[box cover]

The Godfather DVD Collection

Paramount Home Video

Starring Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall,
James Caan, Andy Garcia, Diane Keaton,
John Cazale, Talia Shire,
and many many more

Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo,
from the novel by Mario Puzo

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

The Godfather, Parts I and II

If there is one movie every American should be required to see at least once during their formative years, it is Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo's epic novel The Godfather. If there is a second movie every American should be required to see at least once as they come of age, it is The Godfather, Part II. Together, these first two-thirds of the Godfather film canon paint an indelible, stunning, and heartbreaking portrait of the United States' two most important institutions: the family and capitalism.

Spanning, in a circuitous route, nearly 60 years, these two most important and culturally pervasive films tell the story of the Corleone family: Vito Andolini's turn-of-the-century journey from Corleone, Sicily, to New York; Vito's struggle to keep his family out of poverty; Vito's introduction to organized crime; Vito's rise to power; the ascension of Vito's son Michael as his successor; Michael's attempts to preserve his family as it falls apart around him. With just over six hours to execute this arching plot, director Coppola announces himself as a bold master of narrative and, most importantly, texture. From the opening wedding of the first film through the Cuban revolution of the second, every scene bristles with vitality and verisimilitude while also building an incredible and engulfing structure of mythology. The Corleones and their tumultuous saga are bigger than real people and real lives. They are to capitalism what the Kennedys are to politics: symbols of the best and worst of the American dream.

Although many critics express dismay at the films' alleged romanticizing of violent criminals, they are missing the gravy for the meatballs. What is romanticized in the first film, and dismantled in the second, is not the crime nor the violence, but how challenging it is, on the busy and burgeoning and impersonal frontier of growing America, for a man to protect and provide for his family. From Vito's humble beginnings as a small-time immigrant racketeer to Michael's tenuous grip on a criminal empire, their concern is always the protection of those closest to them from destructive forces. For Vito this means denying participation in the drug trade and raising the wrath of his fellow families. For Michael, it means battling against and extricating, at all costs, the narcissism the creeps into his own family members as they pine for personal satisfaction outside the safety of the family unit. It's this tension, the balance between endangering the family as you try to protect it, that keeps these two wonderful films brimming with excitement, and it's the flavor of personal and unpredictable life that make them worthy of unlimited repeat viewings.

*          *          *

Both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are so inextricably linked by chronology and theme that it's nearly impossible to think of them as separate entities, but rather one breathing organism. The only profound difference between them is backdrop. The first film is intimate and enclosed, exploring its secretive world from the dark corners, while the second opens up, setting its dramas within a larger sociopolitical context. Both are equally riveting approaches, and seamlessly held together by a range of incredible performances from many of the finest actors of recent cinema. Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, Al Pacino as Michael, Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, James Caan as Sonny, Robert DeNiro as young Vito Corleone, Michael V. Gazzo as Frankie Pentangeli, Diane Keaton as Kay Adams, Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth, John Cazale as Fredo. And the list doesn't stop there. Nearly every performance in the first two films is flawless, all the actors playing inward rather than out, making us guess at their concealed intentions rather than playing exhibitionists. It's remarkable to notice that, for all their excitement and violence, these two films are stunningly quiet and thoughtful, as are leading men Brando and Pacino — both for whom silence itself is a threatening force of nature.

Brando won the Best Actor Oscar in 1973 (DeNiro won Best Supporting Actor two years later for playing the same character), while Pacino, Caan, and Duvall all earned supporting actor nominations that same year, and it's simply a crime that Pacino lost out on the top acting prize in 1975 to Art Carney (for the enduring classic Harry and Tonto? WTF?). And while Coppola only earned the Best Director Oscar for the second film, both took home the Best Picture prize. Technically, the first two parts in this series are monumental creations. Gordon Willis' unprecedentedly dark and elusive images have been likened to the work of Rembrandt. Nino Rota's haunting waltzes stir the emotions with evocative melodies. Although Paramount reportedly wanted nothing more than a cheap thriller to sell a few movie tickets, they ended up with a pair of American classics that wrote a whole new set of iconography against which to judge the rest of our popular culture for years to come.

The Godfather Part III

"...After (The Godfather Part II), for years, I couldn't consider that there would be a third one. As I often said, I had no idea what it would be about. I had no intentions of making it. And while my life was OK and I was doing all right, I didn't make it. But it was only after the great events of buying a studio and having One From the Heart be a big financial disaster, which really put us in a tough way financially, that I did consider an offer from Paramount..."

— Francis Ford Coppola

The difference in quality between the first two Godfather films and this sad, limping third installment is a shock but no surprise. Look at who made it. The first two films were borne out of the energetic creativity of a man also responsible, in the same period, for The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. Godfather III was the handiwork of a scattered and discarded auteur whose most profitable work in the previous decade was Disneyland's Michael Jackson music video Captain EO and whose most recent work was murdering the creative spirit of the trilogy New York Stories with a bewilderingly awful (and instantly forgettable) short film. Not that Coppola didn't make some fine films during the late 1980s — Tucker: A Man and His Dream, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Gardens of Stone all bear charm and quality, but it's fair to say that as Francis Ford Coppola staggered away shell-shocked from the atomic blast of Apocalypse Now, the epic had been blown right out of him.

It's hard to think of any more damning criticism of The Godfather Part III than to say Coppola had no idea what he was doing. But it may be more accurate to posit that he did know what he was doing, and it was wrong. There were three substantial mistakes made in the planning of Part III that forever derailed its potential. The first mistake was deciding to make it. Parts I and II do not tell the story, as Coppola likes to say, of Michael Corleone. They tell the story of the Corleone family. At the end of Part II, as Michael gazes soullessly into space, he is all that is left. The Corleone Family, as an institution created and bred to preserve itself, has ceased to be. His worst fear came true: he destroyed his family by trying to save it. Sure, there was still a crime family, but it was fractured by in-fighting, and there was still Connie and Tom, but they were estranged. There was no more story to tell.

Which brings us to the next major flaw: Connie and Tom. Two of the three key characters from the first two films were mostly discarded in favor of Michael in Part III. If there was any lasting dramatic tension to carry over it was what becomes of Michael's sister, apparently conciliatory following their mother's death, and, more intriguing, his unresolved relationship with stepbrother Tom, whose disenchantment with Michael's secretive ways was wearing them down? In a series in which every move, motive and murder was fueled by a family interest, the most pressing family interests were finally, incomprehensibly, deemed of no interest. Tom's absence is explained with a throwaway line about his death of natural causes a few years earlier — fans of the series, however, know that Tom died because Robert Duvall asked to be paid on the same terms as Al Pacino and Diane Keaton, but this reasonable request was refused and he opted out. This is why the most compelling reason to make a third Godfather movie is nowhere near it. Instead, a generic lawyer character was written in, and cast to replace one of the finest American actors of the last 30 years is one of the worst: George Hamilton. Zorro the Gay Blade. It's inconceivable that the dramatic landscape of Godfather III would not have been vastly different — and much more relevant — had Tom Hagen factored in.

The final landmine is the character of Michael Corleone. He is virtually unrecognizable from the hollowed shell of a man last seen on Godfather Part II. Over the 20 years narrative-time between the two films, this anchoring character has changed so drastically, in appearance, in voice, in attitude, and in command, that the entire project feels rudderless. Coppola says he wanted to make a movie about redemption, but he missed it. The movie he wanted to make took place during the 20 years as Michael changed, not in the short span of Godfather III in which he is foreign and static. For all of Coppola's convincing bluster, Michael never approaches redemption. Although he whines about the state of his soul, he never acts to turn his life around; in fact, he does the opposite. This lack of dynamic inner-conflict in the film's focal character is a nail in its heart from which it cannot and does not recover.

The crime details in Part III are dull and vague — so poorly laid out, in fact, that during the customary violent-resolving-of-family-business montage, narration is needed to explain which indistinguishable villain is being executed and why. It is terribly clumsy and never gripping, and just think what potential is held in the idea of a Mafia power struggle within the Vatican. It's not only never realized, it's never conceived. Also, one of the proudest mainstays of the Godfather tradition, the subtle and powerful performances from a gifted, professional cast, is obliterated by knee-headed casting decisions. Hamilton is the least of these crimes. Eli Wallach is embarrassing as the aging Don Altobello, bopping around like a marionette, spewing the cartoony Italiano Coppola took pains to avoid earlier in the series. Andy Garcia is the master of overstated gestures, all facade and no feeling, acting for the camera instead of the scene, and Joe Mantegna foolishly tries to peddle his Mametian quirks, but there is no style to support him. Talia Shire (director Coppola's sister), who was fine as the weak and spiteful sister Connie in the earlier films, is as unappealingly brash as is Connie's new and unexplained persona. As Michael's disdainful son, Franc D'Ambrosio is disastrously out of his element as an actor, but it doesn't help that Michael's children, although entering adulthood, display the intellectual curiosity and sophistication of 6-year-olds.

The very worst of the cast, indeed, is Sofia Coppola, the director's daughter, in the key role of Michael's daughter Mary (after the also inappropriate, and definitely un-Italian, Winona Ryder withdrew). Since Ms. Coppola, who has rarely broached acting since, has learned that her talents lie behind the camera (she directed The Virgin Suicides), I will assume she understands her critics, and leave it at that. Further evidence of nepotism gone wrong is director Coppola's father Carmine's absolute butchery and misarrangement of Nino Rota's brilliant musical themes. Did I hear a Jew's Harp? Please.

It is ironic that, if the aim of The Godfather Part II was to show a family destroyed by an enterprise, in The Godfather Part III we see an enterprise destroyed, in large part, by the Coppola family.

*          *          *

This Collection

Paramount has packaged the three Godfather films in one five-disc collector's set, with unfortunately fragile cardboard packaging that surely won't last as long the valuable materials within.

Bonus Materials

Each of the Godfather films in this collection comes with a feature-length audio commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola. His insights are eloquent and reverent, and it's particularly amusing to hear about his struggles on the first film — before he had made his name — to get the cast that he wanted, to keep his endangered job, and to prove himself to the many doubters. As each of these commentaries clocks in at around three hours, Coppola does tend to repeat himself — frequently — but his thoughts are generous and well worth indulging.

Disc Five

Geraldo Rivera would've done himself a favor to resist the lure of Al Capone's empty vault and wait for the treasure trove of supplemental materials residing on the Special Features disc of this DVD collection. In addition to director Coppola's commentary tracks on each of the three films, Paramount boasts over three hours of bonus media packed into this disc. It's broken into sections as follows:

Behind the Scenes

Music of the Godfather


This section features textual biographies of director Coppola, novelist and co-screenwriter Mario Puzo, cinematographer Willis, and production designer Dean Tavoularis. Each bio also includes a short interview segment accessed by selecting the subject's face. While the featurettes on Coppola and Tavoularis are bootlegged from the Behind the Scenes features on this disc ("Coppola's Notebook" and "On Location," respectively), the piece on Puzo (0:08) contains some interesting interviews with Puzo and Coppola in which they discuss their individual contributions to the collaboration, and the brief spot on Willis (0:04) spotlights praise from fellow cinematographers William A. Fraker, Conrad Hall and Michael Chapman, as well as Willis himself, who focuses on his unusual approach to the Godfather series and laments the one scene he underexposed (laments with a caveat: "I think Rembrandt went too far a couple of times!" he says).

Additional Scenes

A textual chronology of events in the Corleone family and true history of organized crime is split into four sections, 1892-1930, 1930-1945, 1946-1955, 1956-1997.

This section also features 34 scenes, with textual introductions, that weren't included in the original theatrical release. Most, however, were included in the re-cut television and video release, The Godfather Saga.

Additional Scenes: 1901 - 1927

Additional Scenes: 1945

Additional Scenes: 1947 - 1955

Additional Scenes: 1958 - 1979

The Family Tree

A decorative diagram displays the bloodline connections of several characters, including textual information on 21 of them, and, on almost as many, actor bios.


The trailers section only features one trailer per movie, while the photo gallery offers the expected series of stills, and the rogue's gallery stills of various heavies. But the prize in this section is the Acclaim and Response subset, which includes Academy Award footage of the series being lavished with praise. The 1972 footage would strike down Joan Rivers with insulin shock — that awful dress worn by Mario Puzo's daughter as she accepts the Best Screenplay award on his behalf, and fellow-winner Coppola right behind her in a godawful green tuxedo (is that a plush material, for God's sake?). Albert S. Ruddy's shiny, bronze tux, as he accepts the Best Picture statuette is no better. (The most notorious Oscar awarded The Godfather in 1973, however — Marlon Brando's infamous refusal of the Best Actor award that year — is not included). The 1974 ceremony looks considerably more respectable, as Coppola both dresses and speaks well upon winning Best Director, and the only tawdry detail to note as a throng of producers march stageward to collect their Best Picture statuettes is the unamused reaction of Chinatown producer Robert Evans as Roman Polanski's overrated picture is brushed aside. Take that, Bob! Also in this section is a disclaimer/warning by Coppola which prefaced the television debut of the first Godfather.

Easter Eggs

Hidden in two of the, most likely, least enticing places on this special features disc are two quality surprises. In the setup screen for this disc, moving your player's cursor to the left will reveal a spinning globe. A click on the globe launches a funny montage of scenes from the series as they appeared dubbed in foreign languages. It is well-edited and wacky. The other covert treat is nestled at the end of the DVD Credits presentation in the Gallery section: a fine scene from HBO's Mafia series The Sopranos in which Tony, Paulie, Silvio, Pussy and Christopher struggle to play a buggy, advanced bootleg of the Godfather DVD. "Someone should tell Paramount Pictures to get their shit together," Paulie says, shortly before beating his DVD player to pieces with a shoe. Perhaps after viewing this set, Godfather III notwithstanding, he'll send them a Thank You card.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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