‘The Godfather’ – An Iconic Masterpiece That Defined the Mob Drama Genre
The Godfather can no longer be called a motion picture. It is an icon, an institution. It has become as much a part of Americana as baseball and apple pie. It is the shining example of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. The Godfather has been imitated, parodied, spoofed, lampooned and copied in every form of media. Without The Godfather, Tony Soprano would be bussing tables in a restaurant. There would be no Goodfellas or Mean Streets or Miller’s Crossing. Al Pacino would be doing dinner theatre in Poughkeepsie. For every five people, I can guarantee you that at least three of them can quote dialogue from the film. Entire trivia books can (and have been) written about The Godfather. For example; before the Godfather, did you know that no Sicilian can refuse a favor on the day of his daughter’s wedding? Did you know that ‘sleeps with the fishes’ meant someone was dead? Are these things true? It doesn’t matter; they have become a part of American culture and of the American conscience. The film begins with four simple words, “I believe in America.” They are the most important words to be spoken throughout the entire film. Like the humble undertaker who speaks those words, the Corleone family believes in America and in the American dream. They know that you can have anything you want in America. Their view of the dream is at the same time noble as it is corrupt. The Corleones know that there is a price for everything, including respect. Don Corleone offers the undertaker justice for the indignity performed on his daughter, but he tells him that he may come to him for a favor some day. For everything, including murder, there is a price. The Godfather is a film that bears repeated viewings. There is enough subtlety and innuendo in this one film to fill a hundred others. The scene where Don Corleone is nearly assassinated is an example. We know that he is set up, but by who? Do the math, so to speak, and it’s easy to figure that it was from someone who knew the Corleones. Why else would they know that Fredo was the weak one and would offer little to no resistance? I always thought the scene in Saving Private Ryan where the German soldier walks right past the American soldier after he has just murdered his colleague could have been inspired by the scene with Fredo and Don Corleone.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 crowning achievement ‘The Godfather’ utterly transformed American film, fusing Shakespearean drama with pulpy gangster lore and spawning a new cinematic lexicon. Expanding on Mario Puzo’s bestseller, Coppola crafted a sprawling generational saga centered on the Corleone crime family that balanced gripping drama with mythic undertones.
As aging patriarch Don Vito Corleone, Marlon Brando delivers a towering performance etched in cultural memory – gruff wisdom masking lethal cunning. Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone embodies the film’s themes of corruption and moral descent, evolving from clean-cut hero to cold, ruthless lord. Equally brilliant is Robert Duvall as family counsel Tom Hagen, the Irish outsider loyal to a fault.
Glamorizing nothing, Coppola probes the ruthless psychology of organized crime with insight and gravitas. But beyond riveting drama, ‘The Godfather’ attains the operatic grandeur of parable, its themes of tradition and succession universal. The brooding Baroque music and baptism montage land like gut punches.
By turns intimate, sweeping, brutal and elegiac, the film left an indelible mark on cinema. It redefined gangster movies as Shakespearean high art, founded on equally universal themes of family, honor, and mortality. Five decades later, its influence still reverberates through film and culture.
I could go on and on. The Godfather is the holy grail of motion pictures. It is the film that so many motion pictures hope to be, and it is the one that so few have become. In fact, only The Shawshank Redemption has come anywhere near achieving the level of perfection that The Godfather has. It is sad to say, but with the current state of motion pictures (remakes, sequels and films based on Hasbro toys), it is a sure bet that we will never see another film like The Godfather. What a shame.
The movie’s line “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” was voted as the #10 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007.
The cat held by Marlon Brando in the opening scene was a stray the actor found while on the lot at Paramount, and was not originally called for in the script. So content was the cat that its purring muffled some of Brando’s dialogue, and, as a result, most of his lines had to be looped.
As Vito Corleone picks oranges prior to the assassination attempt, there’s a poster in the store window advertising a boxing match involving Jake LaMotta. Robert De Niro plays the young Vito in The Godfather: Part II (1974) and also went on to play LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980).
The presence of oranges in the Godfather trilogy indicates that a death-related event will soon occur (even though production designer Dean Tavoularis claimed the oranges were simply used to brighten up the darkly shot film). In chronological order of such events: – Hagen and Woltz negotiate Johnny Fontane’s position at a table with a bowl of oranges on it, and later Woltz discovers his horse’s severed head – Don Corleone buys oranges right before he is shot – Sonny drives past an advertisement for Florida Oranges before he is assassinated – at the Mafioso summit, bowls of oranges are placed on the tables (specifically in front of those Dons who will be assassinated) – Michael eats an orange while discussing his plans with Hagen – before Don Corleone dies, he plays with an orange – Tessio, who is executed for attempting to betray Michael, plays with an orange at Connie’s wedding – and Carlo Rizzi, who wears an orange suit right before Sonny beats him up, causes Sonny’s death and is himself garrotted in retribution. – The only deaths in the film that don’t appear to have oranges foreshadowing them are the assassinations of Paulie, Sollozzo, McCluskey and Apollonia.