The Godfather (1972)

R   |    |  Crime, Drama


The Godfather (1972) Poster

The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

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9.2/10
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  • "The Godfather" Marlon Brando, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola 1971 Paramount
  • Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall at an event for The Godfather (1972)
  • Al Pacino and Simonetta Stefanelli in The Godfather (1972)
  • Robert De Niro at an event for The Godfather (1972)
  • Marlon Brando and Salvatore Corsitto in The Godfather (1972)
  • Robert De Niro at an event for The Godfather (1972)

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Reviews & Commentary

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24 April 2005 | BrandtSponseller
10
| For me it isn't "the greatest ever", but it's still great
Marlon Brando is Don Vito Corleone, head of perhaps the most powerful New York-area mafia family in the 1940s, in this well-respected film by director/writer Francis Ford Coppola. As the film begins, Vito is receiving "business" guests in his office at his home while his daughter Connie's (Talia Shire) wedding and reception are taking place. The epic plot takes place over many years, telling the story of Vito, his family--including Michael (Al Pacino), Santino (James Caan) and Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), his associates, and their interactions with other mob syndicates.

The Godfather is commonly considered to be one of the "greatest films of all time". Even though I've given it a 10, I wouldn't put that same kind of exalted emphasis on it. I've given literally thousands of films 10s over the years, and for me, Godfather just barely made a 10. I think it has a number of flaws, but Coppola also has a knack for transcending the problems with some brilliant move or another. At any rate, it is definitely must-see viewing--even if it's only because it's so highly regarded--if you've not experienced the film yet. I think it's a good idea to attain cultural literacy, and films as popularly loved as The Godfather become necessary elements in achieving that literacy.

Shorn of its gangster trappings, The Godfather is sprawling and soap-operatic in tone. The sprawl is appropriate to its origins as a novel by Mario Puzo, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Coppola. There is a large cast of characters--maybe too large, as it can be difficult to keep track of just who everyone is. Even after you've watched the film a couple times you may find scenes where mobsters seem to spontaneously appear and you catch yourself saying, "Wait, who is that guy supposed to be again?" The soap opera angle can be a positive or negative depending on your tastes. I tend to not like soap-operatic stories, but of course Coppola put yummy gangster topping on this one to make it palatable for guys like me. At root, though, The Godfather is concerned with realistic depictions of a very dysfunctional family as they try to make it through life--including marriages, births, adultery, spats between family members, tiffs with others in their community, and so on. My theory is that the soap opera angle accounts for much of the film's appeal. For me, it (and the slight lack of focus from the sprawl) accounts for much of the reason that I barely gave the film a 10.

But two things help the film transcend a lower score for me. Even though the gangster stuff has been far surpassed in graphic brutality in the intervening years, the dramatic context of the violence usually gives it tremendous impact. Films like Ichi the Killer (2001), which I just watched for the first time the night before watching The Godfather again, make the Godfather's brutality fit for Sesame Street in comparison. However, although Ichi's violence is effective, setting that knob to "11" doesn't make it better. Besides, Ichi is so over the top that it would make many Godfather fans want to hurl.

To the extent that Coppola and Puzo just focus on the extended Corleone family, they create tremendous depth in their relationships. The whole film can be looked at as a fascinating depiction of "oscillating" dynamics in the family, with the pole pairs being interacting/distancing, control/lack of control, benevolence/malevolence. Most character stances and actions are some combination of those ranges of characteristics, and everyone dances around the poles, so to speak, throughout the film. From this angle, even the attractive surface violence (well, attractive to us fans of that stuff in artworks) is mainly there for the purpose of pushing characters more to one pole or the other. There is an implication that underlying these mechanisms is some natural tendency towards achieving (a dynamic) equilibrium.

But there are more superficial stylistic factors that help push my score up to a 10, also. The most obvious, which everyone and their grandparents have mentioned, are the performances. It's tough to go wrong when you have a cast including Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, and so on. Another commonly mentioned element that I agree is fantastic and superbly integrated to create atmosphere is Nino Rota's score.

Less often mentioned is the consistently intriguing cinematography by Gordon Willis. Most of Willis' unusual shots in the film are so subtle as to be barely noticeable unless you're looking for them. The opening, for example, consists of a long (it lasts a few minutes) "zoom out" from Amerigo Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto). The shot is beautifully lit--most of the frame is extremely dark, giving Bonasera a chiaroscuro effect (the opening is also unusual in that it's a long monologue from a minor character).

Willis and Coppola have a knack for placing their actors in the frame to create depth and interesting visual patterns. This is done so slyly that at first blush you wouldn't believe it's something they thought about, but if you keep this in mind while watching, you can see delightful visual paths that zigzag, wind to a focal point, and so on, all created by the confluence of actors and scenery in the frame.

If you haven't seen The Godfather before, the most important thing you can do before watching is to forget about all of the "greatest film of all time" hype. That's only likely to set up expectations that could never be met; more than likely you'll be disappointed. Just think of it as one of the better films from one of Hollywood's more admirable but relatively odder directors, featuring earlier performances from a very well known cast, and keep in mind that it's as much a "historical family saga" as a crime or gangster film.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Elvis Presley, an avid fan of the book, auditioned for the role of Tom Hagen, though he really wanted to play Vito Corleone.


Quotes

Bonasera: I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom but I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a "boy friend," not an Italian. She went to the movies with him. She ...
Bonasera: ...


Goofs

When Sonny beats up Carlo, James Caan can be clearly seen in profile faking a punch so badly that he misses Gianni Russo by a foot and a half, with his fist passing within eight inches of his own chest.


Crazy Credits

In the end credits, Marlon Brando's name is the only one that is not accompanied by the character name that he plays (e.g. "as Vito Corleone").


Alternate Versions

In 1977, a special version for television titled The Godfather Saga (1977) was prepared by director Francis Ford Coppola and editor Barry Malkin by re-editing The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) in chronological order and adding deleted scenes. Most of these deleted scenes are also included separately on the DVD release and in The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 (1992). Among the deleted scenes:

  • Following Bonasera's exit in the first scene, Vito whistles at Sonny for not paying attention to business.
  • During the wedding reception, Tom Hagen informs Don Vito that consigliere Genco won't last the night in the hospital.
  • After the wedding, the Don and his sons are leaving the compound with Johnny Fontane to visit Genco. Vito asks Michael if Kay was able to get home all right.
  • In the hospital, the Don looks at Michael's military decorations with disdain then tells Michael that he has plans for him after graduation.
  • A dying Genco begs Vito to stay with him believing that Vito will somehow stop his death.
  • An extended version of Jack Woltz's party for his child star, Janie.
  • After being thrown out by Woltz, Tom looks up and sees Janie crying and her mother push her back into Woltz's bedroom.
  • Connie and Carlo argue and she runs crying into Mama's arms. Sonny wants to confront Carlo but Vito tells him not to interfere.
  • After Tom returns from Hollywood, he discusses with Vito what he has discovered about Woltz.
  • Michael and Kay are in their hotel bed in New York City and don't want to go to the family compound. Michael has Kay call Tom pretending to be an operator, then Michael tells Tom that they are in New Hampshire and will be at the compound the next day.
  • On the way to meet Sollozzo, Luca sees the nightclub's neon sign burn out.
  • Sonny gets a call from a detective telling him about his father's shooting. He then tries to call Tom.
  • Sonny tells Mama about the shooting. He then goes into Vito's study, calls Tessio and tells him to prepare his men. He then tries to call Luca.
  • A quick shot of Michael driving, returning home after his father's shooting and Rocco offering to escort Michael into the house.
  • Michael brings Tom's wife Theresa into the study where Sonny and Tessio are. Sonny comforts her and tells them both to wait outside but Michael stays. They discuss with Michael whether Clemenza or Paulie was the traitor. Michael tries to talk Sonny out of going to war stating Vito would not want it. Then Tom returns home and hugs Theresa.
  • Immediately following is a quick shot of the Corleone compound that dissolves to the scene where they discuss their next course of action.
  • Rocco admires Clemenza's car but Clemenza complains that the bumpers are wooden due to the war effort. He then tells Rocco that he is to kill Paulie.
  • Clemenza has Paulie check the hideout spot. He then has Paulie make a stop so he can buy some cannoli and have a meal at a restaurant.
  • In Sicily, Michael and the bodyguards watch a Communist demonstration march.
  • While relaxing in the afternoon sun, Fabrizio begs Michael to bring him along to America when he returns.
  • Michael and his bodyguards visit his father's childhood home and find it abandoned.
  • After Connie hangs up the phone on Carlo's "girlfriend", she then confronts him in the shower. Then, Carlo orders her to make him dinner.
  • Bonasera is shown getting ready to return his favor to Don Vito. Bonasera tells his wife who is helping him get dressed that maybe he will be asked to be an accomplice to murder.
  • After the car bomb, Michael wakes up in bed surrounded by nurses and Don Tommasino. Michael tells Tommasino to find Fabrizio and he passes out.
  • Michael and Vito talk in the new garden after his return from Sicily. Michael takes responsibility for avenging the deaths of Sonny and Apollonia so Vito will not have to break his promise to the other Dons.
  • Additional dialogue when Michael removes Tom from his position as consigliere.
  • The final scene is Kay in a Catholic church lighting candles and praying.


Soundtracks

Solid Potato Salad
(uncredited)
Written by
Don Raye and Gene de Paul

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Crime | Drama

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