The Godfather

English Title: The Godfather

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Alfran Productions

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Producer(s): Albert S Ruddy

Screenplay: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola

Cinematographer: Gordon Willis

Art Director: Warren Clymer

Editor: William Reynolds

Runtime: 177 minutes

Genre: Crime

Starring/Cast: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Sterling Hayden , Robert Duvall , Richard Conte , James Caan, Marlon Brando

Year: 1972

Volume: American - Hollywood


August 1945: Don Vito Corleone, head of an extended crime organization from New York, holds an extravagant Long Beach wedding reception for his daughter Connie, during which he holds court to those that seek favours from the powerful patriarch of the American-Sicilian community who, traditions holds, cannot refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day. With his foster son Tom Hagen, Corleone hears petitions from those who have come to the 'Godfather' for assistance with gaining retribution, legal intervention, justice or employment opportunities. Michael Corleone, his youngest college-educated son who was decorated as a soldier during World War II, arrives at the wedding with his girlfriend Kay Adams and is kept apart from the machinations of this tight-knit mafia organization. One request to Don Vito from actor Johnny takes Tom to Hollywood to persuade the producer of a war film to cast Johnny in the lead – when the producer fails to comply, he wakes in bed next to the severed head of his favourite race horse. In New York, rival Tattaglia mafia family offer the Corleones the opportunity to become subordinate partners in emerging drug-trafficking markets, which Don Vito proudly declines. This sets off an inter-gang war that leads to betrayal and brutal killings on both sides including Don Vito whose attempted assassination causes Michael (as the only remaining son) to renounce civilian life and take over as new 'Godfather' of the violent Corleone gambling, prostitution and drug crime organization.


From its iconic graphic image of a hand holding puppet strings, instantly recognizable theme tune, repeatedly quoted lines – ‘I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse’ and ‘Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes’ – and memorable charaterizations by Marlon Brando as head Mafia don and Al Pacino as his reluctant college-educated son, The Godfather has, since its release in 1972, continued to endure as one of the most readily-recognized, parodied and revered films of recent American cinema. Voted greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and second only to Citizen Kane as the greatest film in American cinematic history as listed by the American Film Institute, Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel is a Hollywood landmark that has left an indelible impression upon most aspects of popular culture. It owes its place in American film history to the radical transformation in the gangster film genre that it offered.  Yet none before had represented a crime organization and its members in a manner that rendered them both sympathetic and psychologically complex.

Hollywood’s fascination with crime culture had began in earnest in the late 1920s and provided a staple of its commercial production schedules. From as early as Little Caesar in 1931, gangster films had often suggested that the achievement of individual success and power through crime might be read as a metaphor for unbridled entrepreneurial American capitalism. Yet, where previous gangster cycles depicting organized crime syndicates had maintained a conventional moral distance from protagonists who operated outside of normal society, The Godfather inverted the relationship through a potent romanticization by which Mafia gangster criminality is equated with a strong moral code set firmly against the amoral corruption of the larger world. Seen as the workings of a tight-knit, traditional Sicilian-American family, the operations of a crime organization involved in gambling, prostitution, extortion, murder and, eventually, drug trafficking are presented through the ‘authentic’ depiction of Mafia lore, internal codes of honour, family unity and loyalty. Mirroring the idea of the family with the larger structure of the crime family, The Godfather offers a picture of a traditional feudal organization counterpoint to the chaos of modern American individualism. Such nostalgic invocation of a mythical past was clearly part of its appeal.  However, as a film released in 1972, it is important to identify that a large part of the film’s appeal lay in its unabashed restatement of patriarchal norms and values: in the period of high visibility of political feminism’s challenge to the sexist presumptions of American gender identities, The Godfather offers a vision of a patriarchal family in which men act in the world and women are consigned to the margins of ignorance, child-rearing and domestic life. The gangster’s world is defined by codes of dominant masculinity that the film repeatedly claims is central to self-identity, familial position and personal power. The film’s primary crime narrative is a powerful vehicle through which retrogressive concerns about male authority and its social structures are allayed and the assurance of the continuation of a male bloodline as Michael renounces his wife’s claim to equality within marriage to take his father’s place as symbolic and organizational head of the family.


Author of this review: Esther Sonnet