The Godfather, Part III: Pacino’s Brick-Red Cardigan
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, repentant mob boss and World War II veteran
New York City, Fall 1979
Film: The Godfather Part III
Release Date: December 25, 1990
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Costume Designer: Milena Canonero
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in.
Sixteen years after its masterpiece sequel told the parallel stories of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his father Vito (Robert De Niro) building their crime families, Francis Ford Coppola returned to the Corleone clan with the polarizing coda, The Godfather, Part III.
Set twenty years after we saw him brutally consolidating his power, a maturing Michael has been gradually attempting to make good on his initial promise to Kay (Diane Keaton) by distancing the family business from its criminal roots, donating many of his ill-gotten millions to charity and even receiving papal honors for his contributions to the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, his business and his family are too deeply woven into the world of La Cosa Nostra for Michael’s hands to ever be clean. His family’s relationship with the smooth but volatile gangster Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) results in a machine-gun massacre in Atlantic City that kills nearly every Mafia boss on the infamous Commission, with Michael, his long-time bodyguard Al Neri (Richard Bright), and his hotheaded nephew Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) only narrowly escaping with their lives.
Debriefing back in New York, Michael deduces that “our true enemy has not yet shown his face,” as he ponders his next move against Zasa and Michael’s ally-turned-enemy Don Altobello (Eli Wallach). His anger toward these men and the stress of being pulled back into the violence of organized crime spirals him into a diabetic stroke.
Better received at the time than its contemporary reputation may suggest, The Godfather, Part III was nominated for seven Academy Awards—though winning none. Part III was the first of the Godfather saga not to win Best Picture and the first time Pacino wasn’t nominated as Michael Corleone, though Garcia received impressive notices and an Oscar nod for his performance as Vincent Mancini.
What’d He Wear?
Essentially an elder statesman of the Mafia by the events of The Godfather, Part III, Michael Corleone no longer dresses in his proto-preppy Ivy sport jackets, OCBDs, and striped ties, nor is he exuding the flash of the silky suits he favored as a 1950s mob boss.
True, he maintains a wardrobe of sharp—but subdued—double-breasted and three-piece suits, but Michael often dresses down in comfortable cardigans, particularly in moments when there’s no one to impress. Though Pacino was only 49 years old during Part III‘s production, the combination of his hair and makeup as well as the baggy and somewhat unfashionable “old man” cardigan help to age the increasingly ill Michael Corleone at least a decade.
Following the bloodshed in Atlantic City, Michael knows he’s being pulled back in to the life his father never wanted for him. Strategizing in his kitchen with his sister, his nephew, and the ever-loyal Al Neri, it’s only Michael’s attitude that differentiates him from any typical older man spending a quiet night at home in front of the TV. His top layer is a brick-red ribbed wool cardigan with set-in sleeves, welted lower pockets, and four brown woven leather buttons up the front.
Under his cardigan, Michael is dressed for business in a white cotton shirt with a point collar and front placket, though unbuttoned at the neck and worn with his low-contrast burgundy, navy, and black paisley silk tie loosened.
At least one of Pacino’s screen-worn shirts, a brown cotton shirt featured in the Sicilian-set sequences, was made by the Roman shirtmaker Santine (as featured at The Golden Closet), though I’m not sure if they made any or all of his other shirts.
Michael wears plain dark gray worsted wool flat front trousers, finished on the bottoms with turn-ups (cuffs) that fully break over the tops of his black leather cap-toe oxfords.
Completing the image of an older retiree shouting at his TV, Michael keeps a pair of tortoise-framed rectangular reading glasses on a cord around his neck. The only vestige of sartorial flash from his gangland days is the gold signet ring flashing from his right pinky.
Silvio’s Tribute on The Sopranos
On The Sopranos, Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) was often praised by his fellow gangsters in the DeMeo crew for what they consider to be his peerless imitation of Al Pacino, particularly in this final entry to the Godfather saga. Sil’s, er, “talent” for the impersonation becomes so significant over the course of the series that he even appears to Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) “in character” as Michael Corleone during the fever dream driving the plot of the sublime second-season finale, “Funhouse”.
Even for what could be considered a throwaway gag, The Sopranos‘ costume designer Juliet Polcsa was thoughtful in dressing Van Zandt for Sil’s tribute to Pacino, dressed in a burgundy woolen cardigan with a similar shoulder structure, brown buttons, and two lower pockets. It’s not an exact mimicry, nor is it supposed to be; our dreams rarely reflect the “reality” of a situation.
How to Get the Look
“Pulled back in” by the increasing cold of autumn? Michael Corleone shows us how to layer with subdued professionalism in an earthy cardigan, white shirt, and tie, whether your Monday meeting is with mid-level managers via Zoom or consulting with gangsters in your kitchen. If you want to look less like an aging mobster on the brink of a stroke, you could—and should—consider a more flattering fit.
- Brick-red ribbed-knit wool four-button cardigan sweater with welted pockets
- White cotton shirt with point collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Burgundy, navy, and black paisley silk tie
- Dark gray worsted wool flat front trousers with turn-ups/cuffs
- Black calf leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Tortoise rectangular-framed reading glasses on tan neck-cord
- Gold signet pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the series and find Coppola’s recut The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!
Can you make a bamstyle for Al Lettieri as Virgil Sollozzo in The Godfather part I?
Older Michael’s attire, from sober business suits to comfortable off duty clothing, is just another way Vito’s legacy lives on, since in the Godfather, family and crime are inextricably linked, you can not get rid of one without the other.
They can’t pull you back in if you never left.
I think you missed the symbolism of Michael being swathed in blood-red. Clearly he feels the weight of guilt over all the bloodshed for which he is responsible, in particular that of his brother Fredo in Godfather, Part II…