#2) The Godfather (1972)
OR “Why I Don’t Like Oranges”
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Based on the novel by Puzo.
Class of 1990
This is my original “Godfather” write-up; wouldn’t you rather read my revised, updated version?
The Original Trailer, which doesn’t believe in actual footage or spoiler alerts.
The Plot: A decade in the life of influential New York mafia family the Corleones. The Godfather (Marlon Brando) is ailing and after a close call, hot-headed eldest son “Sonny” (James Caan) takes over the family business. Meanwhile, youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) wants nothing to do with his family or the business, but keeps getting drawn in to both. Rounding out the cast are Robert Duvall as the family consigliere, John Cazale and Talia Shire as the other Corleone siblings, and Diane Keaton as Michael’s girlfriend who never quite learns to not question the business.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “the highest echelons of filmmaking” and cites the film’s cast, cinematography and score.
But Does It Really?: Yes. Next question.
But seriously, I have nothing to say about this film you haven’t heard before. It’s about as perfect as filmmaking gets. The key is that at no point does it ever scream at you “look at how perfect this film is!” Much like Michael and the family business, it takes its time luring you in. The direction and cinematography never draw attention to themselves, but a change to either would be film blasphemy. The cast is flawless; from Brando’s (endlessly imitated) performance unlike anything else in his canon, to Pacino’s subtle transformation, and on down. This film launched everyone’s careers and it’s amazing to watch all these young actors more than hold their own with Brando. Perfect, engaging, groundbreaking, flawless, and possibly the NFR entry with the widest influence. The only problem is how this film didn’t make the NFR’s first round of induction, having to wait a year to make the list.
Shout Outs: No specific references, but many have said that [Name Redacted]’s death scene is based on a similar scene in “Bonnie and Clyde”. Others have also compared the last shot of the movie to the last shot of “The Searchers”.
But Not Everybody Bats 1000: A very special shout-out to John Cazale (Fredo). Before his tragic death at only 42, he made five films. But not only are all five films in the NFR, they all received Best Picture Oscar nominations, with three wins. A perfect legacy for someone we lost too soon.
Wow, That’s Dated: Nothing major, but James Caan’s hair always screamed early ‘70s to me. Plus as a bonus you get allllllllll the ethnic slurs in this film.
Take a Shot: A few references to “Godfather” throughout the opening wedding. Following that, you have to be really patient, but in the last hour you can get pretty wasted.
Seriously, Oscars?: Despite an impressive 11 nominations, “The Godfather” only managed three wins (Albeit in three major categories: Picture, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay). Most of its losses went to work done by fellow NFR entry “Cabaret”, whose technical achievements are just as good as “The Godfather”, just a whole lot flashier.
And while we’re on the subject, can we talk about Brando’s win for Best Actor? Of course he’s good, but is he really the lead? Especially over Pacino, who has more screen time, but shared a supporting nod with James Caan and Robert Duvall? I understand studio/actor politics, but this is one of those tricky “co-lead” gray areas that makes sense at the time, but leads to a lot of head-scratching in the future.
- I feel like Kay gets plenty of red flags about Michael and his family during the wedding. If she still wants to get involved she’s been properly warned.
- Though never confirmed by Mario Puzo, Johnny Fontane seems to be based on Frank Sinatra. Both were crooners in the late ’40s who successfully pivoted to films, and then eventually Vegas in the mid ’50s. Sinatra seemed to be aware of it, I’m just surprised he never used his alleged real-life mafia connections to do anything about it.
- Quick story: I knew I was going to call this blog The Horse’s Head before I picked “The Godfather” for viewing. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen the film and I legitimately forgot that the horse’s handler at the beginning is also named Tony. I’m not much for “signs” but this one definitely comes close.
- Geez, I’ve only done two of these and both of them feature Oscar statuettes in the background. Real subtle, you guys.
- What happens to Don Vito’s cat? It’s in the wedding and then just disappears. Hope it didn’t betray the family. Though I’m sure the cat wouldn’t mind if it got to “sleep with the fishes”.
- It may seem gratuitous that Simonetta Stefanelli (Apollonia) bares her breasts in one scene, but don’t worry ladies, this film gives you the equally impressive breasts of Richard Castellano (Clemenza).
- The scene where Carlo beats up Connie must have been really weird for Coppola to direct. “Okay Gianni, in this scene I want you to yell and beat up my sister.” Thanksgiving ’72 must have been a tough one.
- Is it just me, or is there a lot of ADR in this film? Did Brando have to rerecord everything? Could no one understand him? And practically every time there’s a long shot of two people walking in this film it sounds dubbed
- Proof that sequels can run the gamut from equal to their predecessor to vastly inferior.
- Whatever the hell a “Novel for Television” is.
- This is the movie that put Coppola on the map, so we have this to blame for Nicolas Cage and all them Schwartzmans.
- In addition to the above, we have the acclaimed Sofia Coppola the writer-director and the less-so Sofia Coppola the actor.
- Please see “Scorsese, Films of Martin”.
- Also that HBO series.
- The most awkward moment in Oscar history.
- While he didn’t invent the phrase, James Caan’s ad-libbed “bada bing” has definitely become a thing since then.
- That scene in “You’ve Got Mail”.
- The best scene in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”.
- And, of course, the very uninspired title of this blog.
Further Listening: Special mention to “Che La Luna Mezzo Mare”, the song Mama Corleone sings at Connie’s wedding. The Lou Monte recording is the closest I ever got to embracing my Italian heritage as a child. Enjoy.