Mario Puzo’s authentic writing coupled with Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic acumen, produced three films (1972, 1974, 1990) for the ages. Not surprisingly, the first two took home many accolades including Best Picture awards. The third? Not so much—all good things must come to an end.
As long as the productions are (~3 hours each), I will attempt to encapsulate the award winners in just a single sentence; more explanations are needed for the third.
The Godfather Part I
Marlon Brando gives a bravura, dusty-voice performance in the title role as the Sicilian who harvests favours from all comers, only to ask them to be paid back—frequently with bloody interest; the coda’s christening/murderously settling of scores sequence is difficult to watch, but brilliantly shot and edited; speaking of scores, Nino Rota hits a musical homerun—even better than his contributions to Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (cross-reference below).
The Godfather Part II
Brando is missed—even as a cameo in the backstory scenes; Pacino most certainly comes into his own, delivering a performance of a lifetime; rather than “better than the original”; too frequent toing and froing weaken the overall dramatic drive/arch; the final scene of an “abandoned” Michael seems so appropriate after waiting for his momma’s passing to allow his traitorous brother’s murder: no worries, “It’s only business.”
The Godfather Part III
“It’s just business”
From the opening scene, even as the familiar trumpet heralds the next installment of the Corleone Family saga, there’s an immediate feeling of “Why are we here—was it just business (not the actual mafia, but Paramount, Coppola and Puzo all in need of cash)?” Even if Robert Duvall had swallowed his monetary pride and agreed to appear (B.J. Harrison was created to take on the mantle of Family lawyer; George Hamilton’s portrayal seems like solicitor without briefs), the wandering, Pope-filled narrative can’t hold a candle—blessed or not—to its predecessors.
Most insulting of all was the climactic opera house sequence (Cavalleria Rusticana—with an assist from the legendary opera/film director, Franco Zeffirelli), where star tenor Antony Corleone is shown singing from a music score in his backstage work (no opera stars worth their salt would appear “on book”), then, appears in costume in the theatre’s foyer after the final curtain has fallen—equally ridiculous in the real world of opera. Not even the de rigueur closing bloodbath could forgive those sins—even if the Pope had survived to hear the confessions of all those in charge. JWR