The Godfather (1972)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #39

An offer you can’t refuse.

Country: USA
Language: English, Italian & Latin
Runtime: 175 minutes
BBFC: X (cut, 1972) | 18 (1987) | 15 (2008)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 24th March 1972
UK Release: 18th August 1972
First Seen: DVD, c.2001

Stars
Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront, Apocalypse Now)
Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface)
James Caan (Rollerball, Misery)
Robert Duvall (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Network)

Director
Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now)

Screenwriters
Mario Puzo (Earthquake, Superman)
Francis Ford Coppola (The Great Gatsby, The Conversation)

Based on
The Godfather, a novel by Mario Puzo.

The Story
1945: Michael takes his girlfriend to his sister’s wedding, where she’s introduced to his family, including his father, Vito — the Don of New York’s Corleone crime family. Over the next decade, decisions made by the family lead to escalating gang war, and just as he thought he was out, Michael is pulled in to the family business.

Our Hero
A good college kid who dropped out to fight in World War 2, Michael Corleone has distanced himself from his family’s criminal activities… until a series of events find him drawn inescapably in.

Our Villain
According to the AFI, Michael is the 11th most iconic villain in film history. Of course, he winds up a Mafia Don, so he’s hardly a good guy in the traditional sense, but we’re surely on his side, at least throughout this film. Even in that context, I think you could argue the titular Godfather himself, Don Corleone, is the villain: his one son who tried to escape the life of crime is pulled into it after a string of poor choices and unfortunate incidents land the family in trouble.

Best Supporting Character
James Caan is Vito’s hot-headed eldest son, Sonny, heir apparent to the crime empire. Unfortunately, that very hot-headedness is liable to leave the position open…

Memorable Quote
“Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” — Clemenza

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” — Don Corleone
(According to the AFI, this is the second best movie quote ever.)

Memorable Scene
The opening is the perfect scene-setter for the movie. On the day of his daughter’s wedding, Don Corleone hears requests for favours. One man asks for retribution against men who assaulted his daughter, which he has been denied by the legal system. Corleone questions why the man didn’t come straight to him, but ultimately grants the grovelling father his wish. Here, the film has established its pace, its tone, and themes of family, respect, and the important point that these criminals think of themselves as the honourable ones.

Write the Theme Tune…
Italian composer Nino Rota composed the majority of the soundtrack (Carmine Coppola contributed some music), including the famous main theme. Apparently a Paramount executive described Rota’s score as too “highbrow” and urged it be ditched, but Coppola won out. Considering the music’s subsequent fame and familiarity, I think we know who was right.

Technical Wizardry
The dark but amber-tinged cinematography by Gordon Willis is gorgeous. It’s stuff like this that high definition was made for.

Making of
Cinematographer Gordon Willis insisted that every shot represent a point of view, placing his camera around 4ft off the ground and keeping the angle flat. Coppola persuaded him to do a single aerial shot, in the scene when Don Corleone is gunned down, by telling Willis that the angle represented God’s perspective.

There’s a first time for everything…
According to IMDb, “Coppola turned in an initial director’s cut running 126 minutes. Paramount production chief Robert Evans rejected this version and demanded a longer cut with more scenes about the family. The final release version was nearly 50 minutes longer”. Studios love extended cuts for DVD these days, but choosing to take up more time in theatres? Not bloody likely.

Next time…
Debate rages as to whether sequel The Godfather Part II is an even better film. Either way, it was the first sequel to win Best Picture (and still one of only two). In 1977, Coppola edited the two films together in chronological order, along with some deleted scenes, to form The Godfather Saga miniseries, aka The Godfather: A Novel for Television. (Although it’s not been released on home media since VHS, it has been repeated on TV in HD, meaning copies can be… acquired.) Over a decade later, Coppola turned his duology into a trilogy with The Godfather Part III. Although generally reviled whenever it’s spoken about, it has a not-bad 7.6 on IMDb and was also nominated for Best Picture, as well as six other Oscars. (Part III was later added to the chronological cut to make The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980.)

Awards
3 Oscars (Picture, Actor (Marlon Brando), Adapted Screenplay)
8 Oscar nominations (Supporting Actor (James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino), Director, Costume Design, Sound, Editing, Score)
1 BAFTA (Music)
4 BAFTA nominations (Actor (Marlon Brando), Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall), Costume Design, Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Al Pacino))

What the Critics Said
“It seems that the first question everyone asks about The Godfather is concerned with Marlon Brando’s interpretation of the title role. That is the way the movie has been programmed and promoted: Brando, Brando, Brando, and more Brando. The word from advance hush-hush screenings was wow all caps and exclamation point. […] So to answer belatedly the first question everyone asks about The Godfather: Brando gives an excellent performance as Don Vito Corleone [however,] though Brando’s star presence dominates every scene in which he appears, the part itself is relatively small, and there are other people who are equally good with considerably less strain, among them the extraordinarily versatile James Caan as the hot-headed, ill-fated Sonny Corleone, Richard Castellano as the jovially gruesome Clemenza, and Robert Duvall as Don Vito Corleone’s non-Italian consigliere, Tom Hagen.” — Tony Ortega, The Village Voice

What One Single Critic Said
“I don’t see how any gifted actor could have done less than Brando does here. His resident power, his sheer innate force, has rarely seemed weaker. […] Al Pacino, as Brando’s heir, rattles around in a part too demanding for him. James Caan is OK as his older brother. The surprisingly rotten score by Nino Rota contains a quotation from “Manhattan Serenade” as a plane lands in Los Angeles. Francis Ford Coppola, the director and co-adapter (with Mario Puzo), has saved all his limited ingenuity for the shootings and stranglings, which are among the most vicious I can remember on film. The print of the picture showed to the New York press had very washed-out colors.” — Stanley Kauffmann, New Republic (the one and only critical review on Rotten Tomatoes)

Score: 99%

What the Public Say
“Few people could have anticipated during the course of adapting Mario Puzo’s best-seller The Godfather to the big screen that it would become a lasting legacy in cinema. Forty-plus years have passed since its theatrical release, yet it stands the test of time as not only one of the greatest depictions of a crime family, but as one of the best films ever made. […] That lasting popularity isn’t a fluke; the Godfather films stand the test of time because these aren’t just movies, they’re cultural touchstones.” — Colin Biggs, Movie Mezzanine

Verdict

Has it really been almost eight years since the IMDb Top 250’s unshakeable #1 was usurped? The Godfather sat pretty at the top of that user-voted ranking for the best part of nine years, its balance between critically-acclaimed filmmaking finesse and quotable gangster machinations almost perfectly calibrated for that website’s prevailing demographic. (It’s since settled at #2, hardly a failure.) It’s not just IMDb users, though: The Godfather places 6th on the latest iteration of The 1,000 Greatest Films, the as-near-to-definitive-as-you-can-get poll-of-polls compilation. It’s for the same reasons, really: The Godfather combines thriller elements and striking violence with a strong understanding of character and a believable exploration of organised crime, a world as fascinating as it is morally repulsive, for a whole that is as artistically accomplished as it is palatable to the mainstream.

Sky Movies Select are showing the complete Godfather trilogy today from 4:30pm.

Next… you know the name, you know the number — it’s #40.

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8 thoughts on “The Godfather (1972)

  1. Yeah, a great film. Such a 1970s film- I can’t imagine anything like this getting made today. Its slow pace, its length, the script, the acting talent… its wonderful and yet so unlike the films made today. The 1970s was a Golden Age of American film. Just off the top of my head, films like Taxi Driver, Jaws, The French Connection, The Exorcist, Apocalypse Now, Superman: The Movie, CE3K, Star Wars, THX 1138, American Graffiti, Alien, The Marathon Man, The Towering Inferno, Papillon… great films (some genuine serious classics in there, and even the populist entertainment stuff like The Towering Inferno and Star Wars were great). What a decade.

    We do get good films now but rarely with the social commentary of so many 1970s films. The best 1970s films say so much about the world back then. The casting was generally older actors who looked to have lived a little in the real world, less of the Mr (or Miss) Perfects like the ageless Tom Cruise, or George Clooney or Ryan Gosling. I find I enjoy so many 1970s films simply because I identify with the characters better, they seem ‘Real’ as opposed to the aspirational ideals of modern films. The Godfather is a good example. Everyone looks genuine, real, a little life-weary, the locations look real and lived-in. Incredible film. We need more Godfathers rather than more Avatars, but there you go.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I really think television has now completely taken over that side of ‘film’-making in the US. The current mindset of the studios (and, in fairness, the audience response / box office numbers that have led them to develop that mindset) doesn’t allow for that kind of intelligent, adult filmmaking; not with the kind of scale and scope that those ’70s movies enjoyed.

      Though it’s funny that cinema audiences seem only to respond to CGI-loaded teen-aimed entertainment, whereas TV audiences are devouring more intelligent fare. I guess people are only prepared to pay extra for spectacle now? Or maybe they are just catering to different audiences.

      Like

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