Sunday, March 22, 2020

Don't Make a Scene: The Godfather

The Story: You've seen The Godfather, sure you have.

But, you probably don't remember this scene. Because it's not in it. Oh, it's in the book (where it first haunted me), it was put in the screenplay, filmed and edited, but ultimately, this was cut from the film. 

You have to be brutal in movies in the editing stage, especially as they approach the four hour mark. This scene was probably cut because it was superfluous—it gives us information we already know, like Michael's estranged from his father, that he was in the war—and the character of Don Corleone's former consigliere Genco Abbandando is dying, and we will never see him or acknowledge him (much) for the rest of the movie (although he'll be around as a younger version (played by Frank Sivero) in The Godfather, Part II). Superfluous. Plus, taking out this scene creates a through-line between talking about the Johnny Fontaine situation and its resolution, which is where we first see the power and reach of The Godfather on display in the movie. Here, we're merely given superstition by a frightened old man. We didn't need to see this expression of respect, we'd seen examples all through the previous wedding sequence.

Comparatively, Genco has the easiest of gangster deaths—in bed, by disease or natural causes, as opposed to being gunned down or garotted as we will see many examples in the film. By contrast, Don Corleone—3/4 of the movie later will die by himself, alone, cut down by a heart attack with no one the wiser.

The Story: It is the day of the Godfather's daughter's wedding—a day on which he (Marlon Brando) can refuse no request. That's a lot of work, cloistered in his den, with officials to bribe, toughs to rub out, Hollywood execs to be blackmailed. A Godfather's daughter's wedding day is never done. However, there is one family guest not at the wedding. It is Genco (Franco Corsaro), the Don's Consigiliere—a post now assumed by Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall)—who has served his Don...well, now...and at the hour of his death. And, for the first time today, it is the Don who must pay his respects.


(A word of explanation: the source for this scene is from the March 29, 1971 draft, and there have been re-writes and deletions and some edges taken off lines. Deletions are crossed out, often replaced by the lines as spoken. I've included the line previous from the scene for context of its placement.)

DON CORLEONE No, give him a living. But never let him know the family's business. What else, Tom?

HAGEN I've called the hospital; they've notified Consiglere Genco's family to come and wait. He won't last out the night.
HAGEN The hospital called.
HAGEN Consigliere Genco...he's not going to last out the night. 
This saddens the DON. He sighs. 
DON CORLEONE Genco will wait for me. Santino, tell your brothers they will come with me to the hospital to see Genco. Tell Fredo to drive the big car, and ask Johnny to come with us. 
SONNY And What about Michael? 
DON CORLEONE All my sons. 
(to EXT DAY: MALL (SUMMER 1945) 
HIGH ANGLE ON THE MALL, late day. The GUESTS are gone. A single black car is in the courtyard. FREDDIE is behind the driver's seat:
the DON enters the car, looks at MICHAEL, who sits between SONNY and JOHNNY in the rear seat. 
DON CORLEONE Will your girl friend get back to the city all right? 
MICHAEL Tom said he'd take care of it. 
The DON pulls the door shut; and the car pulls out, through the gate of the great Corleone Mall.
A long white hospital corridor, at the end of which we can see a grouping of FIVE WOMEN, some old and some young, but all plump and dressed in black. 
DON CORLEONE and his SONS move toward the end. 
But then the DON slows, putting his hand on MICHAEL's shoulder. MICHAEL stops and turns toward his FATHER. The two looks at one another for some time. 
SILENCE. DON CORLEONE then lifts his hand, and slowly touches a particular medal on MICHAEL's uniform. 
DON CORLEONE What was this are all these Christmas ribbon for? 
MICHAEL For bravery. 
MICHAEL For killing a man. 
DON CORLEONE What miracles you do for strangers. 
MICHAEL I fought for my country. It was my choice
DON CORLEONE And now, what do you choose to do? 
DON CORLEONE Just a minute, Michael. I want to talk to you.
DON CORLEONE What are your plans when you get out?
MICHAEL I'm going to finish school. 
DON CORLEONE Good. That's fine. I approve. 
DON CORLEONE Michael, you never come to me, as a son should. You know that, don't you? When you are finished, come and talk to me. I have hopes for you. But when you've finished school, I want you to come talk to me. I have plans for you.
DON CORLEONE You understand?
Again they regard each other without a word. MICHAEL turns, and continues on. DON CORLEONE watches a moment, and then follows. 
DON CORLEONE enters the hospital room, moving closest to OUR VIEW.
He is followed by his SONS, JOHNNY and the WOMEN. 
DON CORLEONE (whispered) Genco... 

DON CORLEONE I've brought my sons to pay their respects. 
DON CORLEONE And look, even Johnny Fontaine, all the way from Hollywood. 
GENCO is a tiny, wasted skeleton of a man. DON CORLEONE takes his bony hand, as the others arrange themselves around his bed, each clasping the other hand in turn. 
GENCO Godfather, Godfather, it's your daughter's wedding day, you cannot refuse me. 
GENCO Cure me, you have the power. 
DON CORLEONE I have no such power...
DON CORLEONE ...but Genco, don't fear death. 
GENCO (with a sly wink) It's been arranged, then? 
DON CORLEONE You blaspheme. Resign yourself. 
GENCO You need your old Consigliere. Who will replace me? (suddenly)
GENCO Stay with me Godfather. Help me meet death. If he sees you, he will be frightened and leave me in peace. 
GENCO You can say a word, pull a few strings, eh? We'll outwit that bastard as we outwitted all those others. (clutching his hand) 
GENCO Godfather, stay with me. 
GENCO Don't betray me. 
The DON motions all the others to leave the room. 
They do. 
He returns his attention to GENCO, holding his hand and whispering things we cannot hear, as they wait for death. 

The Godfather

Words by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola

Pictures by Gordon Willis and Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Paramount Home Video. 

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