James Caan Almost Came To Blows With Sam Peckinpah During The Killer Elite

Sam Peckinpah and James Caan were two of the biggest bad boys in Hollywood. The director and actor worked together only once, on the 1975 thriller "The Killer Elite." Caan had just starred in the first two films of "The Godfather" trilogy, while Peckinpah spent the late '60s and early '70s directing a string of polarizing and action-packed films like "The Wild Bunch." The combination of these two huge personalities was quite literally explosive and almost led to an all-out brawl. Mercifully, their friendship survived the shoot, but Caan very nearly did not.

In Peckinpah's "The Killer Elite," Caan plays a hitman that works for the CIA. When his partner gets a new job offer and betrays him, he tries to get his revenge and protect his partner's newest target. When filming a shootout on the street, the crew set off explosives that were made to look like a shower of bullets aimed at Caan. Unfortunately, one of them was mistimed and the actor was almost seriously injured. "One day they set off an explosion, real close to my face," he told Bright Lights. "I remember I almost lost an eye," the actor recalled. "I almost killed Peckinpah over that."

Caan was right to be angry, but Peckinpah was a difficult person to pick fights with. "He was a great intimidator," the actor explained to Bright Lights. But Caan wasn't afraid of the director, and Peckinpah respected him for it. "I told him I would kick his f***ing a**. And he kind of liked that," Caan revealed.

There was almost a killer on the set of The Killer Elite

Both Caan and Peckinpah were as hot-headed as they come. "Sam really was an outlaw sensibility, he did not feel comfortable in civilized company," Paul Schrader once said of the director. When an explosion on the set of "The Killer Elite" went wrong and almost injured Caan, he was quick to blow up on the director. "I said to Sam, 'I'll beat you like a redheaded stepchild,'" the actor recalled to Bright Lights. He wasn't afraid to match Peckinpah's aggression.

In the end, the actor and director were so alike that they couldn't help but respect one another. "Sam was great, Sam was one of the best," Caan told Take2MarkTV. "He was nuts, he was great though. I mean, he could care less. He was a lot of fun to work with." The actor was even asked to give a quote for the back cover of Peckinpah's biography. "He called and said mine was the best. I had written, 'Two more signatures and I'll have him committed,'" Caan recounted, per Bright Lights.

It's a shame that Peckinpahn and Caan never got to work together again after "The Killer Elite." Even though tensions ran very high on set, it's likely that Caan would have worked with the director again if he had another opportunity. Peckinpah had a reputation for being difficult, but Caan could recognize his genius. Love him or hate him, Peckinpah created some unforgettable works of art that bloodied up cinema forever — and they almost bloodied up another Hollywood legend along the way.