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John Cazale

Some people just have one of those faces, destined to be utilised in a very specific way. Lantern jawed and furrowed of brow – bruiser. Dot-eyed and emaciated – nerd or geek. And so on. But what if you looked like John Cazale? Like a clown sans greasepaint in maudlin repose, or a 1920’s Italian-American barber fallen on fallow times. A puny conman, a boozehound salesman, a dyspeptic bus driver. Cazale could be anything, all too convincingly so. He was a slack bag of hangdog poses, and he had the only face I can think of that could shrug.

His great performances are numerous but, for me, he is especially heart-breaking and believably hopeless in Dog Day Afternoon, as the beleaguered catastrophe depressively trudging his way through an ultimately botched bank job in the shadow of Pacino’s overwrought pyrotechnics. He is tragedy manifest as a floppy-haired failure, exuding incompetence and discomfort, mumbling his way to disaster. A man forever glaringly out of place at just the wrong time and suitably unimpressed.

Dog Day Afternoon is considered Pacino’s film for obvious reasons: he’s very busy in it, a cartoonish volcano of over-zealous method acting. He yammers away and chews the scenery with aggressive abandon but it’s Cazale that holds it all together and embodies the true soul of the film. He knows what’s coming to him and we know it, but we can’t stop watching his meltdown. He’s quiet panic, the flipside to Pacino’s cocksure livewire. He’s us.

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