Standing the test of time, The Godfather is the best film upon release and one of the best of all time.

Reviews by Joyce Glasser The Godfather – 50th Anniversary Reissue (25 February 2022) Cert 15, 175 minutes

In 1972, a relatively unknown 29-year-old Francis Ford Coppola revolutionized the American gangster film genre with his dark, three-hour family saga called The Godfather, an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel, which has been a New York Times bestseller for so long that it has presented a daunting challenge for any adaptor. The result, adapted by Puzo with Coppola, was one of the greatest films of all time. Coppola helped revolutionize mystery thrillers The conversation (1974); war films with apocalypse now (1979); and the coming-of-age genre with The outsider (1983), but he will always be remembered The Godfather Trilogy.

Many chestnuts have fallen from the mighty oak common streets, Goodfellas and scarface to the 1978 TV series, Dallasthe sopranos and successor to The Irishman On the big screen. And that’s just the topic. Coppola’s style is so ingrained in the way movies have been made since 1972 that we can’t even tell the influence. And a book could be written about the careers he made (Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duval, Robert de Niro) or remade (Marlon Brando).

The film isn’t out of date, even if you can’t help but think that life would have been so much easier with cell phones. A beautiful new print has been produced for the 50th anniversary release and detail can only be seen on the big canvas.

Time flies and the end comes way too soon. It’s not that you like the characters, Coppola pulls you in and makes you feel like a complicit insider, eager to follow the godfather’s decision-making process and learn how he administers justice.

The title alone deserves our attention. In the lengthy wedding scene that opens the film, we meet mumbling, self-assured Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) throwing a big party for his only daughter Constance (Tahlia Shire) and her husband Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo). Rizzi is brought into the family business, but not as hoped. Crucially, we also have Vito’s youngest son, Michael ‘Mikey’ (Al Pacino, with only Panic in Needle Park his name), still in military uniform as it is in 1945, and the immigrant family has sent a representative to defend their new country.

Mikey brings along his school teacher, Katherine (Kay) Adams (Diane Keaton). In an attempt to explain the family business, Mikey uses a repeated euphemism, saying that his father is good at the ‘Mak[ing] people an offer they can’t refuse.’ He reassures her: “This is my family, Kay. I am not.’ More than two hours later, the dramatic look that goes back and forth between Mickey and Kay — the knife-in-the-stomach moment that ends the film — makes it clear that neither of them believe that statement.

Santino “Sonny” Corleone (James Caan) is set to succeed his father (Brando was only 48 in the film and Caan was 32). With the intelligent, loyal, trustworthy Thomas “Tom” Hagen, the Corleone consigliere or lawyer and a few caporegime – or “captains” – as well as Vito’s feared enforcer Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), Vito wants his Michael alive. A middle son, Fredo (John Cazale), is not the brightest star in the Corleone firmament, as we see when, after an assassination attempt that deals a severe blow to Corleone’s power struggle, Vito (who refuses to get on drugs ) the business takes over gambling in Las Vegas, which was developed for this purpose in the late 1950s.

While the opening wedding serves as a deceptively cheerful backdrop, the main action unfolds upstairs in Vito’s darkened office, where he and his council consider the petition of a suitor (Salvatore Corsitto) who has previously sought his justice through the American courts. Vito acts offended from a position of strength. People date like courtiers with kings. Conversely, individuals are subpoenaed when they need to return a favor or have committed an infraction.

The back and forth between the celebrations below and the sobering hustle and bustle above hints at another, more modest wedding celebration. Hiding in the hill towns of Sicily, Michael falls in love with Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), the tavern owner’s beautiful little daughter. Both marriages are short-lived and show how in the patriarchal structure of the Corleone family, the women have no say or political position, but live with the real risk of collateral damage.

Another character emerges from the wedding party, whose assumed relationship with the Corleone family leads Vito to reluctantly do a big favor for Frank Sinatra-type singer Johnny Fontane (Al Martino). Johnny thinks his career would benefit from starring in a movie, but Hollywood producer Jack Woltz (John Marley) had chosen someone else. We see Vito making someone an offer he can’t refuse in the “head in bed” scene, something many of 1972 will never forget.

And that brings us to the cathartic bits that fit so organically into the drama that they’re the culmination of equally enjoyable, tense preparations for the event. Some will recall that Carlo thought he was on his way to Las Vegas (we now know better) only to see his shoes snap through the car’s wipers. Others will point to the Las Vegas scene where upstart Mickey arrives in Vegas, clears the room of call girls and gets straight to the point. When Moe Green (Alex Rocco) tells a calm, composed Mickey that “the Corleone family is finished,” we know that’s not true.

Others will point to one of the film’s most stylistically influential scenes, where Mickey, in a brilliant act of strategic planning that Harvard Business School would applaud, wastes no time in responding to Vito’s warning that anyone who suggests meeting with Barzini wants to betray him. Coppola alternates between the holy baptism of Connie’s newborn son, with Mickey present as the boy’s godfather, and Mickey imagining his reckless plan being carried out.

My favorite is the scene at Louis’ New Jersey Italian restaurant where Mickey volunteers to meet up with Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and the corrupt police chief (Sterling Hayden), both of whom are on his payroll. Sonny believes they targeted Vito in a failed assassination attempt. We know what’s supposed to happen as Mickey is well prepared by the Caporegime. So we notice the slight deviation from the plan that raises our adrenaline levels, all the more satisfying the cathartic effect. For years after the film’s release, people were afraid of sitting with their backs to the door in Italian restaurants with white tables.

Standing the test of time, The Godfather is the best film upon release and one of the best of all time.

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