Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Mario Puzo
This is one of if not the best film adaptation of a book ever. Watching this movie is like getting little snippets from the book perfectly crafted into a condensed version of a larger story. I love the book that this film is based off of and I think the movie is incredible. I love this movie and book on a different level than most. Every time I watch the movie or read the book I find myself so immersed in the story. It has proved to have a great influence on my life and I have learned many lessons from it. The movie was legendary when it came out forty years ago and since then the legend has only grown. For FORTY years this film has been considered one of the best, and in many cases it is called the best. It is an excellent movie that I always encourage anybody to see, and then I suggest they read the book.
About three or four years ago Amber picked this book up for me on the spur of the moment. She knew I liked the movie and thought that I would like it. I did not do very much reading at the time and really wasn’t interested in taking the time to read any book. To humor her I gave it a shot, but I was barely through the first page before I was hooked. Mario Puzo put words together in a way that spoke to me and I found myself having difficulty putting the book down. When I finished reading I went on to read most of Puzo’s books, and then The Godfather sequels written by Mark Winegardner. I have never stopped reading since and to this day read constantly and as much as I can. I credit all I have learned in that time to Mario Puzo and his awesome story, The Godfather for showing me that reading can be so interesting. I cannot even begin to estimate how much I have learned from all the reading that started with that book. It has had a significant impact on my life, and because of that the film is very important to me.
One of the things I have found so interesting about this film is how successful it turned out to be despite serious problems all through production. Francis Ford Coppola had a really rocky relationship with Paramount pictures and was nearly fired multiple times. The studio also specifically hated the casting of both Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. Literally just about everyone involved in this film met enormous success once the film was released, but it wasn’t really an easy journey getting there. The film won the Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Actor for Brando, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay for Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Francis Ford Coppola (for direction) were all nominated as well. This movie became the highest grossing film of all time when it was released and remains the highest grossing film of 1972 earning over $134 million domestically. Its domestic grosses equal to over $625 million once ticket prices are adjusted by today’s rate.
I have never been a big fan of Brando despite how great he was. I do think he was incredible in this film and this is how I like to remember him. He got so pathetic later in life; he ballooned into a serious weight problem and became quite the recluse in his old age. He was great in his youth, and he has a very interesting life that is worth looking into sometime. Despite all that, I really haven’t ever been a big fan with an exception of this movie and a few others. He is great in this role, and I have read before that he actually met with real life mafia Dons to learn mannerisms and other character traits he could mimic. His performance reflected his research too and it will be remembered for all time. As Don Vito Corleone Marlon Brando became a legend. He looked the part so much and he had such a great and memorable voice as the Godfather. He spoke with such patience and power, and when he spoke wisdom rolled out of his mouth that could be either insightful or dangerous.
Al Pacino is great as the reluctant Michael Corleone, the family rebel that would prove to be the most cunning and most ruthless of them all. What I have always found so interesting about his role in this movie is how different he looks. He looks younger and better looking in this movie, for nearly the rest of his career he has both looked and sounded dramatically different. I grew up seeing Pacino in films but he was always the older guy. He was the guy that in any given movie got that crazy look in his eyes and started screaming about something. Pacino loves to raise his voice and does so frequently. I have heard that Pacino is a really heavy smoker and I assume that the habit has wreaked havoc on both his looks and sound over the years. I like to make a joke occasionally that I tried to “Pacino” my voice by smoking for a few years so I wouldn’t sound exactly like my dad. Pacino, if nothing else, has had a long and significant career in the movie industry. He has played many legendary and iconic characters over the years and it all started with this film. Pacino turned out to be perfect for the part and it gave him the opportunity to go on and do so much.
Robert Duvall was so young in this movie too. I had always associated him with being one of those old actors who still had a lot to offer and I was surprised to see him so young. He is great as Tom Hagen and always stays true to the character. Hagen is clever and resourceful. He blends in and knows the importance of remaining anonymous or unnoticed. Hagen is one of the strengths of the family but it wasn’t until I read the book that I realized he was one of the most significant problems for the family. Hagen was dear to the Corleones and undeniably talented but he was Irish-German. Having him held in such high regard within the Sicilian mafia family weakened the power the Corleones had in the eyes of the other five families of New York. It was Hagen’s appointment as Consigliere that even made the possibility of taking out Don Corleone a topic for discussion. When the character of Sollozzo talks to Michael at the restaurant in Sicilian he mentions this. He mentions how the Don was a legend but is being unreasonable over the situation at hand. He suggests that the Don, as great as he was, is slipping a little and that the appointment of an Irish Consigliere proves as much. If you are interested in what he said specifically read the book because everything is written in English. Nevertheless Hagen remained an important part of the Corleone family and never wavered in his loyalty. Duvall embodied everything that Hagen was in my eyes and I think he was great in the part.
When I saw this movie for the first time I didn’t really like it. I was young and too immature to recognize the value and quality of the film. I was however quite taken with the Sonny Corleone character as a teenager. I loved his reckless and violent behavior. I remember thinking that this movie sucked because they killed off the best character but I was wrong. James Caan did do an awesome job portraying the character. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when he goes nuts and beats his brother-in-law on the street in front of everyone. Sonny was a wild and viscous character who met an unfortunate end much too early, but he managed to make quite an impression with the time available to him. I like James Caan quite a bit and think he has been great in several films.
John Cazale plays a smaller role in this movie but represents a character very important to the Godfather universe. As Fredo Corleone I think he really looks the part, the character of Fredo goes on to be very interesting in the books by Mark Winegardner. John Cazale was Al Pacino’s best friend in the 70s and they appeared in a few other films together. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the late 70s but continued acting despite the diagnosis. He died in 1978 shortly after completing work on Deer Hunter. Cazale was a very interesting man who is worth looking into. In this film he did an excellent job and I liked him quite a bit as Fredo.
Diane Keaton, Richard Castellano, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, and Talia Shire all played great roles in this movie too. I got so immersed into the story at one point that I really got to know all of the characters pretty well. I think that all these actors did an excellent job playing their parts. I think they not only look the part but became the characters that they played, at least in my imagination. I do tend to think too highly of everything in this movie because I think it was really really well made. I am not really a big fan of most of Francis Ford Coppola’s work, but he got everything right in this one. He has always been significant and has a name that commands power because he made this film. Nothing else he has ever done mattered because he was the man that made The Godfather, so we all owe him mad respect.
This story is the classic example of the romanticized mafia. I sometimes feel like a cliché for falling for it because I am one of those people that are somewhat obsessed with the organized crime world. I have researched not only the Italian Mafia but several other factions of organized crime syndicates. They are not like we see in the movies; they are violent and ruthless people that will stop at nothing to get what they want. They usually do not have honor in the ways that we see in the movies but they are still fascinating. They live interesting lives that draw the attention of everyone because if nothing else, we do love the drama in this country and these are dramatic people. There is a small part of all of us that wants to root for the bad guy sometimes, and these kind of bad guys offer a good opportunity to do so.
I said this movie and book made quite an impression on me and it has. This movie taught me the importance of cunning, and I try to be cunning in every aspect of life. The men in this movie are cold and calculating. They have serious issues to deal with and they come up with elaborate plans to resolve them. I am the kind of person that plans for everything, and this story taught me a thing or two about planning. This movie also got through to me the importance of honor, and respect. In the mafia world the people that don’t know how to show respect get killed, and I suppose there is something appealing about that part of their world. Couldn’t we all do with a little less of the disrespectful idiots out there in the world?
This book made Mario Puzo a mega star and he went on to write several other books involving organized crime. I would recommend all of them because I did thoroughly enjoy all of them. Puzo was an Italian American and he wrote a lot about his own experiences in life. He also wrote quite a bit about Sicilian culture and it has always appealed to me. Sicilians have such an interesting history and their people are so fascinating in his stories. The Sicilian was connected to The Godfather universe and was a really excellent book; I would recommend that everybody read it. It was loosely based on a real life person and Puzo wrote a great story. There was also a movie based off of the book starring Christopher Lambert as the main character. Obviously, that movie is not worth your time. The Godfather story too was loosely based on real life and Mark Winegardner’s sequels continued that trend. When Puzo was on set for the movie he was actually confronted by an angry and aggressive Frank Sinatra who was angry that the Johnny Fontane cried on film. The character is and was obviously based on Sinatra but that wasn’t what bothered him, it was the fact that his character showed the weakness of crying that he got angry. Puzo was a big fan of Sinatra, and the experience really shocked him. It is really obvious in all of Puzo’s books that he really despised the Hollywood lifestyle.
I could literally go on forever and ever about this movie and about the entire series because for a while it was my obsession. This is not a movie I need to validate because it was one of the greatest ever made. It has been significantly inspiring and important to me but that should mean little to other serious movie watchers. This is the kind of movie that means something to all of us, it has taught us all different things and there is no end to the different things we all love about it. This film is worth your time and worth your attention. Don’t be the fool I was as a teen when I watched it simply looking for violence. You have to let this story suck you in and see where it takes you. There are plenty of lessons to be offered in this one and they are just sitting there waiting to be absorbed. I recommend this movie to everyone and scold the people who admit to having never seen it before.
Ugh, I finished this review before I finished the film and there is so much to say as the movie goes on but I have already written so much. The mafia’s involvement in Las Vegas is really fascinating. The character of Moe Greene is based off of real life Jewish mobster Bugsy Siegel who was executed by the mob for blowing too much money. This movie is loosely based off of real history, sort of a fictionalized history if you will. I would suggest anybody interested in the story first read the book. Then find books about the true history it is based on. All of it is really fascinating stuff.
The puppet hand symbolizes The Don’s power over the mob players. He holds the reins and they are at his bidding. A deeper explanation can be gathered from the following quote from the movie: “And I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all of those big shots.” Don Vito says this is a conversation with Michael and means that he didn’t want to be the puppet held by someone else. The ironic thing is, he turned out to be the puppeteer while making his own way in life.
This movie is great, and so is the design.
NEXT MOVIE: The Godfather II (1974)