One of the great classic American films of the 20th century, The Godfather, directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola and based off of the novel of the same title by Mario Puzo is often considered to be the most influential film that created the ‘organized crime’ or mafia/gangster genre in cinemas.
Since its release in theaters in 1972, it has garnered a cult following among fans which led to ‘The Godfather’ becoming a trilogy with Parts Two and Three both released in following years. Because of its significance culturally and historically, the Library of Congress preserved it in the United States National Film Registry in 1990. Because of its success at the box office and with film critics alike, ‘The Godfather’ garnered many Academy Award nominations and won four Academy Awards including ‘Best Actor’ for Marlon Brando and ‘Best Picture’.
In addition to adding to the legendary career of Brando, ‘The Godfather’ also introduced to Hollywood a young Al Pacino and a very talented Robert Duvall. Both men would have extremely successful careers in American film but I believe that it was ‘The Godfather’ which helped catapult their early careers into noteworthy stardom.
Drawing parallels to the real life ‘Five Families’ of New York that dominated the Italian mafia during the 20th century, the fictional Corleone family, led by Don Vito Corleone, is highlighted as being the ‘pariah’ and at odds with the other crime families throughout the film. Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, acts like the quintessential mob boss whose cunning and intellect has made him to this day a very quotable character that has become a part of American popular culture.
In The Godfather, we see Vito nearing the end of his reign as boss of the family and looking for his eventual successor. Vito has three sons: the first is Sonny, the oldest, whose lack of foresight and hotheaded temper makes him a liability, albeit the favorite initially to replace Vito as Don of the Corleone family. Fredo is the middle child and is a consistent womanizer. Considered neither to be reliable nor intelligent, Fredo is kept to the side often and is not a suitable person to lead the family due to his lack of cunning and intellect. Michael, a U.S. Army Veteran and the youngest child of Vito Corleone, is portrayed as being very innocent and often requests to be kept out of the family business if he can avoid it.
However, as the viewers of the film can understand and interpret, a mafia family reels everyone into its business whether or not it’s intentional. One of the best aspects of The Godfather is watching the changes in Michael’s behavior and demeanor as extenuating circumstances involving the family forces his hand and he is forced to take on more responsibilities and duties as a Corleone and the son of Vito. His loss of innocence and the transformation that occurs with Michael from dignified U.S. Army Veteran to cunning, ruthless Mafia boss is a great strength of this timeless film.
For those critics who are against violent Mafia films and choose not to watch them, that is fine, but it should be considered that there is more to this movie than meets the eye. Above all else, it is the story of a father trying to repent for the sins of the past and trying to keep his sons from avoiding the same mistakes that he has made.
The relationship between Vito and his son, Michael, in particular is memorable for how Vito expects so much from Michael given that he is the most levelheaded and intelligent of the Corleone brothers. There is one particularly great scene in the film where Vito and Michael are discussing the ongoing drama of the war between “The Five Families.” Vito laments to Michael how he is sorry that he was thrust into the mafia business when he once expected his son instead to become “Governor Corleone” or “Mayor Corleone.” Michael simply looks at his father lovingly, and says: “We’ll get there, pop. We’ll get there.”
Other classic scenes that I enjoyed involve the courtship between Michael and a beautiful Sicilian woman named Apollonia. What I liked most was its highlighting of the very old-school dating process of asking Apollonia’s father for permission to date and later marry his daughter with all respect given. It’s a touching moment in the film, which reveals that Michael’s humanity has not been totally wiped out because of the mafia. It was also great of Director Coppola to show the traditional procession of the Sicilian wedding and how all of the townspeople were involved in wishing Michael and Apollonia well.
Without trying to spoil the rest of the film for those readers who haven’t watched The Godfather yet, I can’t recommend it enough to avid movie fans. The directing by Francis Ford Coppola, the cinematography, the acting performances by Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan, etc. are phenomenal, and they deserved every heap of credit that was bestowed upon them at the Oscars and elsewhere.
The Godfather is simply more than just a mafia film in my opinion. It is a story about a complex family, fathers and sons, human nature, and the thirst for power and respect. Have an open mind and see this film if you get the chance. I promise that you won’t regret it, even if the running time is three hours in total. You can always tell your friends and family that I wrote a blog post that you couldn’t refuse to read.