Skip to comments.At 40 Years Old, 'The Godfather' Has a Profound and Complicated Legacy
Posted on 04/12/2012 10:21:04 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Once, it was thought of as the gangster movie to end all gangster movies.
Before he played Don Corleone, Marlon Brando had been all but written off after several flops. But of course that's exactly what "The Godfather," which opened in New Jersey 40 years ago this Saturday, was not.
Instead, it was the gangster movie that began all gangster movies, at least as we know them now: not just its own sequels, "The Godfather: Part II" and "The Godfather: Part III," but also "Goodfellas," "Donnie Brasco," "Analyze This," "Scarface," "The Freshman," "Prizzi's Honor" and "Married to the Mob," not to mention "The Sopranos." But "The Godfather" is the epic original: the "Gone With the Wind" of the boomer generation.
"It's compulsively watchable," says Teaneck-born critic Leonard Maltin. "If you should stumble onto it on cable, you can't stop watching it."
This is not the only iconic film to mark an anniversary this year; "Casablanca" returns to theaters Wednesday in honor of its 70th (for more, see Monday's Better Living).
"The Godfather" has also aged in an interesting way. Back in 1972, it was thought to be a movie that exploded all the romantic Hollywood myths about criminals. These bad guys, critics said, were not glamorous lone-wolf heroes like Edward G. Robinson or James Cagney; they were yes-men who followed orders from a vast hierarchical organization, just like the guy sitting in the next cubicle at work.
But this, it turned out, was the most romantic thing of all. The idea of a powerful, all-embracing family that would protect you, avenge your wrongs and license you to go out and kill your enemies was exactly what made "The Godfather" far more seductive than old-fashioned gangster movies like "Little Caesar" and "The Public Enemy."
Italian-Americans, needless to say, have a complicated relationship with this film. On the one hand, it reinforces stereotypes of Italians as gangsters an old concern about Hollywood crime movies (there were similar complaints, in the 1930s, about "Little Caesar" and "Scarface").
On the other hand, it makes those gangsters so attractive, so sexy, so exciting, so operatically tragic, that Italian-American kids were proud to identify with them, and non-Italians were envious. Real-life Mafiosi took the Corleones as role models, just as gangsters of the 1930s practiced lines like "I'm takin' over the whole North Side, see?" with a Little Caesar snarl.
"The Godfather" is memorable for lots of reasons:
As the great comeback film of Marlon Brando the 20th century's most iconic actor, the genius of "On the Waterfront," who had been all but written off after a string of 1960s clinkers. He gave the performance of his life as Don Corleone then he gave Hollywood the finger, sent Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse his Best Actor Oscar and settled back into his long road to hell, which in his case turned out to be "The Island of Dr. Moreau."
As a fount of clichés: "I made him an offer he can't refuse." "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." "May your first child be a masculine child." "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."
As a great collaboration: Director Francis Ford Coppola was matched in brilliance by his cast, by cinematographer Gordon Willis, by composer Nino Rota and by novelist Mario Puzo, who started it all. (Paramount Pictures is currently trying to stop Anthony Puzo, son of Mario, from publishing a new sequel to the novel, due out in May.)
As an example of sheer movie storytelling at its best. There are those who prefer "The Godfather: Part II," a brilliant film in its own right. But it's the first "Godfather," a film that begins with a wedding and ends with the killing of the groom, that has the great story arc. It is, above all, the story of the Fall of Lucifer: Michael (Al Pacino), the apple of his father's eye, the brightest hope of the future, the college boy who will lead the Corleone family to legitimacy, turns to the dark side and ends up the coldest, most fearsome gangster of all. Brando's look of pain, when he discovers that it was his son Michael who killed his enemies, is unforgettable.
As inside baseball: Real people and incidents are referenced throughout the film. Perhaps the best Brando's slapping the Frank Sinatra surrogate, Al Martino. In real life, there was little love lost between "Mumbles," as Sinatra called him, and Frank, who resented the actor for landing the roles he wanted in "On the Waterfront" and "Guys and Dolls." "Sinatra is the kind of guy," Brando once said, "that when he dies, he's going up to heaven and give God a bad time for making him bald."
As a showcase for a new generation of actors. Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Talia Shire, John Cazale, all gave the performances of their lives in this film (as did Robert De Niro in "Godfather II"). The close shot of Pacino's eyes, darting crazily back and forth in the seconds before he shoots Sollozzo, may be the great, virtuoso example of movie-acting in film history.
As a watershed in movie violence. Audiences in 1972 were horrified to see the bloody horse's head, and James Caan being riddled with bullets at the tollbooth. Today, arguably, schoolchildren are exposed to worse.
"It troubled me at the time that this epic saga was about ruthless gangsters, who murdered people with reckless abandon," says Maltin, who never forgot his first exposure to "The Godfather" at the now-defunct Rialto in Ridgefield Park. "But it's undeniably fascinating."
Agree on the GF III. After watching the second time I found it to be pretty good. Sophia Coppola’s “acting” was what made that movie unbearable!
LOL, I’m a girl!
It would be interesting to make a movie that further elaborates on how Vito got to where he has, II only scratched the surface, but you don’t see how he went from the neighborhood boss to the head of a large organization.
Held Over 3rd week!
Held over 5th week!
Held Over 9th week.
Held over 14th week!
I remember it made it up to 28 weeks!
Here is a news story about the Godfather house in Staten island from 3yrs ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfwSNLJ1sKk
You can also find on Google earth:
40° 36’ 24.3” 74° 5’ 53.1”
Plus he was nailing Meryl Streep in her prime.
And I always felt that Cazale’s performance blew away everybody else’s in the Godfather movies...the character of Fredo probably had the widest range of any of the characters, most others were for the most part, one-dimensional, compared to Fredo.
He had quite a run. Every movie he was in won the Academy Award. That is something. When you watch the Deer Hunter, remember he was dying at the time, but still hit it out of the park.
Your affinity for Sonny Corleone have anything to do with a certain physical trait that he had, per the book.
He was probably upset because Al Martino's character, "Johnny Fontaine" hit a little too close to home.
1) "Make him an offer he can't refuse" was plagarized from an early 1930's John Wayne (as Singing Sandy) two-reeler. The bad guy is buying up all the ranches through intimidation (for water rights). Faced with a stubborn owner, he tells his henchman to "Make him an offer he can't refuse."
2) TGF ruined half a generation of Italian guys in the NYC area. They all thought they were Sonny, even if they were more like Al Bundy.
3) I grew-up around the corner from Carlo Gambino, the capo who was the model for Corleone. He lived on the water in Massapequa (Club Drive). Jerry Seinfeld grew up two blocks over and Alec Baldwin about a mile away. Joey Buttafucco was on the scene too.
I knew dozens of guys whose dads were "heavy fathers". I knew guys whose dads were kidnapped for ransom, murdered or just 'disappeared'.
Every 'father' I knew was a loser, all a bunch of ignorant assholes who got what they wanted because they we willing to go right to violence. That violence is about all that's accurate in the movie...the rest is a fairy tale.
I thought so, I was just having some fun jesting. LOL Aloha from Maui
“I knew dozens of guys whose dads were “heavy fathers”. I knew guys whose dads were kidnapped for ransom, murdered or just ‘disappeared’.
Every ‘father’ I knew was a loser, all a bunch of ignorant assholes who got what they wanted because they we willing to go right to violence. That violence is about all that’s accurate in the movie...the rest is a fairy tale.”
In that regard, would you say that “Goodfellas” is more accurate? I got a lot more sense of what you describe from that movie.
I have friends, who are either from New York or profess to be “cultured”, who still haven’t seen either of the movies. I find that incredible.
Thanks very much it brought back lots of memories. The Norton’s and my family go back a long way. Ellen the wife and my dad dated. Ed and my dad used to run around together. The son Ed was just getting ready to go off to Villanova when I was there and had a 1953 Corvette he was trying to put in shape.
I disagree...it doesn't come close to Belushi's "darting eyes" in Animal House.
What exactly did he do to help Hyman Roth and Johnny Ola set up the attempted hit on Michael at the Lake Tahoe house?
Who left the curtains open in Michael's bedroom, allowing the two gunmen to know when Michael was in there, so they could open fire? Fredo?
Who killed the two gunmen that were found in the drainage ditch after the attempted hit on Michael? If it was Fredo, how did he manage to quickly kill the two heavily armed men, when he was so ineffective against the men who gunned down Vito Corleone at the fruit stand in the first Godfather movie? How was he able to get to them before anyone else?
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