Al Pacino on the screen
After debuting in a small role in 1969’s Me, Natalie, Al Pacino earned five Oscar nominations in his first decade in films — a feat equaled only by Brando in the ’50s. Pacino’s film output dropped off in the ’80s, as he spent much of his time in the theater. But just when most of us thought he had disappeared, he made his return to the screen in Sea of Love and Dick Tracy, with his third Godfather to come. Here — except for the forgettable Me, Natalie — is a complete Pacino filmography, with comments by the actor. All the movies (excluding The Panic in Needle Park) are available on video.
The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Pacino’s first leading role was in this relentlessly depressing story of young junkies in love on the streets of New York. Female lead Kitty Winn was thrust into the spotlight first, winning Best Actress at Cannes. But it was Pacino’s performance that caught the eyes of American critics, who praised his instincts and intensity.
The Godfather (1972)
Pacino landed the role of Michael, heir to the Corleone crime empire, only at director Francis Coppola’s insistence. The studio heads felt a big name was needed, and not even Pacino thought he was right for the role. ”I didn’t understand why Francis wanted me to play that part,” he says. ”I was shocked, like everybody else. I always thought he wanted me for Sonny, but Michael was the only character he saw me as.” The performance won him his first Oscar nomination.
Pacino and Gene Hackman are drifters who become unlikely friends while hitchhiking across the country. A downbeat buddy movie in the Midnight Cowboy mold, it shared the Best Film award at Cannes, and while critical opinion was mixed, acclaim for its stars was nearly unanimous. Despite rough edges, this lost-in-America travelogue remains an unsung high point in the careers of both actors.
Sidney Lumet’s street-smart drama based on real events and people starred Pacino as Frank Serpico, an honest New York cop who led a one-man crusade against rampant police corruption. ”(The role) was exciting to work on because I had the real guy to study,” says Pacino, whose Oscar-nominated performance captures how Serpico’s passion veered into obsession. Watergate-era audiences embraced the character as a bona fide hero, and the movie became a hit.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
If Godfather was about Michael Corleone’s rise to power, Godfather II showed him preserving that power at the expense of his humanity. The part earned Pacino his third Oscar nomination but almost cost him his life. He fell ill during filming in the Dominican Republic and was hospitalized, where his condition deteriorated. When his longtime friend Lee Strasberg saw the actor’s state, he contacted Pacino’s personal physician, who whisked him back to the States. ”The doctor told me I would have died if I’d been in there one more day,” Pacino says.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Back on the streets of New York, Pacino reunited with Sidney Lumet to play another character from real life, a nobody who becomes somebody when he tries to rob a bank to pay for his male lover’s sex-change operation. When he takes hostages, the heist escalates into a media circus. Pacino’s mercurial portrayal brought him Oscar nomination No. 4.
Bobby Deerfield (1977)
Pacino’s title character is a cold, controlled Grand Prix driver who falls in love with a dying woman (Marthe Keller). ”The middle of the film wasn’t quite thought out,” he says, but he was intrigued because ”it played a little on my condition, having to do with isolation and loneliness and what can happen with success and money.” Sydney Pollack directed Alvin Sargent’s screenplay, from a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, but all that talent couldn’t save Pacino’s first wrong career move.