There’s an over-the-air free channel, Movies!, that has a Noir Sunday in which they play a couple Noirs starting at 5 pm Pacific Time. Last night they ran 1968’s The Brotherhood. This is the film that they said almost caused The Godfather not to be made. It was quickly forgotten and pulled from the theaters.
Look at that graphic from the IMDB page and it may be no wonder why. From the reviews I’ve read, Kirk Douglas is given praise for playing the mafia man, Frank Ginetta. I’m a big Kirk Douglas fan, but if this film flopped it could be because he’s just not right for the part. Consider the wonderful, dangerous, and vicious Doc Holliday he plays in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. That’s a somewhat nuanced character.
But the Frank Ginetta character is anything but nuanced. It’s just Douglas acting as if he had just drank 4 cups of coffee. Everything is shouted and rushed. Nor does he in the least look like an Italian. It just doesn’t work.
It doesn’t help that his Michael Corleone is not Al Pacino. His son is played by Alex Cord-of-wood. No, he’s not that bad. But it just goes to show what The Godfather (which came soon after in 1972) got right: the characters, for otherwise there is heavy resemblance between the two regarding the overall plot.
Worst of all (and a big spoiler here, so you’ve been warned) is that the ending is not set up. Here’s a guy (Douglas) who can kill with a detached viciousness and who has a powerful sense of doing things his way. But at the very end he basically offers himself up to his younger brother for an assassination. No struggle. No soul-searching. No drama. Just like putting down a horse. It’s pretty awful. And I’ve never been in the mafia, but would anyone trust a younger brother who kills his own brother? Yet the younger brother’s bosses gave him this mission. I suppose one can then wonder what happened to him.
This is what The Godfather would have looked like without the great screenplay by Puzo and Coppola, as well as the superb cast of talent. I think they went wrong when they tried to build this film around Douglas. Once that decision was made, it never was going to really work.
Still, it’s not all that bad. It’s not a horrible movie by any means. I’m glad I watched it. But it makes you appreciate the much better Godfather movies.
Here's a good quote from an IMDB reviewer:
A famous failure when it premiered, The Brotherhood is a prime example of how badly made gangster films were before Coppola's The Godfather. Populated by actors who are Jewish, Greek, Mexican--and whatever Murray Hamilton is, The Brotherhood has no feel for Italian culture, New York City (where it's primarily set) or how modern gangs are structured and operate.