The Godfather (DVD, 2010)

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THE GODFATHER: The Saga of an American Family of Latecomers.

May 26, 2000 (Updated Nov 28, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:No American film since CITIZEN KANE has been more significant or fully realized.

Cons:Film suffers from some continuity problems due to uncertainty in the production's planning and execution.

The Bottom Line: THE GODFATHER poses, and begins to prove, that the uses of Power by 20th Century Mobs are similar to those used by the Wealthy, Business, Government, and Organized Religion.


The Corleones are an upwardly mobile family like the Winthrops of Massachusets and the Byrds of Virginia. John Winthrop founded Boston; John the Younger expanded into Connecticut. They followed their religion and slaughtered the Indians. William Byrd followed his religion, planted tobacco, engaged in politics, kept slaves and slaughtered the Indians. Eventually, Astronomer John Winthrop IV made important observations of sunspots. Robert Byrd, a descendant of William, has been a leading Democrat Leader in the U.S. Senate from West Virginia for many years.

Vito Corleone came to America late. He followed his religion, produced a family, sold olive oil, bought politicians, and slaughtered his competition. His son Michael expanded the Family influence across America and the World. At the end of his life, he was a Knight of the Church, a man who had influenced Modern History.

THE GODFATHER is the matrix, the basic story, of Francis Ford Coppola's trilogy that develops all the seminal implications in Part II (The Epic) and Part III (The Opera). It provides the pattern for the other two films: 1) the opening religious ceremony and celebration, undercut by the impersonal vicissitudes of business; 2) a threat to the Corleone clan which eventually leads to the death of a principal family member; 3) a horrendous attack on the Godfather which causes him temporarily to relinquish power; 4) an expansion of the Corleone influence; 5) a second religious ceremony accompanied by a blood bath. At the end of each part, the Family leadership is shaken but intact; forced to face the human costs of Power, but still ambitious to go forward. It is the American Way.

Established, too, is a mise-en-scene which weaves together family members, retainers, and enemies with gatherings, assassinations, betrayals, the settling of scores; with light and dark, summer and winter, floral and wood; with rich, varied background sounds and dialogue; with folk, popular and classical music; with ancient, folkloric and operatic theater; with changes of temporal and geographical scenes.

And underlying the fictional story are actual events thinly covered over.

Throughout THE GODFATHER is the understated but unmistakable, growing and continuing implication that the Corleones and their milieu undertake nothing which is not done by other people of power in government, business and organized religion when their interests are threatened.

THE GODFATHER, then, begins just after World War II on a great day in the life of Patriarch Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando): the wedding of his Daughter Connie (Talia Shire). But in his dark, relatively modest mansion, The Godfather must deal with an agenda of business: from arranging the beating of a young miscreant to getting his godson Johnny Fontaine (Vic Damone) a job in Hollywood. Outside, to folk and popular music, the wedding reception is in full bloom.

Among the guests are family members, friends, retainers, guards, Gang Leader Barzini (Richard Conte); Vito's sons Santino "Sunny" Corleone (James Caan), brothers Fredo (John Cazale), Michael (Al Pacino) and his wasp girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton). In fact, a majority of the important players are introduced. No one of his time mixed people together so well in a large scene as Francis Ford Coppola.

In coming months, the Corleone position (and prestige) among "The Five Families" is threatened at home in the wintry East by pressure to sell drugs, and in the sunny West by a lack of respect when Conciliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) tries to persuade a studio head to give Johnny Fontaine a plum part in a new movie. (As everyone who had read the novel by Mario Puso, the basis of the film, guessed, this incident referred to the fight to procure Frank Sinatra the part of Maggio in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY [Zinnemann, 1953], for which Sinatra won an Academy Award, reviving his career.) The threat at home provokes a war which maims the Godfather, and kills hotheaded Sunny Corleone, while elevating Michael, who proves himself by assassinating the Family enemies.

In a period of years covered by these latter events, Michael, who lost one bride when hiding out in rustic country near the family hometown, Corleone in Sicily, marries a reluctant Kay and has two children by her. Vito, a semi-invalid since the attack upon him, makes a compromise with the Five Families on the dope question, but gives Michael advice not to trust Barzini, and dies shortly after. When Michael takes charge of the Family Business, he becomes convinced that Barzini and others are cheating them in their new Casino Operation run by Moe Green (actually supposed to be Bugsy Segal), and overseen by Brother Fredo.

After ordering the elimination of traitors, including Connie's husband Carlo, he acts as Godfather for Connie's baby, while his gang mows down all the competition standing as a threat to the Family.

The film ends as Michael lies to both Connie about the death of her husband, and to Kay about the nature of his involvement. Thus, the idealistic son, who Vito hoped might be an important lawyer, perhaps a U.S. Senator, sinks beyond redemption by violating the blood he is sworn to protect, and hastens the alienation Kay feels in her marriage to him.

It is a masterful film but not without its flaws. Coppola got this gig, he thinks, by accident. Author Mario Puso explains that he himself took a personal interest in the project when he heard Danny Thomas was going to buy Paramount in order to play the title role. Veteran Italian Villain Eduardo Cianelli was slated to play Vito Corleone until he had a heart attack and died. Marlon Brando took the part on the rebound. Coppola and Puso disagreed about how much of the novel would be used. The result was that a lot more footage, a lot more story, was shot than was needed. Gordon Willis' flexible cinematography, masterful editing and Nino Rota's famous score did not cover serious jumps back and forth in the continuity. (Note how one moment, it is Christmas, the next it isn't, then it is again)

Coppola's major strengths have always been writing scenes, working with actors, and creating atmospheric scenes. He has had trouble from the start with continuity.

However, original audiences, many of them fans of the novel, encouraged to think the film not so good, were instead, at times after some thought, possessed by the film.

My first wife, a sedate Englishwoman, hated things American. (Now she is a cheering fan of the Giants and '49ers here.) I was surprised when she pressed a novel called The Godfather upon me. "Read it," she said. I did and thought it a pretty good, readable pot boiler. Some years later, my second wife and I went to the film. Afterward, Grace said, "That was a lot better than I thought it would be."

I agreed. And two weeks later, we went to see it again (rare, for us).

And so, THE GODFATHER has grown on almost everyone. Whenever I see Michael and Kay coming out of that department store in the snow, I am back in Cleveland, trotting out of Halle's with my first serious girlfriend (Grace), heading for a Christmas party.

We are now ready for another party, the one that starts THE GODFATHER II at Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side.

Next: *THE GODFATHER II, what I call The Epic.

--------------------------------

*If you would like to read Macresarf1's reviews of the above noted films, go to the following:

THE GODFATHER II --

http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-701E-296F98E-39319238-prod5

THE GODFATHER III --

http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-18CD-3AC1370-39345796-prod5












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