Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Francis Ford Coppola|
|Produced by||Albert S. Ruddy|
|Based on||The Godfather
by Mario Puzo
|Music by||Nino Rota|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$245–286 million|
The Godfather is a 1972 American crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by Albert S. Ruddy, based on Mario Puzo‘s best-selling novel of the same name. It stars Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as the leaders of a fictional New York crime family. The story, spanning 1945 to 1955, chronicles the family under the patriarch Vito Corleone (Brando), focusing on the transformation of Michael Corleone (Pacino) from reluctant family outsider to ruthless mafia boss.
Paramount Pictures obtained the rights to the novel for the price of $80,000, before it gained popularity. Studio executives had trouble finding a director; their first few candidates turned down the position. They and Coppola disagreed over who would play several characters, in particular, Vito and Michael. Filming took place on location around New York and in Sicily, and was completed ahead of schedule. The musical score was composed primarily by Nino Rota with additional pieces by Carmine Coppola.
The film was the highest-grossing film of 1972 and was for a time the highest-grossing film ever made. It won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Puzo and Coppola). Its seven other Oscar nominations included Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall (Best Supporting Actor), and Coppola for Best Director.
The Godfather is widely regarded as one of the greatest films in world cinema and one of the most influential, especially in the gangster genre. It was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1990, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and is ranked the second-greatest film in American cinema (behind Citizen Kane) by the American Film Institute. It was followed by sequels The Godfather Part II (1974) and The Godfather Part III (1990).
In 1945, at his daughter Connie’s wedding, Don Vito Corleone hears requests in his role as head of a New York crime family. His youngest son, Michael, who was a Marineduring World War II, introduces his girlfriend, Kay Adams, to his family at the reception. Johnny Fontane, a famous singer and Vito’s godson, seeks Vito’s help in securing a movie role; Vito dispatches his consigliere, Tom Hagen, to Los Angeles to persuade studio head Jack Woltz to give Johnny the part. Woltz refuses until he wakes up in bed with the severed head of his prized stallion.
Shortly before Christmas, drug baron Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, backed by the Tattaglia crime family, asks Vito for investment in his narcotics business and protection through his political connections. Wary of involvement in a dangerous new trade that risks alienating political insiders, Vito declines. Suspicious, Vito sends his enforcer, Luca Brasi, to spy on them. Brasi is garroted during his first meeting with Bruno Tattaglia and Sollozzo. Later Sollozzo has Vito gunned down in the street, then kidnaps Hagen. With Corleone first-born Sonny in command, Sollozzo pressures Hagen to persuade Sonny to accept Sollozzo’s deal, then releases him. The family receives fish wrapped in Brasi’s bullet-proof vest, indicating that Luca “sleeps with the fishes.” Vito survives, and at the hospital Michael thwarts another attempt on his father; Michael’s jaw is broken by NYPDCaptain Marc McCluskey, Sollozzo’s unauthorized bodyguard. Sonny retaliates with a hit on Bruno Tattaglia. Michael plots to murder Sollozzo and McCluskey: on the deception of settling the dispute, Michael arranges to meet them in a Bronx restaurant. There, retrieving a planted handgun, he kills both men.
Despite a clampdown by the authorities, the Five Families erupt in open warfare and Vito fears for his sons’ safety. Michael takes refuge in Sicily and Fredo is sheltered by Moe Greene in Las Vegas. Sonny attacks his brother-in-law Carlo on the street for abusing his sister and threatens to kill him if it happens again. When it does, Sonny speeds to their home, but is ambushed at a highway toll booth and riddled with submachine gun fire. While in Sicily, Michael meets and marries Apollonia Vitelli, but a car bomb intended for him takes her life.
Devastated by Sonny’s death and realizing that the Tattaglias are controlled by the now-dominant Don Emilio Barzini, Vito attempts to end the feud. He assures the Five Families that he will withdraw his opposition to their heroin business and forgo avenging Sonny’s murder. His safety guaranteed, Michael returns home to enter the family business and marry Kay, promising her that the business will be legitimate within five years. Kay gives birth to two children by the early 1950s, and with his father at the end of his career and his brother too weak, Michael takes the family reins. He insists Hagen relocate to Las Vegas and relinquish his role to Vito because Tom is not a “wartime consigliere”; Vito agrees Tom should “have no part in what will happen” in the coming battles with rival families. Michael travels to Las Vegas to buy out Greene’s stake in the family’s casinos. Michael is dismayed to see that Fredo has fallen under Greene’s sway.
In 1955, Vito suffers a fatal heart attack. At the funeral, Tessio, a Corleone capo, asks Michael to meet with Don Barzini, signalling the betrayal that Vito had forewarned. The meeting is set for the same day as the christening of Connie’s baby. While Michael stands at the altar as the child’s godfather, Corleone assassins murder the other New York dons and Moe Greene. Tessio is executed for his treachery and Michael extracts Carlo’s confession to his complicity in setting up Sonny’s murder for Barzini. A Corleone capo, Clemenza, garrotes Carlo with a wire. Connie accuses Michael of the murder, telling Kay that Michael ordered all the killings. Kay is relieved when Michael finally denies it, but, when the capos arrive, they address her husband as Don Corleone, and she watches as they close the door on her.
- Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone
- Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
- James Caan as Sonny Corleone
- Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen
- Diane Keaton as Kay Adams
- John Cazale as Fredo Corleone
- Talia Shire as Connie Corleone
- Gianni Russo as Carlo Rizzi
- Richard Castellano as Peter Clemenza
- Abe Vigoda as Salvatore Tessio
- Al Lettieri as Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo
- Sterling Hayden as Captain Mark McCluskey
- Lenny Montana as Luca Brasi
- Richard Conte as Emilio Barzini
- Al Martino as Johnny Fontane
- John Marley as Jack Woltz
- Alex Rocco as Moe Greene
- Morgana King as Carmela Corleone
- Corrado Gaipa as Don Tommasino
- Franco Citti as Calò
- Angelo Infanti as Fabrizio
- Johnny Martino as Paulie Gatto
- Victor Rendina as Philip Tattaglia
- Tony Giorgio as Bruno Tattaglia
- Simonetta Stefanelli as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone
- Richard Bright as Al Neri
The film is based on Mario Puzo‘s The Godfather, which remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 67 weeks and sold over nine million copies in two years. Published in 1969, it became the best selling published work in history for several years. Paramount Pictures originally found out about Puzo’s novel in 1967 when a literary scout for the company contacted then Paramount Vice President of Production Peter Bartabout Puzo’s unfinished sixty-page manuscript. Bart believed the work was “much beyond a Mafia story” and offered Puzo a $12,500 option for the work, with an option for $80,000 if the finished work were made into a film. Despite Puzo’s agent telling him to turn down the offer, Puzo was desperate for money and accepted the deal. Paramount’s Robert Evans relates that, when they met in early 1968, it was he who offered Puzo the $12,500 deal for the 60-page manuscript titled Mafia after the author confided in him that he urgently needed $10,000 to pay off gambling debts.
In March 1967, Paramount announced that they backed Puzo’s upcoming work in the hopes of making a film. In 1969, Paramount confirmed their intentions to make a film out of the novel for the price of $80,000, with aims to have the film released on Christmas Day in 1971. On March 23, 1970, Albert S. Ruddy was officially announced as the film’s producer, in part because studio executives were impressed with his interview and because he was known for bringing his films in under budget.
Evans wanted the picture to be directed by an Italian American to make the film “ethnic to the core”. Paramount’s latest mafia based movie, The Brotherhood, had been a box office bomb; Evans believed that the reason for its failure was its almost complete lack of cast members or creative personnel of Italian descent (the director Martin Rittand star Kirk Douglas were both Jewish). Sergio Leone was Paramount’s first choice to direct the film. Leone turned down the option, in order to work on his own gangster film Once Upon a Time in America. Peter Bogdanovich was then approached but he also declined the offer because he was not interested in the mafia. In addition, Peter Yates, Richard Brooks, Arthur Penn, Costa-Gavras, and Otto Preminger were all offered the position and declined. Evans’ chief assistant Peter Bart suggested Francis Ford Coppola, as a director of Italian ancestry who would work for a low sum and budget after the poor reception of his latest film The Rain People. Coppola initially turned down the job because he found Puzo’s novel sleazy and sensationalist, describing it as “pretty cheap stuff”. At the time Coppola’s studio, American Zoetrope, owed over $400,000 to Warner Bros. for budget overruns with the film THX 1138 and when coupled with his poor financial standing, along with advice from friends and family, Coppola reversed his initial decision and took the job. Coppola was officially announced as director of the film on September 28, 1970. Paramount had offered twelve other directors the job with The Godfather before Coppola agreed. Coppola agreed to receive $125,000 and six percent of the gross rentals.
Coppola and Paramount
Before The Godfather was in production, Paramount had been going through an unsuccessful period. In addition to the failure of The Brotherhood, the studio had usurped their budget for their recent films: Darling Lili, Paint Your Wagon, and Waterloo. The budget for the film was originally $2.5 million but as the book grew in popularity Coppola argued for and ultimately received a larger budget. Paramount executives wanted the movie to be set in then modern-day Kansas City and shot in the studio backlot in order to cut down on costs. Coppola objected and wanted to set the movie in the same time period as its eponymous novel, the 1940s and 1950s; Coppola’s reasons included: Michael Corleone’s Marine Corps stint, the emergence of corporate America, and America in the years after World War II. The novel was becoming increasingly successful and so Coppola’s wishes were eventually agreed to. The studio heads subsequently let Coppola film on location in New York City and Sicily.
Gulf & Western executive Charles Bluhdorn was frustrated with Coppola over the number of screen tests he had performed without finding a person to play the various roles. Production quickly fell behind because of Coppola’s indecisiveness and conflicts with Paramount, which led to costs being around $40,000 per day. With the rising costs, Paramount had then Vice President Jack Ballard keep a close eye on production costs. While filming, Coppola stated that he felt he could be fired at any point as he knew Paramount executives were not happy with many of the decisions he had made. Coppola was aware that Evans had asked Elia Kazan to take over directing the film, because he feared that Coppola was too inexperienced to cope with the increased size of the production. Coppola was also convinced that the film editor, Aram Avakian, and the assistant director, Steve Kestner, were conspiring to get him fired. Avakian complained to Evans that he could not edit the scenes correctly because Coppola was not shooting enough footage. Evans however was satisfied with the footage being sent to the west coast, and authorized Coppola to fire them both. Coppola later explained: “Like the godfather, I fired people as a preemptory strike. The people who were angling the most to have me fired, I had fired.” Brando threatened to quit if Coppola were fired.
Paramount wanted The Godfather to appeal to a wide audience and threatened Coppola with a “violence coach” to make the film more exciting. Coppola added a few more violent scenes to keep the studio happy. The scene in which Connie smashes crockery after finding out Carlo has been cheating was added for this reason.
On April 14, 1970, it was revealed that Puzo was hired by Paramount for $100,000, along with a percentage of the film’s profits, to work on the screenplay for the film. Working from the book, Coppola wanted to have the themes of culture, character, power, and family at the forefront of the film, whereas Puzo wanted to retain aspects from his novel and his initial draft of 150 pages was finished on August 10, 1970. After Coppola was hired as director, both Puzo and Coppola worked on the screenplay, but separately. Puzo worked on his draft in Los Angeles, while Coppola wrote his version in San Francisco. Coppola created a book where he tore pages out of Puzo’s book and pasted them into his book. There, he made notes about each of the book’s fifty scenes, which related to major themes prevalent in the scene, whether the scene should be included in the film, along with ideas and concepts that could be used when filming to make the film true to Italian culture. The two remained in contact while they wrote their respective screenplays and made decisions on what to include and what to remove for the final version. A second draft was completed on March 1, 1971, and was 173 pages long. The final screenplay was finished on March 29, 1971, wound up being 163 pages long, 40 pages over what Paramount had asked for. When filming, Coppola referred to the notebook he had created over the final draft of the screenplay. Screenwriter Robert Towne did uncredited work on the script, particularly on the Pacino-Brando garden scene. Despite finishing the third draft, some scenes in the film were still not written yet and were written during production.
The Italian-American Civil Rights League wanted all uses of the words “mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” to be removed from the script, in addition to feeling that the film emphasized stereotypes about Italian-Americans. The league also requested that all the money earned from the premiere be donated to the league’s fund to build a new hospital. Coppola claimed that Puzo’s screenplay only contained two instances of the word “mafia” being used, while “Cosa Nostra” was not used at all. Those two uses were removed and replaced with other terms, which Coppola felt did not change the story at all. The league eventually gave its support for the script.
Puzo was first to show interest in having Marlon Brando portray Don Vito Corleone by sending a letter to Brando in which he stated Brando was the “only actor who can play the Godfather.” Despite Puzo’s wishes, the executives at Paramount were against having Brando, partly due to the poor performance of his recent films and also his short temper. Coppola favored Brando or Laurence Olivier for the role, but Olivier’s agent refused the role claiming Olivier was sick; however, Olivier went on to star in Sleuth later that year. The studio mainly pushed for Ernest Borgnine to receive the part. Other considerations were George C. Scott, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, and Orson Welles.
After months of debate between Coppola and Paramount over Brando, the two finalists for the role were Borgnine and Brando, the latter of whom Paramount president Stanley Jaffe required to perform a screen test. Coppola did not want to offend Brando and stated that he needed to test equipment in order to set up the screen test at Brando’s California residence. For make-up, Brando stuck cotton balls in his cheeks, put shoe polish in his hair to darken it, and rolled his collar. Coppola placed Brando’s audition tape in the middle of the videos of the audition tapes as the Paramount executives watched them. The executives were impressed with Brando’s efforts and allowed Coppola to cast Brando for the role if Brando accepted a lower salary and put up a bond to ensure he would not cause any delays in production.
From the start of production, Coppola wanted Robert Duvall to play the part of Tom Hagen. After screen testing several other actors, Coppola eventually got his wish and Duvall was awarded the part of Tom Hagen. Al Martino, a then famed singer in nightclubs, was notified of the character Johnny Fontane by a friend who read the eponymous novel and felt Martino represented the character of Johnny Fontane. Martino then contacted producer Al Ruddy, who gave him the part. However, Martino was stripped of the part after Coppola became director and then awarded the role to Italian singer Vic Damone. Damone eventually dropped the role because he did not want to play an anti-Italian American character, in addition to being paid too little. According to Martino, after being stripped of the role, he went to his godfather and crime boss Russ Bufalino who then orchestrated the publication of various news articles that talked of how Coppola was unaware of Ruddy giving Martino the part; that, when coupled with pressure from the mafia who felt Martino deserved the role, led Damone to quit as Fontane. Either way, the part of Johnny Fontane ended up with Martino.
Robert De Niro originally was given the part of Paulie Gatto. A spot in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight opened up after Al Pacino quit the project in favor of The Godfather, which led De Niro to audition for the role and leave The Godfather after receiving the part. After De Niro quit, Johnny Martino was given the role of Gatto.Coppola cast Diane Keaton for the role of Kay Adams due to her reputation for being eccentric. John Cazale was given the part of Fredo Corleone after Coppola saw him perform in an Off Broadway production. Gianni Russo was given the role of Carlo Rizzi after he was asked to perform a screen test in which he acted out the fight between Rizzi and Connie.
Nearing the start of filming on March 29, Michael Corleone had yet to be cast. Paramount executives wanted a popular actor, either Warren Beatty or Robert Redford. Producer Robert Evans wanted Ryan O’Neal to receive the role in part due to his recent success in Love Story. Pacino was Coppola’s favorite for the role as he could picture him roaming the Sicilian countryside, and wanted an unknown actor who looked like an Italian-American. However, Paramount executives found Pacino to be too short to play Michael. Dustin Hoffman, Martin Sheen, and James Caan also auditioned. Caan was well received by the Paramount executives and was given the part of Michael initially, while the role of Sonny Corleone was awarded to Carmine Caridi. Coppola still pushed for Pacino to play Michael after the fact and Evans eventually conceded, allowing Pacino to have the role of Michael as long as Caan played Sonny. Evans preferred Caan over Caridi because Caan was seven inches shorter than Caridi, which was much closer to Pacino’s height. Despite agreeing to play Michael Corleone, Pacino was contracted to star in MGM’s The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, but the two studios agreed on a settlement and Pacino was signed by Paramount three weeks before shooting began.
Coppola gave several roles in the film to family members. He gave his sister, Talia Shire, the role of Connie Corleone. His daughter Sofia played Michael Francis Rizzi, Connie’s and Carlo’s newborn son. Carmine Coppola, his father, appeared in the film as an extra playing a piano during a scene. Coppola’s wife, mother, and two sons all appeared as extras in the picture. Several smaller roles, like Luca Brasi, were cast after the filming had started.
Before the filming began, the cast received a two-week period for rehearsal, which included a dinner where each actor and actress had to assume character for its duration. Filming was scheduled to begin on March 29, 1971, with the scene between Michael Corleone and Kay Adams as they leave Best & Co. in New York City after shopping for Christmas gifts. The weather on March 23 predicted snow flurries, which caused Ruddy to move the filming date forward; however snow never materialized and a snow machine was used. Principal filming in New York continued until July 2, 1971. Coppola asked for a three-week break before heading overseas to film in Sicily. Following the crew’s departure for Sicily, Paramount announced that the release date would be moved to spring 1972.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis initially turned down the opportunity to film The Godfather because the production seemed “chaotic” to him. After Willis later accepted the offer, he and Coppola agreed to not use any modern filming devices, helicopters, or zoom lenses. Willis and Coppola chose to use a “tableau format” of filming to make it seem if it was viewed like a painting. He made use of shadows and low light levels throughout the film to showcase psychological developments. Willis and Coppola agreed to interplay light and dark scenes throughout the film. Willis underexposed the film in order to create a “yellow tone.” The scenes in Sicily were shot to display the countryside and “display a more romantic land,” giving these scenes a “softer, more romantic” feel than the New York scenes.
One of the film’s most shocking moments involved an actual, severed, horse’s head. Coppola received some criticism for the scene, although the head was obtained from a dog-food company from a horse that was to be killed regardless of the film. On June 22, the scene where Sonny is killed was shot on a runway at Mitchel Field in Mineola, where three tollbooths were built, along with guard rails, and billboards to set the scene. Sonny’s car was a 1941 Lincoln Continental with holes drilled in it to resemble bullet holes. The scene took three days to film and cost over $100,000.
Coppola’s request to film on location was observed; approximately 90 percent was shot in New York City and its surrounding suburbs, using over 120 distinct locations. Several scenes were filmed at the Filmways Studio in East Harlem. The remaining portions were filmed in California, or on-site in Sicily, except for the scenes set in Las Vegasbecause there were insufficient funds to travel there. Savoca and Forza d’Agrò were the Sicilian towns featured in the film. The opening wedding scene was shot in a Staten Island neighborhood using almost 750 locals as extras. The house used as the Corleone household and the wedding location was at 110 Longfellow Road in the Todt Hill neighborhood of Staten Island. The wall around the Corleone compound was made from styrofoam. Scenes set in and around the Corleone olive oil business were filmed on Mott Street.
After filming had ended on August 7, post-production efforts were focused on trimming the film to a manageable length. In addition, producers and director were still including and removing different scenes from the end product, along with trimming certain sequences. In September, the first rough cut of the film was viewed. Many of the scenes removed from the film were centered around Sonny, which did not advance the plot. By November, Coppola and Ruddy finished the semi-final cut. Debates over personnel involved with the final editing remained even 25 years after the release of the film. The film was shown to Paramount staff and exhibitors in late December, 1971 and January, 1972.
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Coppola hired Italian composer Nino Rota to create the underscore for the film, including the main theme, “Speak Softly Love“. For the score, Rota was to relate to the situations and characters in the film. Rota synthesized new music for the film and took some parts from his Fortunella score, in order to create an Italian feel and evoke the tragic film’s themes. Paramount executive Evans found the score to be too “highbrow” and did not want to use it; however, it was used after Coppola managed to get Evans to agree. Coppola believed that Rota’s musical piece gave the film even more of an Italian feel. Coppola’s father, Carmine, created some additional music for the film, particularly the music played by the band during the opening wedding scene.
There are a total of nine instances within the film where incidental music can be heard, including C’è la luna mezzo mare and Cherubino’s aria, Non so più cosa son from Le Nozze di Figaro. There was a soundtrack released for the film in 1972 in vinyl form by Paramount Records, on CD in 1991 by Geffen Records, and digitally by Geffen on August 18, 2005. The album contains over 31 minutes of music coming from the film, with most being composed by Rota, along with a song from Coppola and one by Johnny Farrow and Marty Symes. Allmusic gave the album five out of five stars, with editor Zach Curd saying it is a “dark, looming, and elegant soundtrack.” An editor for Filmtracks believed that Rota was successful in relating the music to the film’s core aspects.
The world premiere for The Godfather took place in New York City on March 14, 1972, almost three months after the planned release date of Christmas Day in 1971, with profits from the premiere donated to The Boys Club of New York. Before the film premiered, the film had already made $15 million from rentals from over 400 theaters. The following day, the film opened in New York at five theaters. Next was Los Angeles at two theaters on March 22. The Godfather was commercially released on March 24, 1972, throughout the rest of the United States. The film reached 316 theaters around the country five days later.
The Godfather was a blockbuster, breaking many box office records to become the highest grossing film of 1972. It earned $81.5 million in theatrical rentals in the USA and Canada during its initial release, increasing its earnings to $85.7 million through a reissue in 1973, and including a limited re-release in 1997 it ultimately earned an equivalent exhibition gross of $135 million. It displaced Gone with the Wind to claim the record as the top rentals earner, a position it would retain until the release of Jaws in 1975. News articles at the time proclaimed it was the first film to gross $100 million in North America, but such accounts are erroneous; this record belongs to The Sound of Music, released in 1965. The film repeated its native success overseas, earning in total an unprecedented $142 million in worldwide theatrical rentals, to become the highest net earner. Profits were so high for The Godfather that earnings for Gulf & Western Industries, Inc., which owned Paramount, jumped from 77 cents per share to $3.30 a share for the year, according to a Los Angeles Times article, dated December 13, 1972. To date, it has grossed between $245 million and $286 million in worldwide box office receipts, and adjusted for ticket price inflation in North America, ranks among the top 25 highest-grossing films.
The Godfather has received critical acclaim and is seen as one of the most influential films of all time, particularly in the gangster genre. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 98% rating based on 88 reviews, with an average rating of 9.3/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “One of Hollywood’s greatest critical and commercial successes, The Godfather gets everything right; not only did the movie transcend expectations, it established new benchmarks for American cinema” Metacritic assigned the film an average score of 100% based on 14 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be “universal acclaim”. The film is ranked at the top of Metacritic’s top 100 list, and is ranked 7th on Rotten Tomatoes’ all-time best list (100% “Certified Fresh”).
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times praised Coppola’s efforts to follow the storyline of the eponymous novel, the choice to set the film in the same time as the novel, and the film’s ability to “absorb” the viewer over its three-hour run time. While Ebert was mainly positive, he criticized Brando’s performance, saying his movements lacked “precision” and his voice was “wheezy.” The Chicago Tribune‘s Gene Siskel gave the film four out of four stars, commenting that it was “very good.” The Village Voice‘s Andrew Sarris believed Brando portrayed Vito Corleone well and that his character dominated each scene it appeared in, but felt Puzo and Coppola had the character of Michael Corleone too focused on revenge. In addition, Sarris stated that Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, and James Caan were good in their respective roles.
Desson Howe of The Washington Post called the film a “jewel” and wrote that Coppola deserves most of the credit for the film. Writing for The New York Times, Vincent Canby felt that Coppola had created one of the “most brutal and moving chronicles of American life” and went on to say that it “transcends its immediate milieu and genre.” Director Stanley Kubrick thought the film had the best cast ever and could be the best movie ever made. Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote negatively of the film in a contemporary review, claiming that Pacino “rattles around in a part too demanding for him,” while also criticizing Brando’s make-up and Rota’s score.
Previous mafia films had looked at the gangs from the perspective of an outraged outsider. In contrast, The Godfather presents the gangster’s perspective of the Mafia as a response to corrupt society. Although the Corleone family is presented as immensely rich and powerful, no scenes depict prostitution, gambling, loan sharking or other forms of racketeering. Some critics argue that the setting of a criminal counterculture allows for unapologetic gender stereotyping, and is an important part of the film’s appeal (“You can act like a man!”, Don Vito tells a weepy Johnny Fontane).
Remarking on the fortieth anniversary of the film’s release, film critic John Podhoretz praised The Godfather as “arguably the great American work of popular art” and “the summa of all great moviemaking before it”. Two years before, Roger Ebert had written in his journal that it “comes closest to being a film everyone agrees… is unquestionably great.”
The Godfather was nominated for seven awards at the 30th Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture – Drama, James Caan for Best Supporting Actor, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando for Best Actor – Drama, Best Score, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. When the winners were announced on January 28, 1973, the film had won the categories for: Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor – Drama, Best Original Score, and Best Picture – Drama. The Godfather won a record five Golden Globes, which was not surpassed until 2017.
Rota’s score was also nominated for Grammy Award for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV Special at the 15th Grammy Awards. Rota was announced the winner of the category on March 3 at the Grammys’ ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee.
When the nominations for the 45th Academy Awards were revealed on February 12, 1973, The Godfather was nominated for eleven awards. The nominations were for: Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Marlon Brando for Best Actor, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola for Best Adapted Screenplay, Pacino, Caan, and Robert Duvall for Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Nino Rota for Best Original Score, Coppola for Best Director, and Best Sound. Upon further review of Rota’s love theme from The Godfather, the Academy found that Rota had used a similar score in Eduardo De Filippo‘s 1958 comedy Fortunella. This led to re-balloting, where members of the music branch chose from six films: The Godfather and the five films that had been on the shortlist for best original dramatic score but did not get nominated. John Addison‘s score for Sleuth won this new vote, and thus replaced Rota’s score on the official list of nominees. Going into the awards ceremony, The Godfather was seen as the favorite to take home the most awards. From the nominations that The Godfather had remaining, it only won three of the Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.
Brando, who had also not attended the Golden Globes ceremony two months earlier, boycotted the Academy Awards ceremony and refused to accept the Oscar, becoming the second actor to refuse a Best Actor award after George C. Scott in 1970. Brando sent American Indian Rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, to announce at the awards podium Brando’s reasons for declining the award which were based on his objection to the depiction of American Indians by Hollywood and television. In addition, Pacino boycotted the ceremony. He was insulted at being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor award, noting that he had more screen time than his co-star and Best Actor winner Brando and thus he should have received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The Godfather had five nominations for awards at the 26th British Academy Film Awards. The nominees were: Pacino for Most Promising Newcomer, Rota for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, Duvall for Best Supporting Actor, and Brando for Best Actor, the film’s costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone for Best Costume Design. All of The Godfather’s nominations failed to win except for Rota.
- 1990 Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
- 1998 Time Out conducted a poll and The Godfather was voted the best film of all time.
- 1999 Entertainment Weekly named it the greatest film ever made.
- 2002 Sight & Sound polled film directors voted the film and its sequel as the second best film ever; the critics poll separately voted it fourth.
- 2002 The Godfather was ranked the second best film of all time by Film4, after Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
- 2005 Named one of the 100 greatest films of the last 80 years by Time magazine (the selected films were not ranked).
- 2006 The Writers Guild of America, West agreed, voting it the number two in its list of the 101 greatest screenplays, after Casablanca.
- 2008 Voted in at No. 1 on Empire magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
- 2012 The Motion Picture Editors Guild listed The Godfather as the sixth best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its membership.
American Film Institute recognition
- 1998 AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – No. 3
- 2001 AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills – No. 11
- 2005 AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes:
- “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” – No. 2
- 2006 AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores – No. 5
- 2007 AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 2
- 2008 AFI’s 10 Top 10 – No. 1 Gangster Film
Although many films about gangsters preceded The Godfather, Coppola’s heavy infusion of Italian culture and stereotypes, and his portrayal of mobsters as characters of considerable psychological depth and complexity was unprecedented. Coppola took it further with The Godfather Part II, and the success of those two films, critically, artistically and financially, opened the doors for numerous other depictions of Italian Americans as mobsters, including films such as Martin Scorsese‘s Goodfellas and TV series such as David Chase‘s The Sopranos. A comprehensive study of Italian American culture on film, conducted from 1996 to 2001 by the Italic Institute of America, showed that close to 300 movies featuring Italian Americans as mobsters (mostly fictitious) have been produced since The Godfather, an average of nine per year.
The Godfather epic, encompassing the original trilogy and the additional footage Coppola incorporated later, is by now thoroughly integrated into American life and, together with a succession of mob-theme imitators, has led to a highly stereotyped concept of Italian American culture. The first film had the largest impact and, unlike any film before it, its depiction of Italians who immigrated to the United States in the early decades of the 20th century is perhaps attributable to the Italian American director, presenting his own understanding of their experience. The films explain through their action the integration of fictional Italian American criminals into American society. Though the story is set in the period of mass immigration to the U.S., it is rooted in the specific circumstances of the Corleones, a family that lives outside of the law. Although some critics have refashioned the Corleone story into one of universality of immigration, other critics have posited that it leads the viewer to identify organized crime with Italian American culture. Released in a period of intense national cynicism and self-criticism, the American film struck a chord about the dual identities inherent in a nation of immigrants. The Godfather increased Hollywood’s negative portrayals of immigrant Italians in the aftermath of the film and was a recruiting tool for organized crime.
The concept of a mafia “Godfather” was an invention of Mario Puzo’s and the film’s effect was to add the fictional nomenclature to the language. Similarly, Don Vito Corleone’s unforgettable “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”—voted the second-most memorable line in cinema history in AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes by the American Film Institute— was adopted by actual gangsters. In the French novel Le Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac wrote of Vautrin telling Eugene: “In that case I will make you an offer that no one would decline.”
Real-life gangsters responded enthusiastically to the film, with many of them feeling it was a portrayal of how they were supposed to act. Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, the former underboss in the Gambino crime family, stated: “I left the movie stunned … I mean I floated out of the theater. Maybe it was fiction, but for me, then, that was our life. It was incredible. I remember talking to a multitude of guys, made guys, who felt exactly the same way.” According to Anthony Fiato after seeing the film, Patriarca crime family members Paulie Intiso and Nicky Giso altered their speech patterns closer to that of Vito Corleone’s. Intiso would frequently swear and use poor grammar; but after the movie came out, he started to articulate and philosophize more.
John Belushi, appearing in a Saturday Night Live sketch as Vito Corleone in a therapy session expressing his inner feelings towards the Tattaglia Family, says, “Also, they shot my son Santino 56 times”.
In the television show The Sopranos, Tony Soprano‘s topless bar is named Bada Bing, echoing the line in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone says, “You’ve gotta get up close like this and bada-bing! You blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit.”
The film has been parodied several times on the animated television series The Simpsons. In the season three episode “Lisa’s Pony” Lisa wakes up to find a horse in her bed and starts screaming. The music and the scene itself resemble the famous “horse’s head” scene in The Godfather. In the season four episode “Mr. Plow“, the scene in which Sonny Corleone is shot at the tollbooth is mimicked when Bart Simpson is pelted with snowballs. The scene is again parodied in the season sixteen episode “All’s Fair in Oven War“, which includes James Caan as himself in a guest voice role. In the season eighteen episode “The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer“, the film’s final scene is mimicked with a door being closed on Lisa Simpson.
The theatrical version of The Godfather debuted on American network television on NBC with only minor edits. The first half of the film aired on November 16, 1974, and the second half two days later. The television airings attracted a large audience and helped generate anticipation for the upcoming sequel. The next year, Coppola created The Godfather Saga expressly for American television in a release that combined The Godfather and The Godfather Part II with unused footage from those two films in a chronological telling that toned down the violent, sexual, and profane material for its NBC debut on November 18, 1977. In 1981, Paramount released the Godfather Epic boxed set, which also told the story of the first two films in chronological order, again with additional scenes, but not redacted for broadcast sensibilities. The Godfather Trilogywas released in 1992, in which the films are fundamentally in a chronological order.
The Godfather Family: A Look Inside was a 73-minute documentary released in 1991. Directed by Jeff Warner, the film featured some behind the scenes content from all three films, interviews with the actors, and screen tests. The Godfather DVD Collection was released on October 9, 2001, in a package that contained all three films—each with a commentary track by Coppola—and a bonus disc containing The Godfather Family: A Look Inside. The DVD also held a Corleone family tree, a “Godfather” timeline, and footage of the Academy Award acceptance speeches.
The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration
During the film’s original theatrical release, the original negatives were worn down due to the reel being printed so much to meet demand. In addition, the duplicate negative was lost in Paramount archives. In 2006 Coppola contacted Steven Spielberg—whose studio DreamWorks had recently been bought out by Paramount—about restoring The Godfather. Robert A. Harris was hired to oversee the restoration of The Godfather and its two sequels, with the film’s cinematographer Willis participating in the restoration. Work began in November 2006 by repairing the negatives so they could go through a digital scanner to produce high resolution 4K files. If a negative were damaged and discolored, work was done digitally to restore it to its original look. After a year and a half of working on the restoration, the project was complete. Paramount called the finished product The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration and released it to the public on September 23, 2008, on both DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Dave Kehr of The New York Times believed the restoration brought back the “golden glow of their original theatrical screenings”. As a whole, the restoration of the film was well received by critics and Coppola. The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration contains several new special features that play in high definition, along with additional scenes.
The game is based upon this film and tells the story of an original character, Aldo Trapani, whose rise through the ranks of the Corleone family intersects with the plot of the film on numerous occasions. Duvall, Caan, and Brando supplied voiceovers and their likenesses, but Pacino did not. Francis Ford Coppola openly voiced his disapproval of the game.
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- Sources disagree on both the amount of the original budget and the final budget. The starting budget has been recorded as $1 million, $2 million, and $2.5 million, while the final budget has been named at $5 million, $6 million, and $6.5 million.
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Since The Godfather had earned over $85 million in U.S.-Canada rentals (the worldwide box-office gross was $285 million), a sequel, according to the usual formula, could be expected to earn approximately two-thirds of the original’s box-office take (ultimately Godfather II had rentals of $30 million).
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