Scenes That I Love: Luca Brasi Is Just Happy To Be At The Wedding

97 years ago, on this date, Lenny Montana was born in Brooklyn, New York.

Montana started out as a boxer and a wrestler.  He eventually ended up working as a bouncer and a bodyguard for the leadership of the Colombo Crime Family.  However, Montana achieved his immortality as a result of veteran tough guy actor Timothy Carey turning down the role of Luca Brasi in The Godfather.  Brasi was the Corleone Family’s most feared enforcer and Carey, who had made a career out of playing psychos, was one of the most feared men in Hollywood, one who was rumored to have pulled a gun on more than a few directors.  (For the record, Stanley Kubrick loved him.)  When Carey turned down the role in favor of doing a television series, Francis Ford Coppola offered the role to Lenny Montana.  Montana may not have had Carey’s screen acting experience but he brought real-life authenticity to the role.  When Michael says that Luca Brasi is a “very scary man,” one look at Lenny Montana confirms it.  Unfailingly loyal to the family and willing to do anything for the Don, Luca Brasi represents the Family’s strength.  When Luca Brasi is killed, you know that the old era of the Corleones is ending as well.  Without Luca, the Corleones are in deep trouble.

My favorite Luca Brasi scene comes at the beginning of the film.  Surprised to be invited to Connie’s wedding, Luca wants to thank the Don personally.  Nervous about acting opposite Marlon Brando, Montana flubbed his lines.  The scene, with the flub, was kept in the film and it served to humanize both Luca and Don Corleone.  (The Don’s smile was due to the fact that Marlon Brando was having trouble not laughing.)  It’s a nice little scene, one that reminds us that even gangsters are human.

Video Game Review: The Godfather (2006, EA)

Due to getting handed a major project at work, I missed the last few days of our annual Horrorthon and now I’ve got some catching up to do.  It’s frustrating and, whenever I get frustrated and need to blow off some steam, I get my old Xbox 360 out of storage and I concentrate my efforts on running the Straccis out of New Jersey.

New Jersey is one of the many neighborhoods that you can take over in EA’s video game version of The Godfather.  New Jersey is full of nice houses, dive bars, and police that are so incompetent that I got away with bombing their station on numerous occasions.  If you don’t feel like taking over New Jersey, you can go into Brooklyn and pick a fight with the Tattaglia family.  Or you can drive into Hell’s Kitchen, the worst part of New York and fight the Cuneos.  If you’re really brave, you can try to take over Midtown but Midtown is controlled by the Barzini family and the Barzinis don’t go down without a fight.  If you get into too many fights, you might accidentally start a gang war but you can always find an FBI agent in a church and bribe him to end the war.  Just don’t accidentally shoot the guy.  I did that a few times.

The Godfather is an open world game, a 1940s version of Grand Theft Auto that happens to feature characters from classic gangster film.  You play a Corleone family associate who, over the course of the game, goes from being a soldier to being the Don of New York.  Along the way, you take part in all of the major scenes from the film.  When Sonny is gunned down, you’re the one who chases his assassins.  When Michael shoots the Turk, you’re the one who drives him to the docks so he can head to Sicily.  When it’s time to get revenge on Paulie Gatto and Tessio, you’re the one handed the gun.  You get the idea.  James Caan, Robert Duvall, and even Marlon Brando voiced their film characters for the game.  (Brando’s recordings, unfortunately, weren’t usable and a soundalike was brought in to redo most of his lines.)  Al Pacino did not voice Michael and the game’s Michael looks nothing like Pacino because Pacino had already agreed to exclusively license his appearance to the Scarface game.

As a game, The Godfather can get repetitive.  As your gangster gains experience, he’ll level up and receive skill points.  It really doesn’t take that long to become so powerful that none of the other families have a chance against you.  (Only the Barzini Family remains challenging to the very end.)  The interactions with the storekeepers that you intimidate to get protection all tend to follow the same pattern.  Storywise, the game actually cheapens the movie because it suggests that the Corleones were so incompetent that they had to keep calling you in to clean up all of their messes.

But, flaws and all, the game is pretty damn addictive.  Once I get into my vintage, 1940s car and start driving around New York (which is lovingly recreated, even if it is on a much smaller scale than the real New York), I’m in the zone.  Under the right circumstances, the simplicity of The Godfather can be refreshing.  Drive around.  Hijack a truck.  Fight the gangsters.  If the police get upset, just go to a nearby safehouse and save the game.  If you get bored, grab a bomb and take out an abandoned building or maybe a parked car.  It’s a game so there aren’t any consequences to doing incredibly foolish things.  Or, if you just want to relax, you can just drive around the city and appreciate all of your territory.  It’s up to you.  When you’re the Don of New York, you can do anything you want.

Scenes I Love: James Caan in The Godfather

James Caan has passed away, at the age of 82.  There are a lot of great James Caan performances to choose from and to highlight.  For me, though, he’ll always be Sonny Corleone, the temperamental son of the Don who remains oddly likable, even as he cheats on his wife and threatens to kill every other gangster in New York.  Sonny is a force of chaos, which ultimately leads to his untimely death.  But, at the same time, it also makes him someone who you definitely fighting for you instead of against you.

The scene below is mostly cited for Al Pacino’s quiet intensity as he reveals that he’s truly become a member of the family.  While Pacino’s great, Caan’s reaction is just as important.

In the scene below, Sonny discovers that Carol has been beating up Connie so Sonny beats up Carlo.  Carlo really deserved it.  Now this scene is often cited for featuring one shot where it’s clear that Caan didn’t actually hit Gianni Russo.  That’s fair.  But still, Caan actually did make contact enough times that Russo ended up with a broken rib.  Look past that one shot and you’ll see that, in this scene, Caan clearly shows why Sonny was such a feared figure.  Even more importantly, this scene shows how important his family was to Sonny.  Who doesn’t want someone who would beat someone up for them?

And finally, in this scene, Sonny tells off the FBI.  How can’t you love that?  Apparently, the smashing of the camera was something that Caan improvised on the spot.

That said, there was a lot more to Caan’s career than just The Godfather.  Watch all of his films.  He was one of the greats and perhaps the only celebrity who was actually worth following on twitter. RIP.

8 Shots From 8 Films: Special Robert Evans Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

92 years ago today, Robert Evans was born in New York City.  He started out working in his brother’s clothing business but a chance meeting with actress Norma Shearer led to him becoming an actor.  And while Evans, by his own account, was not a particularly good actor, he did prove himself to be very skilled at playing the games of Hollywood.  Evans eventually moved from acting to production, first as an executive at Paramount and then as an independent producer.

He lived a life as glamorous and tumultuous as the stars of his pictures and his memoir, The Kid Stays In The Picture, is considered to be one of the classic show biz autobiographies.  He hung out with cinematic rebels like Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne and counted Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a friend.  He suggested that Francis Ford Coppola should direct The Godfather and, when Paramount put pressure on Coppola to cut the film down to two hours, it was Evans who famously announced that a two-hour Godfather was nothing more than a trailer.  He lost Ali MacGraw to Steve McQueen and, again by own account, he lost a lot of potentially productive years to cocaine.  (The Cotton Club scandal is one of the wildest in the history of Hollywood, though it should be noted that Evans himself was never charged with any wrongdoing.)  But, for all that he lost, Evans continues to gain admirers as being the epitome of the producer who was willing to take chances.  For all of his flamboyance, Evans had an eye for good material and the willingness to protect his directors.  In many ways, he was as important to the cinematic revolution of the 70s as the directors that he hired.  When Evans passed away in 2019, it was truly the end of an era.

Here, in honor of the birth and legacy of Robert Evans, are 8 Shots from 8 Films that Evans produced, either as studio chief at Paramount or as an independent producer.

8 Shots From 8 Robert Evans Films

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir by Romnn Polanski, DP: William A. Fraker)

Love Story (1970, dir by Arthur Hiller, DP: Richard Kratina)

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

Chinatown (1974, dir by Roman Polanski, DP: John A. Alonzo)

Marathon Man (1976, dir by John Schlesinger, DP: Conrad Hall)

The Cotton Club (1984, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Stephen Goldblatt)

The Two Jakes (1990, dir by Jack Nicholson, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

Sliver (1993, dir by Phillip Noyce, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

Miniseries Review: The Offer (dir by Dexter Fletcher, Adam Arkin, Colin Bucksey, and Gwyneth Horder-Payton)

Almost despite myself, I enjoyed The Offer.

That may come as a surprise to some.  The Offer is a 10-hour miniseries about the making of The Godfather and how Hollywood politics aren’t really that much different from Mafia politics.  As anyone who has regularly read this site over the past few years should know, I absolutely love The Godfather.  It’s my favorite movie.  It’s a movie about which I’ve done a lot of personal research.  There’s very little about the making of The Godfather that I don’t know.  If we’re going to be honest, I’m probably a little bit of a snob about it.

So, like many people, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about The Offer.  It didn’t seem like something that was particularly necessary and it was hard for me to imagine how the miniseries would ever be able to convincingly cast anyone as Marlon Brando or Al Pacino or, for that matter, Francis Ford Coppola.  My skepticism only increased when I learned that the story was going to be told from the perspective of the film’s producer, Al Ruddy.  Everyone agrees that Ruddy was an important part of The Godfather team but he’s never been quite as compelling a figure as the brilliant but often self-destructive Brando or the neurotic but playful Pacino.  When people talk about what makes The Godfather such a brilliant film, they talk about the quotable dialogue.  They talk about the masterful performances.  They talk about Coppola’s skill as a storyteller.  They talk about the way that Gordon Willis lit the scenes so that the characters often seemed to be on the verge of being swallowed by their shadows.  They even talk about how Robert Evans insisted that the film could only be directed by an Italian and how Evans defied Paramount when the studio originally demanded that Coppola cut the film down to two hours.  When Al Ruddy is praised, it’s usually for staying out of the way.

I knew that I would have to watch The Offer eventually but I avoided it while it was actually airing and I made sure not to read anyone else’s opinion to it.  Despite my own obvious biases, I did want to try to maintain as open a mind as I possibly could.  That said, I wasn’t expecting much when I finally watched The Offer this weekend.

But, as I said at the start of this review, I enjoyed it.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a bit of a silly show.  If The Offer was a sitcom, it would be called Everybody Loves Ruddy because the main theme of the show seems to be that Al Ruddy (played by a miscast Miles Teller) was literally the most important man in the entire history of Hollywood.  There’s not a problem that Ruddy can’t solve, whether it’s convincing CBS to air a tasteless sitcom called Hogan’s Heroes or convincing Paramount to take a huge risk on a mercurial director named Coppola and an unknown actor named Pacino.  When gangster Joe Colombo (Giovanni Ribisi) tries to interfere with production, Ruddy befriends him and is soon a popular guy with the crew.  When Al Pacino (Anthony Ippolito) signs a contract with MGM, Ruddy puts the pressure on Paramount to find a way to get Pacino out of it.  When Coppola (Dan Fogler) has a fight with Gordon Willis (T.J. Thyne), Ruddy convinces them to make up.  When Robert Evans (Matthew Goode) goes on a coke binge, Ruddy snaps him out of it.  When …. well, you get the idea.  There’s nothing Al Ruddy can’t do!  When Evans mentioned that Henry Kissinger was coming to the Godfather premiere, I half expected Al Ruddy to negotiate a ceasefire in Vietnam.

From the start, The Offer is full of visual cues and dialogue that pay homage to not only The Godfather but the other films of the period.  The first line of the miniseries is Joe Colombo telling someone to, “Leave the cannoli.”  At first, I groaned but, slowly but surely, the show won me over.  By the end of the first episode, it was obvious that The Offer was not necessarily meant to be taken literally.  The Offer doesn’t tell the story of what Hollywood was really like in the late 60s and early 70s.  Instead, it tells the story of how people like me, who were born a few decades too late, imagine it was.  It’s less about the decade itself and more about how that decade continues to fascinate us and spark our imagination.  In our imagination, Robert Evans is snorting coke in his office, Ali MacGraw is lounging by the pool, Frank Sinatra is making angry phone calls to Joe Colombo, Al Pacino is so nervous that he can’t look anyone in the eye, and Marlon Brando is wandering around his mansion in a kimono and talking about how he can’t get anyone to see his latest, politically-charged film.  In our fantasies, it only makes sense that Evans and his assistant Peter Bart (Josh Zuckerman) would spend all of their time dropping titles of well-regarded, still-remembered films because why would anyone fantasize about them discussing a film that was forgotten?  And, of course, no one is going to fantasize about people discussing some actor who was briefly big in 1972 and then spent the rest of their career on television.  Instead, in the fantasy, it’s all about Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Liz Taylor, and Marlon Brando.  It also makes sense that only classic 70s music would be heard in the background of every scene because, seriously, who ever fantasizes about a bad song playing at a party?

Once it is accepted that it is all meant to be a fantasy, it becomes much easier to appreciate The Offer for what it is, a gossipy, Hollywood story with a Mafia subplot and an overabundance period detail.  Once the viewer accepts The Offer is a fantasy, the viewer is freed up to appreciate the 70s-chic wardrobe.  Once the viewer gets past the fact that the cast is playing characters based on actual people, it becomes much easier to appreciate the performances of character actors like Colin Hanks (who plays an uptight executive) and Burn Gorman (who plays the notoriously eccentric businessman, Charles Bluhdorn).  Patrick Gallo is slyly funny as Mario Puzo while Dan Fogler does a credible enough job as Coppola, even if he never quite captures Coppola’s larger-than-life persona.  Even Lou Ferrigno gets a nice bit, playing a mob enforcer turned unwilling actor.  At the center of it all is the absolutely brilliant Matthew Goode, giving a charismatic performance as the brilliant but sometimes unstable Robert Evans.

As a history, The Offer won’t win any points for accuracy.  But, as a fantasy, it’s undeniably entertaining.  It’s not so much the story of how The Godfather was made but the story of how we wish it was made.

6 Shots From 6 Films: Special Gordon Willis Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today the Shattered Lens celebrates what would have been the 91st birthday of the great cinematographer, Gordon Willis.  Willis was the master of using shadow and underexposed film to create some of the most haunting movie images of the 70s and 80s.  He was also one of the first cinematographers to take advantage of the so-called “magic hour,” that moment when the sun is setting and everything is bathed in a golden glow.  Today, everyone does that but Willis was the first.

Willis has often been cited as one of the most influential cinematographers of all time but, amazingly, Willis would receive only two Academy Award nominations (for Zelig and The Godfather Part III) and he would never win a competitive Oscar.  Remember that, the next time someone argues that the Oscars are the final arbitrator as far as cinematic quality is concerned.

(Actually, does anyone argue that anymore?)

In memory of Gordon Willis, here are….

6 Shots From 6 Gordon Willis Films

End of the Road (1970, dir by Aram Avakian, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

The Parallax View (1974, dir by Alan J. Pakula, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

The Godfather Part II (dir by Francis Ford Coppola, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

All The President’s Men (1976, dir by Alan J. Pakula, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

Manhattan (1979, dir by Woody Allen, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

Here’s The Trailer For The Offer

To be honest, I can’t really say that we need a fictionalized miniseries about the making of The Godfather.  I say that as someone who is a Godfather fanatic and who eagerly reads anything that she can get her hands on that has to do with the production of the film.

I mean, the film’s production is an interesting story, don’t get me wrong.  But it’s a story that should be told by the people who were involved, people like Coppola and Pacino and Duvall and Caan and …. well, you get idea.  What it really doesn’t need is a fictionalized miniseries, one that will inevitably be more concerned with appealing to Twitter than with getting the facts right.

That said, my concerns aside, it looks we’re going to get at least one miniseries about the making of the film.  (Maybe two.)  Here’s the trailer for Paramount Plus’s The Offer.  For the record, this is the miniseries in which Miles Teller replaced Armie Hammer in the role of the film’s producer, Al Ruddy.  Hopefully, this will be good because a lot of people are going to assume it’s telling the genuine story of how The Godfather came to the screen, regardless of how many liberties it takes with the truth.

What Could Have Been: The Godfather, Part II

Years ago, I wrote a post called What Could Have Been: The Godfather, in which I discussed all of the actors and the directors who were considered for The Godfather. 

It remains one of the most widely viewed posts that we’ve ever had on this site.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.  People love The Godfather and they love playing What If?  Would The Godfather still have been a classic if it had been directed by Otto Preminger with George C. Scott, Michael Parks, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Vaughn in the lead roles?  Hmmm …. probably not.  But, in theory, it could have happened.  All of them were considered at one point or another.

However, in the end, it was Francis Ford Coppola who directed The Godfather and it was Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Cann, and Robert Duvall who brought the Corleone family to life.  The Godfather, as everyone knows, was a huge hit and it went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture of the year.  As the film ended with the future of the Corleone family still up in the air, there was obviously room for a sequel.

When Paramount Pictures first approached Coppola about writing and directing a sequel, he turned them down.  He said he was done with The Godfather and didn’t see any way that he could improve on the story.  It’s debatable whether or not Coppola truly felt like this or if he was just holding out for more money.  It is known that Coppola did suggest to Paramount a possible director for Part II and that director’s name was Martin Scorsese.

What would Martin Scorsese’s The Godfather Part II have looked like?  It’s an intriguing thought.  At the time, Scorsese was best-known for Mean Streets and it’s probable that Scorsese’s film would have been a bit messier and grittier than Coppola’s version.  If Coppola made films about the upper echelons of the Mafia, Scorsese’s interest would probably have been with the soldiers carrying out Michael’s orders.  While Scorsese has certainly proven that he can handle a huge productions today, he was considerably younger and much more inexperienced in the early 70s.  To be honest, it’s easy to imagine Scorsese’s Godfather Part II being critically and commercially rejected because it would have been so different from Coppola’s.  A failure of that magnitude would have set back Scorsese’s career and perhaps even led to him returning to Roger Corman’s production company.  As such, it’s for probably for the best that Coppola did eventually agree to shoot the sequel, on the condition that Coppola be given creative control and Paramount exec Robert Evans not be allowed on the set.  While Coppola was busy with Godfather Part II, Scorsese was proving his versatility with Alice Doesn’t Live Her Anymore.

After Coppola was signed to direct, the next best question was whether or not Marlon Brando would return to play the role of Vito Corleone.  The film’s flashback structure would ensure that Vito would remain an important character, despite his death in the first film.  Coppola reportedly considered offering Brando the chance to play the younger version of Vito but he changed his mind after he saw Robert De Niro in Scorsese’s Mean Streets.  Still, it was felt that Brando might be willing to show up in a cameo during the film’s final flashback, in which Michael tells his family that he’s enlisted in the army.  Frustrated by Brando’s refusal to commit to doing the cameo, Coppola told him to show up on the day of shooting if he wanted to do the film.  When Brando didn’t show, the Don’s lines were instead rewritten and given to Tom Hagen.  It’s hard not to feel that this worked to the film’s advantage.  A last-minute appearance by Brando would have thrown off the film’s delicate balance and probably would have devalued De Niro’s own performance as the younger version of the character.

Brando wasn’t the only member of the original cast who was hesitant about returning.  Al Pacino held out for more money, which makes sense since he was literally the only cast member who could not, in some way, be replaced.  Richard Castellano, who played Clemenza in the first film, however learned that he that hard way that he was not quite as indispensable as Al Pacino.  In Part II, Clemenza was originally meant to have a large role in both the flashbacks and the present-day scenes.  However, when Castellano demanded more money and the right to rewrite his own lines, the older Clemenza was written out the film and replaced by the character of Frankie Petangeli (played by Michael V. Gazzo).

It’s impossible to find fault with Gazzo’s performance but it’s still hard not to regret that Castellano didn’t return.  Imagine how even more poignant the film’s final moments would have been if it had been the previously loyal Clemenza who nearly betrayed Michael as opposed to Frankie?  Indeed, even after the part was rewritten, many of Frankie’s lines deliberately harken back to things that Clemenza said and did during the first film.  Because Clemenza is a very prominent character during the film’s flashbacks, his absence in the “modern” scenes is all the more obvious.

When the role of Young Clemenza was cast, it was still believed that Richard Castellano would be appearing in that film.  One of the main reasons that Bruno Kirby was selected for the role of Young Clemenza was because Kirby had previously played Castellano’s son in a television show.  Also considered for the role was Joe Pesci, who was working as a singer and a comedian at the time.  (His partner in his comedy act was Frank Vincnet.)  If Pesci had been cast, he would not only have made his film debut in The Godfather Part II but the film also would have been his first pairing with Robert De Niro.  (Interestingly enough, Frank Sivero — who played Pesci and De Niro’s henchman, Frankie Carbone, in Goodfellas, also had a small role in Godfather Part II, playing Vito’s friend, Genco.)

As for the film’s other new major character, there were several interesting names mentioned for the role of gangster Hyman Roth.  Director Sam Fuller read for the role and Coppola also considered Elia Kazan.  Perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned as a possible Roth was that of James Cagney.  (Cagney, however, made it clear that he was content to remain retired.)  In the end, the role was offered to Al Pacino’s former acting teacher, Lee Strasberg.  Like Gazzo, Strasberg made his film debut in The Godfather Part II and, like Gazzo, he received his only Oscar nomination as a result.

The legendary character actor Timothy Carey (who was courted to play Luca Brasi in the first film) met with Coppola to discuss playing Don Fanucci, the gangster who is assassinated by Vito.  A favorite of Stanley Kubrick’s, Carey reportedly lost the role when he pulled out a gun in the middle of the meeting.

Originally, the film was supposed to end in the mid-60s, with a now teenage Anthony Corleone telling Michael that he wanted nothing to do with him because he knew that Michael had Fredo murdered.  (That famous scene of Michael bowing his head was originally supposed to be in response to Anthony walking out on him as opposed to the sound of Fredo being shot.)  Cast in the role of teenage Anthony was actor Robby Benson so perhaps it’s for the best that the scene was ultimately not included in the film.

Some of the smaller roles in Part II were played by actors who were considered for larger roles in the first film.  The young Tessio was played by John Aprea, who was also considered for the role of Michael.  Peter Donat, who played the lead Senate counsel in Part II, was considered for the role of Tom Hagen.  The rather tall Carmine Caridi, who played Camine Rosato in Part II, was originally cast as Sonny until it was discovered that he towered over everyone else in the cast.  And, of course, Robert De Niro famously read for the role of Sonny and was cast in the small role of Paule Gatto before he left The Godfather to replace Al Pacino in The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.  (Of course, the whole reason that Pacino left The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight was so he could play the role of Michael in The Godfather.  In the end, it all worked out for the best.)

Finally, former teen idol Troy Donahue played Connie Corleone’s second husband, Merle Johnson.  Merle Johnson was Troy Donahue’s real name.

Personally, I think The Godfather Part II is one of the few films that can be described as perfect. Still, it’s always fun to play what if.

Book Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

“The book,” it is often said, “is always better than the film.” But is that always true?

No, it’s not and, if you need proof, just read Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and then re-watch the movie. Or re-watch the movie and then read the book. Either way, you’ll be left with the conclusion that, while the novel did lay the foundation for what became the greatest movie ever made, the novel itself is still a bit …. off.

The Godfather was originally published in 1969 and, before I write anything else, it should be noted that Mario Puzo himself never claimed that the book was meant to be a great work of literature. Puzo had previously written three novels and one children’s book. One of those novels was a pulp paperback that he wrote under a pseudonym for a quick payday. The other two novels were both meant to be works of “serious literature” that examined the human condition. Puzo considered his second novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, to be his best and most poetic work. The only problem is that, while the reviewers were respectful, hardly anyone read Puzo’s “serious” fiction. As such, The Godfather was Puzo’s attempt to write the most commercial book possible, a page-turner that would climb the best seller list and help Puzo pay off his gambling debts. The Godfather certainly did that, spending 67 weeks on the New York Times’s Best Seller List and selling over 9 million copies in two years. Producer Robert Evans was so sure that the novel would be a hit that he even paid for the film rights while the book was still in the galleys.

Reading the book, especially after watching the movie, can be an odd experience.  The film itself is largely faithful to the book. Just about everything that happens in the movie can be found in the book.  Michael, Sonny, Tom, Fredo, Vito, Kay, Barzini, Sollozzo …. they’re all here.  Usually, characters are more complex in the original book than they are in the subsequent film adaptation.  In this case, the opposite is true and reading Puzo’s somewhat leaden prose really does make you appreciate the depth and nuance that actors like Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and John Cazale brought to the characters.  (Perhaps the most extreme example is Kay Adams, who was written as a dull nonentity with none of the nervous likability than Diane Keaton brought to the role.)  To be honest, perhaps the only character who comes across more vividly in the book than in the film is Luca Brasi.  The book goes into the details of what Brasi did for the Don in the past and, as a result, it’s much easier to understand why everyone was so terrified of him.

But, as I said, all of the events that can be found in the movie can also be found in the book.  However, there’s also a lot of things in the book that we’re left out of the film and it’s easy to see why.  In the film, for instance, Johnny Fontane shows up in only two scenes.  Tom Hagen goes to Hollywood.  Jack Woltz ends up with a horse’s head in his bed.  And that’s it for the film industry.  (In the book, the horse’s head is just placed in Woltz’s room as opposed to his bed.  Francis Ford Coppola later admitted that he misread the passage where Woltz finds the head.)  In the book, however, the Hollywood scenes go on forever.  Large sections of the narrative are handed over to Johnny Fontane and his best friend as they party in Hollywood.  It gets frustrating.  You want to read about the Corleones but instead, you’re reading predictable Frank Sinatra fanfic.

When the book’s not getting bogged down on Fontane, it’s getting caught up with Lucy Mancini and her quest to find a man who is as well-endowed as the late Sonny Corleone.  Lucy was Sonny’s lover.  He was the only man who was large enough to satisfy her.  After Sonny’s death, Lucy is given a casino in Las Vegas.  It’s while in Vegas that Lucy meets Dr. Jules Segal, an abortionist who explains to Lucy that she can’t achieve sexual satisfaction because her vagina is too big.  Fortunately, he can help.  Or, as he puts it, “Baby, I’m going to build you a whole new thing down there, and then I’ll try it out personally.” Awwwwwww!

Anyway, for whatever reason, Francis Ford Coppola decided not to include any of this when he made his film version.  And it’s for the best.  When it comes to The Godfather as a book …. well, the movie’s great.  And the sequel’s even better!  The book really makes you appreciate what Coppola and his amazing cast and crew were able to accomplish.

6 Shots From 6 Films: Special Al Pacino Edition

4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

With all the excitement (or not) surrounding the Oscars, it might be easy to overlook the fact that today is also the birthdays of one of the greatest and most iconic American actors of all time!  We cannot let this day end without wishing a happy birthday to the one and only Al Pacino!

In others words, it’s time for….

6 Shots From 6 Al Pacino Films

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Gordon Willis)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir by Sidney Lumet, DP: Victor J. Kemper)

Scarface (1983, dir by Brian DePalma, DP: John A. Alonzo)

Heat (1995, dir by Michael Mann, DP: Dante Spinotti)

The Devil’s Advocate (1997, dir by Taylor Hackford, DP: Andrzej Bartkowiak)

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019, dir by Quentin Tarantino, DP: Robert Richardson)