Why no amount of tinkering will make me want to see new Godfather film - Anthony Clavane

Here is an offer I can easily refuse. A chance to see The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which is out this weekend.

Anthony Clavane says 1972 film The Godfather, starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino (pictured) and James Caan, remains his favourite film. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

As Christmas films go it’s hardly on a par with It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone or the incomparable White Christmas.

In fact, I’d much rather be dragged along to see Love Actually than the final instalment of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy.

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This is the season of good cheer. Of chestnut-roasting, present-opening and family fun. Not dope-dealing, mafia violence and an unseemly fling between a brother and sister.

Call me old-fashioned but, especially after the year we’ve all just had, I’d rather watch another bland, feelgood movie about a lovable elf than another bloodthirsty gangster epic.

How do I know that the new Godfather film is not worth seeing? Well, I first saw it almost 30 years ago. In fact, it was the first film I ever reviewed for a newspaper. Bizarrely, it was released, in its original version, on Christmas Day, 1990. No wonder it was deemed to be a disaster.

The real reason it bombed back then is not because it was a feel-bad movie about Vatican conspiracies, brutal mobsters and political corruption. It bombed because it paled in comparison to its predecessors, the truly magnificent The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II.

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I can still remember the terrible disappointment I felt as I left the cinema. I was expecting another masterpiece, not a bombastic, confusing, badly-acted picture which had been shot on a breakneck deadline.

I revered Coppola as a director. I still do. The 1970s were his decade. The 1972 masterpiece, starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and James Caan, remains my favourite film – ever. The sequel, two years later, is also a cinematic tour de force.

The re-release of The Godfather: Part III has resurrected that old debate. Which is the better film, the 1972 or 1974 one?

This has been one of the three big, burning cultural questions I have been grappling with all week. The other two? Should The Crown, as the Culture Secretary demands, be labelled fiction – and are Scotch eggs meals or snacks?

My love for the first two Godfathers knows no bounds. At one point I became a Godfather obsessive.

I still enjoy watching reunions of the cast on YouTube, revisiting the extras on my DVD set and listening to stories about Brando’s legendary on-set improvisations.

My obsession has even survived an endorsement by Boris Johnson, who last year praised them in the Daily Mail, declaring his favourite scene to be “the multiple retribution killings at the end”.

Coppola was none too pleased about the Prime Minister’s approval. He admitted to a degree of embarrassment that his magnum opus seemed “to be the favourite film of modern history’s most brutal figures, including Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi (and) someone I see is about to bring the beloved United Kingdom to ruin”.

I would argue that one of the greatest filmmakers of all time came close to bringing the beloved Godfather legacy to ruin when he decided to make a “threequel”. And Pacino came close to undermining his previously superlative performances as Michael Corleone, one of cinema’s most terrifying figures.

Al’s over-the-top rendering of the ageing don sheds all the nuance and complexity of his 1970s version of Michael.

And the casting of the director’s then-teenage daughter Sofia – although she has since gone on to become a rather brilliant director – was a big mistake and had the whiff of nepotism.

Apparently, some scenes have been re-ordered, re-edited and tweaked in this new, slightly shorter version. The ending has been changed.

And it’s no longer called The Godfather: Part III; an attempt perhaps to erase the terrible reputation it has developed over the past three decades.

“Just when I thought I was out,” Pacino famously growls in the movie, “they pull me back in.” But no amount of tinkering will pull me back in.

I’d rather dip, once again, into one of my many books about the making of the first Godfather.

Did you know, by the way, that Brando stuffed cotton balls in his mouth to create the appearance of a bulldog jaw?

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