To start with, I really liked seeing Sicily. I spent some time there in 2001, and dammit- that place is gorgeous.
When Michael says to Kay that he wants to show her around Sicily because then maybe she’ll really “understand the family,” I knew exactly what he meant. You would too, had you been to Sicily. It is unendingly beautiful and full of life. Coppola translated this magnificently to film. I think he even got a fairly decent sense of Real Italian Culture, too (or at least what I experienced in the time I spent in Italy), when he wasn’t dealing with Corleone drama.
While I wouldn’t say this is a great film, I would not say this is a film to be hated. In fact, I found this film to be a quite interesting coda to the series. In fact, what it ended up doing was discussing some features that have been subtextual in many mafia films, but never quite laid out as significantly as this. Perhaps it is because it is clear that this is the finale, and Michael Corleone is on his last legs. Perhaps that is the only way that this can come through. Perhaps it is because Francis wanted to feature his daughter and give her some significance. Either way, The Godfather III is actually more about the women as powerful figures than the men, and I found that fascinating.
I wonder if that is why it is the film that everyone scrunches their nose up upon its mention. The series is highly male-based. Having major actions in this film be based upon female characters is more than slightly counter-intuitive to the series as a whole and thus makes it a bit uneven. However, if one were to look at mafia/gangster films, the female presence and female power structure is alive and well.
Let’s start with Scarface (1932), directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Howard Hughes. There has been a great deal written about the main character, mob boss Tony Camonte (played by Paul Muni), and his unnatural sexual attraction and obsession with his sister. Not only does this underscore the fact that he is driven by what I call Mafia Moll Magnetism, but what occurs in the film just supports the theory. Not unlike a femme fatale, many Mafia Molls undo their men purely by containing their power in their sexuality. In Scarface, Tony is undone by his obsession for his sister. The irony of this circumstance (and what complicates the situation sometimes) is that Cesca (played brilliantly by Ann Dvorak) may be aware of the power she has over Tony but chooses not to manipulate him or use it against him. This is not the usual set of circumstances.
Skip forward a few years, and maaaaany gangster films later and you have another stellar example of Mafia Moll Magnetism, only…she is well aware of her position in the gang. White Heat (1949) was directed by Raoul Walsh and introduced us to Cody Jarrett (James Cagney), an iconic gangster figure the world had never seen the likes of before. Now, Cody not only had a double-dealing wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), but he has a ruthlessly unscrupulous mother, “Ma” Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) to whom he is beyond dedicated to.
Another facet of the Mafia Moll Magnetism is that no matter what happens, the “protagonist” (in this case, Cody) will generally select the Maternal Figure over anyone else, no matter what anyone might try to tell him. In the narrative, Verna and Ma…well, I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say that they had a bit of a power struggle. This also figures in highly within the women who are vying for their Don. Someone’s gotta be Alpha Female. However, at the end of the day, there will always be only be one Alpha Female to Cody: “Ma.” Therefore, no matter what happens to that character, in a sense, Mama still wins. The most famous line of the film, “Look Ma, top of the world!” is one where Cody is still talking to her, and it is clear that, once again, he has been undermined by his dedication to the Main Woman in his life.
It’s a slightly different story with two women who are simply competing for top position due to sexual positioning, but Mafia Moll Magnetism still functions the same way and it is to remove power and functionality from the main mafia unit and bring some of it back within their own realm. It can be seen in a similar way to the femme fatale in noir, only that the Mafia Moll will coalesce and go along with much of what is going on. However, at certain key moments she will assert herself and make herself known, figuring in as an extremely powerful and significant icon within Mafia Media.
How does this relate to Godfather III? Well, having never seen it before, I went to see it tonight and I found it to be a perfect example of this theory. First of all, in all three Godfather films I discovered that there is only one truly sympathetic character, and that is Tony Corleone. Poor kid just wants to sing opera for his dad who’s trying to take over the world…legitimately? Yeah. Right.
So what about Kay? She’s an innocent! Nah, not really. She stood by for too long. Let stuff happen. And her position in GIII is one of a manipulative mother. She trades one child for another. Mafia Moll Magnetism? You got it. In order for Tony to be able to sing opera, she gives Michael Mary. She had to know what would happen with that decision. Sorry, lady, I don’t buy it. You knew. You said you knew. You repeatedly stated you knew the family, etc. So…a child trade-off. Automatically makes Kay an unsympathetic character.
Then there’s Michael’s sister, Connie (Talia Shire). Wooooah, boy! She practically invented the whole concept behind my theory. In GIII, if it wasn’t for her, nothing would get DONE! It seemed to me that this film was about the waning of Michael Corleone, and the waxing of Connie Corleone. When he was down, she would get up, sharpen her nails, and get in command. She knew exactly about Mafia Moll Magnetism and how blood relations only booster that.
Then there’s poor little Mary Corleone (Sofia Coppola). Hmmm. Yeah, sure. It seems that she did know what she was getting into. And she wanted more. There was something about the way she positioned herself several times within the film that said, “I want in.” Even when Vincent (Andy Garcia) lied to her face, it appeared to me that she understood that perhaps this was just under the list of “things we don’t talk about/mention” which meant that she knew he was lying. The fact that Mary orchestrated the entire relationship with Vincent says that perhaps there is more to her than the innocent girl that she was portrayed as. I feel that, while the acting was lackluster, the character definitely contained the qualities that move towards this same goal: a manipulative figure within the familia.
In summation, I feel that Godfather III contained some properties that were far more complex and interesting than your average film. Additionally, it was beautifully shot which is always appreciated. I feel that there are enough shitty movies out there that deserve everyone’s unrequited hatred that this poor film should be left alone as it has some very interesting aspects to it, and definitely ones that I did not count on finding.