THE GODFATHER TRILOGY. BASED ON THE BOOK BY MARIO PUZO. DIRECTED BY FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA. MUSIC BY NINO ROTA.
STARRING MARLON BRANDO, ROBERT DE NIRO, AL PACINO, JAMES CAAN, ROBERT DUVALL, JOHN CAZALE, TALIA SHIRE, MORGANA KING AND DIANE KEATON. ©
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse…’
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first two films in this trilogy are two of the finest movies ever made, while the third is a great big steaming pile of doggy doo-doo. I must confess to subscribing whole-heartedly to this opinion.
The trilogy concerns the Corleones, a family of Italian-American Mafiosi (it’s the plural of Mafioso, look it up if you don’t believe me!) whose fountainhead, Vito Corleone, travels from his native Italy to America in the early years of the twentieth century to avoid being murdered by the same Mob Don who’s killed the rest of his family. Will he come back one day to avenge his slain family? You bet he will.
Vito Corleone is destined for a kind of greatness. Over time, and due largely to his own grit and determination, he becomes a Mob Don himself, known as ‘the Godfather,’ whose power is far-reaching and whose displeasure can set grown men to trembling and gibbering like a gathering of maiden aunts at a funeral.
THE GODFATHER (1972) opens with the wedding of Don Vito’s daughter Connie to a man found for her by her big brother Sonny. The lavishness of this wedding and the effusive grovelling of the guests towards their hosts shows us exactly how rich and powerful are the family whose fortunes we are following.
Don Vito is taking requests in his study, as he is bound by an unwritten law to grant any favours begged of him on his daughter’s wedding day. By the end of these scenes, we are already in awe of this man who rules his empire like a particularly skilled puppet-master.
The film’s logo is the words THE GODFATHER, with a single hand above the written words pulling the strings that denote puppetry. Marlon Brando plays Don Vito magnificently. It’s one of his finest ever roles.
Sonny, the eldest son and the heir to his father’s throne, is a hard-living hothead who can’t control his temper. Tom Hagen is the Don’s adopted son, and the family lawyer. No member of the family can take a whizz without Tom’s checking first to see if it incriminates the family in any way, lol. And if it does, then they’d damn well better hold it in. Family first at all times.
Fredo is the Don’s weedy little loser son, who’ll be bypassed in any handing-down of power that takes place in the family. Connie is the Don’s only daughter, a woman drawn to men who are bad for her. Michael, the criminally handsome youngest son masterfully played by Al Pacino, is the son who, by the end of the first film, has taken over from his father as the head of the family.
Married first to the beautiful Appollonia, then to Diane Keaton’s whingy Kay, Michael is a ruthless cool thinker who shows little emotion and would cut off his own right arm and throw it away if it offended him. He seeks revenge mercilessly against the enemies of ‘the family,’ as his father did, and shows no compunction about being the assassin himself if needs be.
THE GODFATHER plays out against a backdrop of some of the most iconic scenes, phrases and snatches of dialogue in cinema history. The horse’s head in the bed. ‘Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.’ ‘You know my father? Men are coming here to kill him.’ Michael coming back from the restroom in the Italian restaurant with a bullet each for two of the family’s enemies.
Sonny beating up Connie’s husband in a scene parodied by THE SIMPSONS in the episode of the popular animated show entitled ‘THE STRONG ARMS OF THE MA.’ Sonny’s terrible come-uppance: ‘Look how they massacred my boy. I don’t want his mother to see him this way.’
The Moe Green special, otherwise known as a bullet in the eye while you’re half-nekkid, getting a massage. Marlon Brando with the orange wedge in his mouth, running up and down the garden for the amusement of his grandson. ‘Don’t ask me about my business, Kay.’
Shutting the door on Annie Hall, as Moe Szyslak comments in the episode of THE SIMPSONS called ‘MOE BABY BLUES.’ This is where he’s enacting scenes from THE GODFATHER for the delectation of Baby Maggie Simpson, who thoroughly enjoys Moe’s efforts at thespianism.
THE GODFATHER: PART TWO (1974) is the story of Michael Corleone’s blood-soaked reign as the Don of the family. Scenes of his activities are interspersed with scenes from Don Vito Corleone’s early years, the Marlon Brando character from his arrival at Ellis Island in America in 1901 through his rise from nothing to become the Don of the most powerful Mob family in America.
Robert De Niro plays the young Vito in the same exactly right way as Al Pacino plays Michael. Both characters are as economical with words and actions as each other, and coldly ruthless when it comes to despatching their enemies. The young Vito is hungry for power. He starts out living in a tenement with his wife, and ends up as Don Corleone. You don’t get to that point without breaking a few eggs along the way.
The way he deals with the nasty Don Fanucci is compelling to watch. (Again, Don Fanucci was parodied in the ‘Don Homer’ scene in THE SIMPSONS, where we see Homer drooling excitedly over the prospect of ‘organised crime.’ ‘That’s a nice-a donut…!’) Anyway, once Don Fanucci is out of the picture, the way is clear for Vito Corleone to become the boss of his own neighbourhood, and that’s only the beginning for the Family Corleone.
Meanwhile, back in modern times, Michael is attending committee hearings designed to incriminate him as the head of the Mafia family known as the Corleones. Naturally, he denies everything and points to his record as a hero in WW2 as evidence that he loves his country. He’s also in Cuba taking care of the business interests he has there with Hyman Roth.
Michael has survived an attempt to assassinate him in his own bedroom at his heavily-guarded family compound (apparently not heavily enough), but it’s left a nasty taste in his mouth as he suspects a family member may have had a hand in the shooting incident. But which one?
The errant family member is safe from Michael’s wrath as long as Mama Carmela Corleone lives but, as soon as this esteemed materfamilias pops her clogs and is laid out with her still-fine bosoms pointing proudly northwards, all bets are off.
‘You’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend.’ (Again parodied by THE SIMPSONS with Fat Tony speaking the words to a ferret who’s wearing a wire…!) Then: ‘Hail Mary Full Of Grace…’ and a single gunshot like a crash of thunder in the silence of the lake.
Michael’s marriage to Kay is in shite order by this time. Little Miss Prissy Pants is doing a Carmela Soprano and getting all precious suddenly about her husband’s ‘business,’ the same business that’s kept her living in comfort and style for the last few years. Bit late now to be questioning how the goose manages to keep on laying those golden eggs, Missus.
When she admits to Michael that something he thinks was an unfortunate Act of God was, in fact, a deliberate act of defiance on Kay’s part, he socks her in the kisser and cuts her out of his life forever. Or so he threatens, anyway. Just wait till we start talking about THE GODFATHER: PART THREE (1990), which, in fact, we’ll do right now.
It has the same director and some of the same cast as the first two movies in the trilogy, yet it’s somehow not cast in the same mould as these two fine films. Michael is much older now physically, which couldn’t be helped, but the rest of it just seems all wrong. It has a much different tone and atmosphere to the first two films. There’s much less atmosphere, for one thing.
Michael is all smiley and chatty now in his old age, desperately trying to legitimize all his business interests and accepting honours from the Church for his philanthropism. He’s even making the odd wisecrack, which the old Michael- or should that be the young Michael- would never have dreamed of doing.
On a positive note, he does utter the immortal words: ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,’ but otherwise the dialogue in the film overall is a bit wooden and the acting clunky and heavy-handed.
Michael’s all over Diane Keaton- Kay- like a rash now too, which is not very believable given what happens between them in the second film and the fact, also, that Kay now dresses like a man in mens’ slacks, jackets and shoes and has a bad perm.
The way Michael carries on now, anyone would think he was trying to woo her away from her new lawyer hubby. Has old age really softened him up to that extent? Like I said, it’s not exactly believable.
Michael has a grown-up daughter now whom he adores, Mary, played by Sofia Coppola (recognise the name?), and a son who prefers singing opera to going into the family business.
Michael’s lawyer brother Tom Hagen is now deceased, and Michael’s new brief is a perma-tanned George Hamilton as BJ Harrison. The new heir to Michael’s throne is his brother Sonny’s illegitimate son, Vincent, by his mistress Lucy.
Played- or should I say overplayed- by Andy Garcia, Vinnie fancies his cousin Mary Corleone and Mary loves Vinnie but Michael’s all, like, stay away from my baby, you little hood. If Vinnie wants to be the new Don, he’d better comply with the wishes of the man who intends never to accept him as a son-in-law, but poor little Mary will be heartbroken.
Bridget Fonda (SINGLE WHITE FEMALE) has a cameo in this film as a journalist skank who sleeps with Vinnie. She feels out of place here to me, like she was a poor choice for the film.
Much more interesting is the inclusion of dear old Fat Tony (THE SIMPSONS again!) himself, Joe Mantegna, as Vinnie’s enemy Joey Zasa. If I had five bob for every time Joey Zasa’s name gets mentioned in the film, I’d be able to put another storey on my house.
No fewer than two Popes get iced in this film, and there’s a load of stuff about Archbishops and the Vatican that I don’t find altogether interesting. I don’t like it either when Michael confesses his sins to a priest and bawls like a baby over ’em. Jeez Louise. If this is what a sense of your own mortality can do to you, well, you can keep it. It’s certainly ruined this movie.
All three films like to intersperse scenes of a huge important ceremony or event, like a Baptism of a child or the debut performance of Michael and Kay’s son in the opera CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, with scenes of the enemies of the Corleone Family being brutally slaughtered. The sense of drama and feelings of high tension are achieved really well.
The whole trilogy constitutes a massively important chunk of cinema history. Most people consider these (PARTS ONE and TWO, anyway) to be the best Mob movies ever made. They’ve been parodied to death and referenced reverentially in, amongst other shows, THE SIMPSONS and THE SOPRANOS, the hit HBO Mob drama in which Sylvio Dante ‘does’ Michael Corleone to great acclaim for his chums at the BADA BING: ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’
He’s not half bad at it, either. Ooops, sorry, my mistake. I forgot that you should never tell anyone outside the Family what you’re thinking. I’ll keep my opinions to myself next time then, shall I? It’ll be hard but I think I can manage it. Just about…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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