Franchise Evolution: The Godfather (part 1 of 2)

Time for a little class and culture, as we look at one of the most honored franchises in movie history… and also, its idiot child of a third entry. I assume everyone has seen the movies (the way AMC constantly runs the first two, they’re rather hard to miss), so let’s not waste time on plot details.

Franchise Evolution: The Godfather (part 1 of 2)

The Godfather (1972): Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, and Talia Shire

Without a doubt, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is one of the greatest movies of all time, as well as one of the most often quoted, a least in Italian restaurants by guys drunk off their ass on cabernet. Based on the novel by Mario Puzo and released in late 1972, it tells the epic tale of the Corleone crime family, headed up by Don Vito (Marlon Brando).

Yes, I am discussing a legitimately great movie and its sequels on a site dedicated to ripping movies a new one. The first two movies are classics of cinema, iconic. Sacred cows, if you will. But the thing is, when I see a sacred cow, I get really hungry for a burger!

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Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Franchise Evolution: The Godfather
Tag: Franchise Evolution

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  • Cristiona

    “Sorry Chicago, but I think the safety of our universe’s existence may depend on your baseball team stinking like death for the rest of eternity.”

    Don’t worry; we’re already resigned to that fact. Sigh.

    • Ed

      Glad to hear it, I’d hate to be responsible for a mass outbreak of depression in a city.

  • Jake

    Like Alien 3, The Godfather Part III would probably be viewed as a classic if it was the first in its series. In both cases, though, the fact that they followed two classics makes them seem anticlimatic

    • Not so sure about either of those movies. A3 was outright silly in many places, and failed to engage me as a viewer at any point in its screentime. I felt the same about a lot of GF3. I don’t think my having seen the films’ predecessors overly colors my perceptions of them – they stink on ice, next to pretty much any movie.

      • BTW, the Workprint edition of A3 (found on the Alien Quadrilogy boxset) is far superior to the theatrical version, and made me like the film a lot more.

        • Huh. Makes me wonder why they didn’t go with that version instead.

          • banjo_oz

            Because the studio took control away from the director and felt the need to constantly meddle.

  • Sir Raider Duck, OMS

    On the Part III commentary track, Coppola waxes on and on about what an “honest” performance Sofia gives, which proves one thing: Love really is blind. At her best, Sofia manages to say her lines adequately and give the correct facial expressions. At her worst, she drags down entire scenes because she gives Pacino and Garcia nothing to play off. The rooftop scene with Michael is a perfect example. Her “I love you so much Daddy” could not have been said more lifelessly if she’d tried.

  • Tiltedkiltmon

    “a least in Italian restaurants by guys drunk off their ass on cabernet”

    No, sangiovese.

    • Pirola Vanni

      I’m italian and you are right.

  • Good Shot Green

    Thanks for the mild props for Peggy Sue Got Married – it’s an unsung ’80s classic, my introduction to Nicolas Cage….now if only there were a decent DVD..

    • Fantasy Mission Force

      Most would consider thier being introduced to Nic Cage as a negative thing…

  • And for years, I felt like an idiot because I didn’t understand the entire Immobiliare storyline, or what Immobiliare even really was. Glad I wasn’t the only one.

    As it turns out, the storyline was actually a re-telling of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal. The real-life Immobiliare had almost nothing to do with it (having been sold off to Gulf & Western a decade earlier), so who knows why Coppola felt the need to use that nearly unpronounceable name.

    It appears the movie’s main subplot cannot be fully understood without a decent background knowledge of late 1970s Vatican finance and its relation to one of Italy’s main banks, which the average 1990 American filmgoer (even hardcore Godfather fans) could not reasonably be expected to have. Nice going, Francis (and/or Mario).

    • Ed

      It would have been just fine if he had just simplified things a little. I truly have no idea why he would suddenly try to turn this into a conspiracy thriller. Hell, even the second movie, which was pretty dense in terms of plot didn’t get this bogged down! It just makes no sense at all.

  • silverwheel

    The main problem I still have with G3 is that I simply don’t buy it. I fail to see how the Michael we saw at the end of 2 becomes the Michael we meet at the start of 3. I have no idea why the deeply paranoid Michael of Part 2 would become a philanthropist, become social again, or even give a darn about making the family respectable (since he pretty much gave up on that during Part 2). Nor do I have a clue as to why Michael would be seeking redemption in the first place. And the old-age ending pisses me off because no matter what he does to redeem himself in 3, he hasn’t earned a quiet death.

    • Oualawouzou

      He hasn’t earned a quiet death, and that’s why I like this ending. You can hear his thoughts: “All I’ve done, all I’ve done for them: the friends I helped, the enemies I made, and yet here I am, old, alone, useless, pointless… My life was for nothing.” *dies*

      That’s the most cruel death that could befell Michael Corleone.

  • Michael J. Schwarz

    The second film’s flashbacks are supposedly drawn from a recurring sequence of events in the original Puzo novel. They were dropped from the adaptation, but when the time came to put together a second film, the flashbacks were dredged up and used.

    I’ve never been certain, but I’d bet if you intercut those into the first film you’d actually keep a fairly coherent thematic progression through the film. The “modern” plot in 2 was apparently constructed from wholecloth for the film.

    While I’m not going to say the original novel was, you know, good, the second film does present a small, more palatable taste for what the third film would do once it had no source material to draw from.

    • Ed

      I think at one point the first two were cut together in sequential order. 1980 or something like that. From what I hear, it works pretty well.

    • v.f.

      Okay, this is my first time replying on an agonybooth forum, but as someone who read the novels recently I had to clarify this for you:

      The novel is told in various parts, some of which are the main storyline used in the movie, but some of which cover other figures who appear briefly in the movie (the singer, Sonny’s lover) and finishes their storylines. These story lines, by and large, are terrible, and just serve as big blocks of overly-detailed accounts of vaginal reconstructive surgery in between the much, much better story about the Corleones.

      Right after Michael kills the cop and the Turk, however, it takes a fantastic digression into Vito Corleone’s life. It’s exactly what you see in the movie, but told in a single chronological narrative section. And it works, in part because it let’s you see that Vito had the same “moment” Michael did, where a switch goes off and he has his fall from grace. It also lets you see what happened next, which gives you some idea of what will happen to Michael (foreshadowing!).

      Honestly, it’s probably the best portion of the book, because most of the rest of it is pulpy grit that Coppola polished into brilliance. I don’t know why Puzzo’s writing suddenly improved in that portion, but it is definitely stylistically different from the rest of the book. A lot less dialogue — actually, that may be it. Puzzo’s dialogue is pretty cheesy (again, Coppola improved on it a lot).

      It makes sense that they couldn’t include it into the first film; stopping the plot of a movie for 30 minutes to tell someone else’s story doesn’t work the way it can in a book. But I understand perfectly why they did want to film it. I do think that it disrupted the flow of the Michael story in movie 2, but it works well to show the contrast between them. Vito uses crime to build human connections, while Michael uses it to destroy all his connections to humanity.

      I’m a huge fan of movie 1 (one of my favorite films of all time) and I really like movie 2 (especially the flashbacks). I have never seen movie 3 because I fear it will damage my esteem for the first 2. Should I risk it? Just for completion’s sake?

      • I actually loved the novel itself, but agree about the Lucy Mancini parts (pun intended). While I like a lot of Puzo’s novels, they all include at least one “who gives a rat’s ass?” character and/or storyline. Puzo was a gifted storyteller, but he needed a better editor.

        Part of the reason they included the “Young Vito” stuff in II was because Coppola had always wanted to do a movie contrasting a father and son at similar points in their lives; when he signed on for the sequel, the missing novel material made it a natural choice.

        By all means, see Part III. It’s fun to see Michael, Kay and Connie again (and watch for Enzo, Fontane and Teresa Hagen making quick cameos), and certainly doesn’t detract from the series itself. Coppola originally intended the movie to be titled “The Death of Michael Corleone,” and it works as an extended drawdown to the series. As its own film, it wouldn’t work nearly as well.

  • This article is making me dig out my DVD set. Which I haven’t watched in a while.
    The first two films were edited into a seven-hour miniseries that was first seen on NBC around 1977. The two movies were rendered in chronological order. Also, about an hour of outtake was put back in. It included the fate of Michael’s Italian bodyguard, Fabrizio. Poetic justice. Coppolla supervised the edit while he was working on “Apocalypse Now”, but the dirty work was done by his editor, Barry Malkin. Interestingly enough, the miniseries ended with the titles superimposed over a shot of Kay in church, lighting a candle and praying. A version of the miniseries, with the violence and language kept in, was also released on VHS back in the 1980’s.
    Frank Sinatra was supposedly of two minds about “The Godfather.” Rumor has it that he ruined Al Martino’s career for Martino’s portraying Johnny Fontane. But, I understand he also lobbied for a part in the film, although I can’t remember which one.

    • Also, Ed, in the article, wrote:
      “That’s not to say the stuff with Michael is bad, but it tends to meander every now and then… which in all fairness is somewhat excusable in a movie that runs three hours and twenty minutes.”

      There was a version of “Part II” that ran about two hours and fifty minutes, that was prepared for release to neighborhood theaters in early 1975. I don’t know what was and wasn’t cut, as the only version I saw theatrically was the three-hour-twenty-minute one. In fact, I’m showing my age by saying I saw “Part II” on its first day of release in 1974.

    • Patrick: You may be thinking of 1950s lounge singer Vic Damone, who initially lobbied for the part of Johnny Fontane but then turned it down when he saw the script; at the time, he said it was because the movie slandered Italian-Americans. Years later, he admitted it was really because Fontane’s story (which took up about 1/5 of the novel) had reduced to three scenes, one of them with no dialogue at all. So Al Martino got the part instead.

      As for Sinatra, he hated the Fontane character (which was totally based on him, of course) and actually tried threatening Puzo over it. Mark Winegardner’s sequels (The Godfather Returns and The Godfather’s Revenge) not only include Fontane, but also characters based on Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, and the entire Kennedy clan (particularly Jack and Bobby).

  • Voyager 6

    Brando was NOT a prick for refusing his Oscar, unless you consider forcing America to face the fact that her glorious pioneer fathers tried very hard to exterminate the people who had the temerity to own the country before Whitey arrived something a prick would do. In any case, refusing an Oscar…as the late great George C Scott also did…is the best way to flip the bird to the vapid, mindless, boundlessly phony crap-sausage machine that is Hollywood a well-deserved bird.

    • Michael

      I agree, although I felt for Sacheen Littlefeather, who must’ve felt uncomfortable telling the world why Brando couldn’t accept. I always thought it would’ve been more effective if Brando just didn’t send anybody & basically tell his reasons to the press

  • Voyager 6

    And yes, I know the last sentence has a redundant bit on the end. I blame the horrible new comment system this site has. And my own lack of proper attention. A bit.

  • Michael

    “It’s far from the worst thing Coppola has ever done (and as long as Jack is available in any form, that will remain the truth)”

    “Jack” is certainly bad, but the most disappointing Coppola film (IMO) is “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” because it is not as close to the book as the title would have you believe. Had it presented itself as simply another variation of Dracula, I’d have taken it on those terms, but the way Coppola and screenwriter James Hart kept insisting that it was all Stoker makes a critical analysis imperative. The only things I loved about it were its production values (it deserved the 3 Oscars it got) & Hopkins as Van Helsing.
    That stupid reincarnated love across the ages crap makes the film as misleading as Jason Takes Manhattan

  • sigaba

    “It’s really more complicated than it needs to be, and it shocks me that a convoluted plot like this was conceived by the same guy who did the taut thriller The Conversation.”

    To be fair, there’s a lot of evidence that Coppola just shot weeks of footage of Gene Hackman cowering in a blood-soaked bathroom and walking around in front of a fog machine, and in futile horror turned the movie over to Walter Murch, who proceeded to make the movie out of ADR lines and deceptive editing.

    If you pay close attention, you notice that almost zero story beats in The Conversation are ever spoken on screen, they’re all dubbed ADR lines over microphone recordings — everything else is atmosphere.

  • rpdavies

    Last Xmas I was given the Trilogy & watch all 3 films over 2 days.

    I found the first 1 was very good, especially whne seeing all the bits that have been spoofed in their correct context.

    The
    2nd was about as good, a little messy in places at it jumped between
    times but worked well. The younger Vito scenes are very good, & the
    better 1950s ones work out, like the build up to the Cuban revolution.

    It
    was easy to see why the 3rd isn’t so great. In some ways Mary was the
    least of the film’s problems, the helicopter attack was very random
    & seemed like a scene from an action film that was accidently
    spliced in.

    I’ve read the Robert Duval was supposed to come back as Tom, but didn’t want to take part, which probably explains a few things.

    The set also includes a lot of bonus material, including a lot of deleted scenes that only made it into the miniseries.