Great Men Grow Great

James Caan - a life in posters

James Caan passed away on the 6th July at the age of 82. His obituaries generally paid tribute with a three-word description: The Godfather star. In a role that would define him, he was Marlon Brando’s eldest, Sonny Corleone. That film may be celebrating its 50th anniversary but is still seen as his most iconic role.   Another standout performance was as futuristic sports star Jonathan E in 1975’s cult sci-fi Rollerball. Caan’s face stares out indominately from the classic poster designed by the late great Bob Peak.

Caan made his debut in an uncredited role in 1963’s Irma La Douce. Three years later he played a gunfighter in the 1966 western El Dorado alongside John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.  However, for a younger generation he may be more recognisable as Walter Hobbs, the gruff publisher who suddenly learns that he has a son from a previous relationship. That son is Elf, played by Will Ferrell, in a 2006 film that has become perhaps now the most beloved of Christmas films.

He did voiceover work for animated films including Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel, as well as Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya in 2013. While Sonny Corleone’s death in an ambush in The Godfather should be more of a lump in the throat moment, the scene near the end of Elf, where curmudgeonly Walter joins in singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town, gets me every time. This Christmas will be even more poignant.

Caan had a very distinctive Twitter account. Often it just had a photo from his long and illustrious career with the same single phrase: End of Tweet. In true Caan style then: End of Blog.


THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (The Bamboo Cutter) 2013
ELF (Walter Hobbs) 2006
DICK TRACY (Spud Spaldoni) 1990
ROLLERBALL (Jonathan E) 1975
THE GODFATHER (Sonny Corleone) 1972
EL DORADO (Mississippi) 1967