August 12: John Cazale

CazaleThe Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter: Five films that are considered to be amongst the best motion pictures of the 1970s. Five films that were all nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Five films that co-starred John Cazale, who was born today in 1935. In fact, these were the only films that Cazale appeared in during his too brief career.

Who was John Cazale? Cazale is considered by many film critics and historians to be one of Hollywood’s all-time great actors despite being largely unknown amongst the general filmgoing public.  In an appreciation of Cazale’s work, Entertainment Weekly writer Bruce Fretts described Cazale as the “walking embodiment of the aphorism acting is reacting, he provided the perfect counterbalance to his recurring costars, the more emotionally volatile Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.” Although he mostly played supporting roles, it’s hard not to get drawn to the characters Cazale played.

In The Godfather Part II, Cazale is able to create sympathy for the weak Fredo Corleone as he expresses his frustration about being passed over to run the Corleone family’s criminal interests in favor of his charismatic younger brother, Michael (Al Pacino). In Dog Day Afternoon, although the film focuses on pragmatic bank robber Sonny Wortzik (Pacino), the smart viewer knows to keep an eye on Sonny’s co-conspirator, the slightly off Sal Naturile (Cazale), as at any moment he could make the bank robbery turned accidental hostage crisis even worse. Cazale was so dedicated to acting that even after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he still gave his all in his final performance as a cowardly steel-mill worker in The Deer Hunter.

Sadly, Cazale would die before The Deer Hunter was released; and although he is the only actor whose filmography is exclusively made up of Best Picture nominees, Cazale never received a single Academy Award nomination.

Today, raise a glass to an under appreciated talent by mixing a cocktail named after one of his films: The Godfather. It’s a fascinating mix of smoky scotch and sweet amaretto that you can’t refuse.

The Godfather

  • 1 1/2 ounces Scotch
  • 1/2 ounce Amaretto

Pour into an Old Fashioned glass with ice and stir.

Tomorrow: Anything you can do, I can do better.

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