Monday's Book; The Godfather Book by Peter Cowie Faber & Faber, pounds 14.99

Around two-thirds of this book is a worthy celebration of two of the greatest achievements of American cinema. The immaculately polished, near-sepia images of Coppola's first two Godfather films pursued the themes of corruption, family and betrayal with operatic grandeur. Cowie has dug out a wealth of fascinating detail about the making of these dark masterpieces.

At first, the Mafia cut up rough when it caught word of the project. Robert Evans, the studio head, received an unambiguous warning: "Get out of fuckin' town, or your kid won't be alive."

But the Italian-American Civil Rights League was won over when bit-parts were offered to the more photogenic members. Similarly, Frank Sinatra "threatened to break Puzo's legs" when they met in a restaurant (John Wayne offered assistance) during the filming of The Godfather - but was keen to appear in Godfather III.

The ultimate blessing came from "Teflon Don" John Gotti. He modelled his own daughter's marriage on the opening wedding scene in The Godfather, with 1,000 guests and Connie Francis singing love songs as Al Martino did in the film.

Despite its impeccable sheen, the first film in the trilogy was made on a shoestring. Curiously, the best-paid actor was Richard Castellano who received $50,000 for playing Clemenza, the pudgy Corleone lieutenant. Brando accepted a percentage, which he prematurely sold back to the studio, so losing an estimated $11m. We learn that the rows of plum tomatoes, where Vito Corleone suffers his fatal heart-attack, blew down in a storm on Staten Island. To his agent's disgust, Brando did not demand to be paid for the five-week delay while the plants re-grew. Cowie also reveals the secret of why the infamous horse's head appeared so gorily realistic in the film when an uncooperative Hollywood magnate found it in his bed. Because a stuffed head looked false, a real one was obtained from a local slaughterhouse.

Cowie's monumental tribute comes unstuck when he devotes a disproportionate amount of space to the disappointing final film in the trilogy. Though he quotes the legendary New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael on the first two films, her lukewarm critique of Godfather III is not mentioned. In fact, she said: "Lightning didn't strike three times; the movie is lumbering." It is unfortunate for Cowie that Coppola's twin tours de force became a flawed trilogy.

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