Within cinephile circles, once a discussion begins as to which “Godfather” film is the greatest, there will be fierce debate on both sides. IMDb gives a slight edge to the original “Godfather” with a rating of 9.2 vs. 9.0 for the 2nd installment.
Many will argue Brando is the best element of the franchise while others would say “Part II” improves on the original and De Niro elevates the film past its predecessor.
The argument carries the same merit when trying to compare:
Star Wars: A New Hope vs. The Empire Strikes Back
Alien vs. Aliens
Raiders of the Lost Ark vs. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
There are audiences on both sides of these debates as well, but the debate is well worth having. The fact we are still talking about these films means they have transcended and will live on forever.
The “Godfather” trilogy for me has always been about Michael: his resistance and reluctance to join his family’s endeavors, but then the resolution he will never be able to exit responsibility.
Director Francis Ford Coppola has used the actual author name in his films several times since using it calling it “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather” like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” or “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker” always liking to give the author credit as well.
The “Part II” for the 2nd film was actually the first time ever a film sequel from the U.S. had used this.
Paramount Studios and Coppola were at odds during the production as they felt he was behind schedule and over budget, neither of which ended up being true in the end.
Coppola actually wanted Martin Scorsese to direct “Part II” which Paramount ultimately rejected, so Coppola went on to direct himself.
Over the years, there had been several attempts to get a “Part III” to the screen which were unsuccessful. Coppola had sworn off making another, so Paramount tried to go forward without him.
“Part III” had a lot going against it including a tight budget and shooting schedule, the exclusion of Robert Duvall over salary constraints, and the casting of Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, at the last minute to replace Winona Ryder who left the project to film “Edward Scissorhands”.
Coppola actually wanted to call the film “The Death of Michael Corleone”, but this was rejected by Paramount.
The result for “Part III” was a very good film which was still nominated for 7 Academy Awards in 1990 including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Andy Garcia, but most felt it paled in comparison to the original two films.
A lot of people felt the only reason the film was made was to help save Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios which was having financial problems at the time.
It is called “show business” after all.
Whatever your opinion of “Part III”, it doesn’t do anything to diminish the perfection of the first two films and still had some memorable moments.
As with any great film experience, there are many more scenes which could have been included, so apologies if your favorite did not make my cut.
Obviously, major spoilers ahead:
20. Michael dies alone from The Godfather Part III
Much has been speculated from the final shot of the film trilogy as to the circumstances to Michael’s lonely death in Sicily.
Did the death of his daughter finally send him over the edge? Did he leave America immediately and spend the rest of his life alone and in peace? Was the rest of his life peaceful or id he remain part of organized crime until his death?
This scene has deemed unnecessary by some as we as the audience may have been better served to speculate on the character’s ultimate destiny; however, the scene stands as a worthy coda to the series.
19. The death of Mary Corleone from The Godfather Part III
After attending the operatic premiere of his son, Anthony, in Sicily, Italy, Michael and family exit the theater after we, the audience, knows an attempt to assassinate him has failed.
The assassin ends up in front of the theater as well and shoots Michael. Another shot rings out before he is shot dead himself by Vincent Corleone.
Michael turns to discover his daughter, Mary, has been shot in the chest. She calls to her father before slumping dead on the steps.
Michael and Kay cannot contain their grief for their slain daughter. Michael shudders with emotion and horror. The nerve and expression during the “silent scream” is devastating.
All of us with children can only imagine living this moment ourselves with disbelief.
18. Vito Corleone gets shot from The Godfather
Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo brings an offer to the Corleone family to invest in his budding narcotics business. He already has the backing of the Tattaglia crime family, and is now looking to gain Corleone financial and political support as well.
Against the wishes Sonny, Vito decides this investment opportunity is not within the scope of business he would like to invest and declines to participate. Corleone hitman Luca Brasi is sent to inquire further and is retired permanently for his efforts. In retaliation, Sollozzo has Vito gunned down in the street while he is with Fredo buying some fruit.
It is an important event as family lawyer Tom Hagen urges Sonny to accept the Sollozzo deal in Vito’s absence.
17. Reunion birthday party from The Godfather Part II
It is great to see James Caan reprise his role as Sonny in this memorable flashback scene.
The scene was also meant to include Marlon Brando; however, Brando was unhappy with the way he had been treated by Paramount executives, so he refused to appear in the scene even though it would have only taken one day of shooting.
The scene is a refreshing coda and light moments after the heavy events that the end of the film had to offer.
It shows Michael announcing the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the family going to greet off-screen Vito for his birthday.
16. Joey Zasa gets killed from The Godfather Part III
Following the helicopter attack, Vincent is adamant on killing Joey Zasa in retaliation for the massacre, but Michael says no as he wants to figure out who really gave the order.
Michael suffers a stroke and is incapacitated as Vincent decides to go after Zasa with the approval of Connie Corleone.
Vincent and cohorts surprise Zasa and his henchman at an Italian-American street parade. Vincent disguises himself as an equestrian police officer, tracks Zasa down and shoots him in the back. Michael scolds Vincent as his relationship with Mary deepens.
It is important in showing Vincent’s increasingly important role in family affairs before Michael ultimately designates him Don Vincent.
15. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” from The Godfather
A rare bit of humor within the trilogy and shows how nonchalant mob killings can be.
Right after a mob driver is murdered in a car after conspiring with the Tattaglia family against the Corleone’s, Peter Clemenza says the infamous line after he had already agreed to bring the tasty Italian pastry desserts home for his wife.
Supposedly, “leave the gun” was the scripted portion and Italian actor Richard Castellano improvised the “take the cannoli” portion.
It just goes to show in their world, weapons are commonplace and desserts are definitely more important!