Friday, April 8, 2011

The Great Alphabet of Films—G is For

Be A Goodfella and Go With The Godfather

      Surprised I didn't go with Good Will Hunting because my banner (above) certainly is? Well, even if you are, there's no defensible way I could construct a list, and appropriately justify the absence of one of my favorite films of all-time—and arguably, the greatest film ever made. Of course, I'm talking about the one film you can never FUHGEDDABOUD, Francis Ford Coppola's seminal film, The Godfather. And quite apropos, it gains "G" status, perfectly befitting the greatest gangster film ever made (which is also my favorite genre).
      How to start with this one? Everything about The Godfather is flawless. Marlon Brando, probably my favorite actor of the 50's/60's era, makes us an offer we can't refuse. Coppola's brilliant direction, prescient casting, and masterful pacing is a triumvirate stroke of cinematic genius. Pacino's performance, my first glimpse into his riveting pedigree, is unforgettable. Mario Puzo's novel, which provides the depth of inspiration, is a masterpiece. Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola's rhythmic and provocative score is beautifully rendered. And William Reynolds and Peter Zinner's editing is impeccably furnished. 
      And not to mention the all too obvious fact that the film itself is just full of splendor: the illustrious wedding scene, the memorably violent shooting of Officer McCluskey and Sollozzo, Don Barzini's assassination on the steps of the New York State Supreme Court, the unforgettable sadness and shear brutality of Sonny's last stand, the hauntingly sad revelation of Fredo's (John Cazale) betrayal (Michael's indelible voice, "I know it was you, Fredo -- you broke my heart -- you broke my heart"), the shooting of Moe Green through the eye—inspired by the death of real life gangster, Bugsy Siegel—and the real severed head of a horse, which taught us all, an infinitely vital lesson: don't ever mess with the Mafia. Shit, I'll even give credit to the distributor, Paramount, for delivering this cinematic gem to the world. If one of the greatest auteurs of cinema's history, Stanley Kubrick, claims it's "the greatest movie ever made and the best cast ever assembled," I'm inclined to believe him.

      A magnificent, unblemished staple of cinema, The Godfather stars Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as Vito Corleone and his youngest son, Michael, respectively. Set in New York during the late 1940''s, Corleone is, in the parlance of organized crime, a "Godfather." Michael, a smart, autonomous thinker who defied his father by enlisting in the Marines to fight in WWII, has returned a captain and a war hero. Having blatantly rejected the family business, Michael shows up at the wedding of his sister, Connie (Talia Shire), with his non-Italian girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton). A few months later, the Don nearly dies from a gunman's shot in the employ of a drug-trafficking rival whose request for aid—the Corleones' political connections—were rebuffed. After saving his father from a second assassination attempt, Michael persuades his impetuous eldest brother, Sonny (James Caan), and family advisers, the steely Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and the savvy Sal Tessio (Abe Vigoda) that he should be the one to exact vengeance.
      After murdering corrupt police captain McCluskey, and the drug trafficker, Michael seeks refuge in Sicily while a gang war erupts at home. Michael marries a local Sicilian girl, but she is later slain by Corleone enemies in an attempt on Micheal's life. Sonny is also gunned down at home, having been betrayed by Connie's husband. As Michael returns home and convinces Kay to marry him, his father recovers and orchestrates a peace settlement with his rivals, realizing another powerful don masterminded the narcotics ring, which instigated the gang warfare. Once Michael has been groomed as the new don, he leads the family into a new era of prosperity. And emboldened by this fresh grasp of total power, he launches a methodical campaign of murderous revenge against those who once tried to wipe out the Corleones, consolidating his family's power and sealing his own moral demise.
      The Godfather is a metaphor of American Capitalism. Other variations of gangster movies focused on gangs themselves while The Godfather presents the gangster's perspective, as a response to corrupt society. This subtle difference in narrative design provides a mammoth sense of importance for it is a prerequisite of unique storytelling. The Corleone's prolific rise through society—reaching untold wealth, orchestrating key political connections, and garnering God-like adulation—is commensurate with other tales of American prominence. The Corleone family may match Tony Montana in terms of luxury and opulence, but they are never once presented in the mold of corruptible figures, motivated by gambling, prostitution, or other forms of racketeering. Some critics may carefully deride this "unapologetic" look at the criminal underworld, but I argue it's what constitutes The Godfather's greatest appeal.
      Coppola's portrayal of gangsters as arbiters of considerable psychological depth and complexity was an enriching and rare development for this breed of film. The Godfather blazed the trail for a proliferation of impressive films including Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (as you know, one of my favorite directors and film's). The delineation of Don Vito as a patriarch of a sort of "royal family"—an often employed cultural trope—stands in defiant contrast to the more sordid reality of lower level Mafia entanglements, as depicted in post-Godfather Mafia fare. Consequently, The Godfather will forever remain not only the greatest gangster film ever made, but one of the most enduring and compelling depictions of the human character ever prescribed.
      The opening scene of The Godfather is a long, slow zoom, which begins with a close-up of the undertaker, Bonasera—petitioning Don Corleone—but ends with the Godfather, seen from behind, framing the scene. This zoom, which lasts for about three minutes, not only beautifully establishes the mafia hierarchy, but more importantly, it astutely reveals to the audience the fact that this world of deference will be examined through the eyes and machinations of Don Vito—a calculating, honest figure of mildly corrupt means. Thanks to Coppola, I'll forever be drawn into this fascinating world. The Godfather won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Actor in a Leading role for Marlon Brando. It was nominated for a staggering eight more. Oh, and if one flawlessly pitch-perfect gangster film wasn't enough, Coppola and company gave us Godfather 2!

*We're going old school with this one. Thankfully, someone posted the original 1972 trailer for The Godfather


  1. Great review! The book for The Godfather was also fantastic. Now I want to watch the trilogy again. :)

  2. you would totally fit one of these Italian gangsta movies, Matty :) You should do some auditions :PP

  3. I agree. The Godfather is definitely one of the greats. Thank you so much for following my blog. I appreciate it.

  4. Great choice for G! Too bad they don't make movies as great anymore.

  5. I love the Godfather, it is one American cinema's seminal films. It really defined a genre. The performances give me the chills, especially Pacino's as Michael crosses into the darker part of his soul and that predatory coldness creeps into his expression by the end of the film.

  6. Hi, Matthew, first let me say, thanks for visiting an old lady's blog (mine) and leaving clever comments. I appreciate you and others who do.
    Secondly, let me say that my husband and I went to a theater to watch Godfather I, several years after the movie had been made. The theater, The Tennessee Theater, in Knoxville, is an old one, and was in its day, quite elegant. It had been refurbished and people were anxious to go and see the movie and the inside of the theater. I found myself in a crowded crunch, and thought I was going to be smashed. Ha. Anyhow, we really enjoyed the Godfather movies. Ruby

  7. @ Jayne

    Thank you! Haha, a job well done for me, then I would say. I'm going to have to watch the first two again this weekend.

    @ Dezmond

    Haha thanks Dez! You're awesome.

    I wish I coulda been in The Godfather (I've had that exact dream before). And who knows what kind of acting auditions lay in my future, but I'd love to be in a gangster film someday (which is why I'm writing my own)!

  8. @ Karen

    You're welcome. It was a very touching story! And I encourage you to go for it—that is watch The Godfather again this weekend.

    @ Murees

    No problem. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. @ Melissa

    Precisely! And Pacino's depth of performance was startling. You nailed it with your description.

    Plus, how friggen terrific is John Cazale. He's in five films (before his tragic death) and each film is nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Truly, an amazing feat that will never be duplicated.

    @ Grammy

    You're so very much welcome! Your piece on "finagling" was laugh out loud fantastic. And thanks for returning the deed, as well as sharing your wonderful Godfather story!

  10. @ Amy

    Thanks! And you're are on to something. They certainly don't make movies quite like they used to. The celebrated, fascinating era of the late 60's, 70's (termed "New Hollywood") will never be matched by today's film standards and processes. I wish that weren't true though.

  11. Ah, Godfather, another great movie. This was one of those movies I always wanted to see, and crazy enough I saw for the first time only about 5 years ago. I've seen it several times since then - I can't believe I was missing out!

    Very nice review! :)

  12. My parents took me to see this movie when I was four (!) years old - well, let's put that another way - they went to see this movie and I got taken along - and the image that is still burned into my head is Moe Greene's death. (As you can probably imagine). Years later, around 1992, I worked on a CBS miniseries called Mafia Marriage (it had a longer title, but those were the important words in it) and it had Eric Roberts and Nancy McKeon as the leads - but in the supporting cast were Ben Gazzara, Tomas Milian (neither important to this anecdote - but wow!) and Alex Rocco - Moe Greene himself - so in a down time moment at the craft service table I got to tell Mr. Rocco how much his death scene had scared me as a kid - he was delighted!
    Truly amazing movie - a towering achievement - did you know they aired the two movies on NBC in chronological story order over two or three nights as "The Godfather Saga" in the late 70's or early 80's? I think they may have out the same edit - overseen by Coppola I think - on VHS too. Worth checking out if you'd like to see your fave old movie(s) in a whole new way!

  13. Another wonderful review for one greatest film of all time. Great job, Matt! Your review also inspired me to re-watch the film.

  14. @ Liz


    Wow! I watched Godfather before I learned to walk. But that's a story for another day.

    We'll I'm happy you've seen it, and even happier that you've sought the need to watch it again and again!

    @ Craig

    Awesome! What better way to learn about the world; you know, profanity, violence, vengeance, honor, duty, service (and so much more). Lol, I first saw it at the impressionable age of two! It's better than the a,b,c's.

    And thanks for sharing that terrific anecdotal nugget. WOW, indeed! I'm jealous. That Moe Greene death scene was a genius stroke of enduring imagery.

    And thanks for the tip! I've actually feasted my eyes on that version once before, and I'm still mesmerized.

  15. @ Jaccstev

    We'll that piece of information just made my night! Glad I motivated you to re-watch it! I'm doing the same on Sunday (I and II)!!

  16. It's been so long since I watched The Godfather, but it was certainly a roller coaster. Love the blog. I just can't leave you at 99 Google followers, though. :)

    Visiting through the A to Z Challenge!

    Marie at the Cheetah

  17. I saw this film with my mother. It is one of my favorites too.

    Nice to meet you Matt.

  18. I was just talking about the Godfather the other day. I've never seen it. Shocking I'm sure. I've always wanted to. I'll have to put it on my watch list.

  19. @ Marie

    Ha thank you so much! The fact that you're number 100, well your presence here reaches a stratospheric level of awesomeness! And btw, cheetahs rule, as do woman named Marie!

    Maybe in honor, you'll watch The Godfather again!?

    @ Ann

    Nice to meet you too! Glad to know it's one of your favorites!

    @ Shelley

    How coincidental, huh lol! That news is grimly shocking to me. I encourage you to WATCH it immediately. Your appreciate for cinema will grow immensely! Thanks.

  20. I must be the only Italian on the planet who doesn't swoon over the Godfather. My pick for G would be Gone With the Wind, my absolute favorite. The Godfather is an undeniable classic, but the portrayal of Italians is about as appealing to me as the Jersey Shore's!

  21. Oh, how much I love a dissenter. I must admit, I didn't expect one for this film. But actually, your opinion is not too farfetched. If we're talking The Godfather vs. Gone With The Wind, both are unquestioned classics. One's appreciation over the other is merely subjective, and a matter of tastes/sensibilities. I also love Gone With The Wind (I saw it for the 1st time a few years ago). It is a remarkable work of film and I love Leigh's and Gable's touching performances!

    As for The Godfather, its depiction of the morality of the criminal underworld can be a bit of a turnoff for most. Humanizing corrupt figures is a delicate matter. But I do think it still paints Italians in a fairly positive light. And it is, unequivocally, a much more POSITIVE reflection of Italian culture than Jersey Shore (which is just jarring and shallow entertainment).

    Sorry to rant. I just love this film! Thanks for the comment.