Tonight at the Oscars, viewers and attendees
alike will keep track of the wins, the losses, the wardrobe and the
off-the-cuff remarks. But there’s one segment sure to subdue snarkiness on
site and at home: The annual In Memoriam montage. As you watch this year’s
“honorees,” take a moment of silence to remember a worthy performer who
died way too young. No, not Heath Ledger — John Cazale.
A character actor with feral looks and a
mind-boggling list of credits, Cazale died of bone cancer 30 years ago this
March. He was only 42 years old, but during his brief lifetime, he appeared in
some of the most important films of the ’70s. A real-life buddy of Al Pacino,
Cazale’s portrayal of the sweet but dimwitted accomplice in Dog Day
Afternoon, netted him a Golden Globe nod. His last big-screen
appearance was opposite his real-life fiancée, Meryl Streep, in The Deer
In between, he starred as Pacino’s tormented brother,
Fredo, in the first two Godfather
movies. Although the Academy recognized the flashier performances of his
co-stars, Cazale imbued the fatally imperfect Fredo with heartbreaking humanity.
The scene in which Pacino’s Michael kisses Fredo to seal his fate has probably
been studied and spoofed more than any other moment in cinema history. While
Cazale never earned an Oscar nomination, had he lived, he undoubtedly would
have snagged a little gold man for himself, like all of his friends. The only
upside to his untimely demise is that he never got a chance to make anything
subpar… unlike Streep in Death
Becomes Her or Pacino, in most everything post-2003.