Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rant or Rave: The Godfather

A commonly held believe amongst avid readers and book lovers is best summed up by the catch phrase: "Don't judge a book by its movie." Movies rarely manage to capture the magic, richness and character development of books, and many movie adaptations of good books are mediocre or even dreadful.

Another popular and widely held catch phrase is: "It is the exception that proves the rule."

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, is the exception that proves the rule-- the movie IS better than the book. Indeed, Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 epic film is widely considered one of the finest films of all-time, coming in at #2 at IMDB and at AFI, as well as being in nearly every "best of" movie list ever created. The movie deserves its kudos-- it is brilliant in nearly all of its facets. But what of the book that was its genesis?

Written in 1969, The Godfather is a very good book, but it is most definitely not a great book. Puzo, at his best, captures the Sicilian and Mafioso lifestyles and mindsets extremely well, and there are many aspects of the book that provide additional content and context to the movie. Unfortunately, there is also a fair amount of extra, often comparatively dull, material in the book.

While the majority of the book follows the plot line most of us are familiar with from the movie, roughly a quarter of the book deals with events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. There, we follow the career of singer turned actor Johnny Fontaine, and also of Lucy Mancini, bridesmaid to Connie Corleone. Only briefly touched upon in the movie, these portions of the book often drag, and the characters frequently come across as more two-dimensional and stereotyped. Part of the difficulty with these parts may actually be that there is no film equivalent for them-- you can't picture Marlon Brando or Al Pacino saying the words.

A nice "extra" for the book is that it spends a little bit more time with Michael Corleone during his time in Sicily and provides more detail and back story to his whirlwind romance and wedding there. Additionally, the story of how Vito and the family finally manage to bring Michael home from Sicily safely is also intriguing and much more clearly defined in the book. And we spend a little more time with Kay and with Mama Corleone.

Overall, however, the book too often spends time on minor and even irrelevant topics, losing some of the pace and muscle of the movie. So, a qualified Rave for the textual version of The Godfather. It is certainly well-written and worth reading, both on its own merits and because it will help "fill in" some of the details that the film brushes past, but it is also most definitely the exception to the rule. The movie surpasses the novel in nearly all respects.

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