Godfather, The (1972)

The Godfather (1972), directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

I remember trying not to like this when I first saw it. I don't remember why. Maybe it was the hoopla, or maybe I thought it wrong to glorify or ennoble crime figures.

But, of course, that's not the point. I finally read the novel and -- although it is not great literature -- it helped me understand the Corleones better. I was also confused by a bunch of plot points the book clarifies. It didn't help that for some reason for years I only saw bits and pieces of this, not the whole thing.

Don Vito Corleone is the most reasonable of men. He wants friends, not enemies and is pleased to do favors for them. Violence is reserved for those who won't see reason. The difference between him and other assertive immigrant businessmen is that he is smarter than the others, seeing ahead in ways the others can't. And everyone knows it.

He is a real Sicilian, meaning he is willing to risk everything. In this case, by turning it all over to his youngest son. The smart one who didn't want that life.

It is clever plotting to open at the wedding. Everyone is brought together and their characters revealed. We see the Don at his business and with his family, both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects. The dialogue tends to explain the plot, which is sometimes hard to follow even with that.

The best parts of the book deal with the core story of the survival of the Corleone family. Big sections dealing with Johnny Fontane and others in LA and Las Vegas are skippable. The sex content is weak.

One thing the book has that the movie misses is the character of Luca Brasi. In the film he is a dim-witted ox, but in the book a creature of darkness. Everyone is afraid of Brasi: he chopped a man to pieces with a axe and threw a baby into a furnace.

We also don't see Sonny's skilled tactical management of a mob war, only his failures at compromise and seeing the bigger picture.

Photographed by Gordon Willis, score by Nino Rota.

Marlon Brando had nothing but flops for years before this. Luckily he didn't give up.

Available on Blu-ray. The dark scenes don't have a lot of shadow detail.