I was talking about mob fiction the other night and, as a few readers pointed out, forgot to comment on The Godfather. What can I say? One and three are masterpieces. There's an excellent article about it in the London Telegraph this morning:
The Godfather: 'Nobody enjoyed one day of it’
Just like the film, the making of 'The Godfather’ was an ugly story of fear and dysfunction.
By Philip Horne
Published: 4:29PM BST 22 Sep 2009
At war: fallouts during filming almost ruined 'The Godfather'
'Make him an offer he can't refuse' - memorable lines in The Godfather
What was the formula that made The Godfather one of the most successful films of all time? Surely it would take an unusually harmonious combination of talents working in concert, a rare balance of commercial entertainment and artistic challenge, a run of luck those involved couldn’t miss.
But all wasn’t plain sailing on Francis Ford Coppola’s film in 1972. It was nominated for 11 Oscars, winning three, and on its $6 million budget grossed $101million for Paramount within 18 weeks of release. As the film gets a welcome cinematic re-release in a beautiful restoration, it is timely to dive into the swirling mists of legend and recall how far it was from a sure thing.
“It was the most miserable film I can think of to make,” declares its producer, Al Ruddy. “Nobody enjoyed one day of it.” Coppola agrees: “It was just non-stop anxiety and wondering when I was going to get fired.” The novel by Mario Puzo could easily not have been written: eight publishers passed on the outline for a would-be best-seller pitched by a middle-ranking, mid-forties writer with a bad gambling habit and big debts. Only bumping into a friend had led to his actually writing The Godfather. Its 67 weeks topping the New York Times best-seller list surprised everyone.
Paramount bought an option when Puzo had only written 100 pages, for a mere $12,500, rising to $50,000 if the novel was filmed. But maybe – if we’re to credit Paramount’s head of production Robert Evans – Paramount very nearly didn’t acquire it. There was a bidding war: they were “one day away from Burt Lancaster buying The Godfather, and Burt wanted to play the Don”.
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Yes, well, as we all know (and I'm told over and over) mob fiction is dead.
The Godfather was a romantic fable but very well put together. The fact nobody wanted it upfront sure doesn't surprise me. I'm told some of the same geniuses didn't want Eddie Coyle either ... and as Elmore Leonard pointed out in the forward to a reprint of Eddie Coyle, he'd been told he shouldn't write about unsympathetic characters (the ones he continues to write about to this day).
And then there's the geniuses who paid $500,000 for a fugazy manuscript written by a con artist supposedly connected to Carlo Gambino (supposedly one of his nephews, I think). Somebody didn't bother with their due diligence. Imagine that?
The Godfather was a better movie than book (for me). Whatever problems they had making it sure didn't show up on the screen. I was too young to know differently about the movie vs. reality, but I sure grew up fast ... and then preferred the more realistic versions of a street life (like Eddie Coyle).
And that movie was pretty good too (but way shy of any romance and/or ironic heroic endings).
I agree. I prefer Coyle too. Book and film. Higgins got lost somewhere along the way, which is too bad. He was a true original.
Yeah, Ed. I just reviewed one of Higgins books that didn't work for me (Swan Boats at Four). Some of his work was unreadable (and he's my writing hero). But his first three I insist are masterpieces (Eddie Coyle, The Digger's Game and Cogan's Trade). Nothing mob related (for me crime related) has come close to any of the three. Not just thugs; knockaround guys trying to make ends meet in their vernacular/their world.
Higgins didn't like being pigeonholed as a crime writer and I think he tried to prove he was more by straying from what he did so well. Then again, it was his to do with what he wanted ... I admire his efforts and courage.
Was Mitchum good or what (as Eddie Coyle)? Peter Yates handled that book to film brilliantly (the entire cast included).
Mitchum had several "finest hours" and Mitchum was sure one of them. What a performance.
I agree, Higgins didn't want to be known as a crime writer. But I just read a Scott Phillips novelette in one of Otto Penzler's Best from some years back. It had a tight story and a detailed portrait of one aspect of The Depression and was so well done I'd reprint it in a literary anthology without hesitation. I think most of us get hung up on the distinction between pulp and lit. Certainly there are a lot of younger writers whose books are reviewed as faux literature. To me that's good for the field in one way and bad in another.
The Friends Of Eddie Coyle is finally available on dvd.
Tell the truth. That's all that fiction is required to do, in its lying way (sometimes backhanded way). Pretending that there is a real, much less a firm, dichotomy is foolishness, at best.
(Just listened to MODERN FAMILY's pilot...typical Levitan tripe, enlivened fitfully by the professionalism of the others involved. It just lied endlessly...the easy choices COMMUNITY made seem [mostly] less cloying in comparison. And, of course, it's hailed as Daring.)
Yates underrated...even if he wasn't able, any more than Michael Ritchie was, to sustain his achievement.
One example where the film was def better than that book. The writing in that novel was pretty bad, imo.
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