THE WRATH OF CAAN

that’s Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame, screaming out his rage and frustration at his nemesis, Kahn Noonian Singh, played wonderfully by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

But isn’t it also true that the Wrath of Khan and the wrath of James Caan, the actor, and all or most of Mr. Caan’s characters, stand as equals in the arena of rage and acrimony and violent entitlement?

In Star Trek II, Khan’s thirst for revenge against Captain Kirk, who exiled him to a planet out in the boonies, Ceta Alpha V, that could barely support life (at least in the movie version) knows no boundaries.  And when the chance finally arrives for him to seize vengeance, he does so with a ruthlessness for which Genghis Khan, the ancient warlord from whom he adopted his title, would no doubt squeeze out one or two proud tears.

I suppose it doesn’t matter that the initial crime of attempting to take over The Enterprise (among other things) got him there. Or that he, at least in the TV version, was even given a choice, and chose the planet himself. Those in dire need of court-appointed lifetime anger management courses never remember that part, do they?

Among some of the most famous and some of my favorite lines encapsulating James Caan’s career as an often criminal, sometimes just fiercely individualistic bad boy, but always, always angry, straight-talking tough guy are:

Frank:  My money in 24 hours, or you will wear your ass for a hat.

Cassandra: Tell me the truth. Have you ever… made it with one of us?

Detective Sykes: No… unless I got drunk and somebody didn’t tell me.

Cassandra: Mmm. A virgin! I find that very arousing. You sure you haven’t?

Detective Sykes: Um… there’s lots of things I haven’t done; that’s not real high on my list. No… you know… don’t take it personally. I’m a bigot.

Sonny: What’s the matter with you, huh? What am I going to do? Am I going to make that baby an orphan before he’s born?

The Big Man: Shoot them and burn down the town.

Daphne: You better do as you’re told, Jonathan. That’s all I have to say.

Jonathan: Are you threatening me?

People even invited Mr. Caan to share his now-famous tough guy persona in later years in several comedies. In this one, he’s a priest who used to be a boxer who takes offense to Adam Samberg and is about to kick the crap out of him:

Father McNally: My father…beat me every day with a rake. But you don’t hear me smack-talking him here in the house of the Lord.

And one of my absolutely favorite roles of his…ever. A hilarious holiday movie you should not miss!

Walter: I don’t care where you go. I don’t care that you’re an elf. I don’t care that you’re nuts. I don’t care that you’re my son. Get out of my life. Now!

Hey, even a cheerful, naive elf who comes out of nowhere, claiming he lives with Santa Claus at the North Pole and is also Walter’s (30-something) son, doesn’t escape the gruff attitude of one of Hollywood’s most beloved, brazen and macho individuals to grace the silver screen.

Even with all that, another line from Roller Ball summarizes, for me, the aura of James Caan’s persona. Though he and Khan share powerful wraths, a line of temperance often runs beneath James’ story lines:

Frank: It’s like people had a choice a long time ago between having all them nice things or freedom. Of course, they chose comfort.

Though his characters vibrate with anger, resentment, and charming thuggery, a little bit of this Roller Ball credo always seems to be tucked into every role he brings to life: the (generally) down-to-earth guy who sometimes gets pushed to the limit by circumstances, will always tell you the truth and will fight for the underdog and for what he believes to be true, regardless of his potential doom. CAAANNNN !

I know I’ve left out a bunch of his roles. Feel free to list any of your favorites.