Spoilers ahead for The Godfather Part III and The Godfather, Coda.
The Godfather Part III has always been the odd duck of the The Godfather Trilogy. While the first two parts are towering classics of American cinema that work together beautifully to tell a complete story, Part III arrived in theaters sixteen years after Part II and to a mixed response. I’ve had the chance to re-watch all of the movies the past couple of weeks in addition to a new cut of Part III titled The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which arrives on Blu-ray today. Having only watched Part III one time back in high school, I had largely forgotten the film, but a re-watch along with Coda have provided me for a new appreciation of what it was trying to do even if it stumbles a bit along the way.
What you should know about Coda is that it isn’t a radically different movie than Part III. Director and co-writer Francis Ford Coppola has redone the intro so that it removes the flashback to Fredo’s murder in Part II and deleted the scene of the empty Nevada home where the Corleones resided in that movie. He’s also removed the scene in the church where Michael receives his award, instead opting to open the film with a scene that originally came later in the film’s first act.
In this scene, Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) confesses that his oversight of the Vatican’s bank has caused a large debt, and he needs Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) help to make up the shortfall. Michael agrees in exchange for a controlling interest of Internazionale Immobiliare, an international real estate company worth $6 billion. Gilday agrees but notes that the Board of Directors and even the Pope will have to sign off on the agreement. For Michael, Immobiliare is a chance to create something totally legitimate. From there, the scene goes to the party at Michael’s penthouse, and the film that follows is largely the same as Part III except for the ending.
The original ending had Michael sitting alone at a villa (likely in Sicily), old and alone. Dogs play at his feet, and he holds an orange (a recurring symbol of death in The Godfather movies) that falls out of his hand and drops to the ground. He then keels over and dies, his body falling out of his chair in a darkly comic moment as the screen cuts to black. The new ending instead goes for a close-up of Michael in his chair, but he doesn’t die. Instead, the screen fades to black and ends with the title card:
‘When the Sicilians wish you ‘Cent’anni’, it means ‘for long life’…and a Sicilian never forgets.’”
In the original cut of Part III it’s easy to see what Coppola was going for. By starting with the ruins of Part II, we’re able to see how Michael’s final unforgivable act—the murder of his brother—hangs over the rest of the movie, which is important because the final film, whether it’s Part III or Coda, is one long business deal, but the deal is Michael trying to buy his way out of sin. The original church scene coincides nicely with that approach as it calls back the famous baptism scene in the original Godfather where Michael has all his enemies murdered while he’s at the baptism of Connie’s (Talia Shire) baby. In the original cut of Part III, we can see Michael once again making a mockery of religion and using it to try and purchase salvation.
However, religion has never been at the forefront of these movies (it doesn’t play much of a factor at all in Godfather Part II except when Fredo recites a Hail Mary while fishing), and so starting with a big church service recalls the first Godfather but not the second. Instead, Coda makes the wise move to put the business arrangement between Michael and Gilday at the start of the film because Michael’s business interests and his cold rationality are what drives both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.
The heart of The Godfather, Coda and Part III are how Michael’s love of family has been a thin excuse for his own avarice and hunger for power. He’s trying to buy his way out of sin, and he attempts to do it by running a legitimate business through the Catholic Church and going so far as confessing his sins to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone). Michael even allows his son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) to leave the family business and become a singer. But it doesn’t matter because Michael is still too wrapped up in the underworld to be free from its consequences and make a clean getaway. Handing the family over to his volatile nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia) in the third act doesn’t absolve or free Michael. In the end, Michael ends up losing what he loves the most when a botched hit on him ends up killing his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola).
Which leads us back to the new ending. In the original ending, Michael dies alone, but the new ending curses him with a long life where he can never forget what he did and what it cost him. He doesn’t get the benefit of death (albeit a darkly comic one that sought to diminish the power Michael accrued throughout his life). Instead, all he has is memory and sin. For all the power that he built up over his life and wealth he accumulated, he’s alone, and the family he claimed to love is either dead from his actions or has abandoned him. Michael Corleone always viewed the world as cold and transactional, and The Godfather, Coda shows how the bill finally comes due.
The star is ready to wear the red cape again.
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