Mention the name John Cazale and most people will shake their heads and answer, “Who?” But mention Fredo from The Godfather and recognition is sudden and complete. Bring up Sal from Dog Day Afternoon and you’re liable to get an “I remember that guy” response. He was known by Stan in both The Conversation and The Deer Hunter. Meryl Streep was impressed enough with him to get involved with the unknown actor. She lived with him up until the day he died. John Cazale was only in five movies. But every one of them received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Three of them won the prize. You may not know the man, but you know his movies; everybody knows his movies.
Cazale worked with some of the best actors of his age. The names include Al Pacino Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando, Christopher Walken, and Robert Duvall. He worked for some of the best directors including Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet. All of them considered him one of the best actors they’ve ever worked with. His name didn’t stand out because he could make a part so completely his own that the line between actor and character was lost so absolutely in the portrayal. He became that role. John Cazale was never the focus. He was generous to other actors. He was always willing to build up his co-stars and take the dark spot just to the side of the spotlight. One can only imagine what films he would have made had he not died of lung cancer at just 42 years of age.
This documentary allows the people who knew him best to tell us about him. There are a few clips from each of his movies, but that’s not what tells the story. You don’t need a documentary to highlight those memorable movies. You’d rather watch them yourself. This piece wisely focuses the attention on a place that Cazale never did…himself. Even after all of the years that have gone by you can tell these folks still miss the actor. He’d only been in their lives a few short years, but he left an impact that most veteran actors can only dream about. The piece is a short 39 minutes. There isn’t any fluff. Just face-to-face interviews that tell the story. There is additional interview footage available. In one Al Pacino goes to pieces and can’t get through telling a story about a dream he had about Cazale. I wouldn’t have imagined anything could choke up Al Pacino. To me, that should have been included in the feature. It tells the story better than anything else in the film.
John Cazale: “He was an actor’s actor.”