Friday, March 16, 2012
(March 1972, U.S.)
First and foremost, I must say a great big Happy 40th Birthday to one of the greatest and most culturaly significant motion pictures ever made!
So...what can I say? How many personal best lists can I possibly put Francis Ford Coppola's THE GODFATHER on? Is it enough to say that it's one of my top ten favorite films of all time? No. Is it enough to say that I consider to be the single best film of the 1970s (and this is coming from a guy who would have given that high honor to STAR WARS when he was a kid!)? No. Is it enough to say that it's probably the greatest fucking Mob movie ever created? Yeah...that might do it.
This is a crime epic that pushes the idea of the saga of an American family...from Italy. How's that for a wonderful spin on the American dream! One of the most intruiging (and often controversial) element of any Mob film is that they're often accused of glorifying the Mafia and they're action...and why not? The characters are colorful, full of energy and life and don't take shit from anybody. What's not to love, right? However, I've always been of the opinion that THE GODFATHER does a lot more that glorify its members, but also seeks to (successfully) humanize them. Whereas I've always felt that Scorsese's films of MEAN STREETS (1973), GOODFELLAS (1990) and CASINO (1995) and HBO's THE SOPRANOS do no more than glorify it's criminal characters as colorful, violent thugs, THE GODFATHER presents a true family with the admitedly loveably patriarch of Don Vito Corleno (played by Marlon Brando in the greatest role of his career) at its head. Criminals or not, it's impossible to ignore the fact that the Corleone family care deeply for its memebers and will go to great lengths to protect them, as well as the family's interest.
Take strong note that violence in the Corleone family is almost never personal. There's a business motivation behind everything they do, even when betrayal is involved. Santino (Sonny) Corleone (played by James Caan) might be considered an exception, given his violent temper, but even if we examine the sequence when he mercilessly beats the crap out of his brother in-law Carlos in the street, we have to remember it's only to protect his beloved sister from his (Carlos') act of wife beating. It's justified and we can applaud Sonny for protecting his family, by any means necessary.
The real story taking place here is, undoubtedly, about the youngest Corleone son, Michael (played by the great Al Pacino in also his greatest role), a man who, presumably, wants nothing to do with the family business. He's a man of simple morals who's just returned from fighting in World War II and only seeks to marry his American girl Kay (played by Diane Keaton) and live a simple American life. This all changes when his father is shot by his enemies and struggles to life (five shots to the body and Vito Corleone still lives???). Suddenly the family's future is in crisis and Michael must step to only avenge his father's shooting, but to save the very crust of the family's soul, by any means necessary. It's almost quite literally a re-telling of Dr. Jekyl being re-born into Mr. Hyde forever. Look closely at Michael's face as he sits at the restaurant table just before assassinating his enemy Sollozzo and police Captain McCluskey - it almost resembles a man who's about to suffer a complete breakdown because he knows deep in his heart that once he crosses this line into the corruption and violence that goes with the family business, there's no going back...ever. When he crosses it, he stays there forever, seemingly with no regrets...not 'till PART III anyway, but we'll get to that later.
Now let me tell you a story of my grandfather whose name was Daniel. While having absolutely nothing to do with criminal activities or a criminal life, to know him was about as close to knowing a man like Vito Corleone as I will. I wish I had a picture to post, but believe me when I tell you he had a very strong resemblance to Brando's character. He was also a true patriarch of a very large family (eight children and too many grandchildren to count). Back in his homeland of Cairo, Egypt he had a presence and a reputation that would have rivaled the best of all "men of respect". To know him was to honor him with pride and remembrance. I wish I'd known him better...and longer. In all likelyhood, he probably never saw THE GODFATHER himself because he was not a man who would have cared for all that violence on screen (unless, of course, he SLEPT through it. He had a habit of constantly falling asleep in movie theaters). Had he seen it, though, we would've had much to talk about, I'm sure.
Here's one last little personal tidbit for you. You've read before that I had an Italian girlfriend in college named Daniela who remained my friend for many years after. I used to joke with her quite a lot that I hoped one day she'd invite me to her wedding because I'd built up the (admitedly sterotypical) idea in my head that here wedding would resemble the beautiful, lavish Italian wedding that took place at the beginning of THE GODFATHER. She's not married yet, so I'm still hoping.
THE GODFATHER won the Oscar for best picture of 1972. And once again, Happy 40th Birthday Corleone family! Thanks for all the great memories!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sonny Corleone: "Alright, Professor, what about McClusky. What do we do with this cop here?"
Michael Corleone: "They want to have a meeting with me, right? It will be me, McClusky and Sollozzo. Let's set the meeting. We get our informants to find out where it's going to be held. Now we insist that it be held in a public place, a bar or a restaurant where there'll be other people there so I'll feel safe. They're going to search me when I first meet them, right? So I can't have a weapon on me. But if Clemenza can figure a way to have a weapon planted for me, then I'll kill them both."
Sonny: [laughing] "What are you gonna do? Nice college boy, didn't want to get mixed up in the family business. Now you want to gun down a police captain. Why? Because he slapped you in the face a little? What do you think this like the Army where you can shoot 'em from a mile away? No you gotta get up like this and, badda-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. C'mere. You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal."
Michael: "Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?"
Tom Hagen: "ome on, Mikey..."
Michael: "Tom, wait a minute. I'm talking about a cop that's mixed up in drugs. I'm talking about a-a-a dishonest cop - a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That's a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the payroll, don't we, Tom? And they might like a story like that."
Tom: "They might, they just might."
Michael: "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."