By Dan Skip Allen
When I was a kid back about forty-two years ago, I saw The Godfather for the first time. Of course, on television, it was edited down not to show so much blood, and the cursing was cut out. It wasn't till years later that I saw the unedited version in all its glory. That's when I had a full appreciation of the greatness of The Godfather, as well as its sequel. Now it has turned fifty years old, and it still hasn't lost any of the nostalgia it had for me as a kid. As an adult with many years under my belt, I have a new respect for this Francis Ford Coppola classic.
The Godfather is based on the book by Mario Puzo. It chronicles the lives of the Corleone family, of which Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the patriarch. He has garnered a lot of respect from his constituents and business associates. Even so, when they need something, they'll come to him at his daughter's (Talia Shire) wedding. He has three sons. One is part of the family business Sonny (James Caan), another Michael (Al Pacino) is just home from the Army, and his third son Fredo (John Cazale) is a little slow, but he's also a part of Genco Olive Oil which is the front for the business.
Coppola created a look and feel of the iconic film. Set in the 1940s, the film has a style that sets it apart from any other movie in this genre. It has a grain that makes it have a lived-in feel and a worn-out look. Gordon Willis is the cinematographer, and he leans on a darker paper of colors such as blacks and browns. The inside scenes are perfectly set in these colors. The outdoor scenes show a little more range of tans and peaches that contrast to the indoor scenes. This film looks gorgeous no matter how you look at it.
All great films have memorable lines of dialogue that will live in the annals of time. The Godfather is no different. As mentioned before, Don Vito is visited at his daughter's wedding by many to pay tribute, and one of those people is an actor/singer named Johnny Fontane (Al Martino). He comes asking the Don if he can help him land a role in a movie he wants to star in, and Don Vito tells him he'll help him. He asks how and Don Vito says, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." Another great quote from the film is when they send their best hitman, Luca Basi (Lenny Montana), to take care of some family business. He doesn't come back. Instead, they get a package delivered, and in it is a fish. They say, "Luca Brasi swims with the fishes." My favorite line in the film is when a hit is made out in the sticks of New Jersey by Clemenza (Richard A Castello) tells his partner, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." This film is littered with great lines.
This film has a great cast in it. Besides the actors I've mentioned already, there are a lot of teller performances from the supporting cast, such as Robert Duval as Tom Hagan, the consigliere, and Diane Keaton as Kay Adams, Michael's girlfriend and eventual wife. And with all gangster films comes the other family heads and various members of the organization. Abe Vigoda (Tessio), Al Lettieri (Solozzo), and Sterling Hayden (Capt. McCluskey) are all great as the antagonists of the film. This film is filled with Oscar winners and all-time greats. It's one of the best casts ever in any movie.
Besides the cinematography, the film also has some fantastic production design by Dean Tavoularis, makeup and hair design, costumes, and editing by too many to list. The score was by Nino Rota, and it was incredible. It brought you into this world perfectly. This score is iconic for its melancholy, but also its legendary tones. The first few notes are mesmerizing and so memorable to me all these years later.
Coppola helped adapt Puzo's book, making this book come to life. The character arks for many of the characters are very satisfying. All the sons of Don Vito have their various plot points, but Michael's arc is one of the greatest in film history. He goes from a mild-mannered son who wants nothing to do with the family business to becoming a cold-blooded killer and the leader of a crime syndicate in the guise of a businessman. In later films, this would become more prominent. The script is a masterpiece by anybody's standards.
As years have gone by, I've watched The Godfather probably thirty or forty times. I see something new in it each time I watch it. It has layers that not a lot of films have. It has a rewatchability factor like no other film ever. The family drama, the crime drama, and the character beats are some of the best in any movie. Coppola captured a subsection of society that wasn't that prominent at the time but became an entire genre in later years. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese made it their own. And various true stories about real-life gangsters were made into films like Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, Donnie Brasco (which also starred Al Pacino), and American Gangster from Ridley Scott. The Godfather and its sequel have become part of the lexicon of society, not just criminal society like Scarface.
Not that awards are important, but they signify greatness, so they must be discussed. The Godfather sits at number 5 on AFI's Top 100 Movies of All Time list currently, and it won three Academy Awards back in 1973 for the '72 calendar year: Best Picture, Best Actor for Marlon Brando (for which he sent Sachin Littlefoot to accept the award on his behalf due to his protest against the treatment of Native Americans in movies and the country), and Best Adapted Screenplay by Coppola and Puzo based on his book. It also stands at number two on IMDb's list of the 250 best movies list. And it won many other awards as well. The fact remains that it's one of the greatest films of all time. It has stood the test of time because of the timeless nature of the story, the incredible characters, and the incredible skill that went into every aspect of the production.
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