They Shot Sonny on the Causeway
The actor James Caan died yesterday. I first saw him in “Brian’s Song” in the role of Brian Piccolo, the Chicago Bears running back and teammate of Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), in a highly emotional movie about Piccolo’s death from cancer. Could that be the first movie that brought tears to my eyes?
In “Misery,” he played the role of every writer’s nightmare: a bestselling romance author who is abducted by a crazed fan (Kathy Bates). To keep him captive, she shatters both his legs with a sledgehammer. Nightmares.
In “Rollerball,” he plays the role of Jonathan, a superstar in a violent sport who becomes too famous for the authoritarian regime’s taste in a world run by corporations (sounds familiar).
In one of my family’s favorite holiday movies, “Elf,” he plays the curmudgeon father to Will Farrell’s Elf.
But for me, Caan’s greatest role was that of Sonny Corleone, the hotheaded mobster in “The Godfather,” one of the best movies ever made. He owned pretty much every scene he appeared in. About halfway through the film, he is gunned down on the Long Island causeway, having been betrayed by his wife-beating, sleazy, brother-in-law Carlo. As Vito Corleone said to the undertaker (who owed Vito a favor): “Look how they massacred my boy.”
James Caan. He was a favorite of mine.