Remembering John Cazale

Today I pay tribute to John Cazale – one of my favorite actors.  Cazale was born on August 12, 1935 and although his life and film career were way too short, he left a rich legacy through supporting performances in films now considered classics.

John Cazale was an actor of extraordinary talent who appeared in only five feature films in the 1970s, but those five films are considered among the best in what (arguably) remains one of the greatest decades in film history.  Those five films helped define the decade and times, an era of no-nonsense filmmaking, a new approach to acting.  In short it was a time of revolution in film.  Or at least that’s how I view it and Cazale, though not the “star” of these films was at the forefront.

Cazale’s performances are not verbose, instead his is a quiet, dignified, layered, lingering presence – but from each film there is at least one image etched in my mind and the mind of filmgoers of my generation forever.  “Hail Mary, full of grace…”

“I learned more about acting from John than anybody.” – Al Pacino

Here’s a simple tribute to John Cazale’s work – five films, five roles, all unforgettable.

As Fredo Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s, The Godfather, 1972

As Stan in Francis Ford Coppola’s, The Conversation, 1974

As Fredo Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s, The Godfather: Part II, 1974

As Sal in Sidney Lumet’s, Dog Day Afternoon, 1975

And as Stan in Michael Cimino’s, The Deer Hunter, 1978

It saddens me that many today may not be familiar with the name, John Cazale because his role as a key player in the history of film is an important one.  His influence on other actors who became icons of a generation is palpable.  Actors such as Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep were influenced and supported through wonderful performances by his talent.

Cast of The Godfather
Cast of The Deer Hunter

Although Cazale received only one award nomination during his career, a Golden Globe nod for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his role in Dog Day Afternoon, all five films he appeared in received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture.  I don’t think another actor can claim such a record – 100% satisfaction guaranteed.

All five films Cazale appeared in are also on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and are deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” films.  Perhaps that’s the greatest accolade an actor can receive.  There is no doubt John Cazale’s presence in all of these films plays a huge part in their lasting significance.

For the record – despite the fact I mention Cazale’s appearance in only five feature films, years after his death he did appear in a sixth, Coppola’s, The Godfather: Part III (1990) in archive footage. That film, like all of the other films Cazale appeared in, was nominated for Best Picture.

For anyone who may be interested in taking a look at a few of Cazale’s great scenes, you can do so here.  Note that spoilers may be included.  Also worth taking a look at is a great documentary honoring this actor produced by HBO films, I Knew it was You: Rediscovering John Cazale.  The film offers a wonderful profile of this actor.

Here’s to one of the greatest actor’s of a generation.  He’s still missed and his work is a gift to all who’ve seen it.  Here’s to the great, John Cazale.

8 thoughts

  1. Just watched the documentary on Hulu. What a great actor. I remember reading that he and Meryl Streep were together and how devoted she was to him during his last days. God bless his soul and all who loved him.

  2. I Knew It Was You is a great appreciation of this wonderful actor. Thanks for taking some time to praise a performer from the classic decade in modern film history. I prefer to think he is not dead, but rather in exile in Wyoming.

  3. A hugely talented actor who entirely deserves this fine tribute. I’ve seen the “I Knew It Was You” doc and it’s very well done. Though his life and film career were brief, he was fortunate not only to have had the roles he did in films he made, all of them classics, but also for the friends and loved ones who cared for him so deeply. As for the ’70s, time is already proving that it was one of the great film decades. More time will tell more.

  4. Huh…HBO doc on Cazale,who knew? Know what I’M DOING the rest of this afternoon,once Godfather II is over…Once again, great piece of writing,aurora, and UNLIKE Cazale’s character of poor schlub runt-of-the-litter Alfredo Corleone, Cazale himself IS long-overdue the respect owed him for the few fantastic performances we’ve come yo know & love…along with the sorely missed Richard Castellano’s Clemenza in parts II and III,and Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen, John Cazale would have improved G-3 MIGHTILY, even had those 3 characters just stood there mute, part of the wallpaper!:)☮⚜

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