Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1990
I first watched it on May 8th, 2019
What It’s About:
Despite his best efforts to remain uninvolved, Michael Corleone finds himself getting more and more immersed into his family’s crime business, after a rival mafia family attempts to assassinate his father, Vito Corleone, known to his fellow mob members as “The Godfather.”
My experience with the film:
“Everything I know about ‘The Godfather’ I learned from ‘You’ve Got Mail’.” – Me, up until about two years ago. I first watched The Godfather in 2019 as a part of my ongoing quest to watch every Best Picture winner (first mentioned here), and I watched it again most recently to discuss it in one of my movie clubs (first mentioned here). My thoughts upon my very first viewing were: “Phenomenal acting, and a well-crafted tragic story detailing the slow descent of a man who started out wanting to be virtuous, but was eventually corrupted. It reminded me of Citizen Kane, but with more violence.” (This was back when I wrote one-tweet reviews of movies that I watched).
At this point my whole “I love this NFR project because learning about the context surrounding the movies helps me to appreciate them” schtick probably sounds like a broken record, but that is once again quite applicable to this movie. It was only upon diving into the Blu-ray extras and my other typical internet resources that I learned interesting tidbits like how the lighting in this film was not only a breakaway from the norm (it was a sign, more than a cause, of the death of the drive-in, since the film’s extremely shadowy look did not play well on outdoor screens), but it was also used to tell the story, and to symbolize the duality of man (as pretentious as that may sound), based on who had faces lit or in shadow (or both simultaneously) or when scenes were brightly or darkly lit.
Another interesting aspect that I learned is that, aside from two brief shots, all of the camera angles used in the film were meant to feel natural: with little-to-no movement (which allowed characters to enter and exit the frame, as though we were watching a stage-play), and with many of the shots set up at eye-level, which allows the viewer to feel like they are immersed in the world of the film, standing and observing the events as though they were really there.
One of the many other reasons that this film is considered one of the all-time-greats is the almost-Shakespearean quality to the story as Michael slowly succumbs to the dark world of his family that he initially tried so desperately to escape. I do recall that the very first time that I watched this, the tragedy aspect of the story didn’t really quite click for me until the final shot of the film. Immediately beforehand, Michael had blatantly lied to his wife about his involvement in Carlo’s death, which seemed to assuage her fears that Michael may not be trying to make his family’s business “legitimate,” as he promised. However, as we build to the very last shot of the film, and as we see more and more “business partners” file into the office of their new Don to kiss his hand, we see someone close the office door, shutting Kay (Michael’s wife), out of the “family business.” The very last shot is from the POV of the person closing the door, and we see the look of despair on Kay’s face as she realizes that everything that Michael had reassured her of moments ago was a lie, and that he has truly taken his father’s place as the head of the Corleone crime family. That look of despair, and the visual image of the film ending by literally shutting her out is when it clicked for me. That’s when I finally realized “ah, so this is a tragedy—and a darn good one.”
The Godfather (1972) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-godfather-part-i
To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:
- The Blu-ray box set pictured above contains four discs: one for each of the three Godfather films (each movie disc also contains an audio commentary featuring the director, Francis Ford Coppola), and a fourth disc with several hours of special features. Most Blu-ray box sets of the trilogy contain these four discs (such as this one, this one, and this one). The digital edition of the film on Vudu comes with three of the features from the Blu-ray.
- The official NFR Essay that discusses both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II: https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/godfather.pdf
- This two-part post from The Horse’s Head, another blog that discusses the NFR films
- This post from MerryWatchesMovies, an Instagram account dedicated to watching the NFR films: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bti7G1IAidA/
- The original 1972 review from The New York Times: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/godfather-re.html
- The original (somewhat negative) 1972 review from Variety: https://variety.com/1972/film/reviews/the-godfather-2-1200422863/
- The original 1972 review from Roger Ebert: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-godfather-1972
- A discussion of why film critics love The Godfather: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnX8uochbsM
- An analysis of the cinematography and lighting in The Godfather: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reaU40elX7c
- A two-part video essay about the career of Francis Ford Coppola
- A podcast episode about The Godfather: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRfM7FltD0k
- Another podcast episode about The Godfather, which contains an interview with actor Gianni Russo (who played “Carlo Rizzi” in the film) who talks about his real-life mafia connections: https://www.earwolf.com/episode/the-godfather/
- The Wikipedia page for The Godfather: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Godfather
For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory.
If you’re reading this in the future, and want to see whether I’ve made any updates to the original entry, you may check here.
Current tally: Written 32 out of 800 entries