Entertainment

Bada Bing! Farewell to James Caan, a screen tough guy with a heart the size of his fists

LLike a panther or heavyweight boxer, James Caan knew when to follow his instincts. There’s a famous moment early in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 mafia epic The Godfatherthe film that earned Caan an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and secured his immortality — where he’s acting purely intuitively. The script called for Caan, who plays Don Vito Corleone’s hot-tempered eldest son Sonny, to confront the FBI agents stationed ahead of his sister’s wedding. On his way back inside, he grabbed a camera from an agent and smashed it violently on the floor. “I didn’t know I was going to do it,” Caan said AV Club earlier this year. “Nobody knew I was going to do it, but I just did it. I was just impulsive.”

Part of what makes the scene so memorable is what Caan, who died Wednesday (July 6) aged 82, did next. He wordlessly reached into his pocket and threw some bills at the rubble, then turned and walked away. “Where I’m from… if you put the money on the floor, it’s fine,” Caan later explained. “You’re forgiven. You know what I mean? I paid for it and forget it.” The gesture might not have been written, but it perfectly captured both Sonny’s erratic temper and the mob’s attitude toward paying off debts Once set in motion, the character found himself on an irresistible path to his bullet-riddled murder at a tollbooth, one of the most famous deaths in film history.The scene was one of Caan’s many impromptu contributions The Godfather. He also dropped the musical term “bada-bing” into his frenetic description of an up-close assassination attempt, something he heard real-life crime family capo Carmine Persico say while researching his role, so it’s Caan The sopranos to thank for naming their strip club.

When he came in The Godfather, At 32, Caan was already a leading man. Born in New York’s Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Germany, he grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, with his friend and future collaborator Coppola. Caan began his acting career in Off-Broadway plays before moving into film and television. Howard Hawks’ 1965 stock car racing drama Red line 7000 gave Caan top billing for the first time, and he worked again with the director on westerns the following year Eldoradoalong with all-American tough guys John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.

While the role of Sonny in The Godfather secured Caan’s reputation, it also typecast him as a streetwise heavy. “I was always cast as Mister Tough Guy or Mister Hero,” he lamented in one exciting, far-reaching interview with The Independent last year. “They didn’t let me do much more.” Caan has both played and subverted this persona. In a 1976 interview with Playboy, He complained that the tabloids kept portraying him as “a macho pig” who loved “to get loaded and go around, hitting people, fucking women in the gutter and all that”. The truth, Caan asserted with wry humor, was quite different. “I was raised to defend myself if I had to, but I’ve never started a fight in my life and I can’t remember the last time someone started one with me,” he said. “When I drink something – which is not often, mostly wine – I become happy and laugh a lot. And I’ve never fucked a woman in the gutter before – not without putting a pillow under her first. Chivalry is not quite dead, you know.’

The death of Caan’s younger sister Barbara from leukemia in 1981, coupled with his cocaine addiction, led to periods off screen in the 1980s. He re-established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the 1990s, beginning with his role as author Paul Sheldon in Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King Misery. The role required him to be bedridden for pretty much the entire film. “It was a private joke,” Caan said The Independent. “‘Let’s get the most neurotic actor in Hollywood and put him to bed for 15 weeks.'” In 1996, he helped launch Wes Anderson’s career by lending his star appeal to the director’s debut film bottle rocketwhile Caan won a whole new generation of fans in 2003 with his role as the bickering birth father of Buddy the Elf Eleven.

Perhaps Caan’s greatest achievement came in Michael Mann’s crime novel Thief, Released in 1981, the same year Barbara died. In response to news of Caan’s death, Mann said the actor “reached to the core of his being during difficult personal times to be the rebellious, semi-wild, institutionalized misfit Frank… The character and the man — like his Sonny in.” The Godfather – were meant to be together.” Caan infuses his performance as a master safecracker with plenty of swagger and enough daring to get your pulse racing, but apart from the thrilling action and high-wire excitement, it’s a performance full of heart. At the end of Act I, Caans Frank invites Tuesday Weld’s Jessie over for late night coffee to convince her to start a new life with him. For the next 10 minutes, Frank bares his soul at the Formica table at a diner and openly talks about his work as a thief and his time in prison. Frank is a mess and Caan lets us see: he is angry and sad, scared and brave at the same time. Like Caan himself, he is a macho who makes himself vulnerable and trusts his instincts.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/james-caan-death-tribute-obit-2022-b2118474.html Bada Bing! Farewell to James Caan, a screen tough guy with a heart the size of his fists

JOE HERNANDEZ

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