Welcome back to Other Side Drive’s Film Fix, the segment where we dip into all things cinema. This week, fellow film aficionado Daniel Fickman, brings a surprising focus.
Follow this link for a complete download of Film Fix: John Cazale
This week’s segment I want to focus on the great actor John Cazale. “Who?” You might be asking yourselves. He’s an actor who’s name might escape you, but who’s face certainly you can’t forget. It’s a face made up of brooding intensity and also extreme sensitivity. Perhaps best known as Fredo in The Godfather, John Cazale was only in 5 movies during his tragically short career before succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 42.
Five movies, all of which were extremely groundbreaking, and all of which were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. Those 5 movies were The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part 2, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Last week I rewatched the first 2 Godfathers which is what sparked my interest in dedicating this week’s episode to him. He deserves to be remembered.
In the first Godfather, we really get a sense of the vulnerability he could exude on screen. In particular, the scene in the beginning when his father, Don Corleone is shot down while Fredo is waiting for him inside the car.
In the beginning scene of the first Godfather, we really get a sense of the vulnerability Cazale could exude on screen.When his father, Don Corleone is shot down while Fredo is waiting for him inside the car.
Fredo immediately gets out of the car, but isn’t quick enough on his feet to catch the perps who opened fire. He fumbles with his gun, drops it, and lets them get away. All he has the strength to do is to sit down on the curb next to his wounded father and weep to himself in despair.
He retires to the curb beside his wounded father and weeps to himself in despair. As Fredo, Cazale personifies a weak little boy who isn’t strong enough to take over his father’s role as head of the family. Fredo gets looked over, and his little brother Michael, played by Al Pacino, becomes the new don at the end of the first Godfather.
In Godfather 2, Cazale’s impact becomes even stronger. He plays these characters that you shouldn’t like but you can’t help but like him, you care about him. He betrays his brother Michael, and you end up feeling more sympathy for Fredo. Cazale shows us a whole other side to Fredo in Godfather 2. We see more of his humanity unfold. We get a sense of his self-loathing insecurity. How he feels inferior to those around him, especially his little brother who bosses him around. Fredo turns on Michael. This all comes to a head in possibly one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. Michael confronts Fredo about selling him out, and Fredo reacts so honestly, it can’t help but break your heart. Bruce Fretts, in Entertainment Weekly, wrote, “Cazale’s devastatingly raw turn intensifies the impact of the drama’s emotional climax.”
A lot of actors are afraid to play weak. They want to be the tough guy. But Cazale was so brave he went to places and opened up in front of the cameras in a way many never dare. In the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, the crazy bank robber that Cazale plays was originally intended for a 19 year old. But after Cazale, who at this point had to be in his mid 30s, came in and auditioned, there was no other choice in director Sidney Lumet’s mind. “Cazale came in, and then he read and my heart broke,” said Lumet. In Dog Day Afternoon, Cazale is just a fireball of intensity. You really get the sense that he could just lose it at any time. The dynamic he has with Pacino in Dog Day is completely different from what they had in the previous Godfather movies. At any second in this film, you’re thinking this guy’s going to kill somebody. He’s scary. His whole demeanor is just so out there. He’s got a receding hairline with long hair in the back. It’s an extremely intense moment in film.
It’s unfortunate that John Cazale’s life was cut short so abruptly. He could have gone on for years doing great films because he was such a special actor. One who was always honest. He was one who made you feel for characters that you shouldn’t feel for. If you aren’t up for re-watching the God, check out a great documentary on Cazale on youtube titled, “ I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale.”
In case you still weren’t convinced, here’s a photo of Cazale alongside Meryl Streep, his then girlfriend. He wasn’t kidding around.
By Daniel Fickman
Edited by Jordan Gass-Poore
Other Side Drive Executive Producer Shannon Williams