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).