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The Good Life

A New Shot at Godfather III

Trying to strengthen the weak link in the Godfather trilogy
| By Marshall Fine | From America’s Most Notorious Mobsters, November/December 2020
A New Shot at Godfather III
Photo/AF Archive/Alamy
Andy Garcia and Al Pacino in Godfather III.

In the pantheon of Godfather films, The Godfather: Part III has long been considered the Fredo of the bunch: the weak sibling who inevitably disappoints. Released in 1990, the Francis Ford Coppola film grabbed more than a half-dozen Oscar nominations despite a critical buzzsaw that focused on two particular weaknesses. One was the performance of Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, playing the daughter of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). Now an Oscar-winning writer-director in her own right, she had no acting experience when she was tapped at the last minute to replace Winona Ryder. 

There was also the film’s confusing plot, which entwined the fictional characters from Mario Puzo and Coppola with real-life events such as the rise of mobster “Crazy” Joe Gallo, the Vatican Bank scandals of the early 1980s and the untimely death of Pope John Paul I.

Now, Coppola has reedited the movie to more closely align with his original vision. Retitled Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, the film will be released at Christmas, to coincide with its 30th anniversary.

The new version is trimmed to five minutes shorter, with a handful of reordered scenes at the beginning and end to clarify the business dealings involving Michael Corleone and the Vatican Bank. Coppola made a variety of cuts and added some voiceover narration, and reedited Sofia’s performance so it is less obviously the work of an inexperienced actor.

“With these changes and the restored footage and sound, to me, it is a more appropriate conclusion,” Coppola said in a September statement.

Andy Garcia, who plays Vincent Mancini, the out-of-wedlock son of Michael’s brother Sonny, was a rising star when he was cast, and the role was one he had coveted for a decade. “When I first got to L.A. in 1978, I heard that [Coppola] was going to do Godfather III–and like a lot of young actors, I thought, ‘That’s my part,’ ” says Garcia, who received an Oscar nod for his work in the film. 

The film was also a break for Joe Mantegna, cast as Joey Zasa, Vincent’s rival and a stand-in for Gallo. “An actor friend, Vincent Guastaferro, said to me, ‘You’re going to be in the Italian Star Wars,’ ” Mantegna recalled. “That was pretty heady stuff.”

Indeed, once he got to the legendary Cinecittà Studios in Rome for filming, Mantegna had a moment on the set that briefly shook him. “I’m looking around the set and the reality hits me,” he says. “There’s Al Pacino as Don Corleone. Francis Ford Coppola is about to call action—and when he does, I’ve got the first line. I got a little flutter. Then I said to myself, ‘I’ve been doing this since I was 16.’ I related it to baseball: I’d been in [youth league], I’d been in the minors—and now I’m in the majors, in the World Series: ‘Hit the ball, Joe! This is where you always hoped to be.’ It was like playing left field for the Cubs.” 

While critics responded to the passionate sweep of Coppola’s cinematic tale, they took exception to the sometimes confusing plot, and for casting his daughter in a crucial role. Garcia feels critics treated her unfairly. “Sofia did a good job—I think the way the critics treated her was unjustified,” he says. “I think her performance will be looked at differently this second time around.”

Peter Rainer, film critic for the Christian Science Monitor, sees a consistent pattern in Coppola’s efforts to rework his past films. “I think there’s an inherent distrust of his own instincts, fueled by the fact that Hollywood makes it easy to feel that way,” Rainer says. “I think there’s a feeling that he didn’t get it right the first time. But there’s also a sense that he feels this is a way to relive and revisit past glories, to remind people of what he had.”

Still, time changes everything. For the generation that came of age in the 1970s with the first two Godfather films, Godfather III arrived after 16 years of anticipation. But, Mantegna says, a new generation approaches the film without that kind of history.

“In recent years, I’ve run into people (in their 20s and 30s) who, if you talk to them about the Godfather films, it would be like talking to me about silent films from the ’20s,” he says. “I’ve had them say, ‘Yeah, my dad made me watch those three films—and I liked yours the best.’ It’s happened often enough that I realized they were coming in without the kind of baggage they had when it first came out.” 

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