide in Plain Sight and Thief.
All but four or five were either grade-A or B-plus, and fully respectable.
Caan’s greatest performances, hands down and in this order: Axel Freed in The Gambler (’74), Frank in Thief (’81) and Sonny in The Godfather I & II (’72 and ’74).
Caan’s most eloquent scene, arguably, is the Dostoevsky classroom lecture in The Gambler.
He rebounded in Rob Reiner‘s Misery (’90), of course, and did commendable work in Honeymoon in Vegas (’92), as a senior-aged wise guy in Wes Anderson‘s Bottle Rocket (’95), in James Gray‘s The Yards (’00) and in Lars von Trier‘s Dogville (’03).