I rewatched the Godfather trilogy in three nights. I think the first is as great as ever. Pacino has as much or more screen time as Brando in the first one, but would not get my vote in a one-on-one contest. For best supporting actor, a one-on-three contest of “Godfather” nominees, I think I’d go for James Caan, but ratify the choice of Joel Grey from “Cabaret” (he was expecting to hear Pacino’s name rather than his).
I think the third is better than its repute, the second not as good. I’d go with Art Carney in “Harry and Tonto” over Pacino, who is mostly frozen through the second part. There were again three best supporting actor nominees (De Niro won, Michael Gazzo and Lee Strassberg were also nominated; John Cazale’s Fredo went unnominated.) Coppola’s younger sister, Talia Shire, who was outstanding across all three movies, was nominated for the middle one (losing to Ingrid Bergman, who did not think she deserved it, though I recall she thought that Valentine Cortese was her choice).
Sofia Coppola was ripped for her performance as Michael’s daughter, Mary. OK, more for the lack of chemistry with Andy Garcia, who played her older and ultra-hirsute (-chested) cousin, Vincent (losing the supporting actor to Joe Pesci). I don’t know why the lack of chemistry adheres to one side. She has had a crush on him, which seems plausible. What is not is that he would reciprocate his cousin’s love (he played the illegitimate son of Sonny). As the daughter Sofia was just fine.
I think the supporting actor nominee should have been Eli Wallach, who pretends to having retired from scheming, but is still very much in the game, though brought down by his sweet tooth (poisoned cannoli). (I’d bump Pacino from “Dick Tracy” rather than Garcia). I didn’t recognize Helmut Berger (he was no longer the beauty Visconti and Losey presented). I recognized George Hamilton, who was less interesting than Robert Duvall, as the crime family lawyer, being given no characterization.
It is necessary to note that Diane Keaton’s Kay (Michael’s girlfriend, then wife) grows more formidable with each installment. Talia Shire gains self-assurance in widowhood, though I don’t know why she becomes Vincent’s advocate. (One could say they lack “chemistry, “too.)
The plot is overly complex, though it is clear that the new pope (John Paul II) is murdered, along with Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) in another montage of murders, this time crosscut with “Cavalleria Rusticana” in which Anthony Vito, (Franc d’Ambrosio), the son of Michael and Kay, and brother of Mary, is making his debut as Turuidu in Bagheria (,Sicily). (There’s also a dollop of “Nabucco” when Anthony gets Bagheria and the Oscar-nominated song “Promise Me You’ll Remember” was voiced by Harry Connick, Jr.)
I remember being impressed by the church/murders montage in the first “Godfather.” It has lost its novelty and some of its impact. For me there is too much crosscutting in all three movies. I don’t see the need for the young Vito flashbacks in Part II, not least in that they are not flashes back to any character. De Niro was very good and won his first Oscar almost entirely in Italian, but to me these scenes are a separate movie and get in the way of the 1950s story. Also the scene at the end following Pearl Harbor in which Michael tells his brothers (including Robert Duvall’s quasi-sibling and Abe Vigoda) that he has joined the navy. I haven’t seen the chronological reshuffling that puts these before the start of Godfather I, but it seems like a good idea. There are plenty of set pieces spread across the three movies, though I also understand that throwing viewers in to a big fête had a strong impact.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis contributed an often sepia look to all three parts, Oscar-nominated and ASC Award-nominated only for the third.
©2018, Stephen O. Murray