Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Godfather Trilogy

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I took a few days to watch all three Godfather movies in order. For Christmas, The Sole Heir gave me Mark Seal’s excellent book Leave the Gun, take the Cannoli, which describes how the films came to be, from Mario Puzo’s personal backstory right up until the movie’s phenomenal success. Seal wrote an entire book about just one of the pictures, so I’m not going to try to get into all of them in a single blog. I can supply a list of salient thoughts.


·       The original is the best. For a long time I was unsure if Part 2 might be better, but on further review, The Godfather is damn near a perfect film, maybe the best ever.

·       Part 3, or as it’s now called, The Death of Michael Corleone, is not worthy of inclusion with its predecessors. I’ll not spend any more time on this lizard.

·       Forty-seven-year-old Marlon Brando’s performance of the aging Don Corleone is one of the great performances of all time. There are those who criticize his speaking voice and mannerisms; I grew up around a lot of people of Italian ancestry, used to rehearse at the local Italian American Club, and he nailed those old guys.

·       Francis Ford Coppola and Puzo worked hand-in-glove on the screenplay, which is brilliant. Kudos to Puzo for acquiescing to cutting a lot of the book. Not that he had much choice, but Seal describes the collaboration process as more than cordial, leading to a life-long friendship.

·       The lighting and cinematography of the original are breathtaking. One can almost smell the interior of the Corleone house. The contrasts of New York, Hollywood, and Sicily are artfully displayed in the photography.

·       For all the graphic, extreme, and cartoonish violence we’ve seen over the past fifty years, the death of Sonny Corleone is still hard to watch, as is his beating of Carlo Rizzi.

·       The first two films contain wonderfully controlled performances by Al Pacino. Great as his career has been, he would have been well served by doing more of this in his later years.

·       Let’s not forget the performances of James Caan as Sonny and John Cazale as Fredo. Robert Duvall has a much smaller part, but has Robert Duvall ever given a less than masterful performance?

·       Nino Rota’s score is unobtrusive and enhances every scene in which it appears.

·       Has there ever been a second-tier supporting cast better than Richard Castellano (Clemenza), Abe Vigoda (Tessio), John Marley (Jack Woltz), Sterling Hayden (Captain McCluskey), Al Lettieri (Sollozzo), Alex Rocco (Moe Greene), and Richard Conte (Barzini)? Adding Michael V. Gazzo (Frankie Pantangelo), Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth), G.D. Spradlin (Senator Geary), and Dominic Chianese (Johnny Ola) in Part 2 was pretty slick, too.

·       It’s Michael’s story, but the depiction of the Cuban revolution in Part 2 provides pithy commentary on American hubris regarding Cuba and, by extension, much of the rest of the world in the 50s and 60s.

·       Diane Keaton is better in Part 2 than in the original, but she didn’t bloom as an actress for another few years. Fortunately for all of us it was in time for Annie Hall.

·       Interesting note from the book that I did not know: Sofia Coppola is the baby christened in the finale of the original.

·       The wedding scene is masterful at providing exposition and backstory without being too obvious about it. Well, yeah, it’s clear that is what’s being done, but it has momentum of its own while laying out everything we need to know for the next two-and-a-half hours.

·       Rivals Casablanca for iconic lines.

o   “I believe in America.”

o   “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

o   ‘What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”

o   “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

o   “Someday, and this day may never come, I will ask you for a favor.”

o   These were off the top of my head. I could fill a blog post on great lines alone if I took the time to check them out in IMDB.

It’s hard to imagine anyone who reads this blog who has not seen at least the first two Godfather movies. If you haven’t, rectify the situation as soon as possible. While they hold up to repeated viewings, revealing new things each time, there’s nothing to compare to seeing them for the first time. Darken the room and make sure you go to the bathroom before starting. You’re not going to want to stop.

No comments: