Earlier this month I wrote about film titles which are displayed above cinemas in movies, in scenes set in the past. The sight of “Spartacus” in the recent Oscar winner “Bridge of Spies” places the action in the early 1960s. Similarly, cinemas showing “The Godfather” (in “Field of Dreams”) and “The Poseidon Adventure” (in “Milk”) both place specific scenes around 1972. Another one has come to mind, from “The Godfather” itself.
In the scene immediately after Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) has been shot, we see that “The Bells of St Mary’s” is playing at the cinema. Michael (Al Pacino) and Kay (Diane Keaton) are walking along the street, having seen the movie, and that’s what they are discussing when Kay sees a newspaper headline about the shooting.
“The Bells of St Mary’s” was produced in 1945, the follow-up to “Going My Way”, the big Oscar winner for 1944 (which won Best Picture, Best Director for Leo McCarey and Best Actor for Bing Crosby, among other awards). Like its predecessor it features Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley and this time he’s joined by Ingrid Bergman as a nun, Sister Mary Benedict. That’s why Kay asks, “Would you like me better if I were a nun? Like in the story.” Michael says, “No” and Kay asks, “What if I were Ingrid Bergman?” He says, “Now that’s a thought.” She sounds shocked and says, “Michael”, so he continues, “No, I wouldn’t like you better if you were Ingrid Bergman. What’s the matter?” She has seen the newspaper headline about Don Corleone being shot, he buys a paper, then makes a call to his family. (And he closes the glass door of the phone booth on Kay.)
This isn’t quite the same as my three other examples. In “Bridge of Spies”, “Field of Dreams” and “Milk” the movie title simply appears somewhere in the scene and tells us, within a year or two, when the scene is set. In “The Godfather” the characters have actually seen the movie in question and are discussing it, and it tells us that we’re looking at 1945 or 1946.