“The Godfather”: 45 Years Later

Just like a good book, a good movie deserves repeated examinations.   To commemorate the 45th anniversary of its release, “The Godfather” played in theaters last week and I went to see it again.

In 1972, I was too young to see the film when it premiered so it was a few years later when I saw it at a revival house.  However, I have strong memories of my older brother taking my father to see it because it was the last film my dad ever saw in a movie theater.  At the time, my parents rarely went to see new movies so it was exciting that my dad was seeing such an anticipated film based on Mario Puzo’s huge bestseller at the time.

Back then, multiplexes did not exist.   Each city had its own single-screen movie theaters:    Glendale had the Alex and the Glendale; Burbank had the California and the Magnolia.

And movies opened in select theaters, not in every city.  When a first-run film eventually screened in the San Fernando Valley, it was weeks, sometimes months later.  So, if one wanted to see “The Godfather,” a person would have to travel into Hollywood or Westwood and stand in line for hours if the film was popular.

Along with 1974’s “The Godfather II,” both films were nominated for 22 Academy Awards, winning nine including Best Picture for each; some critics even think the sequel superior to the first one.

All the still-living principal actors of director Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece—Al Pacino (age 77), James Caan (77), Robert Duvall (86), Diane Keaton (71), Talia Shire (71)—including Coppola (78) were on hand in New York recently, organized by Robert DeNiro (73) for his Tribeca Film Festival, who, even though he was not in the first film, portrays the younger Don Corleone (the Marlon Brando character) in the sequel.

Two things surprised me in seeing it again.  One, the film’s notoriety over its violence has much to do with the way Coppola handled those scenes.   Of its three-hour length, only minutes of it contain violent moments.  It is the way the scenes are edited that creates the impact on the audience.

The violence often erupts when you least expect it, and it is over quite quickly.  But the violent acts are depicted realistically, leaving the viewer with the impression that “The Godfather” is an ultra-violent film.

When Michael Corleone guns down the police captain and a mobster in an Italian restaurant, it is the acting of Pacino, the close-ups of his eyes, that holds the emotion in that scene, not the killings themselves.  The audience shares what is going on in his mind, that his next move is going to the bathroom to retrieve the hidden gun.

Also enlightening was that the film did not have one f-word or s-word.  It would be hard to make a film like this today without a plethora of obscenities.

Another integral aspect to “The Godfather” is the iconic music by Nino Rota whose Academy Award nomination for Best Score was ruled ineligible when it was revealed that the love theme music, while his, was actually composed for the 1958 Italian movie “Fortunella.”  He did win the Oscar for the sequel, sharing it with Coppola’s father Carmine.

Finally, this absorbing three-hour epic did not seem 180 minutes long, another reminder how riveting it is to watch a film on a big screen in a darkened theater.   Home viewing, be it on a 60” TV or a cell phone, drains the cinematic experience of its life.

Of course, just as with books, not all movies provide revelations upon repeated viewings.  A cast reunion of another 1972 offering, “The Thing With Two Heads,” has not yet been arranged.