No actor in film history has a more distinguished short filmography than John Cazale. Although he only appeared in five movies in his career, each of them received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. (Six, if you include his appearance in archival footage from The Godfather Part III.) Three of them – the first two Godfather films and The Deer Hunter – won that top honor. Even though he found out that he had terminal lung cancer while shooting the 1978 Vietnam drama, Cazale continued to work on that iconic film. He died just weeks after completing his scenes.
His most well-regarded performance, of Fredo Corleone, came to him when Cazale’s pal, Al Pacino, invited the New York theatre star to audition. Pacino and Cazale later burned up the screen in Dog Day Afternoon, where Cazale’s performance as rat-faced bank robber Sal was unhinged. The actor was perfect in the hushed, menacing role. He later befriended Robert De Niro and was dating Meryl Streep at the time of his diagnosis. This was not a bad company to be a part of. For those interested in learning more about the terrific actor who came and went much too soon, check out the documentary short I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale.
Certified Fresh Films: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, The Deer Hunter
A Spot of Bother: There is not a single poor or mediocre film on his resumé.