Godfather 101

“If you’re wondering what is so special about The Godfather, you obviously haven’t seen it. Considered one of the best movies ever made, it reached legend status almost immediately. In fact, The Godfather might even answer life’s questions. At least, that’s what Tom Hanks’ character believed in You’ve Got Mail.”

If you’re wondering what is so special about The Godfather, you obviously haven’t seen it.

Considered one of the best movies ever made, it reached legend status almost immediately. In fact, The Godfather might even answer life’s questions. At least, that’s what Tom Hanks’ character believed in You’ve Got Mail.

What is The Godfather?

The Godfather, released in 1972, is based on the Mario Puzo book of the same name. It was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who has since compiled an extensive resume of directing, producing and writing credits.

Marlon Brando plays the movie’s namesake, the godfather, Vito Corleone. He is not, however, the main character. That honor goes to his youngest son, Michael, portrayed by Al Pacino.

The character of Vito Corleone is loosely based on the real-life mafia boss Vito Genovese.

The movie opens with the wedding of Corleone’s daughter Connie. A Sicilian, Corleone is abiding by the tradition of not refusing any request made on the day of his daughter’s wedding. Throughout this scene, viewers are introduced to the film’s central players.

We learn that eldest son Santino, or Sonny, (James Caan) is a womanizer and that Fredo (John Cazale) is something of a shmoe. Adopted son Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), is a lawyer who handles only one client: Corleone.

Coppola also introduces us to Michael (Al Pacino), a soldier who has recently returned home from World War II. It is Michael who will soon become the focus of The Godfather. Michael’s transformation – from the only son not interested in the family business to the ruthless don – is magical.

But throughout the movie, we truly care about the characters. We come to understand them, like them and sympathize with them. When Sonny attacks his brother-in-law Carlo for beating on his sister, you root for him to inflict pain.

As the movie draws to a close and Michael has Carlo killed, as revenge for Sonny’s death, in which Carlo played a role. Viewers don’t gasp or think less of Michael, even though he just stood as godfather to Carlo’s baby. You secretly cheer as Sonny’s death is avenged, as Michael’s men enact their code of honor and loyalty.

When The Godfather was released, it became the highest grossing film of all time. It was bumped out of that position three years later by Jaws. Today, it sits at #21 on the all-time box office hits, when adjusted for inflation.

What’s so great about it?

In a word, everything; the music, the lines, the acting, the characters, the attitudes. Literally everything about this movie is perfect.

Fans of The Godfather always have a favorite: a favorite scene, a favorite line, a favorite character. It’s inevitable.

Francis Ford Coppola took home the Oscar for best director.

As far as the actors, there was a plethora of nominations. Al Pacino was nominated but lost. Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

What the critics say

When The Godfather was released on DVD in 2001, Scott Eyman of the Palm Beach Post called it the mob movie to end all mob movies.

Eyman refers to the sugary sentimentality that helps inject viewers deeply – and intimately – into the Corleone family.

Eyman is clearly a bigger fan of the sequel, in which Coppola painstakingly dissects the creeping atrophy of Michael Corleone’s soul, and we see just what Michael is capable of.

In 1972, Roger Ebert wrote, Although the movie is three hours long, it absorbs us so effectively it never has to hurry. Twenty-five years later, he said the movie had a secret, (a) charm, (a) spell.

One thing that any diehard fan of The Godfather can attest to is that the masterpiece reveals something new every time you watch it. BBC journalist Neil Smith also believes the movie has an abnormal number of classic lines.

How much more evidence do you need?

Tom Hanks’ character doesn’t simply refer to The Godfather in You’ve Got Mail. It’s an underlying theme, just as An Affair to Remember is woven throughout his other Nora Ephron collaboration, Sleepless in Seattle.

It might have helped that Ephron is married to Nicholas Pileggi of Goodfellas and Casino fame.

The Godfather has also been recognized and imitated by movies like Analyze This, The Whole Nine Yards and Mickey Blue Eyes, as well as shows like Seinfeld, South Park, The Simpsons and The Sopranos.

The Godfather is also available in every popular video game platform.