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The Godfather Novel & Movie

A pop culture addict who loves to talk about movies, music, books, comics, and all of the other things that move and entertain us.

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I first watched The Godfather over 20 years ago. I had heard that it was this great movie, possibly the greatest movie ever made. It's likely my expectations were set way too high. It's also possible that I was put off by killers being shown as heroes. I had much more rigid views of good and bad when I was young. Whatever the reason, the movie seemed boring and long to me at the time. I avoided it for the next couple of decades. Then as I got older a couple of things happened that made me decide to revisit the movie. One is that I realized my tastes had changed over the years and I now liked things I used to dislike and vice versa. The I got a copy of the novel in a batch of books I picked up at some yard dale or something, right around the time that every podcast I listen to decided to do an episode on The Godfather.

So I decided to approach it differently this time. I read the novel first. And I enjoyed it. It wasn't the greatest book I ever read or anything, but it was enjoyable for the most part. Then I watched the movie again. And I enjoyed it. But not as much as a lot of others seem to. I still have issues, both with the novel and with the movie. At the same time, I recognize the massive achievement that Coppola made with this movie. It is truly epic in its scope. And in fact that very scope is what leads to some of the nits I felt compelled to pick.

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Obviously The Godfather has a lot of story in its almost 500 pages. Way too much to put in a movie, which ended up being almost 3 hours long as is. And Coppola and Puzo absolutely chose the right things to keep in and to leave out. As I make any criticisms I want to make clear, I think the people involved did a phenomenal job. The only part of the movie that I can say was actually badly executed was toward the end the music was a bit sappy and was so loud it pulled me out of what I was seeing. I even appreciated Brando's performance, which I had thought was too hammy when I was younger.

My main beef is with the handling of Luca Brasi. The book and the movie both tell us what a dangerous man this is. The book has one scene that attempts to show us why, but all it really does is show us he is inhuman and cruel. While those can be ingredients in being dangerous, they do not make him dangerous by themselves. We should have seen him in action at some point to show us why he is the most feared enforcer on the streets. But the movie took the mishandling of Brasi a little further than the book. The rest of the discussion will have spoilers for the novel and the movie, so be warned before you read any further.

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In the book after Vito Corleone is shot, there is tension in the Corleone Family because no one knows where Brasi is and they can't reach him. They don't know if he has been killed, or turned against them. The thinking runs that if he has been killed that is very bad, but if he has turned against them then they are super duper fucked. The movie has a scene that takes away one element of this tension by showing Don Vito tell Brasi to go to the Tattaglia Family and pretend he is not happy with his place with the Corleone's. They show the murder of Brasi, so the tension for the viewer is then gone. The tension for the family is cut down to one small scene, where there is a line that they hope Brasi hasn't turned, then they get the message telling them he "sleeps with the fishes". I know the movie was already pushing 3 hours, but I think it could only have benefited from playing this tension out, leaving it up in the air as to whether Brasi was dead or would come gunning for the Corleones at any minute.

There were a couple of other small details that were left out of the movie that might have been because they were deemed too vulgar or prurient for audiences of the time. There were story lines left out because they didn't involve the Corleone Family directly, and the choice was obviously made to make this movie about the rise of Don Michael Corleone. And the movie doesn't suffer for the loss of seeing Jonny Fontane struggle with losing his voice. In fact, the novel could have been improved by not having 30 pages about Sonny's mistress having a loose pussy, and getting surgery to correct it. Yep, that's a thing that happened in the novel. Most of my gripes about the movie, which again was 3 hours long, are that we didn't get to spend enough time building, learning, and caring about these characters.

The answer to me is obvious now, 50 years after the movie was first released. It should be a series. Then we could watch Michael woo and win over Appolonia. Then we could see Sonny wanting to protect his sister but not wanting to interfere in her marriage. We could see Kay trying to find out what happened to Michael, and building a relationship with Mrs. Corleone, his mother. Of course, back then there weren't streaming services, and movies were the prestige format for telling visual stories. The television mini-series was still a few years away from becoming the "next big thing". Which is almost a shame, because I think The Godfather could have used the extra room to move and breathe and develop. So as it turns out, my main complaint about The Godfather the movie is that there isn't enough of it. Conversely my complaint with the novel is there are large sections which are completely unnecessary. But while the book could have used some editing, I think the movie was as good as it could have been without either being too long to watch or changing formats entirely.

© 2022 Gracchus Gruad

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