March 24, 2017 The Godfather- Impossible To Refuse 45 Years Later
Considered by many one of the greatest films in cinematic history, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is a timeless piece of work still affecting audiences years after its release. Based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 best-selling novel of the same name, Coppola brought the compelling tale of an aging Mafia patriarch, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando: Apocalypse Now 1979, Superman: The Movie 1978) transferring power over to his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino: Scarface 1983, Heat 1995) to life in an extraordinary way.
Initially scheduled for release on Christmas Day of 1971, The Godfather finally made its debut in New York City on March 14th of 1972. Spreading like wildfire in popularity, The Godfather would soon be released in five more theaters in New York City before receiving broad release to the rest of the world on Friday March 24th. Now celebrating its 45th anniversary, what is it that still makes The Godfather one of the greatest classics in World Cinema history?
There are many elements which factor into the answer. For one, the film offers an array of memorable quotes which have been embedded into popular culture. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli,” “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business,” “It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes,” “Don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.” These quotes are known by heart by movie buffs across the world.
Then, of course, there is Don Corleone’s immortal “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” which is considered the second greatest movie quote of all time by the AFI, right behind Clark Gable’s “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” from David O. Selznick’s 1939 Oscar-winning Civil War epic Gone with the Wind. A memorable motion picture must have memorable dialogue, and The Godfather certainly excels in this area.
The Godfather is also an epic for the ages because it offers what is perhaps the most gripping look into the Mafia underworld ever put to film. It brought Mob movies into the very center of American cinema. Numerous classics throughout the next few decades would attempt to emulate its success. Films such as 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America, 1987’s The Untouchables, 1990’s Goodfellas, and 1995’s Casino would probably not have been anywhere near as successful as they were, or even exist, if The Godfather had not laid the foundation for what every film in the genre should aspire to be.
All this said, perhaps what makes The Godfather most effective is how successful it is in completely humanizing criminals, even making some of them sympathetic to a degree. For example, one cannot help but feel Vito Corleone’s pain at the loss of his eldest son, Santino, in the film’s third act. Family values is a key theme of The Godfather.
Characters abide by them so closely that it often leads to bloodshed. Upon seeing the battered face of his sister, Connie, Sonny decides to take it upon himself to beat up her abusive husband, Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) in the streets, in broad daylight. One can completely understand why Sonny commits a violent act. It is done entirely out of love and respect for a family member. As Sonny beats Carlo to a pulp, he says “You touch my sister again, I’ll kill you!” How many of us wouldn’t take the exact same attitude that Sonny did in order to protect someone we love, not matter how nonviolent we may otherwise be?
The Godfather also serves as a superb character study of its central character, Michael, which is continued to a further extent in the equally phenomenal sequel. Al Pacino was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but he refused to show up at the ceremony out of protest. This is because he believed Michael was the main character, not Vito, and he was absolutely correct. There are numerous characters and subplots throughout the film, but it is first and foremost about Michael’s initially reluctant rise to power. He begins the story as an educated war hero who does not want to get involved in the family business.
Halfway through the film, he murders the corrupt Police Captain McCluskey and the family’s rival, Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri). By the end of the film, he does not hesitate to assert his control over New York by massacring all of his rivals while his nephew, Michael Francis Rizzi (Sofia Coppola, who was under a year old at the time of filming) is simultaneously being baptized. This is another example of Coppola effectively humanizing criminals by showing two sides of them in one masterfully-directed, flawlessly-edited sequence; the church-going, religious side, and the murderous side. Michael is the film’s most dynamic character.
The final scene in the film shows what he has become through the events which have transpired. After killing Carlo out of vengeance for Sonny, Michael lies to Kay and says that Connie’s hysterical accusations against him are not true. The final shot is the door being closed on Kay as Michael is finally referred to as “Don Corleone.” This shot perfectly depicts how distant he has become from the woman he loves, and even how detached he has become from his own humanity. All in all, it is difficult to find a better character study than The Godfather.
Coppola’s timeless masterpiece also features James Caan (Misery 1990, Eraser 1996) as The Don’s oldest son, Santino “Sonny” Corleone, the late John Cazale (Dog Day Afternoon 1975, The Deer Hunter 1978) as Fredo Corleone, Robert Duvall (Apocalypse Now 1979, Falling Down 1993) as the Corleone Family’s lawyer, Tom Hagen, Diane Keaton (The Godfather Part II 1974, Annie Hall 1977) as Kay, Talia Shire (Rocky 1976, The Godfather Part II 1974) as Connie Corleone, and Sterling Hayden (Dr. Strangelove 1964, The Killing 1956) as Captain McCluskey. History has shown the entire cast was at the top of their game, and works together flawlessly to help craft an immortal classic which would not have been such a tremendous success otherwise.
Winning three Oscars at the 1973 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Marlon Brando, the iconic famously refused to accept in response to the poor treatment of Native Americans by Hollywood. Made on a budget of only $6 Million, it ended up being the highest grossing film of 1972, grossing over $133 Million at the domestic box office, and over $110 Million at the foreign box office, leading to a worldwide gross of over $245 Million.
In addition to all the accolades, The Godfather‘s critical and financial success paved the way for two sequels also directed by Coppola; the equally successful 1974’s The Godfather Part II, which won six Oscars, including Best Picture, and 1990’s The Godfather Part III, which is almost universally considered underwhelming compared to the first two installments in the series. What does this all tell us? Simple, The Godfather has earned its place among Cinema’s greatest achievements and its legacy has remained completely intact for 45 years now, and is more than likely to remain so until the end of time.