Tuesday, October 2, 2012

#778. The Godfather (1972)

Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan

Tag line: "An offer you can't refuse"

Trivia:  Along with Mario Puzo's source novel, Francis Ford Coppola based many of the characters on members of his own family

April 23, 1984. That was the day I saw - for the very first time - the greatest motion picture ever made.

It was just after Easter, and I was off from school. My Aunt and Uncle were in from San Francisco, and my parents decided to drive them down to the casinos in Atlantic City for the day. Seeing as I was only 14 at the time, the law said I couldn’t tag along, so I was left at home, alone and desperate for something to do. 

At some point, I remembered that my father had recently taped The Godfather off of cable. Faced with an entire afternoon that needed killing, I popped the tape into the VCR.

Prior to this initial viewing, I knew very little about The Godfather. So, with no idea of what was to come, imagine how I reacted when actor John Marley pulled down his bedcovers, revealing what remained of his beloved horse, Khartoum?

I’ll tell you how… my heart leapt into my throat! 

Never before had I been as shocked by a film as I was by that particular scene, on that particular day. It was a defining moment in my evolution as a movie buff, and a memory that remains just as vivid now as ever.

The story opens at the conclusion of WWII, when the Corleone family, a New York criminal organization under the leadership of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), is struggling to keep pace in an ever-changing world. When the Don refuses to do business with Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), primarily because that ‘business’ is the distribution of illegal narcotics, it sets in motion a chain of events that begins with an attempt on the Don’s life, putting the Don temporarily out of commission. 

Before the smoke settles, two of his sons will have ascended to power as head of the family: first Sonny (James Caan) and then his younger brother, Michael (Al Pacino). 

Sonny proves a bit too hotheaded for the top spot, and his temper will lead the family first to war, then to tragedy. But Michael, a decorated soldier who served during World War II, displays the calm and reserve such a powerful position demands, making him the heir apparent to the Corleone's vast criminal empire.

The Godfather is chock full of one memorable sequence after another. I’d venture to guess that, if you asked five fans of the film what their favorite scene was, you’d get five completely different answers. From the wedding that kicks off the movie to the violent montage that ends it, The Godfather weaves a tale so unforgettable that it remains with you well after the final credits roll. 

It is not simply a masterpiece; it is the king of masterpieces, the perfect marriage of performance, imagery, dialogue and direction the likes of which I have never seen before, and likely will never see again. For me, The Godfather is the culmination of everything a movie should be.

If The Godfather is not a work of art, then art does not exist.

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