The Godfather Part III

By on April 21, 2010

Gangster Movies: (ca. 1990) “The Godfather III” is a beautiful film, visually stunning and of great importance, completing the tragic saga of the Corleone family. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards, the motion picture reflects Coppola’s masterful film-making. Fascinating threads of continuity support this illusion: The bridesmaid (Jeannie Linero) who had a hurried meeting with Sonny in the first film, now makes a significant appearance as the mother of a vibrant new character, a suitable successor to Michael, the Godfather of the future Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia). Vincent, strong, focused and loyal, shares his father’s hot temper, and is clearly the most suitable heir to the family business. His desire for a life of crime is driven by his greater desire to destroy a vile thug named Joey Zasa beautifully played by Joe Mantegna.

The film has a great ensemble of supporting actors: Talia Shire, deliciously evil, and always counseling her nephew on how to get in Michael’s good graces; Eli Wallach, the talented peacemaker with a stone in his shoe; Raf Vallone, the wise true priest; Franc D’Ambrosio, the artist, the voice in “Cavalleria Rusticana;” Donal Donnelly, the fallen archbishop; George Hamilton, the family attorney; Helmut Berger, the missing God’s Banker; Richard Bright who heads to Rome to “light a candle for the archbishop;” Franco Citti, the old bodyguard; Mario Donatone, the “Ace in the hole;” Bridget Fonda, the sexy reporter; Al Martino, the Hollywood singing idol; and John Savage, the priest with an assignment in Italy.


Brilliant shots and unforgettable sequences:

The opening sequence in which the camera travels over the wreckage of the Corleone’s vacation house by the lake.

The helicopter attack upon Michael and a group of old dons through the skylight of a hotel banquet room in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The trap and killing of a “small-time enforcer” on the streets of ‘Little Italy’ by a fake cop.

The beautiful scene in which a kindly cardinal hears the confession of a penitent Michael, desperate for absolution.

Anthony dedicating a sweet song to his father (“Brucia La Terra”), and while Michael was listening to the melody, he was remembering his first beautiful and wonderful bride.

The natural scenery of Sicily.

The spectacular opera house finale that turns Michael’s expectations into an inferno of mob violence and the penalty…a terrible sentence.

Sofia Coppola (daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola), plays Michael Corleone’s daughter, despite playing his nephew [sic] as an infant in The Godfather (1972). Winona Ryder was originally cast, but she withdrew so that she could act in Edward Scissorhands (1990).

The initial draft for this film had Tom Hagen in it. However, Robert Duvall refused to play his role due to contract disagreements with Paramount. As a result, the character B.J. Harrison was rewritten as a Hagen-like character.

Robert Duvall wanted $5 million to reprise his role as Tom Hagen. The studio turned him down and the part was recast and altered for George Hamilton to play the new character, lawyer B.J. Harrison. A line of dialogue was inserted that explained Hagen had died years before.

The film was made in part to address the financial problems that Zoetrope Studios had incurred as a result of the failure of Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988).

The first song played by the band at Michael Corleone’s party following the church ceremony is “Cuban Rhapsody,” the same melody sung by “Yolanda,” the entertainer in the New Year’s Eve nightclub scene in The Godfather: Part II (1974).

The twin girls with long dark hair at Michael’s party are Sonny’s daughters, Kathryn and Francesca. They were also depicted in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974).

Sofia Coppola’s character’s aunt is played by her actual aunt, Talia Shire.

Al Pacino was offered $5 million but wanted $7 million plus profits from gross to reprise his role as Michael. Coppola refused, and threatened to rewrite the script by starting off with Michael’s funeral sequence instead of the film’s introduction. Pacino agreed to the $5-million offer.

Catherine Scorsese, Martin Scorsese’s mother, is one of the women that stops Vincent to complain about the poor care of the neighborhood.

Robert De Niro lobbied for the role of Vincent Mancini. Director Francis Ford Coppola considered it, which would have included aging Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone even more, but eventually decided against the idea.

Paramount tried to go ahead with the film for many years without Francis Ford Coppola who had refused to make another sequel. About twelve scripts were written. Most of the scripts included the Corleone family being led by Michael’s son Anthony, battling the CIA, Castro’s Cuban government, or South American drug cartels. A 1978 draft by Mario Puzo dealt with Anthony Corleone being recruited by the CIA to assassinate a Latin American dictator. Dean Riesner also wrote a draft based on Puzo’s ideas. Drafts were also written by Paramount producers Michael Eisner and Don Simpson. The film was scheduled for a Christmas 1980 release date. These scripts were discarded when Coppola decided to work on the script with Puzo. But Coppola eventually abandoned the project. Puzo wrote another script in 1986 with producer Nicholas Gage that featured Sonny Corleone’s illegitimate son Vincent Mancini while showing the early life of the young Sonny Corleone. Paramount considered directors Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, ‘Costa-Gavras’, Alan J. Pakula, Robert Benton, Michael Cimino and Michael Mann. At one point they were even close to signing Sylvester Stallone to direct and star in the film.

Francis Ford Coppola lobbied intensely for the film to be called ‘The Death of Michael Corleone’ rather than ‘The Godfather Part III’ but in the end was overruled by the studio. However, when the film was released on DVD, the penultimate chapter was called ‘The Death of Michael Corleone’.

Michael Corleone’s funeral was written and rehearsed, but not shot.

The character of Joey Zasa was based on two mob kingpins of the 1960s and early 1970s. One was Joe Columbo, who organized the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which was supposedly a civil rights organization but was actually intended to stop FBI investigations into mob activities. Colombo embarrassed others in the Cosa Nostra by keeping a high public profile and enraged Mafia bigwigs when they discovered he was making a fortune from the organization and not sharing any of the money with them. He was shot in New York’s Columbus Circle (though he didn’t die until several years later) during a rally by his organization. The hitman, a black gangster, was immediately shot and killed “person or persons unknown”, according to police reports. The other is Joe Gallo, who organized the hit on Colombo, was known (and reviled by other mobsters) for recruiting blacks and Hispanics into his crew and hung out with several Hollywood and Broadway celebrities, including actor Jerry Orbach.

The film is partly based on the findings of David Yallop’s book “In God’s name” first published 1984. The book is about the “30-day pope” John Paul I, who is also in the film.

Rebecca Schaeffer was in the running to play Mary Corleone, but was murdered just before discussions were to start. Winona Ryder was later cast in the part, which was ultimately played by Sofia Coppola.

Joe Spinell, who played Willi Cicci in Parts I and II, was to have reprised his role but died before production was to begin. An earlier version of the script had Cicci working for new characters, the Russo Brothers. The three characters were eventually combined into Joey Zasa.

Corrado Gaipa, who played Don Tommasino, was to reprise his role but died before production began. Coppola, working on the assumption that no one would remember Gaipa’s character, hired another actor, Vittorio Duse, to play Don Tommasino.

When the movie was first released on VHS in 1991, the tapes were colored gold.

Because of the popularity of the two earlier Godfather movies, Frank Sinatra reversed his anti-Godfather stance and expressed interest in playing Don Altobello. He lost interest because of the size of the paycheck for the role, and it went to Eli Wallach. Sinatra got his role in From Here to Eternity (1953) when Wallach backed out because of the low pay for that movie.

When Andy Garcia filmed his fight scene, he insisted on beating the stuntman with a real pistol instead of a prop pistol. This resulted in the stuntman suffering a cut that required stitches.

Archbishop Gilday’s full name is Liam Francis Gilday.

Most of the rogue characters are based on the key players of the 30-Day Pope conspiracy. Kenzig the banker was based on Roberto Calvi, managing director of the Bank of Milan who was found hanged in London in June 19, 1982. He was accused by Italian authorities of being involved in the disappearance of Vatican funds amounting to $1.25 billion. Lucchesi was based on Giulio Andreotti, an Italian politician and former Prime Minister. Gilday was based on Paul Marcinkus, a one-time director of the Vatican Bank and who has remained silent about the conspiracy.

Francis Ford Coppola did this movie as part of dealing with his personal and studio financial problems. Paramount approved this film with a $56 million budget under strict conditions that he was given $1 million for the writer-producer-director fee, the final cut of the film must not be less than 140 minutes and any additional expenses would not be covered by the studio.

The music that’s played during the closing scene and credits is Pietro Mascagni’s Intermezzo Sinfonico from “Cavalleria Rusticana”. It is also known for its appearance in Raging Bull (1980)

Francis Ford Coppola said that in the final sequence, Michael’s outcry was almost completely cut out due to its agonizing sound.

Early in the film Joey Zasa presents Michael Corleone with the “Italian of the Year” award, for which he personally recommended him. This is a reference to James Caan receiving the actual award in 1973 for his portrayal of Santino ‘Sonny’ Corleone in the original film.

The license plate on the Cadillac Joey Zasa is auctioning away is “MEUCCI”.

Originally, the script was to center around Tom and Michael. Tom was going to be an informant. When Robert Duvall got the script he realized his character was the second lead, yet the studio was offering the same amount of money as he received for the last film (around 1/9th the money all the other principals received). Duvall counteroffered through Francis Ford Coppola to Paramount. Paramount denied offering more money and told Coppola to re-write the script without Tom. This version was the only one to feature Michael dying in a car accident at the end of the film.

Joey Zasa is named after Francis Ford Coppola’s maternal grandmother, whose maiden name was Zasa. Lou Pennino is named after Coppola’s grandfather, Francesco Pennino.

Actors competing for the role of Vincent Mancini, according to Francis Ford Coppola, included: Alec Baldwin, Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano, Val Kilmer, Charlie Sheen, Billy Zane and Nicolas Cage. Julia Roberts was Coppola’s dream choice for Mary Corleone, but she had scheduling conflicts at both times when the role was open. Madonna campaigned for the role of Mary Corleone, and had a meeting with Coppola and Robert De Niro to discuss how to adapt the role to their ages. In real life, Madonna is only 12 years younger than Diane Keaton who plays Mary Corleone’s mother.

Francis Ford Coppola wanted Gastone Moschin, who played Don Fanucci in The Godfather: Part II (1974), to play a different role in this film, but Moschin was unavailable.

According to Peter Biskind’s book “The Godfather Companion,” a 1985 script co-written by Thomas Lee Wright and Nick Marino, included a character based on drug lord Leroy ‘Nicky’ Barnes. When the script was briefly considered, Wright persuaded Eddie Murphy to take the role. Murphy reportedly said, “I would act in The Godfather for nothing.”

Although Altobello’s first name is not revealed here, in the book ‘The Godfather Returns’ by Mark Winegardner, his first name is Oswaldo.

Filmed in 125 days between November 27, 1989 and May 25, 1990.

Francis Ford Coppola once admitted that he was still unhappy over the final result because of lack of time on working with the script. According to him, he wanted $6 million for the writer, producer, director fee with six months work on the scriptwriting. The studio instead gave him only $1 million in fees and 6 weeks to work on the script in order to meet the Christmas 1990 release.

For her widely panned performance in this film, Sofia Coppola not only “won” two RAZZIE Awards (for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star) but also set a new record for the percentage of votes received by any actor up to that point in Golden Raspberry Awards history. In a field of five contenders, she took over 65% of RAZZIE members’ votes in both categories.

Cameo: [Willie Brown] The former mayor appears as the black man who manages to have a word with Michael in the party sequence. He appears as a personal invitation by Francis Ford Coppola.

Cameo: [Sonny Grosso] The man who rudely interrupts the New York stockholders press conference.

During shooting, George Lucas spent one day at the Atlantic City set, part of visiting his friend Francis Ford Coppola.

The first of only two trilogies to have all three films nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

When Winona Ryder withdrew from the film, Laura San Giacomo and Linda Fiorentino were both considered for the role of Mary Corleone before Francis Ford Coppola decided his daughter Sophia should play the part, even rewriting the script for the part to match Sophia’s age (in the original draft the character was more than 5 years older). Sofia Coppola, only 19, expressed apprehension at playing the role, as she was attending college at the time and had only limited experience as an actress, but nonetheless bowed to her father’s request as production was already falling behind schedule.

In a March 2010 interview, Andy Garcia revealed that Francis Ford Coppola had informally planned fourth Godfather film. Much like The Godfather: Part II (1974), the film would follow a parallel narrative, with one story focusing on Garcia’s character, Vincent, leading the Family into the modern era, and the other story following the youth of Vincent’s father, Sonny, with Leonardo DiCaprio tipped as Coppola’s first choice for the role. Coppola, along with Mario Puzo began work on the story, though Puzo’s death cut short the development. Coppola didn’t wish to continue without Puzo’s involvement, so the project was abandoned. Paramount studios, however, has considered proceeding with a fourth film without Puzo, or even Coppola’s involvement (possibly based on the Godfather novels by Mark Winegardner), though as of 2010, no official plans for a fourth film exist.

The presence of oranges in all three “Godfather” movies indicates that a death or an assassination attempt will soon happen: Don Altobello tosses a kid an orange just before ordering Michael’s assassination. An orange rolls over the table just before the helicopter attack. Michael and Altobello are both seen drinking orange juice. Michael Corleone dies with an orange in his hand.

Although the year Michael Corleone dies is never mentioned, the DVD’s “Family Tree” feature confirms Michael died peacefully in 1997.

According to Francis Ford Coppola, the original script had a different ending in which Michael and Kay reconciled together after the opera sequence. It dissolves to a church service sequence in which a gunman guns down Michael before getting shot and it ends with Michael lying to Kay for the last time before he dies. Coppola later decided against that and opted for the ending in the film with the gunman element from the original ending retained. The ending which was filmed was inspired by a real-life incident in which sound designer Richard Beggs lost his daughter to that similar circumstance.

Originally, Calo was to kill Don Lucchesi by snapping his neck and this was filmed. However, Francis Ford Coppola did not like how it looked and decided to change it to a very bloody death, inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s films. The blood spurt from Lucchesi’s neck originally earned the film an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, so a few seconds were deleted in order to garner an R rating. Although unused in the film, a clip of Calo snapping Lucchesi’s neck was included in the film’s official trailer.

The final sequence (Mary’s murder) was inspired by a real-life murder by stray shot of sound designer Richard Beggs’ daughter.

The movie provides a fictional explanation for several events surrounding the real-life scandals of the Vatican Bank, from 1978 to 1982. Most notably, the film depicts the alleged murder of Pope John Paul I, who was found dead sitting up in his bed on September 29, 1978, only 33 days after assuming the papacy. Journalist David Yallop has speculated that John Paul I died after drinking poisoned tea (as depicted in the film), the victim of a conspiracy by archbishops and cardinals who were fearful of the new pope’s planned reforms for the Vatican Bank (the character of Archbishop Gilday is based on Paul Marcinkus, a Chicago-born archbishop who was the head of the Vatican Bank at the time). Also in the film, the murder of the Swiss banker Frederick Keinszig mirrors the real-life death of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, president of the Banco Ambrosiano. In 1982 the bank–which had strong ties to both the Vatican Bank and the Sicilian Mafia–collapsed largely due to Calvi’s shady international money exchanges. On June 18, 1982, Calvi (who had fled Italy to escape indictment) was found hanging from the Blackfriar’s Bridge in London, with $15,000 in various currencies in his pocket. His death was first ruled a suicide, then later a murder. In 2005, five people–including two Sicilian gangsters–were indicted for Calvi’s murder, but all were acquitted in 2007. Additionally in the film, the Sicilian Don Licio Lucchesi is a loose caricature of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who had ties to the Sicilian Mafia early in his career but who later turned on them. With Lucchesi’s thick glasses and ever-present bodyguard, the caricature of Andreotti would be very recognizable to Italian audiences.



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