Most of the time, yes. But there are those exceptions to the rule where a movie can be better than the source material.
Such is the case with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. The overall plot of the novel is similar to the classic, epic movie. I’ll even admit that reading the novel helped clarify the identity and role of certain minor characters with the Corleone organization. But this is still one of those cases where the screen version comes out as vastly superior to the original printed version.
I’d even argue that if not for the screen version, The Godfather might have gone out of print a long time ago.
If you’ve seen the first two movies, you pretty much know what to expect here. (And if you haven’t seen the first two movies, you really should cross them off your “movie bucket list” ASAP!) What fascinates me most is that Puzo helped craft the screenplay for the films and looking at what he included for the screen and what he left on the “cutting room floor.” The novel develops some of the minor characters in the movies a bit more, from Johnny Fontaine to the woman Sonny is seen having an afternoon interlude with at his sister’s wedding. Looking at the path Puzo puts Fontaine and Lucy (Sonny’s mistress) on, I can see what Hollywood decided to only pay them lip-service on the silver screen.
In the case of Fontaine, it’s the story of the rise, fall and rise again of his star in Hollywood and the impact it has on his personal life. It’s interesting but no where nearly as compelling as the story of what’s happening in the mafia power struggle taking place in and around the Corleone family. As for Sonny and his mistress, this plotline shows that it’s not only science-fiction authors who can struggle to craft a sex scene on the printed page. Turns out that Sonny is particularly well-endowed and that Lucy has an itch only Sonny can scratch. Later, after his death, she’s “cured” by a doctor using cosmetic surgery.
The novel also explores a bit more about Michael’s girlfriend, Kay. There are some minor differences in the novel and the movie with Puzo giving us a bit more time to see Kay’s family’s objections to her romance with and marriage to Michael. We also leave her in a slightly different place than the movie does.
Puzo’s novel is the basis for what is considered one of the best movies ever made. If you’re curious about the source material for the movie (and parts of the sequel), this one is worth reading. And while it’s not Forrest Gump or Planet of the Apes where the movie only borrows a few nuggets from the source material and gives you a vastly superior final product, this is one of those cases where the movies are simply better.