“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.”
The Godfather might be the film most responsible for me becoming so obsessed with movies. Sure, there were plenty of flicks I was obsessed with before The Godfather, but they were all surface level obsessions. I liked the actors, or the jokes, or the story. The Godfather is the first time I can remember being aware that movies were just as much about what was going on behind the scenes and in the background. It was the first time I was aware that someone had to build this world, join these dots and make this film.
Francis Ford Coppola therefore became the first director I recognised by name. The first director whose involvement was just as enticing a reason to see a movie as the actors starring in it. The first director who I actively looked into their career and started tracking down their movies. I have no idea how I did that pre-internet, but I did. I remember my mum bought me The Godfather on VHS for my 13th birthday, despite it R rating. And it’s probably the first movie I ever got obsessed with, that still holds up as a legitimate masterpiece today. I’ll still watch The Goonies if it comes on telly, but I know my appreciation is pure nostalgia. The Godfather on the other hand, is simply amazing film making that I know will impress me for the rest of my life.
Returning home from WWII, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) takes his very non-Italian girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton) to the very Italian wedding of his sister Connie (Talia Shire). Here, for the first time, Kay meets Michael’s family. There’s oldest brother Sonny (James Caan), the alpha male hot head. Next in line is Fredo (John Cazale), the not so smart disappointment. Then there’s adopted brother and family lawyer/adviser, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). And at the head of the Corleone family is their father, Vito (Marlon Brando).
Vito has built the most powerful crime family in New York, if not all of America, but that dominance is under threat. When heroine trafficker Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) is denied protection from Vito, he allies himself with two other major New York families in an attempt to take the Corleones down. After a botched assassination attempt on Vito, Michael, who has always stayed away from the criminal dealings of his family, decides it’s time to take his place amongst his father and brothers.
I read the source novel of The Godfather when I was a teenager, and even then, I could recognise how pulpy and trashy it was. Which is one of the most impressive aspects about The Godfather the movie. Coppola could see the real drama between the trash, and knew which bad things to drop (ie. the extended storyline about a vagina reduction surgery. Seriously, that’s in the book).
Even more impressive, he knew the amazing bits to take out as well. The origins of Vito Corleone are one of the best parts of the book. But there’s no way to tell that story, and the rise of Michael, and do both justice in one movie. So as tempting as it must have been to cram that in there, and with the idea of a sequel to tell Vito’s early years probably never even crossing his mind, Coppola had the self control to omit one amazing aspect of the story, in order to save another.
The behind the scenes stories of The Godfather have gone on to become legend. Coppola had to fight the studio to cast pretty much every major role with the actors he wanted. It’s hard to believe now, but the two the studio big wigs were most against were Pacino and Brando. And Coppola was so close to being fired for so much of the shoot, producer Robert Evans had a replacement director on standby. And through all of that, Coppola came through it with the first movie I ever got obsessed with, that still holds up as a legitimate masterpiece today.
Best Director (Coppola nominated, lost to Bob Fosse for Cabaret)
Best Actor – Brando
Best Supporting Actor (Pacino, Duvall & Caan nominated, lost to Joel Grey for Cabaret)
Best Adapted Screenplay