|Wednesday, 27 October 2004|
Brando's Godfather revisited
by Firoze Sameer
"A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more money than a thousand men with guns."
Mario Puzo in The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions.
"Behind every great fortune there is a crime."
Balzac quoted by Puzo in The Godfather
Marlon Brando's death on July 1 at age-80 brings back vivid memories of his scintillating role in the box-office movie The Godfather (1972).
It was followed by Bernardo Bertolucci's French-Italian Last Tango in Paris (1973) and Coppola's controversial Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now (1979) based on Joseph Conrad's brilliant novel Heart of Darkness.
Newsweek and TIME of July 12 carried some fine appreciations and photos of Brando. Life magazine of March 10, 1972 front-page featured Brando in his role as The Godfather.
Brando's film debut in The Men in 1950 ended with a total of 35-appearances, notable among them being A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), The Wild One (1954), On the Waterfront (1954) winning best actor amongst the eight Oscars, Guys and Dolls (1955), Sayonara (1957), The Young Lions (1958), One-Eyed Jacks which Western was the only movie he directed (1961), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), The Ugly American (1963), Morituri with the bald-headed Yul Brynner (1965), to his last Don Juan DeMarco (1995) with Faye Dunaway.
U.S. film critic Leonard Maltin called The Godfather as the 1970s' answer to Gone With The Wind. Movie director Francis Ford Coppola transformed Mario Puzo's fine book of the same title, published in 1969, into celluloid by dividing it into two parts. Later, he covered the complete epic from 1902 to 1958 called the Godfather Saga on home-video (1981) comprising a chronological arrangement with additional pieces from the cutting floor, of the first movie and Part-II (1974), followed by a final Part-III (1990). Nino Rota's splendid signature tune decidedly haunts the mind of the filmgoer.
Author Andrew Yule in his Al Pacino: A Life on the Wire (1991), and professor of film studies at UCLA, Nick Browne, editing Francis Ford Coppola and the Godfather Trilogy (2000), a serious and solid treatise comprising independent high profile analyses by some top professors in the film industry, include various breakdowns of costs, profits and earnings in the three movies.
Looking at costs of production of the three movies in the range of less than U$7.5mn for GF-I, U$15mn for GF-II and U$54mn for GF-III, they grossed approx. U$86mn (1972), U$32mn (1974) and U$70mn (1990) respectively. GF-I & GF-II had by 1989 grossed in excess of U$800mn. It is said that over the years the trilogy did business of over a billion dollars!
For GF-I, Paramount claimed 84% of the profit, leaving 7.5% for producer Albert S Ruddy, 6% for Director Coppola, and 2.5% for author Puzo who wrote the screenplay with Coppola.
Brando was reportedly paid only U$50,000 but collected U$100,000 for his co-operation with publicity, and, on a sliding-scale percentage of the movie's gross, finally landing him some U$1.5mn. His demand for U$500,000 plus 10% of the gross for GF-II was turned down, and the part went to Robert de Niro.
Al Pacino who played Michael collected U$35,000 for one year's work in GF-I, receiving some U$500,000 plus no less than 10% of profit for GF-II, culminating for GF-III at U$5mn plus 15% of gross.
Diane Keaton who played Michael's wife, Kay Adams, was able to collect U$2mn in GF-III vis-...-vis the pittance she collected in GF-I: U$6,000. Robert Duvall playing the Consigliori, Tom Hagen, demanded for U$3.5mn against Paramount's U$1.5mn and was turned down and replaced with George Hamilton in GF-III.
Director Coppola collected U$3-mn to direct, U$1-mn to write and U$2-mn plus 15% of gross to produce GF-III, as against what he received for GF-II: U$200,000 for direction, U$250,000 for the script plus on a formula ranging between 10% and 15% as co-producer.
Perhaps The Godfather fitfully won the Academy awards for Best Picture, Actor (Brando), and Screenplay (Coppola & Puzo), and also in that one is able to discern the special features in the movie. GF-I & GF-II totally were nominated for 21-Oscar nominations, and collected nine, both winning Best Film Awards.
The momentous meeting Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo has with Don Corleone in the presence of his Consigliori Tom Hagen, the two Caporegimes, Sal Tessio (Abe Vigoda) and Pete Clemenza (Richard Castellano), and two of the Don's sons, Santino (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale), prompted U.S. management guru, the late Donald McCormick to cite Sonny's faux pax as an example of observing fringe times in business interactions in his masterpiece, What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School.
Reminiscent in GF-I is the initial introduction of Don Vito Corleone (Brando) in a sudden reverse shot, seated behind his table in his paneled office, intently listening with composure and assumed power, kitted up in black suit and brilliant white shirt complete with tuxedo and blood red nosegay, to attend his daughter's wedding, the camera focusing directly on the undertaker, Amerigo Bonasera, facing the Don, relating his daughter's trauma; seeking for revenge.
Sparks of professionalism at its peak is also seen in the Don's two brief discourses with the deadly Luca Brasi, enforcer to the Corleone Family, and in the famous speech made by the Don to the head of the Five Families.
GF-I carries a slew of dramatic events, which have an everlasting impact on the filmgoer. The dramatic assassination of Luca Brasi in the bar owned by the Tattaglia Family; the tragic ambush of Sonny; Sollozzo's car taking that high-speed U-turn amidst klaxons, as the driver, Lou, crosses over the road's divider across the splendid Triborough bridge connecting New Jersey and New York; the deadly confrontation of Michael with Sollozzo (Al-Lettieri) and Police Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) at Louis' Italian-American Restaurant in the Bronx; Consigliori Tom Hagen taking a short drink before he plucks up courage to break tragic news to the Don.
The Don's visit to Bonasera seeking his services to return a favour.
The Don's memorable address to the head of the Five Families and their associates at a secret conference, seeking for peace. Scenes in the backyard of the Corleone home with the Don and Michael, and later the Don and his grandson, Anthony, amidst the tomato vines, ending a marked shift in the story; the terrible scenes of bloody violence; all contributing toward Coppola's masterpiece in direction.
Puzo in his The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions describes the fury of Frank Sinatra directed against him while dining at the famous Chasen's in Hollywood on account of the Johnny Fontane character in his book, allegedly portraying a resemblance to Sinatra.
According to Puzo, the incident was a case of a Northern Italian threatening a Southern Italian, which Puzo equates to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone!
The book and movie are inundated with some fascinating advice given intermittently by the Godfather to his sons or close associates at various times.
In Puzo's opus at Book-8: Chapter-30, the Don gives Michael one of the most valuable lessons on how he came to use a guy like Luca Brasi, and Michael had used it to make the deadly ex-cop Albert Neri his Brasi.
Other brief but vital snippets to Bonasera: "And that by chance if an honest man such as yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you."
"You spend time with your family? to Johnny Fontane who replies, "Sure I do." Then to Johnny, but toward and about Sonny: "Good. 'Cause a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."
Upbraiding Johnny: "You can act like a man! "What's the matter with you? Is this how you turned out? A Hollywood finocchio that ah cries like a woman? (then mimicrying Johnny, as Tom giggles) "What can I do?! What can I do?! What is that nonsense? Ridiculous." Again to Johnny: "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse," referring to Jack Woltz, the Hollywood director.
To a friend "He performs these miracles for strangers," referring to his son, Michael's deeds as a captain in WW2.
To Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo: "I said that I would see you because, I heard that you're a serious man, to be treated with respect." and after Sonny's faux pas, "I have a sentimental weakness for my children, and I spoil them as you can see; they talk when they should listen."
Admonishing his son Sonny: "Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking again!" To Hagen, Tessio and Clemenza: "Now, any man should be allowed one foolishness in his life. I have had mine."
Then to his successor, Michael: "You cannot say 'no' to the people you love, not often. That's the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a 'yes'. Or you have to make them say 'no'. You have to take time and trouble." Adding that: "Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than government. It is almost the equal of family. Never forget that...."
To Michael again: "Revenge is a dish that tastes best when it is cold."
Advising Michael: "It's an old habit. I spent my life trying not to be careless - women and children can be careless, but not men." And then: "I've done my share in life. I haven't got the heart any more. And there are some duties the best of men can't assume."
Once again to Michael: I knew that Santino was going to have to go through all this. And Fredo - well - Fredo was - well - But I never - I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life, I don't apologize, to take care of my family. And I refused - to be a fool - dancing on the string, held by all those - bigshots. I don't apologize - that's my life - but I thought that - that when it was your time - that - that you would be the one to hold the strings.
Senator - Corleone. Governor - Corleone, or something..."Michael quips: "Another pezzonovante..." and the Don continues: "Well - this wasn't enough time, Michael. Wasn't enough time..." Michael adds: "We'll get there, Pop - we'll get there..." And then: "Uh..." Now listen - whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting - he's the traitor. Don't forget that."
In the real life scenario, Brando had to face the shooting of his daughter Cheyenne's BF by his son Christian in 1990 who served a term of some 6-years, and before he was released Brando experienced the tragedy of Cheyenne hanging herself in 1995.
Coppola had his own share of tragedy when his 22-year old son Gian-Carlo - Gio - was killed on 27.05.86, when his speedboat struck a towline of another boat, while in the company of Ryan O'Neal's son Gliffin Patrick, 21, who was later charged with reckless piloting.
Life thereafter was probably never the same again - Coppola's quest is mirrored in Michael's search for himself in GF-III - for these grand folks who gave us such splendid and memorable movies to feast our imagination.
**** Back ****
Produced by Lake House