Nationality: American. Born: Queens, New York, 26 March 1939. Education: Attended Rhodes High School, Manhattan; Michigan State University; Hofstra College, Long Island; studied acting with Wynn Handman of the Neighborhood Playhouse, New York. Family: Married 1) Dee Jay Mattis, 1961 (divorced 1966), daughter: Tara; 2) Sheila Ryan, 1976 (divorced 1977), son: the actor Scott Caan; 3) Ingrid Hajek, 1990 (divorced); also son: Alexander; 4) Linda Stokes, 1995, two sons: James and Jacob. Career: Began acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, 1960; made his film debut in an unbilled bit role in Wilder's Irma La Douce, 1963; appeared on Broadway in Mandingo and Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole , early 1960s; gained public attention in the role of Brian Piccolo in the TV film Brian's Song, 1970; won critical acclaim for his role in The Godfather , 1972; made his directorial debut with Hide in Plain Sight, 1979. Award: Hollywood Film Festival Hollywood discovery Award for Outstanding Achievement in Acting, 1999. Address: 1435 Stone Canyon, Los Angeles, CA 90077, U.S.A.
Irma La Douce (Wilder) (bit)
Lady in a Cage (Grauman) (as Randall)
The Glory Guys (Laven) (as Pvt. Anthony Dugan); Red Line 7000 (Hawks) (as Mike Marsh)
El Dorado (Hawks) (as Alan "Mississippi" Bourdillon Traherne); Games (Harrington) (as Paul)
Countdown ( Moonshot ) (Altman) (as Lee); Journey to Shiloh (Hale) (as Buck Burnett); Submarine X-1 (Graham) (as Lt. Cmdr. Bolton)
The Rain People (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Jimmie "Killer" Kilgannon)
Rabbit, Run (Smight) (as Rabbit Angstrom); Brian's Song (Kulik—for TV) (as Brian Piccolo)
T. R. Baskin ( Date with a Lonely Girl ) (Ross) (as Larry Moore)
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Sonny Corleone)
Slither (Zieff) (as Dick Kanipsia); Cinderella Liberty (Rydell) (as John Baggs Jr.)
Freebie and the Bean (Rush) (as Freebie); The Gambler (Reisz) (as Axel Freed); The Godfather, Part II (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Sonny Corleone)
Gone with the West ( Man without Mercy ; Bronco Busters ; Little Moon and Jud McGraw ) (Girard); Funny Lady (Ross) (as Billy Rose); Rollerball (Jewison) (as Jonathan E.); Killer Elite (Peckinpah) (as Mike Locken)
Harry and Walter Go to New York (Rydell) (as Harry Dighby); Silent Movie (Mel Brooks) (as himself)
A Bridge Too Far (Attenborough and Hayers) (as Sgt. Dohun); Un autre Homme, une autre Chance ( Another Man, Another Chance ; Another Man, Another Woman ) (Lelouch) (as David Williams)
Comes a Horseman (Pakula) (as Frank)
Chapter Two (Moore) (as George Schneider)
Thief ( Violent Streets ) (Michael Mann) (as Frank); Les Uns et les autres ( Bolero ; Within Memory ) (Lelouch) (as Glenn Sr./Glenn Jr.)
Kiss Me Goodbye (Mulligan) (as Jolly Villano)
Gardens of Stone (Francis Ford Coppola) (as Sgt. Clell Hazard)
Alien Nation ( Outer Heat ) (Baker) (as Matthew Sykes)
Misery (Rob Reiner) (as Paul Sheldon); Dick Tracy (Beatty) (as Spaldoni)
For the Boys (Rydell) (as Eddie Sparks); The Dark Backward (Rifkin) (as Dr. Scurvy)
Honeymoon in Vegas (Andrew Bergman) (as Tommy Korman)
The Program (Ward) (as Coach Sam Winters); Flesh and Bone (Kloves) (as Roy Sweeney); Earth and the American Dream (Couturie—doc) (as voice)
A Boy Called Hate (Marcus); Tashunga ( Grand nord ; North Star ) (Gaup) (as Sean McLennon)
Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson) (as Mr. Henry); Bulletproof (Dickerson) (as Frank Colton); Eraser (Chuck Russell) (as Robert Deguerin)
This Is My Father (Quinn) (as Kieran Johnson); Poodle Springs (Rafelson—for TV) (as Philip Marlowe)
Mickey Blue Eyes (Makin) (as Frank Vitale)
The Yards (Gray) (as Frank Olchin); Luckytown Blues (Nicholas) (as Charlie Doyles); Viva Las Nowhere (Bloom) (as Roy); The Warden (Gyllenhall—for TV) (as John Flinders); Way of the Gun (McQuarrie); In the Boom Boom Room (Kopple)
Night at the Golden Eagle (Rifkin); In the Shadows (Waugh)
Hide in Plain Sight (+ ro as Thomas Hacklin)
"James Caan: His Godfather's Son," interview with R. Feiden, in Inter/View (New York), May 1972.
"James Caan: Off Set," interview with V. Fremont, in Interview (New York), January 1974.
Interview in Photoplay (London), October 1982.
Zuckerman, Ira, The Godfather Journal , New York, 1972.
Puzo, Mario, The Making of the Godfather , Greenwich, Connecticut, 1973.
McGillivray, D., "James Caan," in Focus on Film (London), Autumn 1972.
Current Biography 1976 , New York, 1976.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 23 April 1981, and 24 March 1983.
Weinraub, Bernard, "James Caan Rises from the Ashes of His Career," in New York Times , 17 November 1991.
Reinert, Al, "Raising Caan," in Premiere (New York), December 1991.
Rebello, S., "The Ultimate Caan Game," in Movieline , October 1993.
Allen, T., "Tough guys dance," in Esquire (New York), May 1998.
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Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, James Caan was one of the most promising and interesting young actors in Hollywood. Clearly, he was multitalented. As the young punk who terrorizes Olivia de Havilland in Lady in a Cage , his first featured movie role, he showcased his skill at playing a sadistic thug who could rattle your spine—an aspect of his range he would expand on less than a decade later as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather . He further demonstrated his talent, offering a likable, star-making performance in Howard Hawks's El Dorado . In his role as the young drifter Mississippi (aka Alan Bourdillon Traherne), Caan is showcased opposite John Wayne's hero-gunfighter Cole Thornton and Robert Mitchum's drunken sheriff J. P. Harrah. In this part, the young actor was able to put across macho and swagger while at the same time remaining likably boyish.
Caan added to his expanding reputation with a sensitive performance as the ill-fated pro football player Brian Piccolo opposite Billy Dee Williams's Gale Sayers in Brian's Song , one of the best-ever made-for-television movies. Another key (but often overlooked) early Caan performance which adds yet another dimension to his career came in The Rain People , the story of a pregnant housewife (Shirley Knight) who abandons her husband and commences a cross-country journey of self-discovery. Along the way, she picks up a deeply vulnerable, brain-damaged ex-college football player (Caan). The film is ahead of its time in its depiction of a woman struggling for an independent identity; while Knight is outstanding, Caan matches her with his deeply sensitive and keenly insightful performance in a role that easily might have defeated a less-talented actor.
The penultimate accomplishment of Caan's career remains Sonny Corleone: a performance that announced his arrival as one of his generation's major movie stars. Caan's acting is galvanizing, as he inhabits the role of the psychotic, trigger-happy heir to the Corleone throne, who (predictably but appropriately) meets a violent and bloody end. The film depicts organized crime as an extension of American capitalism; the Corleones essentially are a family of prosperous businessmen, a corporate entity whose powers understand all too well that ruthlessness and treachery are accepted means to success. Sonny, however, more than any other character, represents the true nature of the clan Corleone; he is a thug who is thoroughly remorseless in his out-of-control violence. If you so much as stare at Sonny Corleone, let alone attempt to defy him, he will challenge you, and then promptly blow you away. Sonny, as played by Caan, is the family enforcer, the reality behind the facade of respectability, in a business which relies on employing guns or fists instead of telephone calls or memos as a means of communication.
Since the release of The Godfather in 1972, Caan has, unfortunately, found it impossible to top himself. Unlike his Godfather co-star Al Pacino, he has not had great roles in memorable films; none of his subsequent work matches the overall quality of Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon , Pacino's Godfather follow-ups. And so Caan (who also lacks Pacino's Actors Studio pedigree) does not enjoy a reputation similar to Pacino as an actor's actor.
He has, however, done substantial work in a number of films, which have allowed him to display his range. He has played nice guys (the kindhearted sailor in Cinderella Liberty and the widowed writer in Chapter Two , both opposite Marsha Mason); a cerebral lawbreaker (the title character in Thief ); a career soldier/war veteran who has come to oppose America's involvement in Vietnam, in Gardens of Stone (which, as The Rain People and The Godfather , was directed by Francis Ford Coppola); and, most memorably, the pitifully addicted college professor/title character in The Gambler . Caan also directed as well as starred in Hide in Plain Sight , playing a divorced man in search of his children. Chapter Two (at least on screen) is second-tier Neil Simon, while Gardens of Stone is a secondary Vietnam-related title. The Gambler is obscured by the similar California Split , which also came to movie theaters in 1974. And far too many of Caan's films simply have been third rate, if not outright disasters: Freebie and the Bean , Funny Lady , Rollerball , Killer Elite , Harry and Walter Go to New York , and Kiss Me Goodbye . In the case of Misery and For the Boys , he has been overshadowed by his co-star: Kathy Bates in the former, giving an Oscar-winning performance as a psycho fan opposite Caan's romance novelist; and Bette Midler in the latter, in an Oscar-nominated performance as a star singer opposite Caan's star comedian.
In his best later-career films— Misery and Honeymoon in Vegas , a romantic comedy in which he plays a professional gambler/con man—Caan has emerged as a solid character actor. Yet in Honeymoon in Vegas , he is not so much creating a character as playing off his Godfather persona. He further spoofs Sonny Corleone in Mickey Blue Eyes (another comedy, in which he is cast as a Mafia honcho) and Bulletproof (a Damon Wayans-Adam Sandler farce in which he plays a drug lord who removes his hairpiece prior to committing mayhem). In The Program, Caan may nicely underplay a college football coach, a character linked to his roles in Brian's Song and The Rain People . However, the film's failure is symbolic of the actor's plight. The Program is a Jekyll-and-Hyde football movie that celebrates on-field heroics while attempting to bare the destructiveness of the win-or-else sports mentality and the manner in which colleges exploit athletic recruits. While the scenario exudes a sense of outrage over college football program abuses, it also ends illogically, with the coach's team savoring a dramatic come-from-behind victory that salvages its season. Meanwhile, Caan's performance is lost amid the confusion.
The actor remains capable of playing characters as diverse as a cutthroat villain (without the comedy) in the Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner Eraser to a gloomy teacher who heads off to Ireland to explore his family history in This Is My Father. But for the most part, Caan remains a misused and too-often untapped talent.