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.

Films to See Before You Die: #38 Apocalypse Now

now

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford

Synopsis: It is the height of the war in Vietnam, and U.S. Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent by Colonel Lucas (Harrison Ford) and a General to carry out a mission that, officially, ‘does not exist – nor will it ever exist’. The mission: To seek out a mysterious Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), whose army has crossed the border into Cambodia and is conducting hit-and-run missions against the Viet Cong and NVA. Believing Kurtz has gone completely insane the army intends to send Willard in to elminate him. Willard, sent up the Nung River on a U.S. Navy patrol boat, discovers that his target is one of the most decorated officers in the U.S. Army. Willard and his platoon meet Lt-Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), head of a U.S Army helicopter cavalry group who is obsessed with surfing which eliminates a Viet Cong outpost to provide an entry point into the Nung River. After some hair-raising encounters, in which some of his crew are killed, Willard, Lance and Chef reach Colonel Kurtz’s outpost, beyond the Do Lung Bridge. When Willard and his men are captured by Kurtz who is treated like a god it becomes clear that their mission is in risk of failing.

Trivia: Francis Ford Coppola believed that Marlon Brando was familiar with Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and had prepared for the role before the legendary actor arrived on the set. When Brando did come out, Coppola was horrified to find that Brando had never read “Heart of Darkness”, did not know his lines, and had become extremely fat (Kurtz had always been written as a tall but starvingly-thin man). After some panicking, Coppola decided to film the 5’10” Brando as if he was a massively built, 6’5″ brute (to explain Brando’s size) and steered the camera clear of Brando’s huge belly.

Why I think you should see this: Francis Ford Coppola is one of the best filmmakers of all time and probably the best director of the 1970’s. This is a harrowing take on the Vietnam War as it was  one of the first to show how much the carnage of the war effected these young soldiers. This is a very effective film that makes you feel like you are right there in the mud with Willard. Both Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando are great in this and so is Dennis Hopper in his small role. This movie is a classic in every sense of the word check it out sometime.