"Still an offer we (can't) refuse?"
The third and concluding installment in Coppola's The Godfather series has always had a tough standing. Made 16 years after the second installment of a double bill that ranks indisputably among the best films of all time, the film floated along in the awards waters of Martin Scorsese's contemporaneous Goodfellas. As Scorsese's work relentlessly passed by, virtually (re)introducing the gangster film in a modern way, The Godfather's conclusion seemed plain old-fashioned. The original plan for the third part of the Godfather saga was to tell the story of Tom Hagen, the loyal advisor to the Corleone family. However, his actor Robert Duvall demanded too high a fee, so Coppola and author Mario Puzo had to rethink.
And so the scandals surrounding the Vatican in the 1970s, especially the Year of Three Popes of 1978 and the short pontificate of John Paul I, as well as the conspiracy theories surrounding his death, formed the blueprint for part of the film's frame story. The result was the theatrical version of the time, which, with all its facets, generated a lot of positive reception - after all, the film was nominated 7 times at the Oscars and the Golden Globe awards, but without winning a single trophy - and also earning a lot of criticism. In particular, Sofia Coppola's portrayal as Mary Corleone never found much approval and caused her to be awarded the Golden Razzie for worst new actress.
So Coppola sat down in the editing room again and added just under 10.5 more minutes of film to his work. The so-called Final Director's Cut saw the light of day and appeared in every release on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, while the theatrical version remained, to our knowledge, unreleased on home video media. This new cut seemed more rounded than the theatrical version, since especially Michael's relationship with his children, but also with his ex-wife Kay are intensified. Of course, a new film could not be created with it either.
In recent years, Francis Ford Coppola has once again dealt with three of his films and made new cuts for them: First, there is Apocalypse Now, which even premiered in 4K UHD in the form of a so-called final cut (see our detailed comparison). Then there's the crime thriller Cotton Club, which also received a new director's cut in the form of an HD release (see our detailed news), and the third part of The Godfather discussed here, which has now been renamed into Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.
The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone - The New Cut
As part of the renamed new cut, they also had a new 4K remaster made. And this one is clearly superior to the previous version. Gone is the golden yellow color scheme in the style of the 50s, which was also used for the first two "Godfather" parts (or to the displeasure of many also for Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America) by means of the aforementioned Coppola restoration from 2008. Stylistically, this is a very good move, as the "golden color background" doesn't necessarily fit a film set circa in the late 70s. Coupled with a much higher level of sharpness and better contrast values, the remastering looks very good on the new version, at least technically.
So which cut should be used for comparison? The answer is easy, since many of the scenes that were first added in the final director's cut were also intact here. So we decided to work with the starting position of the Final DC and can finally say that this version must have served Coppola as a starting point as well.
So here it is, the director's latest cut. But does it make up for everything? No, of course not. Again, this is not a new film, this version drifts in the wake of its unmatched predecessors. And yet, on the other hand, depending on how you felt about this film before, you don't have to be afraid that it has been completely turned upside down. Some differences/cuts are shockingly marginal and I for one was even surprised that they are "only" the differences detailed below.
The biggest changes, as announced in advance by the director, for example, concern the beginning and the end of the film. The beginning has been recut. Instead of a melancholic look back towards part 2, the director removed the complete church ceremony here and throws the viewer into the action much more briskly with the negotiation conversation between Michael and the archbishop. This has the advantage of clearly differentiating the film from its predecessor right from the start, and at the same time, by bringing forward the scene with the archbishop, lays a different foundation for the nature and effect of the coming action. The film also gains some pace as a result. What follows are rather cuts of plot elements, partly because they simply seem superfluous, such as the scene with the hospital visit of Don Altobello, the conversation between Vincent, Al Neri and Conny in the chapel or the arrival of Don Tomassino at the part in Sicily. Some things have simply been changed or shortened for better timing.
In addition, we can now prove in the following report that the murder of Don Lucchesi in the final act of the film was changed to the (desired) original state of the director. The former MPAA cut thus gives way to a much bloodier shot. Last but not least, we have the final scene and, like the beginning, it has been recut. Instead of a melancholic look back at the previous parts, the "coda" version here stays on the dancing Michael with his daughter and then gently fades over to the old Michael in Sicily. Unlike in the previous film versions, Michael is not allowed to visibly die in the end here; instead, the film fades to black beforehand, leaving the viewer with a newly inserted Sicilian quote.
In this respect, Coppola has done quite a bit right with this cut and proves what an effect even small changes can have. On the other hand, the new cut is still mainly something "for fans". Viewers who have always disliked the conclusion of this saga will not be much happier.
Cent'anni, dear readers!
plus opening logo/black frame and credits.
Cut duration 709.20 sec. (= 11:49 min.)
Comparison between the Final Director's Cut (represented by the old Blu-ray) and the "Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone" version (represented by the 2020 Blu-ray).
The "Coda" version shows less black screen up front and also a newer "Paramount" logo than in the FDC.
Runtime Final DC version: 22.72 sec.
Runtime "Coda" version: 20,16 sec.
Difference: +2.56 sec.
The following black screen to the "Paramount Pictures Presents" title has then been extended a bit in the "Coda" version, again the following one to the title has been shortened. Summa summarum, the "Coda" version is slightly longer here.
Measured from the title, we then immediately come to the first serious difference, the modified opening section. Structurally almost decisive in the effect of the "Coda version". In detail:
The FDC features the familiar "The Godfathter Part III" lettering....
...and then melancholically shifts to various shots of Michael's abandoned mansion. We learn that we are currently in 1979. After a gentle fade, the camera pans across a photo of Michael, Kay and the children from earlier days and a photo of the two siblings from more recent times. Michael is writing a letter.
Michael from off-screen: My dear children, it is now better than several years since I moved to New York and I haven't seen you as much as I would like to. I hope you will come to this ceremony of Papal honours, given for my charitable work. The only wealth in this world is children. More than all the money and power on Earth. You are my treasure. Anthony and Mary, although I entrusted your education to your mother for your own best interest, I look forward to seeing you, and to a new period of harmony in our lives. Perhaps you might prevail upon your mother to come to this celebration, and that from time to time, we can all see each other at family functions. Anyway, I remain your loving father.
Subsequently, resp. at the beginning still underlaid with above mentioned off-commentary, we now follow the ceremony in the church. Michael thoughtfully remembers the death of Fredo and how he had him killed.
With crosscuts towards the guests in attendance (including Joey Zasa, Michael's children and his sister Connie), the ceremony continues. Kay also finally arrives and is greeted warmly. Michael only observes this from the altar. His children also notice their mother's arrival. The scene ends with Michael walking ahead with entourage towards the church exit and the guests also getting up to follow him. With the following long shot in front of the hotel, both versions run parallel again, only the FDC version starts slightly earlier in this one.
+ 302.00 sec.
The Coda version also features the familiar title, but slightly modified. Instead of the "Part III" in the name, "Coda" additionally appears below. This is followed, after a short black screen, by the continuing title caption "The Death of Michael Corleone."
From here, we then gently fade to an exterior shot of the church, then Michael's conversation with Archbishop Gilday follows.
Archbishop: "Don Corleone, I need your help. And not just to light a little candle. My gift was to be able to persuade people to give to the Holy Church. Then Rome decides to put me in charge of the Vatican Bank...but I was never a true banker."
The Archbishop is handed a cigarette and fire to light it.
Archbishop: "Mea culpa. I trusted my friends."
Michael: "Friendship and money. Oil and water."
Archbishop: "Indeed. But these "friends"the good name of the Church to feed their greed. If money was lost...then I am to blame. If only prayer could pay off our 700 million dollar deficit."
Michael: "769 million. The church owns 25% of a large corporation. Immobiliare. You know the one I mean?"
Harrison: "Largest landlord on Earth. Real estate worth six billion dollars."
Archbishop: "That's true."
Michael: "And the Vatican vote is necessary for control"
Archbishop: "This isn't a question of one person deciding. One deciding vote. This is like any other company. We have directors and very old rules. The Pope himself would have to approve you."
Michael says decisively, "We've sold the casinos. All businesses having to do with gambling. We have no interests or investments in anything illegitimate."
Harrison stands up and takes a few steps toward Michael and the Archbishop at the table.
Harrison: "The Corleones are prepared to deposit 500 million dollars in the Vatican Bank when Mr. Corleone receives majority control of Immobiliare."
Michael: "Immobiliare could be something new. A European conglomerate. Few families have control of such a company."
Archbishop: "It seems, in today's world, the power to absolve debt is greater than the power of forgiveness. 600 million dollars."
Michael: "Don't overestimatethe power of forgiveness."
Archbishop: "Don Corleone, this deal with Immobiliare can make you one of the richest men in the world. Your whole past history, and the history of your family, and your children would be washed away. 600 million."
Michael looks to Harrison and then back to the Archbishop, nodding in agreement.
The camera now gently fades in over the two picture frames and the writing Michael. Here, too, we hear Michael from off-screen, but in a shorter/abbreviated version.
Michael: "The only wealth in this world is children. More than all the money and power on earth, you are my treasure. Although I entrusted your education to your mother for your own best interest, I look forward to seeing you, and to a new period of harmony in our lives. Perhaps you might prevail upon your mother to come to this celebration."
Then, again, the above-mentioned long shot in front of the hotel and both versions run together again.
We continue to see Conny singing, followed by her singing partner whistling a little earlier and briefly on the beat.
+ 4,32 sec.
Here we see Michael joining and greeting the Bishop and Harrison.
Longer long shot focusing on the pausing Conny and her singing partner.
+ 0.76 sec.
Said long shot breaks off here earlier and is followed by an exclusive shot of Michael at the dinner table.
Again, the long shot has been maintained a bit longer here....
+ 1.76 sec.
...And is instead supplemented in the newer version by a shot of Michael.
Now, here follows the scene of Michael joining the Bishop and Harrison in the FDC. It is, however, slightly longer than in the "Coda" version, as it is introduced a bit earlier.
+ 6.16 sec.
Exclusive to the "Coda" version, this shot is accompanied by a comment from Mary: "Daddy, I'm so nervous."
The following shot is therefore for contextual purposes only.
No time difference
Andrew is being escorted out by Michael. Then the scene fades to the exterior shot of the church. The FDC now also shows the negotiation between Michael and the Archbishop. We only show this partly, since the contents are the same as those mentioned above.
+ 212.60 sec.
During the meeting in front of the committee, there is a cut to Michael.
Michael: "I have always believed that helping your fellow man is profitable in every sense, personally and bottom line."
+ 8.92 sec.
As Michael leaves the lectern, the FDC shows him walking past Archbishop Gilday, who looks behind him.
+ 3.20 sec.
As Mary looks up, she looks directly towards Vincent, who returns the look and then walks out of the frame.
+ 2.48 sec.
Instead of a shot of Vincent, this just shows the audience once again with the raised tiers.