July 17, 2014

Forgotten First Wife Syndrome

As many of you know, I love movies, especially old ones.  The first two movies in The Godfather trilogy are pretty close to perfection, in my opinion.  The Godfather Part III wasn't a bad movie, but to me and many others, it's not anywhere near the almost flawless first two, although I still find the final scene (the death of Michael Corleone) haunting.

Last week I watched a documentary about the making of the three films in the series, and as always, I'm blown away by the subtly masterful reactions of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, and of Al Pacino's metamorphosis from personable World War II hero to the ruthless, trust-no-one head of the criminal organization founded by his father (played, of course, by Marlon Brando).

Sure, there are a few continuity errors in part I (Vito asking Michael if he was happy with his "wife and children," when they only have a son; Tom warning Sonny that "All the Five Families will come after you" when the Corleones are supposed to be one of those Five, and that is definitely not the George Washington Bridge they are crossing when Michael asks Sollozzo if they are going to New Jersey); and part II (Kay slides out of bed on her own in the scene where her and Michael's bedroom is shot up, but by the time Michael reaches her she's back up in bed and he pulls her down to safety; Tessio's declaration that "30,000 men enlisted this morning" when most of the country wouldn't have learned of the morning attack in Hawaii until the afternoon, due to Honolulu time being 3 and 6 hours behind the East and West Coasts (plus recruiting centers had to be manned and opened on a Sunday), but there was one glaring error.  Hint:  It's mentioned in the title of this post.

The murder of Michael's Sicilian wife, Apollonia, in a car bomb meant for Michael, was never avenged, at least not in the theatrical release.  Anyone who saw the combination of the first two Godfather movies, marketed under the subtitle A Complete Novel for Television, will probably remember a scene inserted during Anthony Corleone's splashy first communion celebration (during which Michael took meetings) in which he was given a photograph of Fabrizio, his former bodyguard who betrayed him to one of the rival crime families.  It was intimated that Michael had been searching for Fabrizio for years before finally finding him in Buffalo, of all places (no wonder it took so long to find him; they were probably searching the Sunbelt).  In the next scene Fabrizio is shown locking up his pizza parlor and getting into his car, which blows up the moment it starts.  

At 3 hours 20 minutes, The Godfather Part II ran about 30 minutes longer than the first movie, and this was one of the scenes cut before theatrical release, but unlike some of the other cut scenes (like Michael giving his blessing to his late brother Sonny's daughter and her fianc√©), I believe this scene was necessary.  Eliminating it put a hole in the story, but I'm not surprised that the producers decided to cut it.

In movies, and in books as well, deceased first wives (and husbands) are usually forgotten. In The Godfather, Michael's first marriage occurred after he had to leave the country without any word to Kay, his first, "true" love, with whom he later reunites and marries, with the dead wife relegated to a distant memory who isn't seen or mentioned again until Michael's life flashes before him as he dies in The Godfather Part III. That bomb turning Apollonia into a rag doll is all the more horrible because she was in the first trimester of pregnancy (a detail only mentioned in the book, not in the movie), yet it appears that Michael never even told Kay, his original love who he later married, about her. Yes, by the time Michael and Kay married, Michael was well on his way to shutting himself off, so there were quite a few things Kay didn't know, but shucks, a first wife is a pretty important detail. The feeling I got was that Michael wasn't just looking for some booty but genuinely loved Apollonia. Had she lived, Kay would have either married someone else or become a spinster. But Apollonia didn't live, and the producers most likely figured it wasn't important that anyone be made accountable for her murder, even when payback was sought for every other family victim, whether they survived or not.

This type of thing drives me nuts, as does its reverse, also often-used subplot in movies and books: The second spouse who is conveniently killed off (sometimes even sacrificing themselves or after saving the lives of the spouse and stepkids) so the formerly married husband and wife can rekindle their love for each other...which they usually do while the body is still at room temperature.

Do you have an opinion about this type of storytelling? Does it bother you, or have you not noticed it?

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