The Eighties had not been kind to Francis Ford Coppola with a series of flops that had pretty much driven him to the edge of bankruptcy and losing his beloved Zoetrope studios after massive financial loss. It was time to revisit old glories and that would mean a belated third Godfather 16 years after the 1974 sequel. The Godfather Coda : The Death of Michael Corleone would be the title for the end of the trilogy.
The studio were keen on the idea for a third film that had bought them so much kudos but much like the first film where Coppola had been living in daily fear of being fired this new film would have its own problems Again the director would be writing with Mario Puzo author of the original novel. Coppola wanted six months to work on the script, the studio gave him far less as they wanted the film released on Christmas Day 1990 – the Americans get decent films released on that day whereas in the UK we get ropey TV Christmas specials. Oscar expectation for The Godfather Part III would be high.
Coppola had wanted more money for writer-director producer credits but was not to get it. He was not the only one. Al Pacino had wanted a bigger fee and percentage points until Coppola threatened to start the film with his characters funeral. Many of the cast would return including Diane Keaton, Talia Shire and Eli Wallach but Robert Duvall would be replaced with George Hamilton as the Corleone’s family consigliere and again it would be over him wanting the money on a par with Pacino and Keaton. But it was Winona Ryder who would really throw a spanner in the works having been cast as Pacino’s screen daughter.
Having flown to Italy for the first part of the filming she pulled out days before her first scene reportedly due to exhaustion but rumours abounded that there were other unfounded reasons. The role already had tragedy attached to it with actress Rebecca Schaeffer up for the role but tragically on the morning of her audition she was murdered on her doorstep by a deranged fan. With so little time before shooting began Coppola cast his daughter Sofia in the pivotal role of love interest to hot head Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia). It caused concern among some members of the cast but filming progressed until May 1990. Early screenings were generally positive apart from one thing….Sofia Coppola. In fairness she had little acting experience and her shortcomings were only shown up surrounded by the likes of Pacino et al and a number of her scenes had to be redubbed by the actress to eradicate her valley girl drawl.
There was much expectation for the film with the studio insisting it be titled The Godfather Part III whereas Coppola wanted The Godfather Coda : The Death of Michael Corleone. There was huge buzz around the film whose story centred on Michael Corleone determined to legitimize his business selling off the casinos but taking a controlling stake in a debt laden Vatican City owned worldwide business, ‘Immobilare’ in an effort to seek redemption for his sins. Whilst this was going on he takes his hot headed nephew Vincent under his wing who develops a romantic interest in his daughter.
The film performed well at the box office making $136m and earning seven Oscar nominations including Best Film the first time that any trilogy had been nominated each time in that category. Thirty years later Coppola has been allowed to tinker with the film as he wanted and this new restoration and cut of the film has been titled as the director intended, The Godfather Coda : The Death of Michael Corleone. Coppola is now 81 years old and looks it in his introduction of the film that he has personally overlooked. Scenes have been tweaked and the order of some shuffled around including the opening which no longer starts with the Corleone family celebration of a Papal award but instead starts with a business deal at the Vatican offices which makes more sense in light of what follows. The ending scene has also been tweaked slightly and in honesty we prefer the original ending. The film looks as stunning as might be expected from cinematographer Gordon Willis and the colours have been richly restored.
Though some will dispute it but The Godfather probably remains the finest drama trilogy ever made with a moral core about absolute power corrupting the soul of man as represented by Michael Corleone despite his best efforts to escape what he’s become. ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!’ he laments. The Godfather Coda : The Death of Michael Corleone is a life lesson that despite power and ambition it ultimately means nothing when it comes to family and the film builds to a devastating climax on the steps of an Italian opera house.
Rich in detail and eminently rewatchable the third part of the trilogy might not be on a par with the first two films but it is nonetheless (horses) head and shoulders above every other mob movie and its only Scorsese’s towering Goodfellas that is on par with Coppola’s masterpieces.
Here’s The Godfather Coda : The Death of Michael Corleone trailer……
Here’s a featurette on The Godfather Coda : The Death of Michael Corleone……
The Godfather Coda : The Death of Michael Corleone is in cinemas 5th & 6th December & own it exclusively on Blu-ray™ & download & keep from Dec 8th.