Every movie genre has a movie which it considers as a touchstone for comparison. Action packed science fiction movies consider Star Wars as their benchmark. Historical epics are compared with Ben Hur or Lawrence of Arabia. And of course when we refer to movies in the gangster genre or the Mafia genre, its of course The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 movie version of Mario Puzo’s novel. Godfather was not the first of mafia movies, in the Golden era of Hollywood, actors like Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney made their fame from gangster movies like The Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces etc. Marlon Brando who got an Academy Award for the title role, had earlier won the Oscar in another mob movie On The Waterfront.
The Godfather is the story of Don Vito Corleone( Marlon Brando) , the most powerful Mafia Don in New York during the late 40’s. A man to whom the people turn for justice. The people who ask for favors range from a father whose daughter has been raped to a Hollywood actor asking for a role in a movie. The Don’s family consists of his 3 sons- Sonny ( James Caan), the eldest one who is violent, hot headed and impulsive. Freddy( John Cazale), the mild mannered, weak second son, who tries to betray his father and Michael ( Al Pacino), the youngest son serving in the army, and whom the Don doesn’t want to get involved in the mafia business.
His daughter Connie( Talia Shire) is stuck in an abusive marriage with Carlo Rizzi. And last but not the least Tom Hagen( Robert Duvall), Sonny’s friend, the family consigliore and whom the Don considers as his own son. Wise and sensible, Hagen is the person who generally executes the Don’s orders. The challenge to the Don’s authority comes, when he refuses to be a part of the narcotic’s business. And this begins the war with other Mafia families of New York, the Barzinis, Tattaglias, Cuneos and Straccis. And in this war, does Don Vito Corleone face his greatest test. As he finds himself being betrayed by people around him and yet gaining others. Watch the movie to find out the epic battle between Corleone and the other families in this all time classic.
You would never find a more perfect movie. The Godfather is not your standard cops and robbers, bang bang, Hollywood blockbuster. Mind you this is a movie where you would have to follow every nuance, every scene, else you could be missing out something. Especially the scenes where the Don plans his strategies. The scene where the Hollywood producer finds the severed head of his horse on the bed is really chilling. Again the scene where the Don refuses to get involved in the narcotics trade is superbly etched out. Micheal’s confrontation with the corrupt police chief, after an assassination attempt on his father. The Godfather is brutally violent, and some of the scenes are not meant for sensitive souls. The scene where Sonny beats his wayward brother in law, hits you in the face, with it’s raw violence. As also the scene where Sonny is led into a trap and murdered. And of course the climax scene which is a masterpiece in its own right.
Godfather is famous for one of the greatest quotes “Iam going to make him an offer he cant refuse”.
But there are some more gems:
Micheal telling his girlfriend Kay(Diane Keaton) about his father: With a gun to his head, my father assured him that either his signature or his brains would be on the contract. That’s my family Kay, not me.
The Godfather is not just a story of the Mafia. It’s a story of families, relationships and trust. Its a story of how fate forces some people into a path they never wish for. Its one of the greatest epics of all time. Though set against the backdrop of a Mafia family, the Godfather could as well be the story of a business family or a powerful ruling family.
The setting is American, but the values are universal.
Marlon Brando is just brilliant in the title role as the patriarch, who has to face agony, insult and betrayal. His performance in the scene when he looks at Sonny’s bullet ridden body is outstanding.
James Caan is excellent as the hot headed, impulsive Sonny. Especially so in the scene where he beats up his brother in law. He is so chillingly brutal, that you feel thankful you are not at the receiving end.
Al Pacino was a struggling actor and this movie put him on the road to stardom. As Micheal, the man who is forced to accept a destiny totally different from what he planned. As a man who is forced to take over his father’s mantle, Pacino shows why he is considered as Hollywood’s best actor.
Robert Duvall one of the most under rated actors in Hollywood plays the vital role of Tom Hagen, the Don’s trusted confidante. And he delivers another great performance as well. Don Vito Corleone, Sonny, Micheal,Tom Hagen, Luca Brasi are characters who will stay with you even after the movie is over.
The Godfather also had representation of many real life characters, Johnny Fontane who approaches the Don for a role in Hollywood, was based on Frank Sinatra, who had connections to the Mob. Hyman Roth was based on another gangster Meyer Lansky.And of course Nino Rota’s memorable background score using the gentle Italian rythms and guitar riffs. And the brilliant shadow lighting and the dark somber colors used. All in all make The Godfather a classic for all ages.