Cinerama: The Godfather

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama

The Godfather

By Mike Derderian

“Its curtains for you Rocky, curtains,” says Bugs Bunny in a rough and tough Brooklyn accent—after pretending to be a mobster—to the villain, who is down on his knees pleading for his life. Instead of whacking him, Bugs places a nice set of drapes on the man’s head. “Oh, they’re just adorable,” lovingly announces Rocky.

It was either that or he would be “sleeping with the fishes,” just like Luca Brasi, one of Mario Puzo’s undying characters from the bestseller-novel-turned-film The Godfather, by legendary director Frances Ford Coppola in 1972.

In the dictionary, “Mafia” is defined as an organization of criminals, especially those existing for many years in the west of Sicily, and more recently in the United States, who control many activities by threats of violence. However, Coppola’s film The Godfather, en contraire, transmitted a more admirable and dignified image of the Casa Nostra members appreciated both by the public and film critics. I mean, who wouldn’t respect Don Vito Corleone, the number one onscreen villain icon thanks to Marlon Brando’s stuffing tissue paper in his mouth to create the Don’s trademark bulldog face.

Starring an array of Hollywood talents, like James Caan (unjustly underrated), Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Richard S. Castellano, John Cazale, Al Lettieri and veteran actor Sterling Hayden, spearheaded by Brando, The Godfather would become a cult movie—a status emphasized by the two excellent sequels that were produced in later years.

With three Oscar’s, best film, best actor (Brando) and best screenplay, this epic saga takes you right into the gripping, troubled and blood drenched lives of the Corleone crime family, headed by Don Vito Corleone.

With the help of his two sons Sonny (Caan) and Fredo (Cazale), in addition to a clever half-Irish-half-German lawyer Tom Hagen (Duvall), Vito managed to keep his other son Michael (Pacino) away from the family business, however life has other plans.

Despite being a film about Italian underworld in America, never in The Godfather was the word “Mafioso” mentioned or heard—a clever step on part the of Coppola, who co-wrote the screenplay with Puzo—either to avoid future confrontation with the real mob or that it was never about them as much as it was about the inner personas of the characters. Unless, it was one of the mob’s conditions prior to the shooting of the film—they might have offered Coppola an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“My father offered him an offer he couldn’t refuse, “ says Michael Corleone (Pacino), talking about his father (Brando) to his girlfriend Kay (Keaton), whom asks in return, “What was that?”

“Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him, that either his brain or his signature would be on the contract,” said an embittered ashamed Michael, whose internal psychological conflict resulting from his family’s line of work is made clear from the very beginning of the film.

This is where Pacino brilliantly provided the Michael Corleone character with an ice-cold persona of an outsider who is neither with his family nor against them—forming one of the films heightened complex that will soon unravel with the right catalyst.

In addition to Pacino’s performance and Caan’s excellent portrayal of the hot tempered Sonny—which got them both best supporting actor nominations, losing it to Joel Gray for Cabaret—other actors excelled in this brilliant movie, like Richard S. Castellano, who played the role of Clemenza the cook, and on special occasions a talented hit-man; John Cazale as Fredo; and Al Lettieri as drug boss Sollozo, who plots to kill Vito after his refusal to help in drug trafficking.

Coppola’s choice of graphic death scenes like Sonny’s gruesome assassination; the hit attempt on Vito’s life at the hospital; the restaurant assassination; or the killing of opposing families’ bosses brilliantly juxtapostioned with a baptism mass scene where Michael Corleone renounces the devil, created all together the films dark and eerie appeal.

Never the less Puzo’s novel had a few moments of romance and laugh when Michael travels to his hometown in Italy escaping the wrath of other mob families after avenging the attempt on his father life where he will meet, fall in love and marry Appolonia.

Michael’s time in Italy, as well as the movie’s musical score that provided an endearing nostalgic Italian feel, helped in lessening the grimness of the film.

“Don’t ask me about my work Kay,” angrily shouts Michael. “This is the last time that I’ll let you ask me about my work.” Looking at his sad eyes Kay, nevertheless, asks, “Did you do it?”

“No,” Michael answers in cold blood before his wife passionately embraces him.

The above scene is more of a symbolic revelation to what Coppola’s original message was: that “the family” comes first and you can’t escape who you are. The bitterness of this truth will have its toll on the life of Michael and Kay, whom are now separated not only by a spiritual barrier but a physical one as revealed to us in the scene where Kay watches a group of men congratulate Michael and kiss his hand in respect before they shut the door in her face.

It is at that moment, when the placid instrumental composed by Nino Rota replaces the silence, we as viewers touch upon Kay’s horror, for now she knows the truth about the man she loves, her husband, Don Michael Corleone, the Godfather.

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