On April 29 the Tribeca Film Festival hosted an historic reunion between director Francis Ford Coppola and cast members from "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II". Significantly, the event was held at the nation's crown jewel of theaters, Radio City Music Hall. Joining Coppola were James Caan, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, James Caan, Al Pacino and Diane Keaton. The sold out venue first saw back-to-back screenings of the first two "Godfather" films, which were rapturously received by fans who applauded loudly at the introduction of certain beloved characters as well as classic lines of dialogue. (The audience predictably went wild when the scene arrived of Michael and Kay attending the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.) Since neither film had ever been shown in the Music Hall, it was especially pleasing for retro movie lovers to experience them in Gotham's famed venue. Upon the final credits of "The Godfather Part II" ending, Coppola and the cast members took the stage for a discussion moderated by director Taylor Hackford. The "Godfather" alumni clearly relished seeing each other after so many years. Coppola was the father figure among the group and most of the comments about the making of the film were appropriately recalled by him. Coppola related how Paramount was skeptical about his abilities to bring the bestselling novel to the screen. At one point early in the production he was alerted that he was to be fired from the $6 million production. The studio brass didn't like the initial footage he had shot, specifically the scene in which Don Corleone rejects a business proposal from Sollozzo to join him in the drug trade. Coppola frantically arranged to reshoot the footage over the weekend and managed to avoid getting fired the following Monday. Coppola credited producer Al Ruddy and Paramount mogul Robert Evans for standing by him as allies, even though he admitted that the mercurial Evans caused him endless agita. Al Pacino related he was also in the studio's crosshairs. Unimpressed with his performance as Michael, he was due to be fired. Coppola came to his rescue by prioritizing the scene in which Michael Corleone shoots Sollozzo and corrupt police captain McCluskey in a restaurant. Coppola presumed that Pacino would carry off the scene brilliantly. He was proven to be correct when Pacino was retained on the film. Talia Shire, sister of Francis Ford Coppola, related how she desperately wanted to play the role of Michael's vulnerable and fragile sister Connie. Coppola actually made her screen test for the part and still felt she was all wrong for it because he envisioned a homely actress in the role. Coppola and the cast member recalled Marlon Brando being in an exceptionally good mood during production perhaps because he saw the film as his lifeline to a career comeback after a decade of boxoffice disappointments. (Brando was represented by a photograph placed prominently on stage among his cinematic "family".) Caan recalled practical jokes played by Brando on the set and Duvall remembered Brando leading male cast members in a mooning contest during filming of the wedding scene. Keaton acknowledged that she had only recently watched the film for the first time in decades because she felt her character never fit in with the all-Italian cast and that she was particularly bothered by her voice in the film. Coppola also revealed how Lenny Montana, who played hitman Luca Brasi, could not remember his lines and delivered them in a halting fashion. To get around the obstacle, he quickly wrote a scene showing the dim-witted Luca rehearsing his "thank you speech" to Don Corleone as though it was a difficult homework assignment. It was a brilliant improvisation that got Montana off the hook and made his brief presence in the film even more memorable. Coppola also paid tribute to the many artists from the films who are no longer with us and specifically praised Al Letieri for his performance as Solazzo.
Special campaign poster designed for the event.
If there was a weak link in the memorable discussions on stage it was Taylor Hackford as moderator. Hackford was understandably enthused about his role but he forgot the golden rule that interviewers should follow: remember that the audience is there to hear the guests, not the interviewer. Hackford seemed to be winging it instead of having carefully prepared questions and often ate up valuable time by giving long personal observations before getting to the point. He also had no rhyme or reason when it came to allocating the questions. Understandably, he went to Coppola more than anyone else but some cast members were treated almost as stage props. Duvall was rarely called upon to make a point, Shire told some good tales in the beginning but was barely heard from again and, to the consternation of audience members this writer spoke to afterward, De Niro was virtually ignored throughout the entire 90 minute discussion. It was only at the very end that Hackford seemed to remember that De Niro was sitting right next to him and the iconic star was given a single question before the evening came to a conclusion. Consequently there was very little discussion of "The Godfather Part II" and no mention at all was made of "The Godfather Part III". Hackford also wasted a good deal of time discussing trivial aspects of the production such as Coppola having the last minute idea of placing a cat on Don Corleone's lap in the first scene of the film, a minor point of interest that Hackford discussed ad nauseum. To his credit, however, Hackford realized the historic nature of the occasion and made it clear he would blow past the imposed timetable and continue the discussions for as long as possible. Consequently, those lucky enough to be in attendance certainly got their money's worth.
In all, "The Godfather" reunion was a superb, full day of entertainment, even if it tested the endurance of everyone's rear ends (the entire event lasted almost nine hours!). Kudos to the Tribeca Film Festival and Robert De Niro for making it a possible and giving classic movie lovers an offer they couldn't refuse.
(To read Star Ledger film critic Stephen Whitty's take on the event, click here).
Back in December 2014
Cinema Retro posted my review of the Columbia Classics’ DVD of “Edge of
Eternity,” (1959) one of director Don Siegel’s early, lesser known films. I gave it high marks—especially for its
location photography in and around the Grand Canyon, and a climax that ended in
a fight on a gondola car suspended 2,500 feet above the canyon floor. I thought
it was one of those little-known hidden gems you come across once in a while—a
movie worth seeing. The video quality of the Columbia DVD wasn’t bad either.
But now the folks at Twilight Time have come out with a limited edition (3,000
copies) Blu-ray of the film that literally blows the older version away.
As noted in my
original review, “Edge of Eternity” was one of two films Siegel made in 1959
that clearly showed he had already begun to master the art of shooting on
location—an art he perfected by the time he made “Dirty Harry” (1971). The
other movie was “The Lineup” , for which Siegel and screenwriter Stirling
Silliphant concocted a brilliant tale with off-beat characters and off-the-wall
dialog, that also gave moviegoers a black and white documentary-like tour of
San Francisco, most of which is no longer there. In “Edge of Eternity,” Siegel
had a less compelling script to work with, but the breathtaking aerial photography
shot in widescreen Cinemascope and Eastman color by the legendary Burnett
Guffey more than made up for it.
The story focuses on
Deputy Sheriff Les Martin’s (Cornell Wilde) efforts to solve a series of
murders that take place in the canyon and the former boom town of Kendon,
Ariz., a place where a fortune in gold lies in an abandoned mine. The mine was
shut down during World War II, due to lack of manpower. It won’t be reopened
until the price of gold rises from $35 an ounce. As weird as it sounds, at the
time the story takes place, the biggest industry in Kendon was the mining of
bat guano from a cave on the far side of the canyon. The cave contained 500,000
tons of the stuff, which was sold as fertilizer. This is all based on
historical fact. The U.S. Bat Guano Company actually operated there until the
late 1950s, and Siegel took advantage of everything the location had to offer,
including “the dancing bucket,” a cable car the company had built, stretching 5,000
feet across the maw of the canyon—the only way to get to the bat cave. The end
credits express the film makers’ gratitude to U.S. Bat Guano for its
cooperation—perhaps the first and only time the movie industry acknowledged how
much it owes to shit, bat or otherwise.
The love interest in
“Edge of Eternity” is Janice Kendon (Victoria Shaw), the daughter of a wealthy
mine owner. Her flaming red hair and the canary yellow 1958 Thunderbird she
drives stand out vividly against the dry desert background, as she flirts with
Deputy Marin and wistfully remembers the days when Kendal was a boom town. She
has a younger brother (Rian Garrick) who drinks and gets in trouble with the
cops all the time. Also on hand is Mickey Shaughnessy playing a garrulous
bartender who dreams of someday leaving Kendon and taking off for Las Vegas.
A second murder
occurs and Deputy Martin starts to feel the heat from his boss (Edgar Buchanan)
and some political enemies in the state capital who want to know why the bodies
are starting to pile up. Martin is vulnerable to attack when it’s revealed he
had some trouble on his last job. When a third corpse turns up Martin stands to
lose his job. Who’s committing the murders and what do they have to do with the
$20 million in gold we’re told lies under the town?
Those are the main
plot questions, but really, who cares? The story isn’t what matters in “Edge of
Eternity.” It’s the real-time, real-place feeling that Siegel manages to put on
film that makes this little-known movie worth watching. Seeing Wilde and
Victoria Shaw playing their parts with the Grand Canyon in the background, you
hardly pay attention to the dialog anyway. All you know is there’s a murder to
be solved, some backstory guilt to be healed by Wilde, and a love story to be
brought to a happy conclusion. Naturally, Siegel pulls it off with his usual
The Twilight Time 1080p
Blu-ray in 2.35:1 aspect ratio makes the Grand Canyon cinematography come alive,
with far more detail than the older DVD. This new release also comes with some
nice extras, including an informative audio commentary by film historians Nick
Redman and C. Courtney Joyner. They provide insights into how this film came to
be made and how Siegel and Guffey shot the climactic scene with the dancing
bucket using two helicopters and a fearless stunt man named Guy Way. It makes
the onscreen action seem even more dangerous. Redman also points out how the
sense of a real place with real people is something totally missing from
today’s films, partly due to the heavy use of CGI.
According to Joyner, “Edge
of Eternity” was originally written as a vehicle for veteran character actor
Jack Elam. The writers thought it was time Elam got his first starring role in
a film. Unfortunately nobody else saw it that way. Siegel, who was a friend of
Elam’s, saw the script sitting on a coffee table in Elam’s house and thought it
would make a pretty good movie. They ended up picking Cornell Wilde for the
part and Elam played a smaller role as the man who operates the bucket. As
Joyner points out, he may not have gotten his big breakthrough, but it’s one of
the few times he didn’t play a bad guy.
The Blu-ray also has
an isolated audio track for Daniele Amfitheatrof’s impressive score and a
booklet containing an essay by Julie Kirgo, which discusses further details of
the film’s location and crew. She also points out how “Edge of Eternity” shows
Siegel “beginning to explore the territory he would dominate in later years:
the life of a decent cop attempting to juggle his crazy mixed-up personal life
with a professional, criminal crisis.”
This Twilight Time
disc is a must-have for any Don Siegel fan, or for anyone who wants to see how “real”
thrillers used to be made.