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Films to See Before You Die: #1 The Godfather

The Godfather (1972)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton

Synopsis: In late summer 1945, guests are gathered for the wedding reception of Don Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) daughter Connie (Talia Shire) and Carlo Rizzi. Don Corleone, the head of the Corleone Mafia family, is known to friends and associates as “Godfather.” He and Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), the Corleone family lawyer, are hearing requests for favors because, according to tradition, “no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day.” Meanwhile, the Don’s youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), a decorated Marine hero returning from World War II service, arrives at the wedding and tells his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) anecdotes about his family, informing her about his father’s criminal life. Michael reassures her that he is different from his family and doesn’t plan to join them in their criminal dealings. Also among the guests at the celebration is the famous singer Johnny Fontane, Corleone’s godson, who has come from Hollywood to petition Vito’s help in landing a movie role that will revitalize his flagging career. Jack Woltz , the head of the studio, denies Fontane the part which is a character much like Johnny himself, and which will make him an even bigger star, but Don Corleone explains to Johnny: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” After Tom returns from settling business with Woltz the family meets with Virgil Sollozzo, who is backed by the rival Tattaglia family. Sollozzo is trying to get the Corleone family into the drug trade so that he can use the Don’s connections in politics to traffic more drugs. The Don refuses him on the basis that if his politician friends knew he was dealing in drugs they would no longer help him. A few days later while waiting for his son Fredo to get the car the Don is gunned down in the street by Tattaglia’s men but somehow survives. Sollozzo in an attempt to frighten the family into doing what he wants kidnaps Tom and tells him that he has to broker a deal with the new first in command Vito’s hothead boy Sonny (James Caan) who is liable to do something stupid before talks can take place. A few days later Michael goes to the hospital to visit his father in the evening and finds that his security detail has been pulled off and in fear of an impending hit moves Vito into another room and stands guard outside the hospital. The police arrive there shortly with the Chief of Police trying to arrest Michael and when he questions whether he is a dirty cop is punched in the face by the Chief and has his jaw broke. Sonny is furious about this and now wants Sollozzo dead but with the Chief of Police as his personal bodyguard it makes it nearly impossible. Michael offers to kill them both because he is about to meet with Sollozzo and is the last person they would suspect. After Michael kills them both he is exiled to Corleone, Sicily where his father was originally from until the whole thing blows over. One of the many casualties of the mob wars is Sonny who is gunned down in broad daylight.  After the Don has recovered he brokers a deal with the other heads of the five families that establishes peace so that Michael can come home. With Michael back from Italy Vito passes on the torch to him and makes him head of the family and he stays on as consigliere so that he can teach Michael how to properly run the family. It isn’t until the Don dies that Michael makes a power play eliminating all competition and establishing a new Godfather in the Corleone family.

Trivia: The presence of oranges in the Godfather trilogy indicates that a death-related event will soon occur (even though production designer Dean Tavoularis claimed the oranges were simply used to brighten up the darkly shot film). In chronological order of such events:

  • Hagen and Woltz negotiate Johnny Fontane’s position at a table with a bowl of oranges on it, and later Woltz discovers his horse’s severed head
  • Don Corleone buys oranges right before he is shot
  • Sonny drives past an advertisement for Florida Oranges before he is assassinated
  • at the Mafioso summit, bowls of oranges are placed on the tables (specifically in front of those Dons who will be assassinated)
  • Michael eats an orange while discussing his plans with Hagen
  • before Don Corleone dies, he puts an orange peel in his mouth to playfully scare his grandson
  • Tessio, who is executed for attempting to betray Michael, plays with an orange at Connie’s wedding
  • and Carlo Rizzi, who wears an orange suit right before Sonny beats him up, causes Sonny’s death and is himself garrotted in retribution.
  • The only deaths in the film that don’t appear to have oranges foreshadowing them are the assassinations of Paulie, Sollozzo, McCluskey and Apollonia.

Why I think you should see this: This is my absolute favourite film and is also the best movie I have ever seen. I also love the whole series and suggest to anyone to check them all out. This series is Coppola’s masterpiece and also one of the most important films ever made. Marlon Brando is just amazing and if you can’t get enough of Vito check out Robert De Niro’s portrayal in Part II which makes them the only actors to win an academy award for the same character. Al Pacino is pretty great too but his character gets better as the movies progress as Michael is clearly the star of the series. James Caan is perfect as Sonny and John Cazale is amazing as the pathetic Fredo. One of the best performances in the series comes from Andy Garcia in Part III and while I know most people do not like the last movie I still think it is very good and still important to the series it just had the misfortune of coming out the same year as Goodfellas. This is my all time favourite so if you haven’t seen it rent the whole series one weekend you won’t be disappointed.

About Trevor

Hi my name is Trevor and this is my blog! Films are a passion of mine. I am a total film geek. I own over 700 films and the collection is ever growing. I studied Film Studies and Scriptwriting in College. What I have learned about films is mostly self taught.

12 responses to “Films to See Before You Die: #1 The Godfather

  1. pixie2012

    One of my favourite EVER movies…. quite smug to note I’ve seen most on your top list too 🙂

  2. I know it is a classic and I am of the age that I saw it in the theater when it came out, but I consider it a “Dude Film” like “Scare Face.” I have never cared to watch it a second time. I prefer his daughter Sophia’s films. I don’t imagine you will high lite one of those. lol

  3. Gökşen ⋅

    My fave is Frodo 🙂

  4. jmount43 ⋅

    As this list made its way to number one I was already quite aware that it’s the only one film could have taken that coveted spot. I would have been sorely disappointed had it been any other. My wife, who is not a fan of Mafia or gangster films, finally watched this with me a few months ago and was mesmerized. The influence of this film can be seen and heard in so many different films, books and television shows. This is a great choice for number one as well as the only choice for number one.

  5. Valerie Fulford ⋅

    It was magnificent when it came out and still is. Great choice.

  6. Hi There,

    I need some help on something. I am working on a project for the study of humanities. Its like a syllabus kind of thing.

    I was planning to use movies to teach history. Do you have like a list of recommended historical movies.

    Write now I have stuff like Cleopatra, 300, Troy etc.

    It will be awesome if we can educate the young with movies don’t you think?

    ~ E

    • Trevor

      Well the thing about Troy is it is technically an adaption of Homer’s Illiad which is debatable about whether that is truly historical fact. In my opinion 300 would be fine for that period unless you have your heart set on Troy. Braveheart is not the most historically accurate either but it is a breathtaking film. Saving Private Ryan is another good one same with Thin Red Line or Apocalypse Now. Amadeus while not historically accurate is super entertaining. I am just getting these off the top of my head but if you want I can peruse my collection and I can get back at you soon?

      • Hi Trevor,

        It doesn’t matter if the shows do not depict historically accurate facts. It just serves as an introduction to the period. Would really appreciate it if you could have a look at your collection to name some awesome historical films (it might make a great post too!).

        Currently I have,

        Immortal Beloved
        The Young Victoria
        A Beautiful Mind
        Alexander the Great
        Flag of our Fathers
        Letters from Iwo Jima
        Michael Collins
        Pearl Harbour
        Schindler’s List
        The King’s Speech
        Shakespeare in Love
        The Pianist
        The Queen

        Preferably good shows.

        Thanks Trevor!

        ~ E

  7. vinnieh

    Excellent post on one of my all time favourite movies.

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