By Michael Curtis
Many people know of the late actor John Cazale’s work. The man made an indelible mark on the history of film despite only being in a total of five movies. Those five films, however, were nominated for a staggering 40 Academy Awards. Now you may know him best for his role as Fredo Corleone from The Godfather. But what you probably didn’t know is that Cazale is a local product. That’s right; Fredo is originally from Revere, MA.
So I’m a little late with this post, but I felt like I needed to write something. AMC recently dedicated an entire week to classic mob movies. While watching both Godfather films (I don’t acknowledge that The Godfather III exists), I couldn’t help but notice how tremendous of an actor John Cazale truly was. I then started to remember an HBO documentary I watched a little over a year ago called I Knew It Was You directed by Richard Shepard. It was a great piece based on his life, so I decided to watch it again. During the film, some of the greatest actors of our generation absolutely praise this guy. Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Richard Dreyfuss, and Gene Hackman just to name a few. They all acted alongside this skinny, frail, homely looking man, and they all spoke of how he made them all better actors.
Now when we think of actors from The Godfather series, the first two people that obviously pop into our heads are Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. Then it would probably be the Roberts, as in Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall. But what about Cazale? Fredo is certainly one of the most unforgettable characters ever. He was the one who stood there fumbling a gun while Don Corleone was being shot by a rival family. And it was Fredo who was part one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the history of cinema when he confessed to Michael his betrayal of the Corleone family.
So I guarantee if you showed someone a picture of John Cazale they would most likely say “Hey, that’s Fredo!” But more often than not when you asked them if they knew what his real name was, they probably would have no clue. And that’s a problem.
Like I said, he only starred in five films. But they weren’t just any five films. Try The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Oh, and did I mention that every single one was nominated for Best Picture? To this day he is still the only actor to have this honor. And the best part about it? He’s from Reveahhh.
Imagine that. This guy was born and raised in Revere. These days when you think of actors from the Boston area Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and the Wahlbergs come to most people’s minds. Throw in there Uma Thurman, Chris Evans, Steve Carell, and John Slattery for the people who know their shit. But John Cazale? As we know, you’re lucky if someone even knows his real name.
It’s a shame due to the fact that he may be the most talented and influential actor to ever come out of this area. “I learned more about acting from John than anybody,” Al Pacino said about Cazale. They became friends early in their careers while they were on Broadway together. And it’s no surprise that they both won numerous Obie awards during that time. Both men of course got their big break playing two of the Corleone siblings in The Godfather. And they would once again reunite in the Sidney Lumet classic Dog Day Afternoon in which Cazale provides an unbelievable performance as Pacino’s silent nutcase partner in a bank robbery that goes epically wrong. Meryl Streep, who was engaged to him, still does not like to talk about him almost 35 years after his death from lung cancer. She actually threatened to quit The Deer Hunter when the studio was considering firing Cazale because he was dying while they were filming. Just goes to show you that two of the greatest actors of any generation were both profoundly influenced and affected by this man.
It also goes to show you just what kind of effect growing up in Revere can have on a person. All that pain and depravity Cazale exhibited through his characters can be traced back to the home of America’s first public beach. I mean it’s certainly not surprising for anyone who is familiar with the city. It can be a rough and tumble place sometimes to say the least. Factor in that Cazale grew up during a time where Revere was even more of a rough and tumble place than it is now, it could explain where a lot of his inspiration came from.
Remember that next time you watch any of his classic characters. And the next time you travel into the city of Revere, just remember that you are standing in the hometown of the incomparable John Cazale. Or where Fredo grew up if it’s easier for you.