Author: Sydney Reade
“The Cutting Room Floor” is a handy guide to all things film. Sydney Reade discusses the merits of a movie from the camera angles to that line of dialogue you just can’t get out of your head. Appearances by classic gems, modern favorites, and every movie in between to help you decide what to watch on Friday flick night.
Scotland almost broke away from the U.K. last week, but after voting against independence, a lot of U.K. members were happy that Scotland was staying in the family and that the Union Jack could continue to fly. Similarly, you can come to understand the cultural obsession with Francis Ford Copola’s The Godfather (1972), if you don’t understand it already, in the context of Scotland—you can try to get away, but in the end, family is family and families stick together.
This tale of an Italian-American family and the lengths they will go to protect their own pervades as one of the most iconic classic films, taking the number two spot on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films list.
Like Star Wars (1977, #13), The Godfather starts in the middle of the Corleone family saga. And saga is indeed the word—we have Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) leading the family, sending out hit men, and taking all counsel from his lawyer-consigliore Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). Michael (Al Pacino) is the reluctant last son in line to inherit his father’s position, and spends much of his time in the military trying to avoid his inevitable involvement in the family business. He even marries outside of the Sicilian-American tradition when he takes Kay (Diane Keaton) for his wife. Michael has two brothers, a cast of characters in their own right, ranging from incompetent goofball to quiet and weak. Finally, the police captain who should be keeping the powerful mafia families at bay is working for one of them.
As mafia stories tend to go (although it could be argued that this movie set the stage for the genre), a decades-old feud rears its ugly head when a distrustful Don Corleone sends his men to spy on Virgil Sollozzo, a drug lord who is working with a rival family, the Tattaglias. A heinous string of vengeful deaths follows, ultimately putting Michael in the seat of power he never wanted and might be ill-suited for. Kay will try to keep him on the straight and narrow for the sake of their children, but Michael will not easily forget the deaths of his friends and family. Enter the eternal struggle faced by every mafia don of any movie or T.V. show ever created.
So what makes The Godfather different? It’s undoubtedly one of the first of its kind to exhibit the enormous complexity that is the mafia, something The Sopranos did very well later on. The level of internal struggle that Tony Soprano experiences is present in this film, undercutting every stomach-turning decision the Corleones make.
The cinematography also lends itself to the hand-wringing excitement this movie presents. The shots are very dark. They don’t quite approach film noir, but the shadows do play up the intensity of all the backhand deals, spying, and killing.
The acting is also unparalleled. Marlon Brando was at what seemed like the end of his career when he gave this illustrious performance, and it remains one of his most recognizable roles. Altering face and voice to give a chilling interpretation of a mafia don and uttering the quintessential line “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” cemented Brando’s place at the top of the pile of twentieth century actors, and won him an Oscar. Al Pacino was a relative unknown, but no one else could have instilled so much hesitancy and fear into Michael’s character with equal measures of command and control. Diane Keaton is, unfortunately, still a nuisance in this movie as she often appears, but if you’d watched this film before her recent onslaught of horrific romcoms, you could see the lasting remnants of a steady, but quirky, actress in her performance that peaked in Annie Hall five years later.
Finally, the script is airtight, giving us phenomenal dialogue written by Copola and the original book’s author Mario Puzo. Fused with Copola’s genius, exhibited clearly in scenes where a horse head appears in the bed of a Corleone enemy, the script also earned the pair a Best Screenplay Oscar. A night spent watching this movie truly is an offer you can’t—and shouldn’t–refuse.