10 Oscar Snubs From the 1970s

Ah, the 70s. The decade started with the collapse of the studio system and the rise of the so-called movie brats. For the first half of the decade, Hollywood was producing the type of challenging films on which they would never again be willing to take the risk. The 70s were indeed a second cinematic golden age, full of anti-heroes and dark endings. Then, in 1977, Star Wars changed all of that and ushered in the era of the blockbuster. The 1970s gave the world disco, The Godfather, and some of the best Oscar winners ever.  It also gave us more than a few snubs.

1971: Dirty Harry Is Totally Ignored

Dirty Harry may be one of the most influential films ever made but the Academy totally snubbed it.  My guess is that, with The French Connection coming out that same year, the Academy only had room for one morally amibiguous cop film in its heart.  Still, Dirty Harry has certainly held up better than the nominated Nicholas and Alexandra.  Both Clint Eastwood and Andrew Robinson gave performances that were award-worthy as well.  Say what you will about Eastwood’s range, I defy anyone not to smile at the way Harry snarls when he discovers that the man he’s talking to teaches a constitutional law course at Berkley.

1971: Gimme Shelter Is Not Nominated For Best Documentary Feature

Considering that Woodstock won the Documentary Oscar the previous year, it only seems appropriate the Gimme Shelter should have won the following year.  In the end, the Academy decided to celebrate the best of the 60s while snubbing the worst of it.

1972: Burt Reynolds Is Not Nominated For Deliverance

If you’ve ever seen Deliverance, you know how important a character Lewis Medlock (played by Burt Reynolds) was.  Not only was he the one who persuaded everyone to spend the weekend risking their lives on a canoeing trip but he also set the standard for “manlinness” that the rest of his friends tried to live up to.  When Lewis ends up getting a compound fracture and is forced to spend the rest of the film deliriously lying in a canoe, it’s a reminder that nature and fate don’t care how confident or outspoken you are.  Reynolds was perfectly cast.  1972 was a strong year with a lot of worthwhile nominations and, to be honest, there’s really not a bad or an unworthy performance to be found among the acting nominees.  Still, it’s hard not to feel that the Academy should have found some room for Burt Reynolds.

1974: John Huston Is Not Nominated For Chinatown

In the role of Chinatown‘s Noah Cross, John Huston gave one of the great villainous performances.  Cross represented pure avarice and moral decay, a man who committed terrible crimes but who, the film suggested, was also responsible for creating not only modern Los Angeles but also providing a home for Hollywood.  Admittedly, there were a lot of good performances to choose from and I certainly can’t complain that the Academy awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor to Robert De Niro, who deserved it.  Still, in retrospect, John Huston’s evil turn was at least as strong as Fred Astaire’s likable (and nominated) turn in The Towering Inferno.

1974 and 1975: John Cazale Is Not Nominated For Best Supporting Actor

John Cazale had a brief but legendary career.  A noted stage actor, Cazale made his film debut in 1972 with The Godfather.  He played Fredo, the Corleone son who couldn’t get any respect.  He final film, released after his early death from cancer, was 1978’s The Deer Hunter.  Cazale appeared in a total of five films, every one of which was nominated for Best Picture.  That this talented actor was never nominated for an Oscar just doesn’t seem right.  But for which film should he have been nominated?

Godfather Part II received three nominations for Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro, Lee Strasberg, and Michael V. Gazzo.  Personally, I would probably replace Gazzo with Cazale.  Cazale’s performance as Fredo was one of the strongest parts of Godfather Part II.  Who can forget Fredo’s legendary meltdown about always being overlooked?  I would also say that Cazale deserved a nomination for his performance in Dog Day Afternoon, in which he played Sal and provided the film with some of its saddest and funniest moments.  Neither Fredo nor Sal survive their films and, in both cases, it’s impossible not to feel that they deserved better than the world gave them.

1975: Steven Spielberg Is Not Nominated For Jaws

Seriously, what the Heck?  Jaws totally reinvented the movies.  It received a deserved nomination for Best Picture but the true star of the film, Steven Spielberg, was somehow not nominated.

1976: Martin Scorsese is Not Nominates For Taxi Driver

Seriously, what the Heck?  Taxi Driver totally reinvented the movies.  It received a deserved nomination for Best Picture but the true star of the film, Martin Scorsese, was somehow not nominated.

1977: Harrison Ford Is Not Nominates For Star Wars

Harrison Ford, despite having had the type of career for which most actors would sacrifice their soul, has never had much success with the Oscars.  He’s been nominated exactly once, for Witness.  That he’s never won an Oscar just feels wrong.  The fact that he wasn’t even nominated for playing either Han Solo or Indiana Jones feels even more wrong.  In the role of Solo, Ford bring some much needed cynicism to Star Wars.  His decision to return and help the Rebels destroy the Death Star is one of the best moments in the film.

1978: National Lampoon’s Animal House Is Totally Ignored

This film deserved a nomination just for the scene in which John Belushi destroyed that annoying folk singer’s guitar.  Seriously, though, this is another film that, more or less, defined an era.  I’m not saying it deserved to win but it at least deserved a few nominations.

1979: Dawn of the Dead Is Not Nominated For Best Picture

Considering the Academy’s general resistance to honoring horror, it’s not really a shock that Dawn of the Dead was not nominated for Best Picture but still, it would have been nice if it had happened.

Agree?  Disagree?  Do you have an Oscar snub that you think is even worse than the 10 listed here?  Let us know in the comments!

Up next: The 80s arrive and the snubs continue!

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

6 Shots From 6 Films: Special Gordon Willis Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today the Shattered Lens celebrates what would have been the 91st birthday of the great cinematographer, Gordon Willis.  Willis was the master of using shadow and underexposed film to create some of the most haunting movie images of the 70s and 80s.  He was also one of the first cinematographers to take advantage of the so-called “magic hour,” that moment when the sun is setting and everything is bathed in a golden glow.  Today, everyone does that but Willis was the first.

Willis has often been cited as one of the most influential cinematographers of all time but, amazingly, Willis would receive only two Academy Award nominations (for Zelig and The Godfather Part III) and he would never win a competitive Oscar.  Remember that, the next time someone argues that the Oscars are the final arbitrator as far as cinematic quality is concerned.

(Actually, does anyone argue that anymore?)

In memory of Gordon Willis, here are….

6 Shots From 6 Gordon Willis Films

End of the Road (1970, dir by Aram Avakian, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

The Parallax View (1974, dir by Alan J. Pakula, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

The Godfather Part II (dir by Francis Ford Coppola, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

All The President’s Men (1976, dir by Alan J. Pakula, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

Manhattan (1979, dir by Woody Allen, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

What Could Have Been: The Godfather, Part II

Years ago, I wrote a post called What Could Have Been: The Godfather, in which I discussed all of the actors and the directors who were considered for The Godfather. 

It remains one of the most widely viewed posts that we’ve ever had on this site.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.  People love The Godfather and they love playing What If?  Would The Godfather still have been a classic if it had been directed by Otto Preminger with George C. Scott, Michael Parks, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Vaughn in the lead roles?  Hmmm …. probably not.  But, in theory, it could have happened.  All of them were considered at one point or another.

However, in the end, it was Francis Ford Coppola who directed The Godfather and it was Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Cann, and Robert Duvall who brought the Corleone family to life.  The Godfather, as everyone knows, was a huge hit and it went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture of the year.  As the film ended with the future of the Corleone family still up in the air, there was obviously room for a sequel.

When Paramount Pictures first approached Coppola about writing and directing a sequel, he turned them down.  He said he was done with The Godfather and didn’t see any way that he could improve on the story.  It’s debatable whether or not Coppola truly felt like this or if he was just holding out for more money.  It is known that Coppola did suggest to Paramount a possible director for Part II and that director’s name was Martin Scorsese.

What would Martin Scorsese’s The Godfather Part II have looked like?  It’s an intriguing thought.  At the time, Scorsese was best-known for Mean Streets and it’s probable that Scorsese’s film would have been a bit messier and grittier than Coppola’s version.  If Coppola made films about the upper echelons of the Mafia, Scorsese’s interest would probably have been with the soldiers carrying out Michael’s orders.  While Scorsese has certainly proven that he can handle a huge productions today, he was considerably younger and much more inexperienced in the early 70s.  To be honest, it’s easy to imagine Scorsese’s Godfather Part II being critically and commercially rejected because it would have been so different from Coppola’s.  A failure of that magnitude would have set back Scorsese’s career and perhaps even led to him returning to Roger Corman’s production company.  As such, it’s for probably for the best that Coppola did eventually agree to shoot the sequel, on the condition that Coppola be given creative control and Paramount exec Robert Evans not be allowed on the set.  While Coppola was busy with Godfather Part II, Scorsese was proving his versatility with Alice Doesn’t Live Her Anymore.

After Coppola was signed to direct, the next best question was whether or not Marlon Brando would return to play the role of Vito Corleone.  The film’s flashback structure would ensure that Vito would remain an important character, despite his death in the first film.  Coppola reportedly considered offering Brando the chance to play the younger version of Vito but he changed his mind after he saw Robert De Niro in Scorsese’s Mean Streets.  Still, it was felt that Brando might be willing to show up in a cameo during the film’s final flashback, in which Michael tells his family that he’s enlisted in the army.  Frustrated by Brando’s refusal to commit to doing the cameo, Coppola told him to show up on the day of shooting if he wanted to do the film.  When Brando didn’t show, the Don’s lines were instead rewritten and given to Tom Hagen.  It’s hard not to feel that this worked to the film’s advantage.  A last-minute appearance by Brando would have thrown off the film’s delicate balance and probably would have devalued De Niro’s own performance as the younger version of the character.

Brando wasn’t the only member of the original cast who was hesitant about returning.  Al Pacino held out for more money, which makes sense since he was literally the only cast member who could not, in some way, be replaced.  Richard Castellano, who played Clemenza in the first film, however learned that he that hard way that he was not quite as indispensable as Al Pacino.  In Part II, Clemenza was originally meant to have a large role in both the flashbacks and the present-day scenes.  However, when Castellano demanded more money and the right to rewrite his own lines, the older Clemenza was written out the film and replaced by the character of Frankie Petangeli (played by Michael V. Gazzo).

It’s impossible to find fault with Gazzo’s performance but it’s still hard not to regret that Castellano didn’t return.  Imagine how even more poignant the film’s final moments would have been if it had been the previously loyal Clemenza who nearly betrayed Michael as opposed to Frankie?  Indeed, even after the part was rewritten, many of Frankie’s lines deliberately harken back to things that Clemenza said and did during the first film.  Because Clemenza is a very prominent character during the film’s flashbacks, his absence in the “modern” scenes is all the more obvious.

When the role of Young Clemenza was cast, it was still believed that Richard Castellano would be appearing in that film.  One of the main reasons that Bruno Kirby was selected for the role of Young Clemenza was because Kirby had previously played Castellano’s son in a television show.  Also considered for the role was Joe Pesci, who was working as a singer and a comedian at the time.  (His partner in his comedy act was Frank Vincnet.)  If Pesci had been cast, he would not only have made his film debut in The Godfather Part II but the film also would have been his first pairing with Robert De Niro.  (Interestingly enough, Frank Sivero — who played Pesci and De Niro’s henchman, Frankie Carbone, in Goodfellas, also had a small role in Godfather Part II, playing Vito’s friend, Genco.)

As for the film’s other new major character, there were several interesting names mentioned for the role of gangster Hyman Roth.  Director Sam Fuller read for the role and Coppola also considered Elia Kazan.  Perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned as a possible Roth was that of James Cagney.  (Cagney, however, made it clear that he was content to remain retired.)  In the end, the role was offered to Al Pacino’s former acting teacher, Lee Strasberg.  Like Gazzo, Strasberg made his film debut in The Godfather Part II and, like Gazzo, he received his only Oscar nomination as a result.

The legendary character actor Timothy Carey (who was courted to play Luca Brasi in the first film) met with Coppola to discuss playing Don Fanucci, the gangster who is assassinated by Vito.  A favorite of Stanley Kubrick’s, Carey reportedly lost the role when he pulled out a gun in the middle of the meeting.

Originally, the film was supposed to end in the mid-60s, with a now teenage Anthony Corleone telling Michael that he wanted nothing to do with him because he knew that Michael had Fredo murdered.  (That famous scene of Michael bowing his head was originally supposed to be in response to Anthony walking out on him as opposed to the sound of Fredo being shot.)  Cast in the role of teenage Anthony was actor Robby Benson so perhaps it’s for the best that the scene was ultimately not included in the film.

Some of the smaller roles in Part II were played by actors who were considered for larger roles in the first film.  The young Tessio was played by John Aprea, who was also considered for the role of Michael.  Peter Donat, who played the lead Senate counsel in Part II, was considered for the role of Tom Hagen.  The rather tall Carmine Caridi, who played Camine Rosato in Part II, was originally cast as Sonny until it was discovered that he towered over everyone else in the cast.  And, of course, Robert De Niro famously read for the role of Sonny and was cast in the small role of Paule Gatto before he left The Godfather to replace Al Pacino in The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.  (Of course, the whole reason that Pacino left The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight was so he could play the role of Michael in The Godfather.  In the end, it all worked out for the best.)

Finally, former teen idol Troy Donahue played Connie Corleone’s second husband, Merle Johnson.  Merle Johnson was Troy Donahue’s real name.

Personally, I think The Godfather Part II is one of the few films that can be described as perfect. Still, it’s always fun to play what if.

Scene That I Love: A New Year In Cuba From The Godfather, Part II

Happy New Year!

Well, the clock has now struck midnight on the West Coast and that officially means that it is 2022 in the United States!  It’s a new year, which means that we have another chance to get things right or, at the very least, not repeat the mistakes of the previous year.

I’m looking forward to 2022 for a number of reasons.  We’ve got a lot planned here at Through the Shattered Lens.  So, what better way to start things off than by sharing a scene that I love from one of the greatest and most important films of all time, 1974’s The Godfather Part II?

The scene below takes place on New Year’s Eve.  The scene starts in 1958 and it ends in 1959.  Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his brother Fredo (John Cazale) are in Havana at the invitation of Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg).  Roth know that Cuba could be a gold mine for the American mob but Michael, from the start, realizes that the country’s corrupt government is on the verge of collapse.  Tragically, it’s also in Havana that Michael realizes that Fredo betrayed him to his enemies.

On December 31st, 1958, as the corrupt and wealthy celebrate a new year in Havana, the communist rebels ride into the city.  While the President of Cuba prepares to announce that he will be fleeing the country, Michael confronts his brother and tells him that he knows the truth.  Later, as they both attempt to flee the country, Michael and Fredo see each other on the streets.  Fredo runs from Michael, refusing his offer to help.  Though Fredo would eventually return to the family, the film’s ending revealed Fredo’s first instinct was the correct one.

Much of the scene below is based on fact.  The Cuban government did fall on New Year’s Eve and Fidel Castro and his rebels did triumphantly ride into Havana on January 1st.  Before Castro came to power, the Mafia did have a major stake in Cuba and reportedly quite a few mobsters were in Havana when Castro took over.  Meyer Lansky (on whom the film’s Hyman Roth was based) was one of the many mob officials who were rumored to have caught the last flight off of the island.  Seeking to be the only mob boss in his country, Castro did force the Mafia out of Cuba, which led to an alliance between organized crime and the CIA to try to overthrow Castro.  At the time that The Godfather Part II was released, the details of the CIA and the Mafia’s attempts to assassinate Castro were just starting to be revealed to the public.  As powerful as the scene below is today, it probably resonated even more with audiences in 1974.  In 1974, this was all still recent history and it undoubtedly brought to mind the still-fresh national trauma of the assassination of the Kennedy brothers.

Beyond the historical significance of the scene below, it also features brilliant work from two actors who will forever be linked together, Al Pacino and the late John Cazale.  Cazale and Pacino first met while they were both working off-Broadway, years before Mario Puzo even started writing the novel that would become The Godfather.  They were close friends and, along with co-starring in The Godfather films, they also played bank-robbing partners in Dog Day Afternoon.  Tragically, John Cazale died of cancer at the age of 42.  He only appeared in five films, every one of which was nominated for Best Picture and one could argue that the Academy’s failure to nominate Cazale for either Dog Day Afternoon or Godfather Part II is one of the most unforgivable oversights in Oscar history.

That said, it’s a new year.  Save the arguing for later.  Here’s a scene that I love:

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Francis Ford Coppola Edition

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today is Francis Ford Coppola’s birthday! Coppola is a bit of a controversial figure among some film scholars. While everyone agrees that, with the first two Godfathers, he directed two of the greatest films of all time (and some people would include Apocalypse Now on that list as well) and that he was one of the most important directors of the 70s, his post-Apocalypse Now career is often held up as a cautionary tale. Some say that Coppola’s career suffered because of his own excessive behavior and spending. Others argue that he was treated unfairly by a film industry that resented his refusal to compromise his vision and ambitions. Personally, my natural instinct is to always side with the artist over the executives and that’s certainly the case with Coppola. Coppola has only completed three films since the start of this current century and none of them were widely released. Say what you will about the films themselves, that still doesn’t seem right.

Regardless of how one views his latter career, Coppola is responsible for some of the best and most important films ever made. And today, on his birthday, it’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Francis Ford Coppola Films

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Gordon Willis)
The Conversation (1974, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Bill Butler)
The Godfather, Part II (1974, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Gordon Willis)
Apocalypse Now (1979, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Vittorio Storaro)

4 Shots From 4 Films: The 4 best Best Picture Winners

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today is Oscar Sunday!  Tonight, a new film will join the exclusive list of the 90 previous best picture winners!

Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on the winners that shouldn’t have won that we forget that some truly great films have managed to take the top prize.  So, with this edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films, I’m highlighting for the four best Best Picture winners!

4 Shots From 4 Films

All About Eve (1950, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

The Godfather Saga (1972 and 1974, dir by Francis Ford Coppola)

It Happened One Night (1934, dir by Frank Capra)

West Side Story (1961, dir by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins)

Shattered Politics #36: The Godfather, Part II (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


Believe it or not, The Trial of Billy Jack was not the only lengthy sequel to be released in 1974.  Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II was released as well and it went on to become the first sequel to win an Oscar for best picture.  (It was also the first, and so far, only sequel to a best picture winner to also win best picture.)  Among the films that The Godfather, Part II beat: Chinatown, Coppola’s The Conversation, and The Towering Inferno.  1974 was a good year.

Whenever I think about The Godfather, Part II, I find myself wondering what the film would have been like if Richard Castellano hadn’t demanded too much money and had actually returned in the role of Clemenza, as was originally intended.  In the first Godfather, Clemenza and Tessio (Abe Vigoda) were Don Corleone’s two lieutenants.  Tessio was the one who betrayed Michael and was killed as a result.  Meanwhile, Clemenza was the one who taught Michael how to fire a gun and who got to say, “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.”

Though Castellano did not return to the role, Clemenza is present in The Godfather, Part II.  The Godfather, Part II tells two separate stories: during one half of the film, young Vito Corleone comes to America, grows up to be Robert De Niro and then eventually becomes the Godfather.  In the other half of the film, Vito’s successor, Michael (Al Pacino), tries to keep the family strong in the 1950s and ultimately either loses, alienates, or kills everyone that he loves.

During Vito’s half of the film, we learn how Vito first met Clemenza (played by Bruno Kirby) and Tessio (John Aprea).  However, during Michael’s half of the story, Clemenza is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, we’re told that Clemenza died off-screen and his successor is Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo).  All of the characters talk about Frankie as if he’s an old friend but, as a matter of fact, Frankie was nowhere to be seen during the first film.  Nor is he present in Vito’s flashbacks.  This is because originally, Frankie was going to be Clemenza.  But Richard Castellano demanded too much money and, as a result, he was written out of the script.

And really, it doesn’t matter.  Gazzo does fine as Frankie and it’s a great film.  But, once you know that Frankie was originally meant to be Clemenza, it’s impossible to watch The Godfather Part II without thinking about how perfectly it would have worked out.

If Clemenza had been around for Michael’s scenes, he would have provided a direct link between Vito’s story and Michael’s story.  When Clemenza (as opposed to Frankie) betrayed Michael and went into protective custody, it would have reminded us of how much things had changed for the Corleones (and, by extension, America itself).  When Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) talked Clemenza (as opposed to Frankie) into committing suicide, it truly would have shown that the old, “honorable” Mafia no longer existed.  It’s also interesting to note that, before Tessio was taken away and killed, the last person he talked to was Tom Hagen.  If Castellano had returned, it once again would have fallen to Tom to let another one of his adopted father’s friends know that it was time to go.

Famously, the Godfather, Part II ends with a flashback to the day after Pearl Harbor.   We watch as a young and idealistic Michael tells his family that he’s joined the army.  With the exception of Michael and Tom Hagen, every character seen in the flashback has been killed over the course of the previous two films.  We see Sonny (James Caan), Carlo (Gianni Russo), Fredo (John Cazale), and even Tessio (Abe Vigoda).  Not present: Clemenza.  (Vito doesn’t appear in the flashback either but everyone’s talking about him so he might as well be there.  Poor Clemenza doesn’t even get mentioned.)

If only Richard Castellano had been willing to return.


Clemenza and Vito


But he didn’t and you know what?  You really only miss him if you know that he was originally meant to be in the film.  With or without Richard Castellano, The Godfather, Part II is a great film, probably one of the greatest of all time.  When it comes to reviewing The Godfather, Part II, the only real question is whether it’s better than the first Godfather.

Which Godfather you prefer really depends on what you’re looking for from a movie.  Even with that door getting closed in Kay’s face, the first Godfather was and is a crowd pleaser.  In the first Godfather, the Corleones may have been bad but everyone else was worse.  You couldn’t help but cheer them on.

The Godfather Part II is far different.  In the “modern” scenes, we discover that the playful and idealistic Michael of part one is gone.  Micheal is now cold and ruthless, a man who willingly orders a hit on his older brother and who has no trouble threatening Tom Hagen.  If Michael spent the first film surrounded by family, he spends the second film talking to professional killers, like Al Neri (Richard Bright) and Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui).  Whereas the first film ended with someone else closing the door on Kay, the second film features Michael doing it himself.  By the end of the film, Michael Corleone is alone in his compound, a tyrant isolated in his castle.

Michael’s story provides a sharp contrast to Vito’s story.  Vito’s half of the film is vibrant and colorful and fun in a way that Michael’s half is not and could never be.  But every time that you’re tempted to cheer a bit too easily for Vito, the film moves forward in time and it reminds you of what the future holds for the Corleones.

So, which of the first two Godfathers do I prefer?  I love them both.  If I need to be entertained, I’ll watch The Godfather.  If I want to watch a movie that will truly make me think and make me question all of my beliefs about morality, I’ll watch Part Two.

Finally, I can’t end this review without talking about G.D. Spradlin, the actor who plays the role of U.S. Sen. Pat Geary.  The Godfather Part II is full of great acting.  De Niro won an Oscar.  Pacino, Gazzo, Lee Strasberg, and Talia Shire were all nominated.  Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and John Cazale all deserved nominations.  Even Joe Spinell shows up and brilliantly delivers the line, “Yeah, we had lots of buffers.”  But, with each viewing of Godfather, Part II, I find myself more and more impressed with G.D. Spradlin.

Sen. Pat Geary doesn’t have a lot of time on-screen.  He attends a birthday party at the Corleone Family compound, where he praises Michael in public and then condescendingly insults him in private.  Later, he shows up in Cuba, where he watches a sex show with obvious interest.  And, when Michael is called before a Senate committee, Geary gives a speech defending the honor of all Italian-Americans.

G.D. Spradlin as Sen. Pat Geary

G.D. Spradlin as Sen. Pat Geary

But the scene that we all remember is the one where Tom Hagen meets Sen. Geary in a brothel.  As Geary talks about how he passed out earlier, the camera briefly catches the sight of a dead prostitute lying on the bed behind him.  What’s especially disturbing about this scene is that neither Hagen nor Geary seem to acknowledge her presence.  She’s been reduced to a prop in the Corleone Family’s scheme to blackmail Sen. Geary.  His voice shaken, Geary says that he doesn’t know what happened and we see the weakness and the cowardice behind his almost all-American facade.

It’s a disturbing scene that’s well-acted by both Duvall and Spradlin.  Of course, what is obvious (even if it’s never explicitly stated) is that Sen. Geary has been set up and that nameless prostitute was killed by the Corleones.  It’s a scene that makes us reconsider everything that we previously believed about the heroes of the Godfather.

For forcing us to reconsider and shaking us out of our complacency, The Godfather, Part II is a great film.

(Yes, it’s even better than The Trial of Billy Jack.)


G.D. Spradlin, R.I.P.

Earlier today, I was looking through the list of recent death on Wikipedia (I do this several times a day.  It’s one of my morbid habits.) and I came across the name of G.D. Spradlin. 

G.D. Spradlin died on June 24th, at the age of 90.  While G.D. Spradlin is a great name, it’s hardly a household name.  However, if you’re in any way interested film, you’ve probably seen G.D. Spradlin at least once.  G. D. Spradlin was a character actor who played small but key roles in some of the best films of the 1970s.

Spradlin’s most famous role was probably as the corrupt Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather, Part II.  We see Sen. Geary a handful of times over the course of the film.  At first, he’s just another folksy politician who, behind close doors, proves himself to be coldly corrupt.  A bit later, we meet Geary again.  This time, Geary is sitting naked in a brothel, shaking as he tries not to look at the dead prostitute lying on the bed behind him.  Though it’s never explicitly stated, the suggestion is that the Corleone — the film’s “heroes” — murdered the prostitute and framed Geary for the crime.  To me, this is the pivotal scene in the film because it’s the scene that reveals just how much Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone has changed in between the two Godfathers.  The Michael from the first film might have ordered Geary killed but he never would have deliberately ordered the murder of an otherwise innocent bystander, regardless of her profession.  It’s lucky for Geary that Michael changed his ways because it gives Geary a chance to later accompany him and Hyman Roth to Cuba.  Finally, Geary shows up towards the end of the film, passionately defending Michael Corleone before a Senate committee on organized crime.

If you don’t remember Spradlin from The Godfather, Part II then maybe you remember him as the friendly yet sinister Gen. Corman from Apocalypse Now.  When Martin Sheen is briefed on the man he’s been assigned to kill, it’s Spradlin who does the briefing. 

Before going into acting, Spradlin was active in Oklahoma politics and he had the bearing of a man who was used to being in charge.  If he had gone into acting a little bit earlier, he probably would have played countless ranchers and bank presidents in various Westerns.  However, since he came to prominence as a character actor in the cynical cinema of the 1970s, it was his fate to play roles in which he epitomized the corruption of the American establishment.    Though his roles were rarely big, he brought an unexpected depth to all of them and, as a result, played a key role in some of the greatest movies ever made.

Not too bad for a man who was never a household name.


A Quickie With Lisa Marie: I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (dir. by Richard Shepard)

Despite only appearing in 5 films and dying 8 years before I was born, John Cazale is one of my favorite actors.  You might not recognize his name but, if you love the films of the 70s, you know who John Cazale is because he appeared in some of the most iconic films of the decade.  Though he’s probably best known for playing poor Fredo in first two Godfather films, Cazale also appeared in The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.  All five of his films were Oscar-nominated for best picture and three of them won.  All five are, in their own individual ways, classics of modern cinema and, though he was never more than a supporting player, Cazale gave performances of such unexpected emotional depth that he elevated each of these films just by his very presence.  Tragically, Cazale died at the age of 42 of lung cancer.  At the time, he had just finished filming The Deer Hunter and he was engaged to marry an up-and-coming actress named Meryl Streep.

I Knew It Was You is a documentary that both attempts to tell the story of Cazale’s life as well as pay tribute to him an actor.  While it fails somewhat to do the former, it succeeds flawlessly as a tribute.  The film is filled with footage of Cazale’s legendary performances and watching these clips, you’re struck by not only Cazale’s talent but his courage as well.  As more than one person comments during the documentary, it takes a lot of guts to so completely inhabit a role like The Godfather’s Fredo Corleone.  While other actors might be tempted to overplay a character like Fredo (essentially winking at the audience as if to say, “I’m not a weakling like this guy,”) Cazale was willing to completely inhabit his characters, brining to life both the good and the bad of their personalities.  Watching the clips, you realize that Cazale, as an actor, really was becoming stronger and stronger with each performance.  On a sadder note, this documentary make it  painfully obvious just how sick Cazale was in The Deer Hunter.  The contrast between the nervous, lumbering Cazale of Dog Day Hunter and his gaunt, unbearably sad appearance in The Deer Hunter is simply heart breaking.

The documentary is full of interviews with actors and directors who either worked with or were inspired by John Cazale and you’re immediately struck by the affection that they all still obviously feel for him even 30 years after his death.  Among those interviewed are Steve Buscemi, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Sam Rockwell, and Richard Dreyfuss.  (I thought I knew every bit of Godfather trivia but I learned something new from this film when I found out that Richard Dreyfuss came close to being Fredo before Coppola saw Cazale in a play.)   Perhaps most interesting are the interviews where actors like Pacino, De Niro, and Gene Hackman talk about how acting opposite John Cazale caused them to give better performances than they might have otherwise.  If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that a classic film is, more often than not, a collaborative effort.

Where this documentary drops the ball is in detailing who Cazale was as a person.  Though everyone’s affection for him is obvious, we learn little about what drove the man who was so sad and tragic as Fredo Corleone.  Cazale’s upbringing is covered in about 2 minutes of flashy graphics and his untimely death (and his struggle to complete his Deer Hunter role) is also covered a bit too quickly.  There’s a fascinating and inspiring story there but this documentary only hints at it.  For reasons I still can’t figure out, this thing only lasts 40 minutes.  Even just an extra 15 minutes would have been helpful.

Hollywood director Brett Ratner is also interviewed and I imagine this probably has something to do with the fact that Ratner co-produced this documentary.  So, I guess Ratner is a Cazale fan and good for him but it’s still kinda jarring to see him there with directors like Lumet and actors like Pacino and De Niro.  Ratner, to be honest, is the only one of the people interviewed who actually comes across as having nothing of value to say.  Which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that Ratner is pretty much the golden child of bland, mainstream filmmaking right now.

Still, even if it never reaches the heights of Werner’s Herzog’s My Best Fiend, I still have to recommend I Knew It Was You as a touching tribute to a truly great actor.  As a bonus, the DVD contains two short films featuring a very young and intense John Cazale.  Watching him, you can’t help but mourn that he wasn’t in more movies but you’re so thankful for the legendary performances that he was able to give us.

Auditions I Love: Robert De Niro for The Godfather

With Thanksgiving approaching, that can only mean that it’s time for AMC to do their annual showing of The Godfather movies.

This gives me an excuse to put up one of my favorite clips, Robert De Niro auditioning for the role of Sonny Corleone in the original 1972 Godfather.

(The role, of course, went to James Caan and De Niro went on to play the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II.  Caan was nominated for an Oscar while De Niro actually won.)

This audition, by the way, can be found in the extras of The Godfather DVD set.