Today marks the 35th anniversary of John Cazale’s death from lung cancer. We look at winning streaks as impressive accomplishments, whether in sports or Pixar’s streak of box-office hits. But John Cazale put up one of the most impressive streaks ever for an actor, and one that still seems impossible to equal. All five of the movies he appeared in during his short career in the 1970s were nominated for Best Picture: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Include archival footage, and his final appearance as Fredo Corleone in questionable Best Picture nominee The Godfather Part III makes him a full six-for-six in his filmography.
That streak is a blend of bittersweet good fortune and great skill, as evidenced by all the interviews in the 2009 documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale. Richard Shepard’s film isn’t all-encompassing by any means. At only 40 minutes, it glosses over Cazale’s early life in a brief montage, focusing instead on how he influenced fellow actors and on memorable scenes for each of his characters. But it’s a fitting introduction to one a great American screen actor.
A marathon of Cazale’s films takes a little over 13 hours, full of memorable scenes with Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Christopher Walken, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, and most of all Al Pacino—the two started out as messengers for Standard Oil, then appeared in a play together before they were cast in The Godfather. Take an hour, watch I Knew It Was You--below or via more legit sources--and rediscover one of the most underappreciated and subtly brilliant film actors ever.
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