“I believe in America…” Right from the off, a wedding scene that takes up 20 minutes of screen time, there is a scale and gravitas to The Godfather which distinguishes it from its generic, pulp roots. Coppola lavishes enormous care over the film’s verisimilitude, plunging us into a shadowy world where business sustains itself independently of public morality. Only in the mafia, right?
A family saga in more senses than one, Francis Coppola’s enthralling gangster opus aims to chronicle the American experience through the twentieth century. It is both a success story – Vito arrives in Ellis Island with nothing and rises to a position of immense power and wealth – and a study of moral corruption: in order to thrive Vito must engage in murder, extortion, bribery and racketeering; crimes which will culminate in fratricide, the destruction of the family itself.
In the early 1970s The Godfather films’ implication that power and corruption were inextricably linked struck a deep chord with audiences disenchanted with the Nixon administration and still reeling from the assassinations of the 1960s. Although amateur pop culture historians trace the rise of the blockbuster back to Jaws, in truth Coppola’s film was the first 70s movie to transform box office expectations.
A wide, startlingly vivid view of a Mafia dynasty, in which organized crime becomes an obscene nightmare image of American free enterprise. The movie is a popular melodrama with its roots in the gangster films of the 30s, but it expresses a new tragic realism, and it’s altogether extraordinary.
Pauline Kael, New Yorker
The Godfather is arguably the most important American film of the 1970s (especially if both parts are considered together) not only because it struck a deep, mythic chord in most Americans, but also because it demonstrated clearly that a highly popular film need not be superficial…. It looked like an action saga. It wasn’t. It was really a film about relationships and connections: between men and women, between fathers and sons, between business and personal lives. Vito’s tragedy is that he separates them; Michael’s that he can’t.
James Monaco, American Film Now (1979)
July 22 & 27: Introduction from filmmaker Will Ross
Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Diane Keaton, James Caan, John Cazale, Robert Duvall, John Marley
Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando), Best Screenplay, Academy Awards 1973
Albert S. Ruddy
Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
William Reynolds, Peter Zinner
More Films in This Series
Dog Day Afternoon
Based on a true story of a New York bank robbery which turned into a hostage siege (and a media spectacle), Sidney Lumet's gripping movie showcases a bravura performance from Al Pacino as the homosexual, married, unhappy, decent, confused bank robber.
The biggest hit from the 70s phase of Brian De Palma's career, Carrie takes Stephen King's horror novel about a troubled telekinetic teen and weaves it into a purely cinematic rhapsody of angst and (retali-)elation, what Pauline Kael termed "a terrifyingly lyrical thriller".
All the President's Men
This gripping account of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's investigation into the Watergate break-in is a masterclass of cinematic craft from director Alan J Pakula (Klute; The Parallax View) and DP Gordon Willis (The Godfather).
The Parallax View
The most lucid and ingenious, the most deeply, creepily satisfying of paranoia thrillers, Alan J. Pakula's film posits an assassination corporation. Reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) is on to Them, or so he believes…
A passion project for producer-star Warren Beatty, this frothy boudoir comedy of Beverly Hills manners views its hairdresser hero's bed-hopping with a certain sadness. Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Lee Grant and Carrie Fisher come along for the ride.