Turn Back The Clock

Movie Review

The Godfather: Part I & II

Paramount Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            When I was a young child, a spectacular television event took place.  It was the airing of the Godfather epic.  For the first time since the movies showed in the theaters (1972 and 1974 respectively), the two movies were combined to show the tale in chronological order.  Everyone was talking about it.  Of course, in 1977, I was deemed way too young to view such a violent movie.  Back then, if a movie had a rating of ‘R’ for sex and violence, chances were that, unless the kid snuck into the theater to see the flick, you were just going to have to wait until you were deemed old enough for the rating.

            My parents seemed to like the film – I caught bits and pieces of their conversation about some of the gorier scenes when they didn’t think I could hear.  As I grew up, I thought about watching the films, but there were other movies to see, other things to do, and time passed by without me ever viewing what is considered to be a movie classic. 

            Recently, a cable channel ran The Godfather marathon.  I happened to catch bits and pieces of the marathon and was intrigued.  A friend of mine lent me the video version of The Godfather: Part I & II, the version that my parents saw when I was a “wee lass”.  Only two hours into the six hour tale, I was completely hooked.

            The Godfather: Part I & II tells the tale of the Corleone family from the years 1902 to 1959.  After witnessing the murder of his father and his brothers at the hands of Don Francesco Ciccio and becoming one of the hunted, young Vito Andolini flees the town of Corleone in Italy and heads to America.  At Ellis Island, the shy, seldom speaking child is renamed (something that occurred quite often in the immigration recording process in those days).  His new name was Vito Corleone. 

            Growing up in New York, Vito lives a good honest life, marrying a woman, raising a family, and working hard in his friend’s father’s grocery.  Life is hard, but livable.  But, Vito notices that life in America isn’t much different from life in Italy.  His neighborhood is run by Don Fanucci, a heartless man who demands protection money from all the business owners in the neighborhood.  He observes the Don in action, quietly taking in the way the people in the neighborhood fear him. 

            When he loses his job in order to make room for Fanucci’s nephew, Vito realizes that he must find a way to support his growing family.  Fate brings him in contact with a young petty thief named Clemenza.  The two form a team, robbing homes and warehouses, fencing their stolen goods among the people in the neighborhood for fast cash.  They bring in some help in the form of a bright, enterprising young man named Sal Tessio. 

            Soon, Don Fanucci learns of the trio’s business and wants a piece of the action.  Seeking out Vito Corleone, he warns him that if he is not paid $200 protection money, he will turn the trio over to the police.  Fearing retribution by the neighborhood Don, Clemenza and Tessio urge Vito to give Fanucci what he wants. An ambitious Vito Corleone assures his friends that he will take care of the matter by making the Don an “offer he can’t refuse”.  Vito murders Corleone and takes control of the neighborhood, becoming the local Don.  In an effort to hide his criminal activity Vito Corleone masks it behind an Olive Oil Import business.  Meanwhile, Corleone seeks out the people who murdered his family and exacts his revenge.    

            Over the years, the Corleone business becomes very successful and the family grows larger.  With the exception of his youngest son, Michael, Vito’s sons all work in the “family business” and his daughter’s husband is brought in as well.  Michael Corleone follows his own path and enlists in the military, serving his country during World War II.  He wants nothing to do with the “family business” and does his very best to avoid family get-togethers. 

            Don Vito Corleone’s power spans the globe and his reputation is known worldwide.  He becomes one of the most powerful Dons in America.  When some of the mafia families decide to try their hand in narcotics, they approach Vito Corleone, in an effort to persuade him to allow them to use his political affiliations to help smooth the mafia’s transition into the narcotics trade.  Vito Corleone refuses to help them, fearing that the drug trade will not be accepted by his friends in the political world.  He warns that the narcotics trade could bring about the end of the “business”.  His warnings go unheeded.  Seen as an obstacle to growth in business, his rivals attempt to murder him. 

            Hearing of the attempt on his father’s life and his near-death condition, Michael Corleone returns to the family.  Seeking to protect his father from further assassination attempts and looking to exact revenge upon those who carried out the hit in the first place, Michael agrees to meet with the responsible parties.  In his first official act as a member of the mafia family, he murders the responsible parties and is sent into hiding in Italy.  A war breaks out amongst the mafia families and Vito Corleone suffers the loss of trusted friends and family members.

            When Michael returns to America, Vito places him in charge of Corleone affairs and a new Don is born.  Michael has dreams of making the family business legitimate, but his thirst for vengeance against his enemies is too great.  His need for revenge takes precedence above all else and Michael becomes the Don he never intended to be – blood-thirsty and ruthless.

            The Godfather: Part I & II represent movies that were ahead of their time.  Godfather II was the first sequel to win the Best Picture Oscar.  The movies on a whole received more award nominations and won more awards than can be counted.  Oscar awards were numerous and include Best Actor for Marlon Brando’s portrayal as Vito Corleone, Best Supporting Actor for Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of a younger Vito (his award represented the first time that two different actors received Academy Awards for playing the same role), Best Picture (both movies), Best Director For Frances Ford Copolla, Best Music, Best Writing (both films), and more.

            The acting was completely convincing.  Watching the film, you actually forget that these are actors portraying fictional roles.  Although this movie is about a crime family, somehow you find yourself rooting for the Corleone family to beat out its enemies.  Brando and DeNiro’s Oscars were well-earned as their performances as Don Corleone were impeccable.  Al Pacino is wholly believable as Michael, the son who originally shuns his family and then follows in his father’s footsteps.  Every performance by the cast is remarkably believable.  The casting department did a terrific job on these movies.

            To say that the Godfather movies had an affect on today’s society is to understate reality.  The theme song of The Godfather is one that everyone today associates with the life of organized crime.  “I'll make him an offer he can't refuse” has become one of America’s favorite phrases.  The Kiss of Death that Michael plants on one of his enemy is now universally known as an act of impending doom.  The movie’s success sparked a race to complete movies about the mafia.  Scarface, Carlito's Way  , Goodfellas, Casino, A Bronx Tale, and Donnie Brasco are all movies that not only contain the mafia-based themes, but also include actors from the Godfather movies.

            The storyline is completely addictive.  I recommend watching the movie in chronological order as it lends to that addictive quality.  It is one of the more accurate portrayals of the mafia around.  By accurate, I mean that organized crime has survived so long due to its ability to adapt to the times.  The Godfather: Part I & II both show how the mafia changes with the times, going from booze-running to gambling – whatever will bring the family a profit.  I especially enjoyed how the characters of Vito and Michael compliment each other.  Both had plans of living life in a legitimate fashion.  Both were somewhat forced to change their views of the criminal world based on traumatic experiences.  Which of the Dons is more ruthless and more cunning?  It’s a toss-up.  You’ll have to watch the movies yourself and form your own opinion.


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