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Dark, brooding, sinister, violent, dramatic, brilliantly enacted by two of the most superb actors ever to grace the screen-Marlon Brando and Al Pacino-and somehow unbelievably realistic, The Godfather is film-making at its best.
Inspired by Mario Puzo’s novels, directed by legendary film-maker Francis Ford Coppola, and winner of 3 Academy Awards and 5 Golden Globes, not to leave out the Grammy Award for the soul-piercing Soundtrack, The Godfather is probably the greatest ever gangster film made, depicting the sensational transformation of a recluse outsider into a callous mafia don.
Beginning with a beautifully shot but fairly slow moving scene, the film introduces Vito Corleone [Marlon Brando], the aging patriarch of Corleone Crime Dynasty, occupied in ‘family business’ during his daughter Connie’s [Talia Shire] wedding reception. Enters the scene, Vito’s beloved and favorite son, Michael [Al Pacino], who is back from the War, accompanied by girlfriend Kay Adams [Diana Keaton].
Meanwhile, Vito’s godson Johnny Fontaine [Al Martino] solicits Vito’s aide to help him star in a movie role. Vito sends his counselor and informally adopted son, Tom Hagen [Robert Duvall] to the movie-studio man Jack Waltz [John Marley], who only agrees to cast Johnny when he wakes up on the bed along with the severed head of his horse. Such is the power of persuasion of Vito Corleone!
The story picks up with an interesting turn of events. Virgil Sollozzo [Al Lettieri] backed by Vito’s rival mafia gangsters headed by Phillip Tattaglia [Victor Rendina] seeks Vito’s patronage and political protection for setting up their up-coming drug trade.
Vito, embed with old world values, frowns upon drug dealings and sends his enforcer Luca Brasi [Lenny Montana] to spy on them only to receive two fish wrapped in Brasi’s vest. The pace of the movie rapidly picks up, as this is followed by Sollozzo’s men attempting to kill Veto who escapes death but is hospitalized.
Vito’s eldest son Santino, [James Cann], called Sonny, now takes over. The unscrupulous Sollozzo kidnaps Vito’s adopted son Hagen so as to let Sonny come round to accept the drug-business demand. Soon there is a second attempt on Vito’s life but this time Michael manages to circumvent it.
In retaliation Sonny contrives killing of Tattaglia’s son. Michael hits upon a plan to finish Sollozzo and Clusky [Sterling Hayden] and contrives to get the duo to a restaurant and kills them. This one particularly scene shows the transformation of Michael, as the potential next godfather.
As expected, an open war amongst the five major mafia crime Families erupts notwithstanding the intervention of the Authorities. Fearing their safety, the brothers disperse, Michael to Sicily where he falls in love with Apollonia Vitelli, marrying her and as quickly losing her in a car bomb attack intended for him but killing his new bride instead. Soon, a little later on, Sonny is ambushed and is also killed.
By this stage, Vito is obviously not too happy with the situation particularly because he sees his beloved son Michael drawn into the folds of the ‘family business’. Saddened and ageing Vito, to bring the feuds to end, decides meeting the heads of the five mafia crime families. As a bargain for peace Vito withdraws his ‘no’ to the Tattaglia drug venture, deducing that Tattaglia’s trade was at the behest of the current dominant mafia don Barzini [Richard Conte]. Vito also swears to forgo pursuing Sonny’s murder.
Finding the situation safe and under control, Michael returns home and a year later marries his earlier girlfriend Kay Adams. But he is also faced with the onerous task of carrying on the ‘family business’ as his surviving brother Freedo [John Cazale] is not very strong and Vito’s life is ebbing away.
Michael asks family members to look after the New York crime operations while he himself decides to move to Nevada. Meanwhile, Hagen, Vito’s adopted son has to be pacified by the aging patriarch by assurances of a big role in future operations.
Michael then proceeds to Las Vegas in order to purchase Greene’s stake in family held casinos and is confronted with hostility and also notices his brother Freedo getting close to Greene.
Tragedy ultimately strikes Vito, as one day while playing with Michael’s son, he collapses and dies.
As the movie reaches its final chapter, there is a christening of Connie’s son for whom Michael stands as Godfather. In the midst of the ceremony Michael issues orders for the killing of Moe Greene, Carlo Rizzi [Connie’s husband], and the New York dons. Soon, in front of a wary Kay, Michael finally dons the mantle of the new Godfather.
With lines such as “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “revenge is a dish best served cold”, The Godfather remains a historic landmark in cinema.