August 2, 2010

The 'Godfather' That Could Have Been

Sylvester Stallone, while promoting his upcoming action flick The Expendables, shared details about a project he was offered back in the early 80's that's a bit of a jaw-dropper.  The project, amazingly, was The Godfather Part III.   In 1983, Stallone was at the peak of his powers, flush with success from Rocky III and First Blood the year before, he met with the head of Paramount Pictures about his next project with an eye toward directing.   At the time, Paramount was run by Barry Diller aided by Michael Eisner, Jeffery Katzenberg, Dawn Steel and the infamous Don Simpson.   This group was very successful for the studio, but it was an era marked by much more commercial success then critical, so it comes as no surprise that they would take one of their crown jewels, The Godfather series away from it's creator, Francis Ford Coppola, who wasn't interested in making another installment, and try to package it as a star vehicle for Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone recalls the pitch: "The head of Paramount presented me with a poster already printed that had my picture and beneath it Godfather III written, acted and directed by Sylvester Stallone.   Needless to say, if I weren't wearing a hat, my skull would've split in two.  Red-faced, I said to the headman 'This is the worst idea since my conception.'   Instead of being flattered, Stallone was disturbed that the studio would care so little for the legacy that Coppola had created.  "Francis created dual masterpieces and it was egregious insensitivity to pull it away from him for monetary reasons.   Therefore, I took this idea to the sea of mediocrity and plunged it to the bottom."

The studios full plan for the threequel is actually even more blasphemous then merely handing the keys to the franchise to Stallone.   The book 'Stallone!: A Hero's Story: An Unathuroized Biography,' which sounds credible to me because it has an exclamation mark in the title and two colons, so you know it's gonna be super informative, details a studio plan for the film so horrific that it had to be hatched by the late, great Don Simpson.  Simpson, famously, pitched Top Gun to a presopective screenwriter by presenting him with a picture of a man wearing aviator sunglasses in front of a fighter jet then said "That's the movie.  Go write me a script" so you know he's a very creative and has a great eye for detail and quality.  The idea was that Stallone would play the son of Michael Corleone with John Travolta cast as his rival.  Brando, Pacino, DeNiro... then Stallone and Travolta.   I'm sure Joe Piscipo would have been involved too.  Ironically, seven years later Coppola, in need of an influx of cash, gave in to Paramount and agreed to make a third installment and Stallone, who had audtioned for the original film back in '72, was seriously considered for the part of Joey Zasa, the flamboyant and publicity hungry head of the New York operation ultimately played by Joe Mantegna.  Coppola's Godfather III took a lot of heat when it was released; and much of it deservedly, though the film did get nominated for Best Picture.   It appears it could have been much, much worse.    In 1999, the Hollywood Reporter ran a piece about Paramount's plans for The Godfather Part IV which was purported to be directed by Coppola, who immedietly denied the report and was supposed to star Andy Garcia, who also appeared in the third film and Leonardo DiCaprio, possibly playing a young Sonny Corleone in flashbacks; which would mean he would be playing Garcia's father.   The accuracy of the report being disputed by Coppola makes it dubious, and the talk went away when Mario Puzo, the author of the source book and the co-writer of the screenplays for the trilogy died a little over a week after the report was published.  Still, it shows that Paramount might try to milk their prestige film franchise yet again.  I want to see The Situation as Sonny Corleone's son and Tony Danza and Jon Bon Jovi as his associates.  Godfather Part IV in 3D. Obviously Brett Ratner directs.

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