Two important anniversaries are on us in 2022, two iconic film franchises, one that brings us thrills, spills, and sexy espionage scenarios the other a trilogy of movies that detail the rise of an Italian family and the shady and dangerous world of the Mafia. They are James bond, with the first movie Dr. No, coming to screens in 1962, sixty years ago and The Godfather which was released in 1972. Neither franchise in my opinion has aged and both are just watchable if not even more entertaining now than they were back in the day. Of course, the James Bond franchise continues with fresh movies every two or three years. But it is The Godfather which is celebrating its half century this year that I would like to focus upon. The film has endured over the decades and attracted younger generations via its trio of stories being shown on TV and released on DVD and Blu Ray. Rumours have been circulating for a few years now that a fourth film in the series was on the cards, but this has not come to fruition yet.
The Godfather was released on March 15, 1972. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based upon Mario Puzo‘s novel of the same name. Although it was not Coppola that was the first choice for director, Sergio Leone was initially offered the film but was at the time developing his own gangster movie which turned out to be Once Upon a Time in America and decided against helming the film, if he had how different would it have been? Who knows, well one thing is sure Nino Rota would not have been asked to write the score, with Leone’s choice of composer almost certainly being Ennio Morricone for the movie.
The plot opens at the wedding of Don Corleone’s daughter Connie which leads into a storyline that begins with the Don (Marlon Brando) declining an offer to join in the narcotics business with notorious drug lord Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri). Corleone’s rejection of the partnership leads to an assassination attempt on the Don, and as he lies in hospital fighting for his life his eldest son Sonny (James Caan) subsequently takes over the family business and he conspires with his younger brother Michael (Al Pacino) to strike back for the assassination attempt by having him kill Sollozzo and a corrupted police captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) forcing Michael to go to Sicily in hiding. While in Sicily, Michael travels around the countryside and meets a woman Appolonia (Simonetta Stefanelli) who he marries but she is murdered in a car bombing a bomb that was meant for Michael. Michael returns to America after the news of his brother Sonny’s murder and marries his former girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton). With Vito’s health detreating the Don decides that Michael should take over the family.
Michael plans to move the family business to Las Vegas; but before the move, his father dies, Michael then organizes the killing of the heads of the five families on the day of his nephew’s baptism. The sequence of the murders is impressively presented with scenes of the killings being intercut with the events from the church service. The movie has many other sub plots and stories interwoven into the main storyline; these include the Don’s second born Fredo’s (John Cazale) involvement in the family business in Las Vegas. And the abusive marriage that the Don’s daughter Connie (Talia Shire) is in, with Michael eventually having her husband Carlo (Gianni Russo) killed for his disloyalty to the family.Then there is the success of Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) in Hollywood which has been helped by the involvement of the family, after threatening a movie director (John Marley) with the famous I,ll Make him an offer he cant Refuse, horses head in the bed sequence.
The first movie was a great success and spawned two sequels The Godfather Part ll in 1974 and The Godfather Part lll sixteen years later in 1990. The second part of the trilogy was released on December 20th 1974, with Coppola returning as director, the films screenplay was based on and around Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, the movie served two purposes initially it was a sequel, but also a prequel, as it presented to audiences two stories that ran parallel to each other.
The main storyline following the events of the original film, with the focus being upon Michael and his involvement as the head of the Corleone family, as he tried to hold the business together during the late 1950’s and establish himself as head of the family.
The other parts of the film are told in a series of flashbacks that relate to his father Vito as we see him as a child growing up in Sicily in the early 20th Century through to him establishing his own family in New York.
The Godfather Part III was released on Christmas Day, 1990. Francis Ford Coppola again directed as well as writing the screenplay with the help of the author Mario Puzo. The filmmaker was reluctant to return to the Godfather story as he felt that everything that needed to be said had been covered in the first two instalments. He declined many requests from Paramount Pictures to make a third instalment, but the director was experiencing financial difficulties because his 1982 movie One from the Heart had failed to impress audiences and critics.
The Godfather Part lll, completes the story of Michael Corleone, who is now trying to legitimize his criminal empire, and shows the rise of Sonny Corleone‘s illegitimate son Vincent Corleone as Michael’s successor. The film also portrays a fictionalized account of real-life events, including the death of Pope John Paul I and the Papal banking scandal of 1981 and 1982, linking these with the affairs of Michael Corleone. Coppola has stated he intended for Part III to be an epilogue to the first two films.
On December 4, 2020, a newly edited version of the film entitled The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone was released in a limited number of theatres as well as being released on Blu-ray and streaming platforms. Coppola said the film is the version he and Puzo had originally envisioned. Coppola has said that he and Puzo had discussed the potential and possibility of a fourth instalment. The fourth film was intended to be a prequel and a sequel told in a similar narrative to Part II. They had discussed a potential script seeing Vito Corleone and Sonny gaining the families’ political power and racketeering empire during the 1930s; and with Vincent Corleone in the 1980s, running the family business through a ten-year destructive war and eventually losing the families’ business interests, respect and power, seeing one final scene with Michael Corleone before his death, completing the 100-year story of the Corleone family’s rise and fall. Many actors were rumoured to be cast in the film: Robert De Niro, Andy García and Talia Shire were suggested to be reprising their roles. With Leonardo DiCaprio being considered to play a young Sonny Corleone.
On June 21, 1999 it was hinted that a fourth film was in the works with Andy García in the lead role. García has since claimed the film’s script was nearly produced, however following author Mario Puzo’s death on 2nd July 1999, Coppola decided to retire the film series indefinitely. Puzo’s contribution to the potential sequel dealt with the Corleone family in the early 1930s, and was eventually expanded into a novel by writer Ed Falco and released in 2012 as The Family Corleone. The estate of Puzo sought to keep Paramount Pictures from producing any film based on The Family Corleone. The situation is now resolved, with Paramount gaining the rights to make more Godfather films. However, if they do will the movies be as impacting and have the same appeal as the original trilogy, I somehow do not think so. The first Godfather movie was to become an inspiration for many films that were to be produced with the seedy and bloody world of the Mafia at their core, but very few of these have come near the excellence achieved in Coppola’s masterpiece. Apart from maybe Once Upon a Time in America which was released in 1984 and then later Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas in 1990, films released some twelve and sixteen years after The Godfather premiered.
Nino Rota’s haunting score is key to the film’s storyline, the composer adding melody, authenticity, and support to the movie. The central theme even becoming a huge chart hit for various artistes under the title of Speak Softly Love, with Andy Williams and other vocalists such as Vince Hill having much success with it. The music that Rota penned is a classic piece of writing, and elements of the original score were utilized and expanded upon in the subsequent Godfather movies, it is one of those works where its handful of themes are instantly recognisable as soon as the opening notes are heard.
They conjure up immediately images of Brando as Vito, and thoughts of the characters and scenarios we were introduced to all those years ago. Just think if Leone had decided to take the film on, both the movie and the score would have been very different, maybe better but who really knows. The score for The Godfather is long overdue for an expanded and re-mastered release and it would be fitting that that should happen this year, it’s 50th anniversary and in the year that the Maestro Nino Rota would have celebrated his 101st birthday.
UK based Silva Screen will release a compilation of music from the films in the form of The Godfather Suite on November 4th, many of the included tracks on the recording have already seen a release on past Silva compilations, but this is a nice tribute to the movies and to the amazing music that they inspired from Rota and others.
Rota was in my opinion the “Godfather” of film music in Italy, and it was Rota that many of the more classically slanted composers such as Rustichelli and to a certain degree Angelo Francesco Lavagnino seemed to attempt to emulate in their compositions for film and television. Rota began his involvement with film scoring in 1933 with his work on Treno Popolare, he was 22 years of age, since that first assignment the composer was to work on literally hundreds of film and TV projects and was responsible in my opinion for placing Italian film music on the map and paved the way for the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and their like. Rota was able to create numerous themes and scores that had to them a haunting and lasting appeal, they were also appealing because of their simplicity and their ability to mesmerize and attract both in the context of the music and image working in unison and as melodic and alluring music away from those images. And although he was much in demand during the 1940’s, 1950’s and the 1960’s when he created memorable themes and scores such as Romeo and Juliet, The Leopard, The Taming of the Shrew and Juliet of the Spirits to mention but a few. He continued to fashion quirky but at the same time classically laced works for the silver screen into the 1970’s. Scoring many movies for the respected and esteemed filmmaker Federico Fellini and working on blockbusters that included Waterloo, and box office draws such as Death on The Nile. Rota had a distinct style of scoring, at times his music was an integral component of the storytelling, on other occasions it was a background to the action, but it lent much to every movie that he was involved with. What would Amacord be without its haunting theme, just as a single example of his expertise in scoring. The score for Romeo and Juliet contained that lilting and fragile sounding love theme, but there is so much more to the score than this, the composer fashioning a handful of themes all of which revolved and were based upon the love theme, but each having to them their own unique sound and containing a quality of melodious excellence that was emotive and haunting.
The score ingratiated Zeffirelli’s sensitive storytelling and the gracious and wonderful images and complimented the films emotive and tragic storyline. Rota also worked on The Godfather ll, in 1974 and scored another 27 films and TV productions during the seventies period. His last motion picture score was for The Hurricane in 1979. He died relatively young at the age of 67, in Rome on April 10th, 1979.