Francis Ford Coppola got Mario Puzo's pulpy novel and turned it into a cinematic masterpiece with Puzo as co-scriptwriter. Robert McKee famous for his seminars on script writing offers Casablanca as the perfect film. He deconstructs the script and movie in his seminars. He is wrong. The Godfather is as perfect as a movie you can get.
When Paramount Pictures gave the movie a greenlight. The mafia families were concerned that it would lift the lid on how they operated and shine an unwelcome spotlight on the crime bosses. There were attempts to stop the movie being made. They had nothing to worry about, when the movie came out the mob bosses realized that no amount of money could buy the public relations they got from the film.
Instead of murderous gangsters. The Godfather portrays the mafia as men of honour, family men who value loyalty and live by a code. Violence would only be used as a last resort. It is because we never see the outside victims of these people. The story is set within gangsters and their families and associates.
The film opens with an epic wedding sequence set after the war. On the day of his daughter's wedding Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) cannot refuse a request made of him. His godson Johnny Fontane drops by to sing at the wedding and requests Don Vito's help to secure a part in a movie that would secure his comeback. His informally adopted son Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) is sent to Hollywood to persuade the film producer and when he refuses, the producer wakes up in bed with the head of his prized horse.
Don Vito Corleone is a criminal, the head of the five families. He is also the moral centre of this movie. He is wise, he can be kind but he is also ageing and his values are of a world that is disappearing. Don Vito's reluctance to enter the drugs trade would be his undoing.
The Godfather is really the story of youngest son, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino.) The war hero who wanted to have nothing to do with the family business but is pulled in first when his father is shot and then when a further attempt is made on his life in the hospital. After the death of his hot headed brother Sonny Corleone (James Caan.) Michael is groomed by Don Vito to become the head of the family. After his father's death, Michael plans revenge on those who betrayed his family and the rival families.
In his first scenes at the family wedding, Michael explains to his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) the various heavies hanging around and some of the things his father did to pull favours. Michael is an outsider in his own family as he tells Kay that he is not like them. As the film progresses Michael becomes exactly like them.
The Godfather has terrific performances. Marlon Brando won his second Best Actor Oscar and rejuvenated his career. On the other hand Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan were all nominated for the best supporting actor Oscars and cancelled each other out. The film won three Oscars including Best Picture. The big winner that year was actually Cabaret with eight Oscar wins including Best Director.
So much of The Godfather has been emulated since. Michael Cimino was so enamoured by the movie, he opens The Deer Hunter with an epic wedding sequence to set up his story. He also cast Robert De Niro and John Cazale, two actors who appeared in The Godfather films. On the other hand Coppola would later cast John Savage who plays an important role in The Deer Hunter in The Godfather III in 1990.
Then there is the climax. The christening scenes where Michael Corleone renounces the devil and all his work which is intercut with his various henchmen killing the Corleone's rivals. A trick Coppola has used in his other movies.
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