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Books-Into-Movie Commentary – Special 40th Anniversary Edition: “The Godfather” March 15, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Francis Ford Coppola, Godfather, Mario Puzo, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Uncategorized.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

Forty years ago today, “The Godfather” was released to movie audiences. It has survived as one of America’s classic films. On this occasion, here is a “Books-Into-Movies” post.

The movie “The Godfather” movie is one of the closest movies to the original book that I’ve come across in my posts on “Books-Into-Movies.” Many scenes, even lines of dialogue, are straight from the book. I started to prepare my customary synopsis of the book when I realized I was basically summarizing the movie! (So I will not post a synopsis here.) My approach to this post will be to point out differences between the book and the movie. Two considerations should be kept in mind: 1) This comparison refers to the 1972 movie, not the later “Godfather Saga” presented on television in 1977. (That production included some scenes not in the original movie.) 2) The Godfather book contains material used in “The Godfather II” movie.

  • The book opens as the movie does, at Connie Corleone’s wedding, with Don Corleone granting favors. (The cat on Don Corleone’s lap is not described in the book, but is a nice touch consistent with the book’s characterization.) The wedding day ends with a most unusual request (this is dramatized in the “Godfather Saga”) not in the movie but in the book. Don Corleone’s Consigliori, his key adviser, is at the hospital with cancer, on his deathbed. He asks Don Corleone to intervene with God.
  • The execution of traitor Pauli is almost exactly from the book except for the final line “leave the gun, take the cannolis” (which is not in the book).
  • Luca Brasi’s murder scene is not dramatized in the book. We find out later he has been killed when the Corleone Family receives the “sleeps with fishes” message.
  • The Michael Corleone events with police Captain McCluskey are almost completely the same as in the book. In the book, Puzo is able to go into the interior of the characters. We find out Sonny Corleone never doubts Michael can accomplish the murders of Mark McCluskey and Virgil Solozzo. (He is a war hero, after all.) He just wants to make sure Michael knows what he’s getting into. The movie implies Michael needs to convince Sonny. Also, in the movie, Don Corleone seems to want Michael uninvolved in the family business, maybe kept pure for future high office or title. In the book, Don Corleone and Michael Corleone are at odds with each other at the beginning because Michael seems so hostile to the family business and his father’s efforts to help him.
  • The book offers a lot more about Don Corleone’s godson/celebrity singer, Johnny Fontaine. We learn more about Johnny Fontaine’s family life—his first wife, second wife, his iffy love life. And Don Corleone sets up Johnny Fontaine as a movie producer, bankrolling his productions. This also involves Johnny Fontaine bringing out fromNew Yorkhis childhood friend, also godson to Don Coreleone, to record as a singer and act in movies.
  • Book III concerns Don Corleone’s early days. This is material used with little change in the movie “Godfather II.”
  • In the book, Michael comes home fromSicilyafter Don Corleone arranges for a Sicilian man, from another Sicilian family, to confess to the murder of Virgil Solozzo and most importantly, Captain Mark McCluskey. (The man has already been sentenced to death for another murder.) This Sicilian family, the Bocchiccios, specialize in supplying hostages during negotiations between criminal organizations.
  • More details of Lucy Mancini’s (Sonny’s mistress, shown just a few times in the movie) sexual functioning, including intimate details of an operation she has inLas Vegasafter Sonny’s death, are in the book—not in the movie. This also involves a storyline with Johnny Fontaine getting his hoarse voice corrected with the help of Lucy Mancini’s doctor/”boyfriend,” who discovers warts on the singer’s vocal cords.
  • Michael’s stay inItalyis also directly from the book. Added in the book is a rivetingly disturbing story from a widow inSicilyabout how Don Corleone and Luca Brasi started their association. In the book, we get a little more information on Appollonia. While she’s walking with Michael during their courtship, chaperoned by a parade of family members, she stumbles and Michael has to catch her. In the book we learn that as a child she was a “mountain goat and had not stumble on this path since she was an infant in diapers.”
  • In the book, Kay initiates getting back in touch with Michael. Michael does not surprise her while she is teaching school as in the movie. Kay calls Michael’s mother six months after he returns to theUnited Statesand Michael’s mother invites her out to the family mall/compound to surprise him.
  • The plans for the Corleone Family’s move toLas Vegasare in place, with Don Corleone’s advice and collaboration with Michael, before Don Corleone’s death. Don Corleone’s death is unanticipated (the death scene is less dramatic in the book—no Don Corleone running around with an orange peel in his mouth) and causes Michael to start his actions before he really wants to.
  • In the movie, during the confirmation ceremony for Michael’s nephew, son of Connie and Carlo, all of the murders “settling Corleone Family business” are committed, intercut cleverly with the religious ceremony of Michael standing as his nephew’s godfather. The scene is backed by slow, reverent music. In the book, Moe Greene is killed inLas Vegasbefore the other murders. And the other murders take place after the confirmation ceremony. The book also contains a chilling back-story for the man dressed as a policeman who kills Don Barzini.
  • In the book, Tom Hagen asks Michael Corleone ahead of time if Michael can let Tessio off the hook for his attempted betrayal. Michael says no. So when Tessio asks Tom Hagen,Hagenalready has Michael Corleone’s answer.
  • In the book, it is implied Michael has just a smidgen of doubt that Carlo was involved in setting Sonny up for murder. When Carlo admits Don Barzini came to him to set up the murder, Carlo seals his fate.
  • Don Corleone’s wife attends mass every morning to pray for the soul of her husband. The book ends with Kay Adams Corleone joining Michael’s mother for this ritual. Michael has begrudgingly discussed the “family business” with Kay long enough to lie to her about what he has done. And she clearly knows it is a lie.
  • In the book, Connie rants hysterically against Michael, accusing him of killing Carlo, much of the dialogue directly from the book. But in the book, at the closing narrative, we find out Connie reconciles with Michael pretty quickly. Those who have seen “Godfather II” (probably just about anyone reading this blog) know that Connie takes much longer to reconcile with Michael in the Godfather movies.
  • There is no material in The Godfather about Michael Corleone’s activities inLas Vegas after he “settles the family business inNew York,” about half the story depicted in “Godfather II.”

The bottom line of this post is that if you loved “The Godfather” movie, you’ll love the book as offering more depth and character interiors to what will be a very familiar story.