HOLLYWOOD—James Caan and Ray Liotta passed within just three months from each other, James Caan passed away on July 6. Two days later, Tony Sirico passed. We all loved James Caan, 82, the Oscar-nominated star of “The Godfather,” “Misery” and “Elf.” He was born in the Bronx in 1940, he emerged as a leading man in the 1970s. In the 90s, he returned to the limelight as a grizzled character actor capable of lending both gravitas and menace to a variety of roles.
Let’s look at some of his memorable screen performances: Back in 1967, Caan was just 27 years old when he played knife-throwing gambler Mississippi in Howard Hawks’ Western, “El Dorado.” Believe it or not, he held his own against his seasoned co-stars (The Duke) John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, even if he did have to wear three-inch lifts in his shoes. Following “El Dorado,” he starred in “Brian’s Song,” about Brian Piccolo, the Chicago Bears football player struck down by terminal cancer at the age of 26. His decision to make it was vindicated when he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy alongside co-star Billy Dee Williams.
Then in 1972, “The Godfather,” Caan’s role as the volatile Santino “Sonny” Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic portrait of organized crime saw him receive his one and only Oscar nod. Caan briefly reprised the role two years later in a flashback scene near the end of “The Godfather: Part II.” Two years later the actor considered the drama about a literature professor battling a gambling addiction one of his favorite films, despite having clashed with director Karel Reisz during shooting. The film, loosely based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 novella, was remade in 2014 with Mark Wahlberg in the lead.
Who could forget “Funny Lady?” Caan was cast opposite Barbra Streisand as showman Billy Rose-the third husband of vaudeville entertainer Fanny Brice-in the musical sequel to 1968’s “Funny Girl.” Not only did it see him land a Golden Globe nomination, but it also saw him receive a gold record for his contribution to the soundtrack. The same year, 1975, he was cast in “Rollerball.” The athleticism Caan displayed as a student at Michigan State University came in handy for his role as Jonathan E in Norman Jewison’s futuristic thriller, set in a world where sport is basically a matter of life and death. He was definitely on a roll. He then starred in “A Bridge Too Far,” he had relatively a small role in Richard Attenborough’s World War II epic, but still made his mark as Staff Sergeant Eddie Dohun, a US soldier who refused to let a comrade die on his watch, even if it means pulling a gun on an unhelpful medic.
Enter the 90s, with “Misery,” Kathy Bates may have won an Oscar for her work in this Stephen King adaptation, but it was Cann’s novelist Paul Sheldon that audience fell for as he became a bed-hound captive of his “number one fan.” In 1999, he stars in “Mickey Blue Eyes.” Caan’s Corleone past made him ideal to play Frank Vitale, A New York Mafioso who is less than impressed when his daughter (Jeanne Tripplehorn) gets engaged to a British auctioneer (Hugh Grant). In 2003, who could forget one of the best Christmas movies ever, “Elf.” A new generation warmed up to Caan when he was cast as Will Ferell’s father in this seasonal comedy about a human raised in the North Pole who travels to New York to find his biological dad. Jon Favreau’s fantasy also reunited the actor with Ed Asner, with whom he had appeared in the film “El Dorado,” 36 years earlier.
Rose’s Scoop: A year for epic reunions, George Clooney and Julia Roberts are returning to the big screen in “Ticket to Paradise,” Ben Affleck is working with Matt Damon on a new movie, untitled film about former Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro’s life story and the Sanderson sisters are back in “Hocus Pocus 2” after nearly 30 years.