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THE GODFATHER (1972)
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Richard Castallano, Sterling Hayden
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Based on the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Nominated for ten Academy Awards:
Best Director, Francis Ford Coppola
Best Supporting Actor, Al Pacino
Best Supporting Actor, Robert Duvall
Best Supporting Actor, James Caan
Best Picture (win)
Best Adapted Screenplay (win), Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo
Best Actor, Marlon Brando (win)
Best Film Editing
Best Costume Design
The film has been a cultural icon for the past twenty-nine years since it’s 1972 release. It has been named one of the greatest films of all time, spawned countless imitations and rip-offs, which couldn’t capture the essence of the film. And made household names of Pacino, Duvall and Keaton overnight. The film was based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel about a mafia family (though the word mafia is hardly used in the film). Francis Ford Coppola, then a struggling writer and director with a few forgetful film credits to his name (with the exception of 1970’s Best Picture winner PATTON, in which he received a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar), decided to adapt the novel for the big screen. He went to Paramount Studios to finance the film, but they where not particularly eager to do a project on a novel that wasn’t considered a great book (though it certainly was popular with readers). They eventually allowed Coppola to go forward with the project with the intentions that the film would be made on a modest budget, and would only be a two-hour film. But Coppola had tremendous difficulty compacting everything in the novel into such a small time frame, even with the help of the author himself on board as his collaborator on the script. With the script finished and with studio approval, casting finally began. Coppola had gathered together virtual unknowns for the pivotal parts which included a then struggling actor by the name of Al Pacino to play Michael Corleone, the true heart of the film. Robert Duvall, despite being in the business for over a decade (his big break in a small role in 1962’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), was still only an actor basically known within Hollywood and not with audiences. He landed the role of Tom Hagen, the adopted son of Don Vito Corleone. And who was chosen to play the Don? Marlon Brando, much to the excitement of everyone involved with the project. Brando was experiencing a decade long slump with his career, and though reluctant at first to sign onto the part, he eventually took on the role that would make him most famous and a performance that garnished him a second Best Actor Oscar (after winning in 1954 for ON THE WATERFRONT). It sounds like a pitch perfect cast, with only one star who would require a hefty paycheck and few unknowns who would work for very little. But things where not always roses and sunshine for Coppola, as he was constantly dealing with the studio’s constant tampering with the project. They didn’t like the cast (even considering Ryan O’Neil and Robert Redford over Pacino), and where very strict with the budget (it eventually ballooned to six million dollars, a fair amount on those days and a high risk for an uncertain project that may or may not take off). Coppola was always under pressure, but that didn’t stop him from weaving together one of the most powerful films of our time. Coppola directed nothing but flawless performances by his cast, from the top roles with the most screen time, to the tiniest of performances from people who weren’t even important to the overall story. He demanded a lot, and in return got more then any director could dream for. He even allowed Brando to make a much needed comeback in his career, and directed a film which is the very first film in history to cross the hundred million dollar mark within its initial release (such films as THE GRADUATE and GONE WITH THE WIND did break the hundred million dollar mark, but only due to re-releases throughout the years of their original releases). THE GODFATHER was an enormous success with audiences around the world, and also with critics (despite that a few critics during the time of its released complained that the film glorified violence and glorified Vito Corleone and so on). The film caught the imagination of people all over, and became a cultural event. It was making over a million dollars a day (chickenfeed by today’s standards, but something never before seen in those days), and it was even parodied quite a bit and used frequently in advertisements. It also stirred up quite a bit of controversy, since there was a lot of bloodshed and the image of a bloodied horses head in a bed didn’t exactly get a seal of approval by critics and animal activists groups. Like BONNIE AND CLYDE before it, it was bashed for its depiction of violence, but the movie was never about guns or shoot-em-ups. The movie will, and forever remain, a portrait about family and power. As Puzo himself says, You never get into any specifics of crime; the crime is only a reference. It’s nice to see that with time, critics have finally opened their eyes to that who originally thought the film was a mindless exercise in violence.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS DIALOGUE AND MAJOR SPOILERS
The opening scene of the movie is one of the films most memorable moments, with undertaker Amerigo Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto), speaking in a heavily Italian accented voice, speaks to Don Vito Corleone about the injustice his daughter received in the American courts:
I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend, not an Italian. Two months ago he took her for a drive with another boyfriend. They made her drink whiskey, and then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her like an animal. She was the light of my life, my beautiful girl. Now she will never be beautiful again. I went to the police like a good American. These two boys were brought to trial. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison, suspended sentence. Suspended sentence! They went free that very day! I stood in the courtroom like a fool. And those two bastards, they smiled at me. Then I said to my wife, ‘For justice, we must go to Don Corleone.'
The Don sits and listens to the man, hanging on every word. The Don, an aging man hoarse voice but gentle tone wants to know why he wasn’t the first person contacted about the situation, and why American justice was a main priority. Bonasera pleas to him to kill the two boys, but the Don refuses, insulted that Bonasera doesn’t give him the respect that he deserves. His wife is Bonasera’s Godmother, yet they have never been invited over to their home for a social visit or anything to that nature. The Don calmly tells the undertaker that he feared him and was afraid to be in his debt. I didn’t want to get into trouble explains Bonasera.
I understand. You found paradise in America, you had a good trade, and you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law, and you didn't need a friend like me. But now you come to me and you say, 'Don Corleone, give me justice.' But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me ‘Godfather’. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder for money.
Bonasera continues to plead, but instead wants the boys to suffer as his daughter has suffered. He once again offers money to the Don.
What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you'd come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.
In another classic scene, Bonasera kisses the Don’s hand, and asks, Be my friend… Godfather. The Don now changes his mind about not helping the undertaker, but is warned that he may be called upon to do a service for him one day, though that day may never come. Bonasera leaves the office, and the Don tells his adopted son and consigliere (an advisor of the family, though the position is usually given to an Italian. Tom is half Irish and half German), to get reliable men for the job, men who won’t get to caught up in attacking the two boys. The job will be given to the Don’s longtime friend and partner, the heavyset man Clemenza (Richard Castellano).
Outside the wedding of Vito’s youngest child and only daughter, Connie (Talia Shire, sister of Coppola), is going on with a lavish party with hundreds of guests dancing around and enjoying the festivities. Connie is marrying small time bookie Carlo (Gianni Russo). Vito’s two other sons, Sonny (James Caan), the eldest brother and heir to the family business, and Fredo (John Cazale), the middle son and the one who’s not altogether bright, enjoy the festivities around them (along with Mama Corleone, played by Mogana King). Vito refuses to take any family picture of the wedding until youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), who has recently returned to America from the war a decorated hero, shows up. Vito continues dealing with business inside his den and this time he is met by Enzo Nazorine (Vito Scotti), who begs the Don to use his powers to keep a potential husband for his young daughter from being deported back to Italy. The Don obliges happily and Enzo is thrilled, and brags about the cake he has made for his daughter’s wedding before he leaves.
Michael finally does arrive but with little notice by others, and with him is his college sweetheart Kay (played by a very young Diane Keaton). As Michael and Kay keep to themselves out of sight, Kay notices an extremely built man uttering something to himself. The man is Luca Brasi (who in the novel is explained to be the only man Vito fears), and he is waiting to see the Don to personally thank him for inviting him to the wedding. As he waits, he is rehearsing his speech to the Don (Brasi is one of Vito’s trusted soldiers). When he is finally let in to see Vito (Is this really necessary? Vito asks Tom, a little concern hinted in his voice), Luca begins to recite his thanks:
Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your daughter's wedding... on the day of your daughter's wedding. And I hope that their first child be a masculine child. I pledge my ever-ending loyalty.
Despite the running around and screaming of children, Luca continues on with the rehearsed speech, and hands Vito an envelope filled with cash (so the Don will know who gave the most amount), for the bride’s silk purse (an Italian tradition, the bride receives money from her guests). Outside screams can be heard as Vito’s godson Johnny Fontaine, a very popular Italian singer, makes his way through the crowd outdoors. Kay is excited to see such a high profile celebrity and asks Michael how he knows the crooner. Michael explains to Kay, Well, when Johnny was first starting out, he was signed to this personal service contract with a big band leader. And as his career got better and better, he wanted to get out of it. Now, Johnny is my father's godson. And my father went to see this bandleader, and he offered him ten thousand dollars to let Johnny go. But the bandleader said no. So the next day, my father went to see him, only this time with Luca Brasi. And within an hour, he signed a release, for a certified check for one thousand dollars.
How’d he do that? Asks Kay
My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse… Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract...That's a true story... That's my family, Kay. It's not me.
Michael is a good natured and naive young man who honestly wants nothing to do with the family business. He doesn’t condemn what his family does for a living, because he knows his father is a good man. But he wants to lead a normal life and be with Kay and have a family of their own. Fredo eventually stumbles his way over to Michael’s table and drunkenly greets his younger brother. Vito asks Tom to seek out Sonny and bring him to the office. Sonny, earlier flirting with bridesmaid Lucy Manci (Jeannie Linero), has now brought the heavyset woman upstairs to a bedroom (despite being married with three children). Tom knocks on the door and Sonny tells him he’ll be right down, and then continues having sex against the bedroom door.
Meanwhile, Johnny is in Vito’s den and begging him for his services. Hollywood studio mogul Jack Woltz (John Marley) has denied Johnny a part in a war epic that will make him big again. When Johnny begins to weep softly, Vito explodes in rage and slaps Johnny across the face. He even mocks Johnny’s whining, What's the matter with you? Is this how you turned out? A Hollywood finochio (homosexual) that cries like a woman? 'What can I do? What can I do?' What is that nonsense? Ridiculous. You spend time with your family?
Sure I do, Johnny insists (in the novel, there is more background on Johnny’s relationship with his family then in the film).
Good, because a man who does not spend time with his family can never be a real man.
Vito assures Johnny that Mr. Woltz will eventually change his mind about his decision to not hire on his Godson. But Johnny tells Vito that the film begins shooting within the next few days, and that there is nothing that can be done.
I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse. Now, you just go outside and enjoy yourself and forget about all this nonsense. I want you to leave it all to me.
Sonny has been listening in on the conversation with the hopes from Vito that he is taking mental notes on how to run things when he takes over. Vito tells Tom to go out to California and settle this business with the Hollywood bigshot, and he then proceeds to go back out to his daughters wedding where a family portrait is finally taken. The scene ends off with Vito dancing with his newly married daughter.
Tom travels to California at the Don’s request and meets up with Jack Woltz. He puts the cards down on the table for Woltz and that hiring Fontaine for the movie would be a wise idea. Woltz is mildly amused by the whole thing, and wonders what favor would be granted to him if he obliged. You're going to have some union problems; my client could make them disappear. Also, one of your top stars has just moved from marijuana to heroin. Woltz is furious about the allegations and believes that Tom is nothing but a second rate hired goon. Now listen to me, you smooth-talking SOB! Let me lay it on the line for you and your boss, whoever he is. Johnny Fontane will never get that movie! I don't care how many daigo, guinea, WOP, grease ball, gumbahs come out of the woodwork.
Woltz continues with the insults and Tom finally tells the Hollywood mogul to look his boss up and then phone him at his hotel. Of course Tom is eventually invited to Woltz’s extravagant mansion wondering why Tom just didn’t get the fact that he worked for Don Vito Corleone out of the way so there wouldn’t have been any confusion. I don’t like to use his name unless it’s necessary Tom explains. Tom is given the grand tour of the estate, including the horse stable where Woltz swoons over his prized racing horse. Later at dinner, Woltz tells Tom that he is willing to help the Don out in any other way except giving Fontane the part in the film. Tom, always courtesy, tells Woltz that the Don never asks for a second favor when he’s be refused the first. Woltz once again explodes, telling Tom that Johnny ruined a star they where breaking in to became one of the greats. He wants to run Johnny out of the business for good. Tom politely excuses himself from the table and leaves. Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately Tom says as he leaves. The Don makes his power clear to the mogul, as Woltz wakes up early one morning to find his prized studs severed bloodied head in his bed.
Vito has always found success in dealing with gambling, alcohol and importing. It was a safe racket since it didn’t make the judges and senators he bought nervous when dealing with him. But now heroine is rising big, and Vergil ‘The Turk’ Sollozzo needs funding by the five major families to finance it. Tom briefs Vito before they meet with one another:
Sollozzo is known as 'The Turk.' He's supposed to be very good with a knife, but only in matters of business or some sort of reasonable complaint. His business is narcotics. He has fields in Turkey where they grow the poppy. And in Sicily, he has the plants to process them into heroin. Now, he needs cash and he needs protection from the police, for which he gives a piece of the action. I couldn't find out how much. The Tattaglia family is behind him here in New York.
Sonny argues that there is money to be made with it, and Tom agrees. If they don’t move now then the other families will and could become more powerful in the future because of it:
There's more money potential in narcotics than anything else we're looking at. Now if we don't get into it, somebody else will. Maybe one of the five families, maybe all of them. Now, with the money they earn, they can buy more police and political power, and then they come after us. Now we have the unions, we have the gambling, and they're the best things to have. But narcotics is a thing of the future. And if we don't get a piece of that action, we risk everything we have. I mean not now, but ten years from now.
Sollozzo is headed by the Tattaglia family and is a dark, unsuspecting person. He meets with Vito, Tom and Sonny (along to observe the meeting). Sollozzo wants Vito to join up with him and to bring along his political powers. He asks if the Corleone family will front him one million dollars to and as time goes by, they would receive 30% of all profits. What Sollozzo wants in return is political protection and influence. But the Don refuses, stating that he passes no judgment on how a man earns his keep, but wants no part of the drug business.
I must say no to you, and I'll give you my reasons. It's true. I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn't be friendly very long if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they rule that as a harmless vice. But drugs are a dirty business. It doesn't make any difference to me what a man does for a living, understand. But your business a little dangerous.
But Sonny makes a horrible error in judgment, and speaks out against his father’s choice by saying that he agrees that drugs are the future. Everyone in the room knows that this was a tactical mistake on Sonny, who has always been hot headed and quick to speak out without thinking. I have a sentimental weakness for my children, and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen Vito quips. When the meeting ends, Vito disciplines his son, Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking again. But the damage has been done, and Sollozzo sees that Sonny, if head of the family, would be willing to join.
Know fearing that others will see him as weakened, he maneuvers around the Tattaglia family be sending Luca Brasi over to them and have him say that he is not happy with the Corleone family. He sent in to spy and bring back information. But Brasi is brutally murdered by Sollozzo while in one of Tattaglia’s bars. Vito is also hit next, being set up by his own chauffeur Paulie, who calls in sick, which causes weak minded Fredo to drive his father to his office and back. While walking out of his office building, two men run up and shoot Vito several times in the back. Vito, spilling a bag of oranges he just bought on the street before being shot, lies on the street while Fredo sits on the curb like a child, sobbing and screaming Papa!
Sollozzo kidnaps Tom as he comes out of a store after doing a little bit of Christmas shopping. Sollozzo tells Tom that he knew Sonny was interested in the deal and that it is up to Tom to make peace between everyone. That the hit on his father wasn’t personal, but business. Sollozzo also makes a special point about not being to worried about Luca Brasi. Tom is released.
Michael learns about his father in the newspaper, and quickly rushes home in a state of shock. At home, Sonny is to filled with rage to think straight, and inquires onto Tom on what to do and what could happen if the Don dies (having survived the attack, but in critical condition). If we lose the old man, we lose our political contacts and half our strength. The other New York families might wind up supporting Sollozzo just to avoid a long, destructive war. This is almost 1946. Nobody wants bloodshed anymore. If your father dies, you make the deal Sonny.
Sonny is also onto Paulie selling out Vito, and orders Clemenza to take care of him the following day, and the news of what happened to Luca arrives (a dead fish wrapped in newspaper, which means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes).
Michael visits his father in the hospital, and is disturbed to find him unguarded. The nurse explains to him that they where not following hospital regulations and where evicted from the premises. Michael, knowing that his father is now in serious danger, moves him to a different room. He stands outside, where Enzo, who has come to pay his respects with some flowers, is just arriving. He tells Enzo to just stand still in front of the hospital, and just then a car slowly drives by, sees the two men, and drive away. Corrupt Captain McClusky arrives on the scene. He is working for Sollozzo and is the one who got rid of Vito’s guards. When Michael insults him by saying, How much is Sollozzo paying you? He goes off and strikes Michael hard across the cheek. Tom and hired guards show up and take Michael home, where the news that Sonny has made a hit on Bruno Tattaglia (a son of the head of the Tattaglia family). This of causes some problems for everyone, and to keep from going to war, Sollozzo arranges a meeting with Sonny to cool things down. But Michael opts to go instead, knowing that they won’t kill a civilian. Michael prepares for the meeting with Clemenza, who explains there hasn’t been a war between the families in ten years, but it’s all good since it clears the air when its finished. The plan is for Michael to meet with Sollozzo and McClusky in a small Italian restaurant, sit down, enjoy their meal, and have Michael kill them both with a special made handgun that will be hidden in the bathroom at the restaurant.
Sollozzo, McClusky and their driver pick up Michael. Michael had said his goodbyes to his brothers before leaving, since he will have to go into hiding afterwards since killing a police captain will erupt in a fierce war between everyone. During the now famous dinner sequence, Sollozzo speaks to Michael in Italian but there are no subtitles in the scene (it doesn’t matter what is being said, he is soon to be a dead man anyway). Michael sits and listens with dead eyes, his mind racing a mile a minute, as he looks right through the man’s eyes. He excuses himself and goes to the bathroom, where behind an old fashion toilet. He returns and shoots both men in the head, in one of the films most graphically violent sequences. Michael runs off and flees to his fathers’ homeland of Sicily.
Vito is eventually released from the hospital and allowed to return home, though he still needs extensive recovery and is bedridden. He is angered and overcome with guilt when he discovers what Michael has done.
Michael is sheltered in Sicily by Vito’s old partner in the olive oil business years earlier, Don Tommasino. Despite being informed that his enemies know his whereabouts’, he is hit by the thunderbolt when he sees beautiful Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), and even goes to speak to her father about possibly marrying the young girl. But Michael is honest and direct, and tells the old man that he is a wanted man in America, and people would pay a lot of money to know where he is. But then your daughter would lose a father instead of gaining a husband. I want to meet your daughter with your permission and under the supervision of your family with all respect.
While Michael is courting Apollonia, back in America his sister Connie is having marital problems with her louse of a husband Carlo. He beats her and talks down to her, mocking her family and her for being a spoiled little brat. Connie, who is months into her first pregnancy, is often left bruised and emotionally battered. One look at his kid sisters’ face, Sonny flies into a rage and beats Carlo in the middle of the street.
Michael married Apollonia, but Kay, who is still in America and totally oblivious to Michael’s whereabouts, arrives at the families estate where she is confronted by Tom. Tom can’t tell her anything, only that Michael is safe.
Connie is once again beaten by Carlo and calls home afterwards where Sonny once again explodes in rage. In another of the films most famous scenes, Sonny is ambushed at a tollbooth where he is mercilessly riddled with machinegun shots (the scene resembles the climax of BONNIE AND CLYDE). Tom sits alone in the dimly lit den, where the still physically fragile Don comes down to meet him. Tom tells his adopted father that Sonny is dead, and Vito expresses incredible grief, but conducts himself and tells Tom to arrange a meeting with the five families. This war stops now he says.
Vito pays a visit to undertaker Bonasera to repay the favor. He has brought the slain body of his eldest son, and with sad eyes looks at the mangled remains. I want you to use all your powers and all your skills. I don't want his mother to see him this way. He removes the blanket covering his son, which even causes the undertaker to look horrified. The Don begins to weep, My boy… look how they massacred my boy…
In Sicily, Michael’s whereabouts have been discovered and he must be moved immediately to another location. But his personal bodyguard has betrayed him, and when he begins to run away from Michael, Michael realizes he has been set up. But the car bomb that was meant for him has instead taken the life of his wife. Before the car explodes, Michael also learned about his brother Sonny.
The meeting of the major mafia families takes place in a large room where all the heads of the families sit around discussing their course of action. Nobody wants any further bloodshed, but Vito is not too popular with fellow mafia leader Tattaglia, who lambastes Vito for refusing the politicians and judges that he controls. Vito addresses that, and his personal beliefs why narcotics will be the end of them.
When, when did I ever refuse an accommodation? All of you know me here. When did I ever refuse, except one time? And why? Because I believe this drug business is going to destroy us in the years to come. I mean, it's not like gambling or liquor, even women, which is something that most people want nowadays and it's forbidden to them by the church. Even the police departments have helped us in the past with gambling and other things. They're going to refuse to help us when it comes to narcotics. And I believe that then and I believe that now. My youngest son was forced to leave this country because of this Sollozzo business. All right and I have to make arrangements to bring him back here safely cleared of all these false charges. But I'm a superstitious man, and if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he should get shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he's struck by a bolt of lightning, then I'm going to blame some of the people in this room. And that, I do not forgive. But that aside, let me say that I swear on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace that we have made here today.
After the meeting, Vito and Tom ride back home and Vito tells Tom that he knows that it was fellow mafia head Barzini who backed up Sollozzo and Tattaglia from the very beginning.
Michael returns home and contacts Kay, who works as a daycare worker. Kay can see that her husband isn’t the same man she once knew, and is dismayed to learn that he now works for his father. But you're not like him, Michael. I thought you weren't going to become a man like your father. That's what you told me, Kay quips. But Michael stands by his father and all he stands for, but Michael tells Kay that the old way of doing business is over, and that in five years, everything will be legitimate. Michael pursues Kay, and they eventually marry and have a daughter, Mary and a son named Anthony.
Several years pass and Michael has now taken over the family operation completely. He expands the business to Nevada. Tom is no longer the family lawyer to which Tom asks why. You're not a wartime consigliere, Tom. Things may get rough with the move we're trying.
Michael visits Las Vegas, where his brother Fredo runs a hotel and casino for the family. Fredo attempts to get the party started with a live band and a few showgirls, but Michael, stone faced orders everyone out. Michael explains to Fredo the upcoming changes and that hotel and casino Moe Greene will sell his shares, but Fredo insists Moe won’t sell. I’ll make him an off her can’ refuse Michael insists. However, Moe is not to enthusiastic about being told that he is about to sell his casino.
You goddamn guineas really make me laugh. First of all, you're all done. The Corleone Family don't even have that kind of muscle anymore. The Godfather's sick, right? You're getting chased out of New York by Barzini and the other families. What do you think is going on here? You think you can come to my hotel and take over? I talked to Barzini. I can make a deal with him and still keep my hotel. Sonofabitch, do you know who I am? I'm Moe Greene. I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders.
Moe leaves and Fredo scorns his younger brother for talking to Moe Greene like that. But Michael calmly looks at his brother, Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever
Michael returns home, where he and his father speak to one another about family. Vito expresses that he wanted the world for Michael, that he would be the family’s first legitimate businessman. Though they speak to one another on an emotional level, they are not open with each other completely and restrain themselves from getting to sentimental. Michael has come to his father for advice on Barzini:
He'll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting, you'll be assassinated. It's an old habit. I spend my life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, but not men. It could be anyone. Now listen, whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he's the traitor. Don't forget that.
Later on, Vito plays with his three year old grandson Anthony in his garden. While putting a piece of orange in his mouth and scaring the young child, Vito suddenly suffers a fatal heart attack and collapses in the garden. At the Don’s funeral, a huge gathering, including the heads of the other families, pays their last respects. Sal Tessio, Vito’s longtime partner and good friend, informs Michael of the meeting with Barzini. The traitor has revealed himself. In an extraordinary sequence, Michael is attending the christening of Connie’s son, who Michael has accepted to be Godfather of the young boy. While Michael is listening to the rites and answering to them, his rivals are being systemically murdered all over New York in a horrific bloodbath. Tessio is also murdered, by off camera. When first confronted, he knows that he has been found out, and even makes a last minute plea for his life to Tom. But he is refused. Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.
The final order of the business for the day is Carlo. Carlo was the one who fingered Sonny to the Barzini family, and now he must answer for it.
Come on. Don't be afraid, Carlo. Come on, you think I'd make my sister a widow? I'm Godfather to your son, Carlo...You're out of the Family business, that's your punishment. You're finished. I'm putting you on a plane to Vegas...I want you to stay there, understand? Only don't tell me you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and makes me very angry. Now, who approached you? Tattaglia or Barzini?
Carlo, deftly afraid for his life, sobs that it was Barzini. Michael has acted upon the vengeance Vito promised would never take place. Michael tells Carlo he will have nothing to do with the family business and orders him to get on a plane to Nevada. But once inside the car, Clemenza brutally strangles him from the backseat. As the car drives off, Carlo fiercely kicks out the front windshield as he attempts to get free.
The final scene finds Connie, emotionally battered, attacking her brother for the murder of her husband. Kay and Mama Corleone try to calm her down, but she flies into hysterics as she screams, Cold blooded basted! When Connie is dragged out of the room, Kay somberly asks Michael if what Connie is saying is true. Michael firmly tells Kay that she is to never ask him about his business, and this will be the only time she’ll ever get an answer. Michael denies having any knowledge of Carlo’s death. Kay is overcome with relief and goes outside to fix a drink for them both. But as Kay fixes the drinks, she notices Clemenza, and Michael’s two henchmen, Rocco and Al Neri greeting Michael in the den. They close the door on Kay, and Kay realizes that Michael has lied to her about Carlo. The door symbolizes that he has now alienated himself from Kay and the world he once knew before he became the Godfather.
The movie’s portrayal of power and the loss of innocence are brilliantly played out, thanks to a script that is extremely loyal to the novel and direction that is taut and flawless. The performances by everyone involved is pitch perfect, as Brando gives the performance of a lifetime as the wrathful Godfather. He puts a lot of heart into the character, but though we admire this man for being a loving man towards his family, we never forget what he is. We never see him commit any acts of violence; everything we learn about him is through dialogue (such as the bandleader story told by Michael to Kay in the beginning of the film). Pacino gives the performance of a lifetime in a role that he will forever be immortalized in the part of Michael Corleone, the doomed and corrupted son who destroys his soul by stepping into his fathers’ shoes. He can never leave his fathers shadow, and knows he could never be the man his father was during his rein as the head of the family. Pacino masterfully goes from schoolboy innocence to a cold-hearted man whose eyes are no longer filled with life, but that of death and emptiness. It’s a tragic performance, and one always remembers him telling Kay that he’ll have nothing to do with his family’s business. He has given up everything out of obligation to the future for his family, which eventually leads him to damning his family in the name of saving it. His scenes with Brando are wonderfully underplayed, whereas most young actors would no doubt attempt to out stage an established actor such as Brando. The two have always been distant from each other, and it’s because of death and destruction do the two finally come together, as Michael takes over for his father. The scene where the two talk about Anthony, Michael’s son is an endearing one, and the scene where Brando is playfully chasing his young grandson around pretending to be a monster, symbolizing the monster hidden beneath the old man, is beautifully played out. Vito is a complicated character, a man who swears he is not a murderer and understands the meaning of power. Something that would be oblivious to Pacino, which results in his own moral downfall. He hates the weak and the simple minded, and admires the strong and the courageous.
Coppola has directed a dynamic piece, which chronicles the downfall of a family. Through all of the nagging Paramount inflicted on him, he created a film of sheer brilliance and made into a stunning portrait of filmmaking at its very peak. The film is purposely dark and gritty, depicting characters who don’t seek out or find salvation. The audience is kept at a considerable distance from the proceedings, but the emotions depicted are ageless as time itself. Love, hatred, betrayal, loyalty, duty, corruption, compassion. The story is effortless at bringing together everything in one big symphony and we are able to witness these people’s souls from within. The world in which these characters inhabit is a foreign world to us, yet we recognize their evil and disintegration from everything that makes a person whole. When wide-eyed and naive Kay is invited to the wedding in the beginning, we can probably emphasize with her the best. We to are strangers to this odd group of people, and share in her curiosity and bewilderment while observing the surroundings.
But in the end, the film is a superb study of power, and Coppola has nothing but respect for the material he is working with. He never makes the film into a lavish film romanticizing the life of crime, but seems to waver against it and show that corruption within corruption is inevitable. The Corleone family is never romanticized in the film, but is rather a metaphor for capitalism (criminals representing politicians).
In the years since THE GODFATHER has been released, there have been many remakes (not intentional remakes), of the film. There have been Jewish Godfathers, and Chinese Godfathers, and Oriental Godfathers and so on, all basically mimicking Brando’s masterful performance. All have failed miserably, and some even proud to be attempting to be the next GODFATHER. But they always tried to imitate and never form into their own story with their own themes, and instead focused in on violence whereas GODFATHER focused in on universal themes.
There are many classic scenes in the film, nut none out play out so beautifully and chaotically as the scene where the mob bosses are being murdered off while Michael is attending church for his nephew’s baptism. As Pacino answers the priests’ questions about rejecting Satan and accepting God, his wrath of power and destruction is being performed throughout the city. He is vengeance without even being present before those he is taking vengeance on, and instead is present within a church before the eyes of God. It is perhaps the films most operatic scenes, and one that all three films possess.
The film won three Oscars, Best Picture, Best Director for Coppola, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Pacino was nominated for Supporting Actor, but really should have been nominated alongside Brando for Best Actor, since he has a considerable amount of screen time, and because the film zeros in around him. Caan and Duvall where also nominated for Supporting Actor, and deservedly so to. Both give essential performances, with Caan as the hot tempered brother Sonny, and Duvall as the smooth talking advisor to the family (the story of his coming into the family is one that depicts Vito is a fatherly light, as the Tom Hagen character is explained as have being orphaned when he was very young and befriended Sonny when both where children. Sonny brought Tom home and Vito adopted the young boy).
Coppola was nominated for Best Director, but lost out to Bob Fosse, who won that year for CABARET (a little side not, Fosse was nominated three times throughout his career, and each time he competed against Coppola. Once he won over Coppola, the second time he lost to Coppola, and the third both went home empty handed). Nino Rota was denied an Oscar nomination for his classic and familiar score, which is a shame because it truly is one of the all time greatest scores ever for any film.
The film is, in the end, a powerfully and brilliant film about family. Two sequels, which continued on with the saga of Michael Corleone, followed the film, but it is of course THE GODFATHER, PART II in which he ultimately damns his soul and is responsible for his own spiral downwards that is the series highlight and emotional core. But this film will live on forever as being one of the greatest contributions to American cinema.
My Grade: A++