The Godfather (DVD, 2010)

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Hold Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer: The Godfather

Jul 30, 2001 (Updated Mar 16, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Brando, Pacino, Caan, Supporting Cast, Screenplay, Photography, Score

Cons:None

The Bottom Line: Excellent adaptation of a gripping novel of organized crime in America.


Family and ritual are very important to the Corleones. Staunchly Catholic, they believe in church weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Every important milestone in life is celebrated with religious rites – baptism, first communion, wedding, and funeral. Equally important are the family traditions; above all respect - and justice, often in the form of bloody murder for the disrespectful.

This respect for tradition is underlined in the very beginning of The Godfather, where Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) holds court in his darkened study even as his daughter’s wedding reception takes place outside in the garden of his palatial estate. Don Corleone chides the suppliant, a local undertaker, on friendship and respect and promises to make things right in return for a favor someday - a day that may never come. Gratefully, the undertaker kisses his hand, a ritual that shows he respects the Don…

Based on the best-selling novel by Mario Puzo, The Godfather brought respectability and box office success back to a genre that had been relegated to B-movie status after the initial success of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Paul Muni in the original gangster movies of the 30s.

Director Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo worked together to write the screenplay, keeping it quite close to the original idea: the rise and fall of an American crime family. They were rewarded with a Best Screenplay Oscar for their efforts.

The names were changed to protect the guilty, but anyone familiar with the story of organized crime can guess whom Puzo was writing about. The man who built Las Vegas, Moe Green, was based on Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel; The brains behind the New York crime syndicate was based on Meyer Lansky. Both these characters were Jews, as were the actual people. Don Corleone was based on Charley “Lucky” Luciano with a liberal dose of Carlo Gambino. Puzo cleverly mingled truth and fiction about his characters but left enough indicators to make it quite evident who he was writing about, I suppose to limit his liability. It should be remembered that The Godfather was quite a daring expos, appearing at a time when the federal government still insisted that there was “no such thing as organized crime.” There is no mention of mafia or Cosa Nostra in the film.

The acting was first rate and confirmed Marlon Brando as a star of the first magnitude, while making a superstar of relatively unknown Al Pacino. Robert Duvall was fabulous as the consiglieri Tom Hagen. James Caan was equally fabulous as the reckless heir apparent, Santino “Sonny” Corleone, cut down in his prime by the guns of rival thugs. The supporting cast, including Talia Shire, Diane Keaton, Abe Vigoda, Richard Castellano, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Sterling Hayden, and a host of others were well-cast and provided excellent performances.

Photography, by Gordon Willis, is brooding and dark as befits the subject matter, and has sepia tones in some scenes helping to indicate the age of the story, which runs through the 1940s and 50s. Sets and costuming are very evocative of the era with plenty of old locations and automobiles to set the scene for the action. Score by Nino Rota is perfectly suited to the visuals and helps make the film a memorable experience.

“I spend my life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, but not men.” Thus spoke Don Vito Corleone in his parting advice to his chosen successor, son Michael (Al Pacino). The Don was intimating that one of Michael’s closest associates would set him up for assassination shortly following the Don’s death. "Whoever tries to set up a meeting, that's the traitor." True to the Don’s prophecy, one of his oldest lieutenants turned traitor and invited new Godfather Michael to a meeting, even as they were attending Don Vito’s funeral. In one of the most gripping scenes in film history, Director Coppola cut back and forth between Don Michael standing up at his nephew’s baptism while his rivals, including his brother-in law (the infant’s father) were being brutally slain at Michael’s orders.

The final scene showed Al Pacino receiving the homage of the other crime figures as his bemused wife was excluded by a closing door from the ceremony.

All in all, The Godfather is a must-see for any film buff. Other gangster films I recommend are Goodfellas, Scarface, Public Enemy, Little Caesar, and Murder, Inc.

See also:
The Godfather, Part II: http://www.epinions.com/content_34325040772

The Godfather, Part III: http://www.epinions.com/content_92908129924


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