In 1972, two films were released: The Godfather and Every Little Crook & Nanny. Both films came from books by Italian American authors from New York. Even though they had much different viewpoints about their subject matter, both focused on the Mafia. Both featured one of the final performances of an Italian American leading man who worked at Twentieth Century Fox in the 1940’s. Fred Roos also cast both films.
The Godfather saga chronicles the Corleone crime family. Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) leads the family, followed by his son, Michael (Al Pacino).
Author Mario Puzo based Don Corleone on his mother, a woman he had tremendous respect for. Puzo had previously written a more personal book called The Fortunate Pilgrim (1965) about her. That novel would become a mini-series starring Sophia Loren in 1988. However, it did not become a commercial success at the time of its release.
According to Puzo, he wrote The Godfather in 1969 because he needed the money to support his wife and five children and pay off various debts. Puzo said it was time to “grow up and sell out.” It became the book that would define his career.
Early on the process, Paramount Executive Robert Evans decided to make The Godfather with a real Italian cast and crew. This would give the film an authenticity that few other mob movies had.
Every Little Crook & Nanny
Readers knew Salvatore Lombino by many names. The two most common were Ed McBain and the name he legally adopted in 1952, Evan Hunter. During his career, Hunter wrote everything from children’s books to crime novels to screenplays. His novels were adapted into films by the likes of Richard Brooks (Blackboard Jungle (1955)), Akira Kurosawa (High and Low (1963), adapted from the Ed McBain novel King’s Ransom (1959)), and Frank Perry (Last Summer (1969)).
In 1972, MGM released Every Little Crook & Nanny, based on Hunter’s novel. His previous novel, King’s Ransom, told the serious version of a child kidnapping story.
The film focuses on Carmine Ganucci (Victor Mature), a Mafia boss who decides to evict a British music and dance teacher (Lynn Redgrave) from her school. His two lawyers (Dom DeLuise and John Astin) presented this solution to him. When she goes to complain to him personally, he hires her as a nanny to his son (Phillip Graves) because he likes her accent and thinks she will give her son “class.” Using this new employment as an opportunity, Nanny decides to kidnap the child and ransom him for $50,000. From there, the story grows more complicated.
Director Cy Howard co-wrote a draft of the script with Jonathan Axelrod (son of George Axelrod). Howard began his career writing movies for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin before creating a name for himself in television. Howard would return to the big screen in 1970, writing and directing the slice of life comedy Lovers and Other Strangers. It would earn Godfather cast member Richard S. Castellano an Academy Award nomination.
Robert Klane also received a writing credit on Nanny. An author of dark comedy novels, Klane became known on the big screen for Where’s Poppa? (1970). He would late become known for the Weekend at Bernie’s series. In particular, the henpecked piano teacher played Austin Pendleton seems like a creation of Robert Klane.
Victor Mature and Richard Conte
Victor Mature began his career as a matinee idol at Hal Roach Studios. Seeing his potential, Twentieth Century Fox hired him to play leading man roles. Fox teamed Mature and Conte together for Cry of The City in 1948. When Mature made Every Little Crook & Nanny, he had semi-retired in the 1960’s. Besides After the Fox (1966), this is his largest role in a movie after 1962.
As Carmine Ganucci, Mature delivers a light breezy performance. The film presents the character as a buffoon. Mature and co-star Lynn Redgrave deliver the standout performances of the film.
A man who worked many jobs before becoming a stage actor, Richard Conte began working at 20th Century Fox in 1943. He would remain at the studio until 1950, when he moved to Universal. He would only live another three years after The Godfather’s completion and would mostly appear in Italian films.
Conte stars as Godfather’s primary antagonist, Emilio Barzini. The film primarily sees Barzini from a distance. Oftentimes, Coppola films him from one of the Corleone family member’s POV. He often acts as a distinct menacing presence in the background of the film.
The films differentiate the most in terms of how they present the mafia.
The Godfather presents the characters in an operatic and tragic manner. When Coppola made the film, he saw it as a Shakespearean tragedy. Don Corleone was a king. His three sons represented different parts of his personality. Coppola discusses this in IFC’s documentary A Decade Under the Influence (2003).
Unlike The Godfather, Every Little Crook & Nanny sees the mafia as a bunch of buffoons. It presents Mature’s Carmine Ganucci as a savage who has two lawyers who barely tame him.
Every Little Crook & Nanny also has a much murkier version of what it wants to accomplish. It fluctuates between farce, satire, and dark comedy. If it is a satire, the humor seems cutesy rather than scathing. The poster suggests a farce a la What’s Up, Doc? (1972), but the film is not quite disciplined enough to pull off those manic highs. It sees the mafia as a bunch of buffoons, but does not quite know what to do with them.
Another key difference between the two films comes in how the films use the word “mafia.”
As head of the Colombo crime family, Joseph Colombo Sr. helped create the Italian-American Civil Rights League. Their goals included getting rid of the word “mafia” altogether. When Paramount decided to produce the best-selling novel The Godfather, Colombo and the league tried to have it killed. This included threatening the producers. They finally put their support behind the film after Ruddy scheduled a meeting with them. In the meeting, Colombo stipulated that the word “Mafia” should not appear in the script. It only appeared in the script given to Colombo once.
Every Little Crook & Nanny makes fun of this part of the mafia constantly. Carmine Ganucci pretends to be a “retired soft drink manufacturer.” Characters constantly say the mafia does not exist when they know better. The mafia remains an open secret that everybody knows about, but nobody wants to discuss.
While studios released both movies the same year, they would wind up in wildly different places. The Godfather would go on to become a major success, spawning many sequels and parodies. Every Little Crook & Nanny would not experience a home video release until the Warner Archive released it on DVD in 2015.
As a screenwriter, Evan Hunter wrote two films for Alfred Hitchcock: The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964). Hunter’s uneasiness of including a rape scene in Marnie led him to write two versions of the screenplay. Hitchcock dismissed him after this. Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary The Trouble With Marnie (2000) covers this subject.