In a drastically fluctuating career, the most reliable successes for Francis Ford COppola have been his films of Mario Puzo’s Godfather saga. But success wasn’t always so certain. On the release of Godfather 111, George Bailey traces Coppola’s twenty-year relationship with the clan Corleone from its uncertain origins to its career-saving conclusion.

wenty years have passed since the first plaintive notes ofa trumpet solo signalled the beginning of the Godfather phenomenon. At the time, the comparatively youthful Francis Ford Coppola seemed the last director in the world that Paramount

wanted at the helm of their risky endeavour.

Every casting decision from Brando to Pacino was firmly opposed, and any production delays or budget over-runs seemed merely to confirm the folly of entrusting him with the task of bringing Mario Puzo’s blood-drenched bestseller to the screen.

When the film subsequently overtook Gone With The Wind as America’s all-time box-office champion and earned ten Oscar nominations, Coppola could write his own ticket. It was conveniently forgotten that other directors, notably Elia Kazan, had been quietly asked to remain a phone call away, lest Paramount decided to replace the new boy wonder. Now, the only thing Paramount required was more of the same, and Coppola duly obliged with a richer-textured work that became the first sequel in movie history to win a Best Picture


Two decades on, after the triumphs of The Conversation, Apocalypse No w.’ and Tucker, the financial highwire act he has

I performed since the ruinous failure ofhis Zoetrope company, and a string ofpersonal

tragedies including the death of his son, Coppola has finally returned to the Corleone saga. The Godfather 111, he says, is ‘the only film that people really wanted me to make.‘

A propensity to view Coppola‘s life as refracted through the fictional character of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) leads one to expect a weary, embittered man, a careworn figure battered by his continual struggle with bankruptcy and personal loss. The beard may be much whiter today and the girth more substantial, but the man is affability personified; good-humoured, good-natured and refreshingly upfront.

Coppola may have accepted The Godfather [II more for its financial rewards than for its artistic challenge, but this doesn’t mean that he has prostituted himself as a director for hire. Picking up the family saga in 1979, the film focuses on the sick and aged Michael, preoccupied by his own mortality and need for legitimacy. He tries to find redemption through philanthropic deeds and an involvement with the Catholic Church, extricating the family from all illegal business activities and trying to bring about an understanding with his ex-wife Kay ; (Diane Keaton). The tragedy ofhis situation is that everything conspires to thwart his


The List 8- 21 March 19919