Known as one of the greatest American actors of the late 20th century, James Caan, who recently passed away at the age of 82, was an enigmatic performer taking a masculine energy to each and every film he appeared in. In his 61-year-long career, the star was lucky enough to work with such names Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann, Rob Reiner, Lars von Trier and Karel Reisz.
Despite proving himself in such films as Thief, Misery and Rollerball, for Caan, no film was more commercially successful than the epic gangster movie The Godfather. Weaving together several plots, relationships and imposing hereditary expectations, director Coppola, and his co-writer Mario Puzo, craft an intricate tapestry of the Corleone crime family that makes up a tangible, rich history.
It all follows the imposing figure of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) who sits at the head of the family like an ageing monarch as he carefully considers who should take over his reign. Playing Vito’s eldest son, Sonny, Caan stars alongside Al Pacino who plays his younger brother Michael, who eventually takes over from his father.
With 2022 celebrating 50 years of the classic movie, Caan spoke to The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year to reveal how he walked out of a screening of the film back in 1972 when Coppola cut one of his key scenes.
Speaking to the publication, he stated, “When Michael [Al Pacino] tells me he is going to take care of the cop and Sollozzo [Al Lettieri], I say, ‘You’ll get brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. There was a scene before in the same room that I had with Bobby [Duvall] that was like ten pages long — and Francis cut all of it out! I was so pissed off, I couldn’t watch the rest of the film”.
Usually, however, despite the success of the movie, Caan doesn’t name his Godfather role as his all-time favourite, instead opting for the Michael Mann thriller, Thief.
Telling the story of an ace safecracker who wants to do one last big heist for the mob before going straight, Caan stars in the lead role alongside a supporting cast that includes Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, Dennis Farina and Walter Scott. Appearing in the lead role after a career of only playing supporting characters, the release of Thief in 1981 marked a significant step forward for Caan.
In a discussion with Bright Lights, the actor explained just why Thief was his favourite movie in a glittering filmography. “[A]t the time I was a big shot, and whatever I wanted to do, they did. I said I wanted to do this. Jerry Bruckheimer and my brother produced -– and if you knew my brother, that’s hysterical,” Caan lovingly recalls, taking his mind back to when he was working at the very heights of the industry.
Continuing, he added, “Those two guys producing it. And Michael -– this little Napoleonic workaholic. This guy was nuts. But I liked it, that film, and that character. It’s one of my fondest memories”.
Take a look at the trailer for Thief, below, and marvel at James Caan’s favourite ever performance.