In a new essay celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather” novel, Coppola remembers debating Puzo over the film adaptation’s plot.
Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and writer-director Francis Ford Coppola has marked the occasion by writing the foreword to the novel’s special new edition. Coppola worked closely with Puzo to turn the “The Godfather” into the landmark 1972 movie of the same name. The two remained close collaborators on “The Godfather Part II” and “The Godfather Part III.” Adapting Puzo’s novel with Puzo himself presented some minor challenges for Coppola, who writes in the forward about reservations the author had about scenes that would end up being some of the franchise’s most iconic.
“Not all of my ideas went over so well,” Coppola writes (via Entertainment Weekly). “Mario was dubious about the idea that it was Fredo who betrayed Michael; he didn’t think it was plausible. But he was absolutely against Michael ordering his own brother to be killed. It was a stalemate for a while, as nothing would happen unless we both agreed.”
Fredo’s betrayal is the emotional climax of “The Godfather Part II,” immortalized by Michael’s iconic line, “I know it was you, Fredo.” The storyline culminates in Michael having his personal enforcer Al Neri murder Fredo while out on the lake at the Corleone family home. In order to convince Puzo to let him assassinate Fredo in this way, Coppola first pitched the author the death of the Corleone family matriarch, Carmela Corleone.
“I tossed him the idea that Michael wouldn’t have Fredo killed until their mother died,” Coppola writes. “He thought about this for a moment, and then said okay, it would work for him. He was the arbiter of what the novel’s characters would do, while I was offering a kind of interpretation from the perspective of what a movie director would do.”
The two butted heads again over the idea to have Michael’s wife, Kay, reveal she did not have a miscarriage but instead had an abortion. For Coppola, the abortion reveal was a powerful way to show the extremes people who once loved Michael would go to in order to sever ties with him.
“Actually it was my sister, Talia, who came up with that idea,” Coppola writes. “I loved it because it seemed symbolic and the only way a woman married to such a man could halt the satanic dance continuing generation after generation, which Nino Rota’s waltz theme expressed. Mario wasn’t sure about it, but he let me have it. He was a great collaborator, after all.”
One thing both Puzzo and Coppola agreed on was not titling the next movie “The Godfather Part III.” The original title idea was “The Death of Michael Corleone,” and the reason why was shared by the two creators.
“Mario nor I wanted [‘Godfather Part III’] as the title, as it was not meant to be part of a trilogy, but rather a coda to the first two films,” Coppola writes. “We wished it could be given a different title, one more appropriate. Neither of us had the power to insist on our title but in my mind.”
Head over to Entertainment Weekly to read more from Coppola’s foreword to “The Godfather” 50th anniversary publication.