Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Godfather Trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola)

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In 1969, a relatively unknown - but, for the books he had written, well received - writer called Mario Puzo published a book called The Godfather. He used his experience as a journalist to learn about the ways of the Mafia, but his ultimate principal with the book was to make money.

Upon release it spent months on the New York Times Best Seller List and it wasn't long before the big boys from Hollywood came calling. In 1972, The Godfather was released. Directed by relative unknown Francis Ford Coppola, it starred Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, the head of one of the five (Mafia) families in New York.

Other members of the cast included Al Pacino, who played Corleone's youngest son Michael, Diane Keaton as Michael's love interest Kay and Robert Duvall as Corleone's unofficially adopted son and family lawyer Tom Hagen. Stellar by today's standards, but it was only Duvall that had any real acting credits worth noting.

Like the book, on success it was an instant hit. Not only opening to critical acclaim, it broke countless financial records held by 1939's Gone With The Wind, and later became the highest grossing film of all time. Ironically, it then went on to lose this record a mere three years later to Spielberg's Jaws. The Godfather had truly set a new benchmark for film-makers.

Marlon Brando as The Godfather
Coppola had award ceremonies coming out of his ears, including three Academy Awards (and eight further nominations). As a result, he was now the hottest director in town and just two years later he released another Academy Award nominated film - The Conversation.

Naturally this success led to a dangerous moment for his career - he was approached to make a sequel to The Godfather. Sequels are renowned for being the younger brothers of cash cow films that end up as a flop at the cinema (or, in some cases are straight to DVD releases). For a rising director such as Coppola, this would prove to be the pinnacle moment of his career.

Filming for The Godfather Part II began immediately after The Conversation, with Coppola being afforded far more freedom that in the original's shoot. Al Pacino returned (after having parts of the script rewritten for him), along with many of the others from The Godfather. Marlon Brando declined the offer of a single scene and Robert De Niro took over the role of the younger Vito Corleone.

By keeping the backbone of the story the same, along with many of the actors, The Godfather Part II changed very little in terms of action, but offered a lot of new content that would make fans and newcomers alike fall in love with the films. Again, as with its predecessor, Part II was released to overwhelming critical acclaim.

Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II
In terms of Academy Awards, Part II trumped The Godfather with six wins and a further five nominations. It won Best Picture in the process, fending off fierce competition from Chinatown and Coppola's own The Conversation, proving that it wasn't just a weak year in cinema.

At this point in the series, Coppola and Puzo had decided that the story they wanted to tell was finished - despite increasing pressure from Paramount Pictures to produce a third instalment. Coppola, with his new found fame had other blockbusters to make including his Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now where he reunited with Godfather actors Brando and Duvall. However in 1990, following the financial failure of New York Stories, Coppola was persuaded to return to the story of Michael Corleone.

Once again, he teamed up with original author Mario Puzo and penned the script for The Godfather Part III. In 1990, 16 years after the success of Part II, The Godfather Part III was released. Immediately it was under scrutiny for the success of the first two films, and in comparison it was a critical flop, achieving mostly average reviews.

The legacy of The Godfather lives on though - and not just in the world of parody. With the rise of the Internet, The Godfather and Part II shot straight to the top of the Internet Movie Database rankings (arguably one of the most highly respected average rating websites), and currently occupy first and third spot respectively.

As for me, I pretty much followed the trend. Initially, The Godfather was  a shock to me. I found Brando difficult to understand (I agreed with Al Pacino's view that it should have been he, not Brando that was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1972) but it didn't take away from the gritty storyline and iconic scenes. I was far more relaxed during the sequels because I knew what to expect. Part II was, for me, the best film in the series. Part III was acceptable to provide closure on the series, but had a bit of a ludicrous storyline that made it understandably the runt of the family.

I do have one regret though; despite constantly seeing Mario Puzo's novel on sale I have yet to buy it. That needs to change.


  1. Strange to say, I haven't not seen a single Godfather film. It's one of those things I keep meaning to do and don't do it. Someday I must.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Funny thing - until two weeks ago, I hadn't seen any of them either.

      I think it goes without saying though that it should be high up on any film fan's list of movies to watch.

  2. I haven't read any of his books either, but I absolutely loved watching The Godfather, one of my all time favorite movies. Part II, like you said, was even better. And Part III...? Well, you know the rest.

    1. Glad you agree, Michael. I found them fascinating.