Twenty-four years ago, I was having my first Christmas alone, after having been with the same gal for nearly six years. And even though it had been me who initiated the breakup… Well, it still stinks to be alone, on the holidays. (She was a perfectly lovely woman, incidentally. We loved each other, but just couldn’t seem to get along…)
Godfather III was opening that Christmas, and even though I had already read the screenplay, and knew that barring an amazing fete of filmmaking legerdemain, the sequel was not exactly going to be a successful return to Corleone-land…
I, like many others, was still excited to see the movie.
Or at least curious!
It was, after all going to be Al Pacino, and Diane Keaton, and Talia Shire and all those Godfather actors who seemingly hadn’t been seen in years, and the music, and Francis Ford Coppola’s potential for celluloid elegance, and intrigue…
And a script co-written by Mario Puzo. A script, by the way, that was far superior to the finished film.
Tom Hagen, the mafia consigliere, portrayed by Robert Duvall, carried the entire weight of the film’s driving plotline–the mystery behind the mystery, so to speak, of the main action. But when Coppola refused to meet Duvall’s legitimate request for a salary bump–nothing greedy, just a salary equal to his career standing, and contribution to his films:
All of the Hagen sequences were virtually thrown out.
When Michael Corleone says, “We’re back in the days of the Borgias!”, it no longer particularly makes sense, or at least not as much sense, as it would have made, had the missing sequences of the film been there…
(The lost plot line? Hagen discovers that a rival Mafia family has duplicated counterfeit stock certificates of major corporations worth billions of dollars. (The concept had the additional benefit of being a brilliant theory as to why America, once so strong economically, faced such financial crises, by 1979.) Whatever one thinks of Puzo as a writer– and I believe he was a terrific makes-you-turn-the-page storyteller–it is undeniable that he could often come up with sensational “maguffins.”
(The film was also going to open with a far superior family celebration sequence in Las Vegas, at the time of a major prize fight, and Tom Hagen’s retirement party, in which Hagen is given the Don’s original desk, from his Long Beach home, as a present.)
The screenplay’s romance with the cousins was always problematic, and there were other flaws, but the debut of Godfather III beckoned.
There was an 11:30 screening at the Valley Stream Multiplex, a Long Island, New York suburban theatre on the edge of an urban area, one that had had some criminal and other problems in recent years, right beyond the western end of the Green Acres shopping mall…
I had actually sworn off the movie house, after seeing Dick Tracy there, and a little kid kept rolling up and down the aisle, without nary a discouraging word from his mother…
But on Christmas night, I thought: who would be there, but fellow Jewish people anxious to see the movie, and Italian folk, who had had their fill of Christmas merriment, and were also anxious to see the first Godfather movie in sixteen years…?
Some time that night, for reasons I’m still not quite sure of, I got busy in my basement, organizing a comic book collection I had promised to help sell for a friend. (As some of you know, back in that era, I had a sideline, vending at some of the conventions around the country.)
And, when one is looking through comics, as all of you know, time can stand still, as you pause to admire a cover you’ve never seen, and begin flipping through the pages of a story as yet unread.
Heroes that one has know for most of your life, can be the most wonderful of companions.
And good artwork, and notions, can almost always transcend the particulars of your locale, and mood.
Before I knew it, it was too late to go to the movies.
I wound up pulling an all-nighter, probably also doing some writing. Upstairs, I had turned on the TV, and was surprised when the local NBC news appeared at 4 in the morning; they apparently had begun an experiment with a very early morning broadcast.
And I was even more surprised, stunned, in fact, to see Magee Hickey, to this day a TV news reporter, STANDING IN FRONT OF the Sunrise Multiplex.
At the 11:30 showing, gunfire had broken out. Audience members were shot, there was a death, in what turned out to be, apparently, a dispute between gangs.
It was horrifying, of course. But also personally upsetting, because I had come as close to going to the screening as was possible, without actually going…
It got worse when the newspaper accounts, a couple of days later, specified that the people who were shot were in the middle of the theatre, where I always sit.
Oddly, it was my ex who later that week relieved me of my morbid revelry. She had read that for a half hour before the incident, the youths had been yelling back and forth at each other, something which– annoyed at having a film disturbed– would have made me leave the theatre, as we had done in fact, earlier at Lethal Weapon…
But it was still too close…
And I was thankful that comic books, or rather my love of them, may have saved my life.
And probably not for the first time!