Wednesday, June 04, 2014

All choked up from watching The Godfather

Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), not very articulate to begin with, doesn’t have anything intelligent to say in this scene.

I watched The Godfather on DVD the other day. I have seen it several times since its original theatrical release in 1972. Since it is in my all-time top ten list of great movies, I watch it every few years to reassure myself it hasn’t lost anything.

Something I read years ago was the impact the movie had on the real Five Families of New York. They took it as a template for how a Mafia family should be. Life imitated art, when everyone supposed it was the other way around. Even The Sopranos, which updated the Mafia for a nineties audience, referenced The Godfather many times. Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante did an impression of Al Pacino from The Godfather Part II: “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.”

All things considered, Pacino did a very reserved performance in The Godfather. I don’t believe director Francis Ford Coppola allowed him to chew scenery as he has done in several movies. This was Pacino’s star turn and put him in the upper ranks of movie actors.

Michael Corleone gets to think about his next move while eating dinner with Capt. McClusky and Solozzo, who has already tried to hit Michael’s father, unsuccessfully. Michael is wondering, "Did Clemenza tell me to drop the gun first or shoot first and then drop the gun?” It’s Michael’s first hit. You can’t blame him for being nervous.

In one incredible anecdote about the movie I read years ago, Rod Steiger contacted the casting director about a part. Assuming he was aiming for the part of the Godfather, they told him the part of Don Corleone had already been taken by Brando. Steiger said he was looking to play Michael. The last time he and Brando were in a movie together was On the Waterfront in 1954, and I think he may have been just a tad too old — by at least a few decades — for Michael.

Corrupt Captain McClusky meets his demise by being shot by Michael. Sterling Hayden, who played McClusky, was something of a reluctant star. He had been in a lot of movies, always a wonder to me since I don't think he could act. But he kept getting offers. I think he took the jobs in order to get money for his true love, his sail boat.

Michael escapes to Italy to lie low until the heat dies down. While there he is “hit by the thunderbolt” and falls in love with and marries the fresh young Apollonia.

Honk! Tweet! Yow-za! Michael gets a first glimmer of his bride’s nubile beauty. Poor Apollonia has a bad end in the movie, getting blown up in Michael’s car. I tried to say something significant about the idea of dragging an innocent virgin into the seedy world of organized crime, and ultimate retribution by her new husband’s enemies, but frankly I couldn’t come up with anything interesting enough to say.* Especially after seeing actress Simonetta Steffanelli’s 18-year-old boobs, which say it all. When Steffanelli was asked why she didn’t make more Hollywood movies she said, “They just wanted to expose my body, and I wouldn’t do that.” Instead she posed for Penthouse in 1973. Hey, it is always good for an actress to have high standards.

Something I noticed about The Godfather is the absence of a lot of profanity. Unlike later movies where the word ‘fuck’ stands in for nouns, verbs, adjectives and all other forms of speech, this movie does not descend to that level. I was glad of it. The word is seriously overused in movies and cable TV shows nowadays. I haven’t seen Wolf of Wall Street but heard that they used the word over 500 times. I was in the Army for two years, and I bet I didn’t say that word half that many times in my whole Army career. My feeling is that it is a word that should be reserved for when it is really needed,* not used every other word  in every sentence.

The Godfather does have some violent scenes, which still have impact even though the movie is 42 years old. It’s because it isn’t an action picture, where the hero can have twenty guys shooting machine guns at him and not be hit, yet hit a villain with every shot he takes.

In the real world of 1972 we saw some criminal activity on the very highest levels, which made the Corleone family look like amateurs.

The Godfather holds up well. But I believe it is in the shadow of its sequel, The Godfather Part II. Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone had his own star turn in that movie. The scenes shot in Italy and later in New York’s Little Italy are masterpieces. De Niro had been getting attention before that movie. I first saw him in Bloody Mama in 1970, then Bang the Drum Slowly in 1973 and was impressed.

But, Godfather Part II will be the subject of another posting, another time. Until then, “Don’t ask me about my business...don’t ever ask me about my business...”

*Is it interesting if I say that Michael was something of a virgin himself, in the ways of his criminal family that is, when he made his first hit?

*Don’t ask me to describe when the word is really needed. I know it when an occasion presents itself.


Kirk said...

It's in Godfather III that Pacino chews the scenery, and the violence gets pretty goofy. I think Coppola made that one for a fast buck.

Postino said...

Kirk, I have seen Godfather III only once, and felt it was enough. After posting this article I watched Godfather Part II, and believe that should have ended the in my mind it did.