In defense of ‘Godfather III’

Flaws still sting, but movie improves with age

Spoilers follow.

I’m still in the throes of a deep dive into “G1, “G2” and “G3,” better known to civilians (that is, non-“Godfather” freaks) as “The Godfather” (1972), “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and the much maligned “The Godfather Part III” (1990).

All were directed by Francis Ford Coppola and co-written by Coppola and Mario Puzo, who wrote the epic novel about family, honor, power and crime, which tells the story of Don Vito Corleone’s emergency emigration from Sicily, his rise to power in New York, and his turning over the keys to the kingdom to his least-likely heir, his son Michael.

Screw “Citizen Kane.” “G1,” which starred Marlon Brando as Don Vito, gets my vote as the best movie ever made. And “G2” is right behind it. (Watched consecutively, which I’ve done twice in the past week, they almost seem like one movie.) But some “Godfather” freaks don’t respect “G3” enough to even consider it a “real” “Godfather” movie.

I do remember being disappointed on Christmas Day 1990, when I saw the first evening screening on opening night. My chief complaints: Where’s Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall)? Who kills people with poison cannolis? Who even eats cannolis at the opera? And that ending … after Mary (Sofia Coppola) is killed, there’s a flash-forward to Michael’s death that raises more questions than it answers. It was a real WTF moment. Still is, actually.

But my latest viewings of “G3” left me diggin’ it. I love finding out what happened after “G2.” I always thought that the death of Fredo (John Cazale) would haunt Michael (Al Pacino) for the rest of his life. How could it not? I mean, killing your brother … that’s a pretty big enchilada.

So having Michael grapple with his mortality … having him try to make the Corleone family legit (but still crazy rich, mind you)… having him, as Bob Dylan sang, “tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door” … having him actually pursue Kay (Diane Keaton), in whose face he memorably slammed a door … having him be a tired, unwell, yet bouncier, funnier, more approachable man … it all makes sense. P.S.: Donal Donnelly as corrupt Vatican denizen Archbishop Gilday, seen above, is one of “G3’s” many secret weapons.

I’ll tell you one reason people hate “G3,” and it’s a reason I love it: Sofia Coppola (the director’s daughter, cast at the last minute) as Michael’s daughter, Mary. I think she’s wonderful. Y’see, while they were filming “G3” in ’89, I never once allowed myself to read a word about the production. I wanted to go in with a clean slate. I wanted to march into that movie theater not knowing squat about the movie. So unlike the rest of the world, I never read all the scuttlebutt about how terrible Sofia’s performance was going to be. Therefore, I wasn’t prejudiced against her. I dug her in the movie. She looks fantastic … she looks like Michael Corleone’s daughter … and I really think she pulls off that seduction scene during the post-Papal-honors ceremony, in which she tells Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), “I’m your little cousin.”

Speaking of which … Garcia is phenomenal as Vincent, “bastardo” son of Santino “Sonny” Corleone (James Caan). Hey, man, Sonny casts quite a shadow. But you never once doubt Garcia’s performance.

Who would’ve though that Mike and Kay could ever have a (kind of) romance again? (Who can forget the look she gives Michael in “G2,” after the botched hit? Or Michael’s “I Walked With a Zombie” eyes when he slammed that door.) Kay still “dreads” Michael, she makes clear at every opportunity, but they have a moment. Of course, any smidgen of progress is obliterated after Mary’s death on the steps of the opera house.

I love the fact that Franco Citti, who played Calo, one of Michael’s two Sicilian bodyguards in “G1,” returns in “G3.” He looks the same! (Of course, Angelo Infanti, who played Fabrizio, the other bodyguard … well, in the words of Clemenza, “You won’t see him no more.”

I think Talia Shire is amazing as Connie Corleone, a merry black widow, in “G3.” Eli Wallach as Don Altobello is a bit over the top. But with his age and experience, Wallach is convincing as the old Don who knew Michael’s father but somehow wasn’t on hand during the truce-making meeting of the heads of the Five Families in “G1.” Above is the unfortunate cannoli scene, one of the black marks on “The Godfather Part III.”

Tragic … operatic … Shakespearean …

It was in post production that Coppola and company decided to make Pacino’s screams silent, to great effect.

VIDEO: Below is the opening sequence, which brings us back to the “G2” climax just like it was yesterday, and then economically sets up the rest of the movie. Brilliant!

VIDEO: Below is the “G3” trailer, which I deftly avoided prior to seeing the film on opening night.

VIDEO: “G3” is akin to a musical. Check out the Tarantella below. When Corleone Family rival Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) and his button man, Anthony “the Ant” Squigliano (Vito Antuofermo), interrupt the song, it’s quite comic. The Ant straddles two world, cinematically speaking. He absolutely looks like a stone cold killer. And yet, he’s a funny little guy. Yeah, I’m lovin’ “G3.” P.S.: Would Frankie Five Angels have been satisfied with this Tarantella? I think so. After all, this was a guy who preferred hose water to champagne cocktails.