May 28, 2024

THE GODFATHER, PART II and the Big Mistake

Starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro, Diane Kearon, John Cazale, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, Talia Shire, G.D. Spradlin, Bruno Kirby, Richard Bright, Morgana King, James Caan. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. (202 min).

A Suggestion by D.M. ANDERSONđź’€

Geroge Lucas has historically gotten a lot of flack for revisiting his movies and tinkering with them, the original Star Wars trilogy in particular. He’s reedited them, restored deleted scenes, added new ones, updated special effects and even replaced old actors’ faces with new ones. 

Word has it that he’s even planning to create a ‘Special Edition’ of his wedding videos, de-aging himself, removing Hayden Christensen from the reception footage (he was pretty drunk) and replacing his wife with images of Dana Delany from Exit to Eden. But try as he might, the retooled wedding night footage probably won’t stop inevitable “George Shot First” comments.

However, ol’ George has nothing on his mentor, Francis Ford Coppola. Over the years, the legendary director has gone back and recut most of his movies…even if they didn’t necessarily need to be. He did it twice with Apocalypse Now, first by adding almost an hour of new footage and releasing it as Apocalypse Now Redux. 20 years later, he re-edited the damn thing yet again, now rechristened Apocalypse Now Final Cut.

He also retooled The Godfather Part III as The Godfather CODA: The Death of Michael Corleone, attempted to make The Cotton Club more interesting with The Cotton Club Encore and expanded The Outsiders as The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. More recently, Coppola tried to rescue his most notorious flop, One from the Heart, with One from the Heart: Reprise and even took a shot at making the experimental dumpster fire, Twixt, at-least watchable with B’Twixt Now and Sunrise (whatever the fuck that means).

Francis Ford Coppola...directing another rough draft.

Whether or not Coppola succeeded in improving these films is an argument best saved for another day. But considering he’s not exactly the most prolific director on Earth - and not getting any younger - maybe all that time in the editing room could have been better spent making new movies (or at least completely removing Keanu Reeves from Dracula).

Coppola has (so far) left The Godfather and The Godfather Part II more-or-less alone. I don’t count the times the entire saga was re-edited (more than once) into a single massive marathon (The Godfather 1901-1980) because it was never intended as anything more than an interesting way to watch events unfold chronologically. The original versions are still widely considered definitive…even by him.

Though the first two films are among the greatest ever made, there’s still a little room for improvement, The Godfather Part II, in particular. Not that it isn't already a masterpiece, expanding on The Godfather’s story and themes while elevating the entire saga to a Shakespearean tragedy. But to elaborate...

Without recapping the entire story of the world’s most famous mafia family (which most are probably familiar with anyway), a large part of the original Godfather focuses on young Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) avenging the attempted assassination of his father, Don Vito (Marlon Brando). He kills the man who gave the order, Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), and corrupt police captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden), which triggers an all-out mob war. Michael goes into exile in Sicily, where he meets and marries young local girl Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli). Later, when enemies discover where he’s hiding, one of his bodyguards, Fabrizio (Angelo Infanti), betrays him by planting a bomb in his car. Instead, it kills Apollonia.

Fabrizio escapes, never to be seen again…though that wasn’t always the case…

Fabrizio...destined to be a bonus feature.
In The Godfather Part II, Michael has since become the Don, far more ambitious and powerful than his father ever was. Like Dad, he’s calculating, ruthless and coldly vindictive, with no qualms over ordering the deaths of enemies or those who’ve betrayed him, no matter how close or how long it takes (as when he kills his own brother, which lays the groundwork for themes of guilt and redemption explored in The Godfather Part III). 

However, the greatest example of Michael’s quest for total vengeance was actually left on the cutting room floor…

There’s a deleted scene that features Fabrizio, now much older and operating a pizza joint in America. Running a little over a minute, there’s no dialogue...just Fabrizio closing the restaurant and getting into his car, which explodes when he starts it. It’s an isolated scene that has no impact on Part II’s story, which simply continues afterward. If you hadn’t seen the first film, you wouldn’t even know who the hell this guy is. 

Fabrizio burns another pizza.
This scene was restored in some of the re-edited versions which presented the entire saga chronologically, but has never been included in the original cut. For the most part, the scene just exists as a DVD bonus feature, which is a damn shame. Presumably, it was originally removed because it fails to advance the story and disrupts the overall narrative flow. But I think cutting the scene was a mistake because, in my opinion, it masterfully reminds us of just how deep Michael’s vindictiveness really goes…he doesn’t forgive and sure as hell doesn’t forget. Fabrizio was no longer even a threat, yet Michael’s meticulous nature simply won’t let him live. 

Additionally, it nicely parallels a flashback sequence where young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) returns to Sicily, decades after immigrating to America as a boy, just to murder the sickly old Don who shot his mother. Retaining Fabrizio’s death in the film would certainly reflect Michael’s similar belief that there’s no statute of limitations on payback.

As Michael himself transforms into the film’s true antagonist, this scene also provides one of the last times we can actually relate to him. “Way to go, Michael! You finally got that two-faced, wife-killing son of a bitch! Who cares if the only remaining threat he posed was putting pineapple on your pizza!” Keeping that scene would have been a genuinely audience-rousing moment. 

As is, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II remain one of the greatest one-two punches in American movie history. Maybe Coppola himself agrees because he has yet to mess around with either of them. But I would implore him to at-least restore Fabrizio’s fiery demise back into Part II, which makes a hell of a lot more narrative sense than extending Apocalypse Now to an unbearable length by adding 40 minutes of Captain Willard visiting a French plantation…a decision I still don’t understand.

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