While not a direct sequel to The Godfather, Mario Puzo’s 1984 novel The Sicilian is something of a spin-off. Set during Michael Corleone’s time in Sicily, The Sicilian details Michael’s efforts to ferry notorious bandit Salvatore Guiliano out of Italy to America. (In video game terminology, this is known as a “side mission.”) The novel incorporates the real-life Giuliano (Puzo changed the spelling for the novel) — a strong supporter of Sicilian independence and somewhat of a
“Robin Hood” figure in his day — into the Corleone mythos. In 1987, Michael Cimino adapted the novel into a movie starring Christopher Lambert (yes, from The Highlander ) and Terence Stamp, but for legal reasons, Michael Corleone — and all references to his family — were cut. Still, should we consider Cimino’s film a lost part of Godfather lore?
Well, probably not. For one, it’s pretty terrible, lacking even the
breathtaking visuals of the filmmaker’s other notorious flop, Heaven’s Gate . The New York Times‘ Vincent Canby dubbed The Sicilian
“a mess,” and Roger Ebert complained that Cimino’s directing style is
so murky, “You can hardly see [the movie].” Cimino once again waged war
with the studio over final cut, losing out when a shorter (though no
less impenetrable) version was released. His longer cut, released
overseas and featuring an additional 31 minutes, has managed to find a
following amongst hardcore Puzo fans. Even so, The Sicilian
seems more a case of creative missteps than mere studio meddling. And
with the Corleone family stripped from the film, it’s just another in
the long line of sub-par gangster flicks released in the wake of The Godfather.
By all accounts, The Sicilian should
have worked. It had a director with a taste for the epic, a revered
novelist involved in the screenplay (Gore Vidal, who unsuccessfully
lobbied for credit) and a great performance from John Turturro. But the
central casting is a huge problem — Lambert can swing a sword with the
best of them, but he simply can’t carry the weight of this movie. That
said, The Sicilian is aching for a redo; Giuliano’s life is
ripe for the big screen, with or without Michael Corleone’s
involvement. For now, though, Puzo completists may want to seek out the
extended cut of The Sicilian on DVD. Can it be any more of a letdown than The Godfather: Part III ?