“Politics and Crime, They are the Same Thing” Michael Corleone, Godfather III

Death in the Vatican, death at the opera, death in the casino

Francis Ford Coppola’s own gangster version of the George Lucas Star Wars trilogy took much longer to film. 1972 and 1974 saw Godfathers 1 and II, with sixteen years in between. Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic get thanked in the credits to the 1990/2020 film, which if you go by the new re-edit, makes the final sequel forty-six years in the making.

The blood-drenched trilogy gets tightened up in this re-edit of The Godfather III…the story is told in a hybrid that is visually stunning and grotesquely graphic. The only anomaly here is that these fictional gangsters with all their bodyguards and safety precautions recklessly leave themselves wide open.

Despite the popularity of the film and its uncontested glorious spectacle, that hole in the plot runs too deep.

“He should be careful. It’s dangerous to be an honest man.” Michael Corleone says regarding Pope John Paul I – and, of course, he’s right, the death of the pope comes with even more immediacy than the short timeline Corleone offered.

Watching the film again you see fifth or sixth time around that it is far more of a bloodbath after bloodbath than you may initially think. There are enough plot lines to distract you from that fact in the first viewing. Years later the brutality sinks in, the harvesting of mob bosses and their underlings exactly what Adolph Hitler experienced in his lunacy of sending strong, crafty soldiers to their deaths at the Russian Front.

But the drugged-out insane/genius dictator of World War II dragged down by his flaws (thankfully) was not a mobster attempting to go legit. The Michael Corleone character is much smarter, cool, calculating, and rich to walk into those traps, especially when all during Godfather III Corleone repeatedly flashes the warning signs to his inner circle. This makes the ending to both Godfather III and Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, too staged and hardly believable. We forgive it, of course, because the saga is just so damn compelling.

The exposure the Corleone family gives to itself goes against all that came before to prepare them for the inevitable: that they are the #1 target of all the other (still living) mobsters. The helicopter assassination scene with Don Altobello still is novel, Eli Wallach’s magnificent performances as Altobello – including his reprise as another shark in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (not the 1987 flick, just the 2010 sequel) – are perpetually memorable. Wallach as Julius Steinhardt IS Don Altobello again, his second to the last film before his 2014 passing. That the Corleones do not make the extra effort to be wary of the Don escaping the massacre is all the more suspect.

It’s a well-told story that we forgive for its lapses as the tale that unfolds is riveting in its mix of the church, politics, and pure criminality.

When Pope John Paul 1 died on 28 September 1978, this writer always felt that he was murdered. 33 days as the Pope, really? Tying the papal death in with the Papal banking scandal of 1981-1982 (read it on Wikipedia) put an exclamation point on those religious atrocities (what? no abusive priests?) and to put the Catholic church in the same category as gangsters, well, isn’t that why many of us logical Christians walked away from the oppressive activities of a very un-God like an institution?

Beyond the obvious, Coppola’s lush cameras sweeping the Italian landscape before and after gunfire erupts whenever the mobsters feel like pushing street level on the elevator of their short lives, no one else but the director and Mario Puzo could have brought this to life with these actors and in this fashion.

Death in the Vatican, death at the opera, death in the casino that the Corleone family sold off and turned their backs on, all well-constructed parallels of each other. From the feast in America with a statute of the Virgin Mary toppling back to the opera with similar art reflecting the life and death in the film, the ruthless gangster wanting to leave the cocoon that he inherited is the theme throughout.

They can still, of course, bring a 64-year-old Andy Garcia back as Vincent Mancini-Corleone for Godfather IV, but not if he looks like
Fernando Cienfuegos from 2018’s Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Let’s hope that they do. Bang Bang.