The Godfather Saga (1977)

When I first heard about this miniseries re-run of the first two “Godfather” movies, I was so intent on finding it that I would have accepted any format, even a VHS recorded version with commercials because that’s how excited I was at the prospect. In retrospect, my enthusiasm may have been a little overwrought. That isn’t to say that “The Godfather Saga” isn’t excellent, because of course it is: It’s made up of two excellent movies in their own right, along with additional, never-before-seen footage that promises to recontextualize the two movies’ events. Those things are true, but what this four-episode broadcast makes abundantly clear is that some works of art are intended to be digested in their original form: Here, the chronology of the Corleone family (beginning with Don Corleone as a child and ending several decades later with youngest son Al Pacino at the helm of the crime family) is smoothed out to make the whole thing more palatable… but really, the original movies’ back-and-forth chronological structure were designed that way on purpose: In particular, Part Two’s reminiscences of Corleone’s rise from an immigrant child without a country to an underworld deity are made all the more resonant by Robert De Niro’s extraordinary performance, which manages to take Brando’s mannerisms from the first film, replicate them without driving attention to them, and finding the heart and humanity of this character so that we, the audience, can understand him better. But seeing those events presented in the proper chronological order has a tendency to rob the narrative of its momentum: In particular, De Niro’s hit on the local mob boss in his adopted Brooklyn is so striking and suspenseful in the movie, but almost somnambulant here because it’s been robbed of its context. That happens a lot throughout this broadcast, but that being said, there’s no way that anything containing these two movies in one package would ever be anything less than grand cinema, it’s just not as revelatory as it sounds.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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