The Godfather (1972)
d. Francis Ford Coppola, 175 minutes
Film Plot Summary
The film began with the 1945 summer, Sicilian-style wedding party for crime family “godfather” Don Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando) 18 year-old daughter Connie (Talia Shire) to Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo). The ceremony was attended by returning WWII serviceman and family outsider – 25 year-old Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his non-Italian girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), and the other two Corleone sons: hot-headed eldest 29 year-old “Sonny” (James Caan), and dumb 26 year-old unmarried middle son Fredo (John Cazale), as well as the family’s trusted lawyer-consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). 53 year-old Don Vito regally and ruthlessly held court, carrying on with the crime family business during his daughter’s wedding reception.
Corleone’s godson Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) was denied a role in a Hollywood film run by studio producer Jack Woltz (John Marley). Advance man Tom Hagen immediately flew to Hollywood to negotiate for the role but failed to persuade him. Later that night, Woltz discovered the bloody head of his prized horse Khartoum in his silk-sheeted bed – part of “an offer he can’t refuse.”
Following World War II, the introduction of heroin business into Mafia operations was threatening, and a meeting was scheduled with all the representatives of other “families” including rival racketeer Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) – chief spokesman for the drug-trafficking Tattaglias (Victor Rendina). However, as an old-school Mafia leader, Don Corleone refused to join – content with the status quo and what he governed already – gambling, prostitution, and protection rackets. During the meeting, Sonny blurted out his thoughts – revealing his disagreement with his father’s decision and his unbridled enthusiasm for getting into the drug business. The Don immediately instructed his principal lieutenant Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) to spy on the Tattaglias. Brasi was killed in a grisly but riveting murder scene – by garrotting.
Soon afterwards, others in the Corleone empire were targeted – Sollozzo kidnapped Tom Hagen on a city street while he was Christmas shopping, and there was an assassination attempt on the Don while he shopped in an open street market for fruit in Little Italy in December 1945. Temporarily taking over the Corleone business was the Don’s hot-tempered eldest son Sonny. Sollozzo wished to position Tom Hagen to bargain with and persuade Sonny, heir apparent, to approve of the narcotics deal. Sonny ordered hitman Clemenza (Richard Castellano) to immediately punish stoolie Paulie Gatto (John Martino) for setting up his father’s ambush.
During a second attempt on Don Vito Corleone’s life in a hospital, he was saved by Michael – and it was revealed that police Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) was corrupt and on Sollozzo’s payroll. Michael volunteered to commit retaliatory murder of both Sollozzo and McCluskey during a “truce meeting” in an Italian restaurant in the Bronx, vowing: “It’s not personal… It’s strictly business.”
Gangland violence and “bad blood” erupted, causing Michael to flee to Sicily where he was protected by Don Tommasino (Corrado Gaipa), Corleone’s partner in the olive-oil import business. Michael married pretty local girl Apollonia Vitelli (Simonetta Stefanelli) who was shortly thereafter tragically murdered in a car-bombing.
Back in the US, Sonny unleashed his passions against his brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi for repeatedly abusing and beating his sister Connie. However, he blundered into a trap that cost him his life – he was ambushed and assassinated at a toll-booth when betrayed by Carlo to rival gangster Emilio Barzini (Richard Conte).
A meeting of the heads of the Five Families and associates – from upper New York State, New Jersey and Manhattan’s West Side docks, the Bronx, and Staten Island (Barzini and Tattaglia were both dons there), including twelve principals, was held in a downtown city boardroom. Corleone was the head of the Sixth Family. Debate first centered around Corleone’s refusal to allow drug trafficking and share “all the judges and the politicians” in New York. Corleone wished to end the endless months of slaughter and was reluctantly willing to compromise and allow narcotics operations. From their short meeting, Corleone perceptively understood that Barzini had backed Sollozzo and Tattaglia from the very beginning.
Following news of Sonny’s death and the death of his own wife in late 1948 or early 1949, Michael returned home as the new, hardened Don, heir successor to his father. After being home for a year, Michael aggressively pursued ex-fiancee Kay and they were married in 1951 – he promised to go legitimate in five years. By 1952, Michael had taken over more and more of the business, with the Don’s permission, planning to expand his family’s operations (legal gambling, prostitution, and narcotics) into Nevada (Las Vegas), with Carlo serving as his “right-hand man,” and Tom Hagen as “our lawyer in Vegas” – no longer consigliere.
In Vegas, Michael visited with his brother Fredo and Johnny Fontane. He rejected his brother’s studly attempts to impress him with a welcoming party, band, and women, at a meeting with casino boss Moe Greene (Alex Rocco). Michael explained how the Corleone Family was changing its interests (“Now Moe Greene will sell us his share of the casino and the hotel so it could be completely owned by the Family…I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse”); Michael reprimanded Fredo for opposing Family interests and supporting Greene (as Sonny had done earlier): “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.”
In a vivid death scene in a garden among the tomato plants in 1954, the Don played with Michael’s three year old son Anthony, his grandchild. He placed an orange peel in his mouth and pretended to be the boogeyman, before dropping dead of a heart attack.
In the final extraordinary baptism scene, probably occurring in 1955, Michael acted as godfather at the christening of his sister Connie’s (and Carlo’s) child, his nephew and namesake. The scene brilliantly crosscut back and forth from the church to locations throughout the city as gangland murders were orchestrated. With controlled intensity, Michael engineered a cold-blooded mass killing of Barzini, Tattaglia, Greene and all other rival gangleaders of the Five Families to settle the “Family business.” Michael’s capo Clemenza was also ordered to murder Carlo in a brutal and painful manner – strangling him from behind while inside a car bound for the airport. Carlo valiantly kicked a hole through the car windshield as he tried to break free while being choked to death.
As the house was vacated and furnishings were moved by packers to their new home in Nevada, Connie hysterically accused Michael of being responsible for her treacherous husband’s death. She called Michael a “lousy, cold-hearted bastard.” Kay, Michael’s non-Italian wife, asked whether Connie’s accusation was true about the order to kill their brother-in-law. Denying responsibility, Kay was patronizingly lied to about his business. She stared at them in the study as tribute was paid – Clemenza embraced Michael, shaking and kissing his hand, clearly anointing him as the new Don Corleone of the Family: “Don Corleone.” Symbolically, the door in Michael’s office was shut on Kay.
Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)
Based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel of the same name. Set in the mid to late 1940s NYC through to the mid-1950s, and filmed as a modern version of Shakespeare’s King Lear featuring a king and three sons.
With ten Academy Awards nominations and the winner of three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay (co-written by Mario Puzo and Coppola).
It was the top-grossing film of the year, and a $135 million (domestic) box-office hit, and $245 million (worldwide). With a production budget of $6.5 million, it was the most profitable film up to its time.
All three of the Godfather pictures started with a party, and ended with a bloody massacre.
Also with famous lines such as: “Make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”