Like John Cazale, Joe Spinnell was one of the greatest and most recognizable character actors of the 1970s. Spinnell played pivotal roles in several 1970s film classics (“The Godfather,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Taxi Driver,” “Rocky,” “Big Wednesday,” “Cruising”) and was the star, co-writer, and executive producer of 1981’s “Maniac,” arguably the most notorious of all the early 1980s slasher films.
To say Spinnell was a “character” is an understatement. The man was a terrific actor and had a big heart, but was more than a little loony. Really loony. Apparently, John Wayne Gacy wanted Spinnell to play him if they ever made a movie about him. But as loony as Spinnell was, he was arguably, crazy like a fox at times. Reportedly, he was the second highest paid actor in “The Godfather” after Marlon Brando. He apparently made more money from “The Godfather” than Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton, even though he only had a minor role. Why? He asked Francis Ford Coppola if he could hang out on the set when he wasn’t working and Coppola agreed. Since Spinnell was a SAG actor, he was logged in as “working” every day he was on the set. As a result, he collected a huge paycheck and collected huge residuals from what was then, the biggest box-office hit in movie history. As they say, nice work if you can get it.
“The Joe Spinnell Story” is a terrific documentary that was sort-of thrown away as an extra on the “Maniac” DVD. However, the entire documentary is available on YouTube. If you’re a fan of 70s cinema or cult cinema in general, this documentary is a must-see.