Vintage Hunk: James Caan (with special guest, Scott Caan)

By: Mike McCrann

Our Vintage Hunks are usually men of a certain age whose hunky days were definitely in the past. This week we are doing our first father/son edition, and there's none better than James Caan and his lookalike son, Scott.

James Caan became a star with his performance as Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. This film— perhaps the seminal classic of the 1970s— presented Caan as the sexy, hotheaded son of Marlon Brando. Caan was very hot, whether screwing a girl during his sister's wedding or beating up her crummy husband later in the film. His bullet-ridden death was a fiery finish to a wild performance that earned him permanent fame and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The Godfather was such a colossal event that almost everyone in it benifited from not only its artistic merits but the notoriety that the film caused on its release in 1972. It rescued Marlon Brando's faltering career and made new leading men out of Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and, of course, Caan.

But Caan had given a number of fine performances before The Godfather. He was sexy and evil in the cult-classic Games starring Katharine Ross and French legend Simone Signoret. Probably his best performances were in the famous TV movie Brian's Song where he was Emmy nominated for his portrayal of the dying football player, and the early Francis Ford Coppola film The Rain People where he played a brain-damaged football player. This fantastic road film starring gorgeous Shirley Knight (The Group) was not a commercial success but later critics have called it "Coppola's most personally felt film and certainly his most honest one." It also forged a bond with Coppola and would lead to The Godfather.

Originally Caan was to play Michael Corleone but Coppola put Al Pacino in that part; Caan was switched to the more volatile role of Sonny. Playing Sonny was definitely the right decision as the quiet, slight, reflective character of Michael fit Pacino very well, while Caan made his character seethe with sexual energy and tension. He was a sensation.

Some of Caan's post Godfather roles were also amazing. He played the sailor in Cinderella Liberty, whose romance with Marsha Mason was wonderfully detailed. Caan's most unusual role was opposite Barbra Streisand in Funny Lady, the sequel to her smash hit Funny Girl. A lot of critics did not like the continuation of the Fanny Bryce story, but Streisand and Caan were a great match. In most of her films Streisand totally dominates the male lead but not in Funny Lady, and Caan was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe. The film deserves a critical reevaluation as it is a gorgeous film with great songs.

Another really great Caan performance was in the film version of Neil Simon's Chapter Two. This film (pictured here) not only gave Marsha Mason (Simon's wife at the time) her greatest role but provided Caan with a truly surprising change of pace. He was playing author Neil Simon in this drama about Simon's second marriage to an actress - Marsha Mason! James Caan a playwright? An intellectual? It seemed like insane casting but he was outstanding and touching, handling the comedy like a pro and making dramatic moments deeply felt. It was Mason's tour de force but Caan's wonderful support made the film a big hit in 1979. He should have joined Mason in the Oscar derby that year.

Caan certainly had a number of other big hits, including Misery where he plays the hobbled writer being tormented by the great Kathy Bates in her Oscar-winning role. He also directed his first film in 1980, Hide in Plain Sight, which is an excellent film about a father searching for his children lost in the Witness Protection Program.

According to various articles, Caan's personal life has been as stormy as some of his most famous movie roles. Four marriages, five childen, and a number of personal demons like cocaine addiction kept him off the screen for five years. He finally returned to films in the fine Coppola picture Gardens of Stone that revealed new depths in the actor as he played a sergeant dealing with the home front and the after-effects of the Vietnam War. TV success was also in Caan's future as he played casino president "Big Ed" in Las Vegas for four seasons.

While James Caan is famous due to his great film legacy, his finest accomplishment might be his son Scott Caan, who was born in 1976—the product of James Caan's very short-lived second marriage.

Most of Scott Caan's films were negligible, but seeing the sexy star's performance from Into the Blue, where he runs around wearing a bathing suit, makes up for the movie's ludicrous plotting. Indeed, Scott Caan is a sexier, smaller, buffed-up version of his famous father, but he has other gifts as well. He's directed several interesting (in the good sense!) films like Dallas 362 and created a second career as a fine photographer. Critical and popular success eluded the younger Caan until he was cast as the second lead in the recreation of the classic TV series Hawaii Five-0. Playing Danny "Danno" Williams in the show is a great partnering with equally hot lead Alex O'Loughlin, but Scott Caan is not only sexy, he is also witty and with charisma to burn. He was nominated for a Golden Globe the year the show debuted.

James Caan and Scott Caan are the perfect Vintage Hunk combo. James is aging like fine wine and Scott seems to be on the brink of a totally successful career. James Caan was a star and a good actor who never got the critical recognition he deserved. His son Scott is equally talented; hopefully there is a part like Sonny Corleone in his future.