By John H. Foote
(**) Now Streaming on Amazon
In my universe, in the world of John H. Foote, The Godfather Part III (1990) does not exist. It never has.
Anyone who knows me, has ready my work, or sat in a film history class is very aware of how disappointed I was in The Godfather Part III (1990). They have heard how I have erased the film from existence, that I refused to acknowledge the film having ever been made. I remember sitting in a theatre as the end credits rolled and Sherri beside me, my wife of almost a year, knew inherently what was happening inside me. A hurricane of hate was brewing and she shared it. Far beyond the inconsistencies in the film, the background of the film came out in dribs and drabs in the years since.
I damned to hell the souls of the Paramount executives who broke their word to Francis Ford Coppola. For 15 years they had tried to get him to make another film, a third Godfather film, but he resisted. Finally they caught him when he needed the money and, giving him complete power over the film in every aspect, he signed on. After delivering a script everyone was excited about – the actors, and everyone connected with the film – the first hurdle came at them. Al Pacino was being paid $10 million to reprise his role as Michael Corleone, unquestionably the lead. Robert Duvall, an Oscar winner while Pacino was not, the same Robert Duvall who was integral to the first two films, was offered $2.5 million to portray Tom Hagen. Insulted the actor balked.
“Come on Francis, don’t insult me. You’re paying Pacino ten, give me half of that, at least half, I like to think I had something to do with the success of the first two films” Duvall asked. The studio would not budge, and for $2.5 million dollars, a pittance in film production, Duvall walked away. He was out. It was a business decision as he and Coppola are friends to this day, but no way would he do the film, not even a cameo after being insulted by the studio. They considered recasting another actor as Tom, but Pacino interceded stating the chemistry would be different, it was crazy to cast someone else.
So Coppola and Mario Puzo went back to the script and at a cost exceeding the $2.5 million dollars Duvall wanted, rewrote it. Think about that. Paramount was vicious enough to pay the writers to rewrite it, to push back the release date to NOT pay the actor what he wanted, that were really that petty, that small. So they re-wrote the film, restructured the Michael-Tom Hagen relationship – well, eliminated it, a passing comment stating Hagen died of a heart attack – and replaced the character with a character to be portrayed by George Hamilton. Yep, the man with the eternal suntan was cast in one of the biggest films of the year.
From there it seemed the movie Gods were telling Coppola, NOT to make this movie. Winona Ryder arrived to shoot her role as Mary Corleone, essential to the film, and promptly withdrew citing exhaustion. Left without a key cast member, Coppola pulled his young daughter Sofia out of the shower and told her she was in the film, as Mary. With very little acting experience, both Pacino and Diane Keaton came to Coppola, begging him to cast an actress, but he held firm. I think Coppola knew if he postponed the film to search for another actress, the studio might have insisted on Madonna or Julia Roberts and he wanted no part of either of them.
Everyone knows what happened, the failure of the film fell on the shoulders of Coppola’s poor daughter, and it was clearly not her fault. Her father had put her in the most impossible position, and there was no winning for her.
For me the saga of Michael Corleone ends in the final scenes of The Godfather Part II (1974) where Michael is utterly alone, thinking about better days with his family, now all gone except Connie. He has lost his moral soul and in doing so lost everyone he loved, if he was ever capable of loving anyone. It remains one of the most extraordinary and tragic conclusions on film.
So now, 30 years after the release of The Godfather Part III, Coppola, with the co-operation of Paramount who began to work with him and not against him 30 years later, has gone back to the film and recut it. Now streaming on Amazon, is the film worth a revisit?
Hell no. Essentially it is the same damn film, save for a different opening (big deal) and a slightly different ending. Slightly. The only way Coppola could ever fix this film would be to burn the existing prints and negative and remake the movie, the entire movie. Pacino is the right age now, and he could get rid of that silly brush cut he had in the film. Duvall is with us, still working and could reprise Tom Hagen, as is the cast from the third film. Go back to the original screenplay and shoot it. At this point in his life, like George Lucas, Coppola does not need a studio to finance his films, he can do it out of his own personal wealth, the fortune he has amassed with his winery. With a net worth of $500 million dollars and growing, Coppola can do whatever he wants, so rather than going back to his previous films, stop! Make a new film, and if it has to be The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, so be it.
As for this new cut, forget it. Why bother? And that is the question I would like to pose to Mr. Coppola? Why sir? Why?
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.