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This was the film series that can take responsibility for our collective love/curiosity about all things mafia. Just like Star Wars, if we tried to boil the plot of The Godfather films into 400 words we would be doing them such an injustice it would be remiss of us to try.
Suffice to say that The Godfather takes us into the deepest inner sanctum of the most closed of worlds – the mafia. We are introduced to the Corleone family – an intrinsically evil family where brutal violence, corruption and power are currency yet we are drawn into their world with feelings of warmth, admiration and compassion.
The films tell stories of honour, of revenge, of loyalty, of family ritual and of the gruesome business of organised crime. We discover how Michael (played with perfection by Al Pacino), who had been groomed to stay away from the family’s illegitimate business, takes revenge on his brother’s murderer and takes over as The Godfather (a term invented by Coppola but adopted by the real mafia to refer to their leaders).
The second film, considered by some critics to be even better than the first, tells the back story of Vito Corleone (portrayed impeccably by De Niro) while Michael continues to ruthlessly expand his criminal empire. He loses touch with his wife and family (and reality) and orders the killing of his own brother. The third and final film waits 16 years and we are presented with an aging Don Michael Corleone trying to legitimise his businesses although it becomes clear the past cannot be silenced and you cannot buy forgiveness.
The Godfather trilogy falls squarely into the category of ‘films you absolutely have to watch if you like films at all’. It’s all at once shocking, tender, emotional, scary, utterly believable, accurate and sensational.
The storytelling, characters and dialogue have arguably never been matched in the 40+ years since the first film was released and thanks to Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificently authentic filmmaking we were also able to enjoy Mean Streets, Scarface, Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale, Casino and American Gangster.
Consider the alternative…
Some of our favourite The Godfather quotes…
Sonny: What the hell is this?
Clemenza: It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
Don Corleone: I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Clemenza: Leave the gun, take the cannoli.
Fredo Corleone: Mike! You don’t come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!
Michael: Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.
Michael: My father is no different than any other powerful man – any man who’s responsible for other people, like a senator or president.
Kay: You know how naive you sound…senators and presidents don’t have men killed.
Michael: Oh, who’s being naive, Kay?
Don Corleone: Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Michael: There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
Michael: I, uh, betrayed my wife. I betrayed myself. I’ve killed men, and I ordered men to be killed. No, it’s useless. I killed… I ordered the death of my brother; he injured me. I killed my mother’s son. I killed my father’s son.
The Godfather Trivia!
Al Pacino’s ancestral home in Italy was in the town of Corleone.
Don Vito Corleone’s distinctive voice was based on real-life mobster Frank Costello. Marlon Brando had seen him on TV during the Estes Kefauver hearings in 1951 and imitated his husky whisper in the film.
James Caan originally heard the phrase ‘bada-bing!’ from his acquaintance, the real-life mobster Carmine Persico, and improvised its use in the film!
During rehearsals, a false horse’s head was used for the bedroom scene. For the actual shot, a real horse’s head was used, acquired from a dog-food factory. According to John Marley, his scream of horror was real as he was not informed that a real head was going to be used.
The presence of oranges in The Godfather trilogy indicates that a death-related event will soon occur.
Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Don Vito and Robert De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for playing the same role with flashbacks in The Godfather Part II. They are the only two actors who have won Oscars for playing the same character.
The word ‘mafia’ isn’t mentioned once in the first film and only mentioned three times in Part II.
Michael Corleone’s funeral was written and rehearsed, but never shot.
The Stars of The Godfather – Where Are They Now?
Brando was a cultural icon and one of the finest stage and screen actors in the history of moving pictures. Included in Time magazine’s 100 People of the Century, he was Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire; Jor-El in Superman; Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, of which director Rob Reiner said ‘Marlon Brando gives the single greatest performance ever.’ After some widely publicised personal issues, he died in July 2004 aged 80.
Alfredo James ‘Al’ Pacino is, with De Niro, one of the pre-eminent actors of his generation. He has given us sublime, flawless performances as Tony Montana in Scarface, as Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross, as Frank Serpico in Serpico, as Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon and as Lt. Col. Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman. He has won Oscars, Tony awards and Emmy awards. He is an accomplished stage and screen director and on any list of the greatest actors of all time, he is consistently in the top three.
After The Godfather, perhaps his most famous role is as novelist Paul Sheldon in Steven King’s Misery but he has appeared in films such as A Bridge Too Far and Rollerball. He was turned down for a series of stellar roles that made household names of the actors who got them including Star Wars, Apocalypse Now and Superman. Oscar-nominated, he was in TV series Las Vegas for five years before most recently guest-starring in Hawaii Five-0 opposite his son Scott.
Richard S. Castellano
An Oscar-nominated actor for his role in 1970’s Lovers and Other Strangers, his role in The Godfather wasn’t reprised for the two subsequent films due to a dispute with Francis Ford Coppola. He died in 1988.
Yet another screen legend (and Oscar, multiple Emmy and multiple Golden Globe winner), he has appeared in Apocalypse Now, Colors, The Apostle (which he wrote and directed)as well as Days of Thunder with Tom Cruise, Falling Down and Deep Impact. Most recently he appeared alongside Cruise again in action thriller Jack Reacher.
Diane Keaton made her name as Woody Allen’s comedic muse in films such as Play It Again, Sam, Sleeper, Love and Death and Annie Hall for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. In 2013 she reunited with Robert De Niro in ensemble piece The Big Wedding.
Robert De Niro
Alongside Pacino, Robert De Niro is genuine acting royalty. Mean Streets was followed by Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Awakenings, Goodfellas, Midnight Run, Cape Fear and Casino. Most recently he’s known for his partnership with Billy Crystal in Analyze This and Analyze That as well as being an acclaimed producer, director and multiple award winner.
A short yet accomplished career, he only had three film credits after The Godfather – all with co-stars. He was in The Conversation with Robert Duvall, Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino and The Deer Hunter with Robert De Niro. He died in 1978 from terminal cancer.
A film career was basically guaranteed given her brother is director Francis Ford Coppola, she’s Nicholas Cage and Sofia Coppola’s aunt and her father (Carmine Coppola), uncle and first husband were all composers. Adrian Pennino/Balboa in the Rocky films and Connie Corleone in the Godfather trilogy are her most celebrated roles, but she has appeared in dozens of films and TV movies from the late 60s to the present day.
He was born in Cuba and after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, his family moved to Florida and grew a multi-million dollar perfume business. His film career has been successful, earning an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Vincent Martini and appearing in The Untouchables, Internal Affairs and Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Elliott Gould, Don Cheadle and Matt Damon.