#3 “The Godfather”
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
Stars: Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Al Pacino
Original Release Date: 24 March 1972
Oscars: 3 (Picture, Actor – Marlon Brando, Adapted Screenplay), 8 other nominations
Poster from the original release of the film in 1972
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Berardinelli: 4.0 , #6 on his top 100
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0, #1 movie of 1972, Top 10 of the 70s
IMDB Top 250: #2
(Amongst IMDB users, the #1 ranked film flips between this and Shawhank)
There are several strokes of genius in Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar Winning “The Godfather”. Note how it creates a sympathetic character from the great Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). The Don is a career criminal who has built a vast empire by way or murder, extortion and racketeering, yet the film portrays him as a businessman. We never see the effects of crime on the streets or on ordinary lives. This movie is told from within a closed world.
In a sense, The Godfather is a voyeuristic delight, a film that takes you deep inside a world we don’t see and shows us to it on its own terms. Almost all the characters are criminals, the only main role from a cop is crooked and the wives have all learned to turn a blind eye and not question.
The Godfather took the time to be a period piece. Released in 1972, its takes place just after World War II, in a world of big black cars and wide brimmed hats. If you tried to remake this movie now into a world of text messages and modern technology, it simply would not work.
The story is simple and is almost a fable, like a story of a King and his three sons. While the movie moves from story to story, Hollywood, the drug trade, the attempted murder of Vito, Michael in Sicily, the larger story arch of the movie involves the transference of the sweeping criminal empire down a generation. Which son will it be? Santino, the violent, hot-headed capo regime who cannot keep his emotions in control. Fredo, the soft hearted, slightly dim witted middle son who loves his father but does not seem to have the stomach for the business? Or Michael, the cool, detached youngest son who in the beginning shows no interest in The Family Business.
Inside this world, there is only one rule; “Don’t ever takes sides against the family”. This is spoken with icy foreshadowing from Michael to his brother. The Corleone family will do whatever it takes to exert its will and loyalty is its most valued commodity. To be in the Don’s debt means you will be called upon, as the undertaker Amerigo Bonisera finds out after pleading for vengeance in the first scene.
The Corleone’s are at the heart of it a large, close-knit Sicilian family and as such, many of the scene of this movie take place with food. Chinese food boxes, large dinners, cooking pasta for a group of button men, the wedding feasts – all part of the large role that not just food, but the breaking of bread together plays in the Italian family. No matter what happens, you must eat. There are in fact over 60 scene involving food or drink. Even when Solozzo kidnaps Tom Hagen, he offers him a drink. It is after all, only polite.
The cinematography by Gordon Willis is brilliant. In the early shots, he uses a great deal of darkness and wash to give the movie its old feel. There is very little of the movie that takes place in daylight. Most of the shots are point of view, with very little showing aerial.
But what makes the movie legendary is the unlikely cast. Brando’s role is arguable the most imitated and quoted character in movie history. The supporting cast of Caan, Duvall and Pacino represent an A-list at the time that proved perfect. And the lesser roles, like Fredo, Tessio, fearsome hit man Luca Brasi – all perfect.
From its opening scene at Connie’s wedding to the gripping, blood curdling climax where Michael becomes The Godfather in the literal and figurative sense, there is not a dull frame or a flat scene in this 172 minute masterpiece. If you have not seen it, I envy the experience you are about to have.
Clemenza: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”
This is my single favourite line of any film. Like many of the great pieces of movie dialogue, “take the cannoli” was improvised.
And like many great pieces if dialogue its the subtext that makes it great. A fearsome Sicilian hit man is not worried about the dead body he leaves behind. But God help him if he comes home without the cannoli.
Al Pacino boycotted the Oscars because he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, despite having more screen time than Brando who was nominated, won and refused the award for Best Actor.
The cat in the opening scene was a stray found by Marlon Brando.
George Lucas assembled the “Mattress Sequence” of spinning headlines and scenes of the gang war.
One of the earliest used of the phrase “bada-bing” by Sonny. James Caan had earlier heard the term used by real life gangster Carmine Persico, with whom Caan was acquainted. Persico is now serving a life sentence for racketeering.
Director Francis Ford Coppola did his own screen tests at his home in Northern California with Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton. The studio insisted however on full screen tests. Coppola later said that for $400,000 the studio got the cast that he had for four sandwiches and some wine.