The Godfather

The Godfather ★★★★★

They don’t come much better than THE GODFATHER, a film that still impresses over 40-years later.  Seeing it again today really brought back a flood of memories.
Right before the film came out, the movie tie-in paperback was released with photo sections.  I was in high school and I picked it up immediately.  Despite its length, I was in a race with another guy in home room who also had the book, and we’d compare page counts every morning.
I thought the book was thrilling and I really wanted to see the movie.  But, I was 16-years old and R-rated films required an age of 17 without being accompanied by a parent.  My Dad came to the rescue and went with me ... assuring my Mother that it had very little nudity.  That was the thing about being an American kid.  Seeing violence was fine, but uncovered breasts required parental consent.
Well, even though it ran almost 3-hours, the time flew by.  The movie was so faithful to the book (with the book’s writer, Mario Puzo, serving as one of two Screenwriters with the Director), and the story set inside a Mafia Family was fascinating.
Now, so many years later, I can more fully appreciate the full artistry.  For the first 25-minutes, the Viewer is attending a wedding reception.  Such events can be incredibly dull, but there isn’t a single boring moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s version.  There is always something interesting happening, and the “casual” meetings reveal a great deal of the operation of the organization.
If such a work had been around in Elizabethan times, THE GODFATHER could easily have translated into a Shakespearean tragedy.  There is the son who wants to distance himself from the work of his father ... wanting nothing to do with the Family business.  There is also the father, proud of his son’s achievements, but watching helplessly as the young man becomes the person his father hoped to avoid.  And that final shot of the movie is simply a door closing, yet it communicates so much.
The Direction is inspired, and so is the Cinematography of Gordon Willis.  Between them, the images burn into the mind, lasting long after the final reel is finished.
Much has been said of the incredible performances.  What a marvelous cast!  Watching today, it was Al Pacino’s movie.  I looked into his eyes at the various stages of the film and he was immersed in the character.  Late in the film, those eyes were chilling.
In the pre-Code years, Hollywood knew it could count on sexually-spiced stories and gangster stories to bring in audiences ... and if they were in the same picture, that was even better (such as the original SCARFACE).  Censors strongly objected to the gangster films, though, claiming that they glorified immoral behavior.  Even if the gangsters “got theirs in the end,” audiences were still drawn to them.
That is still the case with THE GODFATHER.  Horrible things happen and loved ones are lost.  The characters regret what has become of their world.  Yet, the Family operations still fascinate despite a probably shortened lifespan.  Part of that is accomplished in this film by keeping the story “inside.”  We don’t see innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of a gun battle, and Don Vito Corleone voices strong opposition to the harm that will be done if the Families go into the narcotics trade.  Despite these characters being criminals, they are still struggling together to defeat overwhelming odds, and there is a touching sense of loyalty within the true family unit.  (Of course, I tell myself that the appeal is learning about an environment that is new to me!)
I still have one very strong, negative reaction whenever I see the film.  Yes, Marlon Brando does a fine job.  But, that same year, Peter O’Toole was the star of THE RULING CLASS.  Both Brando and O’Toole were nominated as Best Actor.  Time onscreen aside, Brando’s performance was blown out of the water by O’Toole’s performance.  At least, that’s one Viewer’s opinion.

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