Classic Movie Review: The Godfather (1972)

Title: The Godfather
Release Date: March 24, 1972
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Production Company: Paramount Productions | Alfran Productions

I’m assuming that it is divine coincidence that my review of The Godfather goes out on St. Joseph’s Day, the feast of the patron saint of Sicily.  Buona Festa di San Giuseppe!  This is one of those movies that everyone has seen, except me, so I’m happy to join the club.

Unlike The Shining where I’d basically absorbed the entire plot by osmosis, I was generally unspoiled for The Godfather.  Sure, all the famous quotations and infamous deeds appeared one by one as the film went by, but I actually knew little of the plot.  Such as that the movie is a period piece set in the 1940s and 1950s, and is story of how Don Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) favorite son Michael (Al Pacino) changes from being the golden child who goes to college and is a war hero, to becoming the ruthless heir to the family power.

Perhaps the most unexpected part of the movie for me is that Vito gets shot multiple times fairly early in the film.  After seeing so many memes of Don Vito as a tough guy, I was surprised to see that much of Brando’s performance is of a frail man facing his mortality.  I also liked that his last moments were playing with his grandson.

There’s a lot to like about this movie.  The opening scene of the wedding is brilliant in how it sets up all the characters, but also that it’s just a great naturalistic performance of a large family gathering.  After hearing “Lazy Mary” many times at Mets’ games, it was funny to hear it sung at the wedding reception. I like the attention to detail to Old New York throughout the movie.  Although most of the characters are ruthless gangsters they also remind me fondly of New Yorkers of my childhood.

The most interesting character in the movie is Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), the Corleone family consigliere and lawyer, and Vito’s surrogate son.  Maybe I like him because he’s something of an outsider and of German-Irish.  But I also like Duvall’s restrained performance, kind of the good cop who tries to win people over with honey before the tough guys move in.  I think they could have made an interesting spin-off movie just from Hagen’s point of view.

The biggest flaw of The Godfather is its treatment of women.  I guess that’s faithful to how women were treated in Mafia families and mid-century America in general.  Kay (Diane Keaton) is abandoned by Michael when he flees to Sicily with no contact.  Then after he’s been back a year he asks her to marry him and she’s okay with that?  No decision she makes seems realistic.  Michael also marries a 16-year-old, Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), in Sicily for no other reason than apparent boredom.  Then she’s killed, of course, solely to motivate Michael in an egregious case of “fridging.” And Connie  is whiny, useless, and terribly acted by Talia Shire, the director’s sister.

My thoughts on The Godfather is that it is an excellent movie and worth the wait, although I’d not got so far as to say it is one of the greatest movies of all time (and certainly not in the top ten).

Rating: ****