A 16-year wait is nearing its end as one of Hollywood's most impatiently anticipated sequels moves toward final cut and a winter release.
It has not been an easy route to "The Godfather Part III." The docketed Christmas release will climax years of false beginnings, immeasurable production problems, a stretched shooting schedule and overruns on a budget that was steep to begin with at $44 million.
Paramount Pictures' latest chapter in the Corleone family saga brings Don Michael's organized crime odyssey to nearly the end of this century.
Coppola, who directed the first two parts -- both best-picture champs at the Oscars -- and recut the works into a "Godfather Epic" edition for video, remains at the helm. Al Pacino returns as a graying Don Michael Corleone, the reluctant but genetically predisposed heir to Don Vito's vast empire of crime. Also returning are Diane Keaton, as Michael's estranged wife, Kay; and Talia Shire as his resentful sister, Connie.
Newcomers include Andy Garcia (who graduated to starring roles early this year with "Internal Affairs") as the out-of-wedlock son of Michael's slain brother, Sonny (played by James Caan in 1972's "The Godfather"); Franc d'Ambrosio and the director's daughter, Sofia Coppola, as Michael and Kay's children; Joe Mantegna and Eli Wallach as boss mobsters; George Hamilton as a lawyer representing the Corleone clan; and John Savage as the cleric son of Tom Hagen, Robert Duvall's character in the original "Godfather" and its 1974 sequel.
"Part III" has Michael moving the family business out of illegal areas and into corporate takeovers, broadcasting and international finance. He hopes his son, Anthony, will follow through by guiding the Corleone interests into thoroughly legitimate businesses. But Anthony, a newly minted law school graduate, has ambitions to find a career in opera.
It is Michael's daughter, Mary, who displays the real ability at wheeling and dealing. But the aging don's associates are disinclined to let him leave behind the old ways of doing business.
When sister Connie meets up with her nephew Vincent Mancini (Garcia) -- a street hoodlum employed by the gang that has taken over the Corleones' old turf -- she perceives a glimmer of her late father's ruthlessness. Connie lobbies to get Michael to accept Vincent.
There is more. Michael wants to go into business with the Vatican. The possibility of his reconciliation with Kay is raised. Vincent has an affair with a reporter (Bridget Fonda). Mary's affections for her newfound cousin seem not entirely familial.
And a great many people get killed.
Advance footage makes "The Godfather Part III" look like the masterfilm it should be.
Attempts to get the third "Godfather" into development have ranged from the desperate to the outlandish. Several sequel scripts were written. During 1981-'82, Sylvester Stallone was offered a writer/director/star deal that did not pan out. Finally, Paramount made Coppola an irresistible offer.
At times during "Part III's" development, the studio probably wished it hadn't gone with Coppola.
Granted carte blanche, Coppola indulged his free-spending tendencies throughout. His script, co-written with source-author Mario Puzo, changed practically daily. Duvall, annoyed that his offer did not match salaries granted Pacino and Keaton, backed out on returning to the Tom Hagen role.
Then Pacino and Keaton, who were living together, experienced home-front difficulties that threatened the working relationship. Winona Ryder suffered a nervous collapse just as she was to begin playing Mary Corleone; several actresses, including "sex, lies, and videotape's" Laura San Giacomo, were considered as replacements, but Coppola insisted on casting his little-experienced daughter Sofia.