Inspired by the 1969 crime novel of the same name written by Mario Puzo, the first movie, “The Godfather” was released in 1972. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, with Coppola and Puzo collaborating on the screenplay, the movie shows the mob business through the dealings of Don Vito Corleone, known to friends as “The Godfather.” The title character is played to perfection by Marlon Brando winning him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
The first of the three part series shows Don Corleone’s decorated war veteran returning home and being uninterested in the family business (mob dealings). But when Michael visits his father in the hospital after he is shot, he ends up getting his jaw broken by a corrupt police officer operating for Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, who is backed by the rival Tattaglia mob family. Michael kills Tattaglia and flees to Sicily to escape prison. In the meantime, his older brother Sonny is killed by rivals of the Corleone family. Michael returns some years later, consolidates his family’s business and takes over as its head while his father retires.
In Part II, Michael Corleone continues the family’s dealings in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. He is summoned to the ongoing Senate hearings investigating the illegal activities of the Corleone family. Michael beats all odds during the hearings and is not implicated due to lack of witnesses who can testify against him.
A parallel plot takes the viewers to Italy in a series of flashbacks, where the young Vito Corleone witnesses the murder of his entire family by a local mafia chieftain who is intent on killing him as well. Vito is whisked away to safety in a basket that is eventually smuggled onto a ship bound for New York City, where the young boy makes a life for himself. Toughened by circumstance and wise with experience, Michael earns the respect of the local mobster Don Fanucci, whom he eventually kills to establish order in his community, and takes over as its “Godfather.” Don Vito Corleone sets up a successful olive oil business as a front for his illegal dealings.
In the last of the series, Michael attempts to break with his violent past and ruthless ambition in the last movie in the Godfather saga. He moves to New York City where he sets up a charity, the “Vito Corleone Foundation,” in memory of his father. Michael and his wife Kay are divorced, and Kay has custody of his two children. He takes his nephew Vincent Mancini under his wing who brings the bad blood he bears for a rival into the Corleone fold yet again.
The three movies show the rise of a family from a small apartment in the Italian neighborhood of New York City to amassing a great fortune through dishonest means. Family bonds and loyalty run deep, so much that it connects the complex personalities of the two heads of the family, Vito Corleone and his son Michael. Vito Corleone is an upstanding, intelligent young man with a keen sense of right and wrong. A good husband, a good friend, a good employee and a good neighbor, when he sees Don Fanucci charging unfair amounts of money from area businesses and other people that they cannot afford, he decides its time for a new order to take over the neighborhood. He commits murder to establish himself as the Godfather. Michael, a decorated war veteran with no intention to get involved in his family’s business, does so to protect his father. Starting out with well-meaning intentions, their ways to carry out their ambitions are brutal. Once on that path, Vito and Michael get caught up in a vicious course of deception and violence.
The brilliant screenplay (which won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay) tells an intricate story of complicated characters and gives the movies their lurid appeal. From the sun-drenched, rustic villages of Sicily, the overcrowded streets of New York City in the 1930s, to the lush landscape of Michael Corleone’s estate in Nevada, the sepia-tinged cinematography does justice to lay bare the circumstances of the Corleone’s but lends them a certain romanticism that the audience feel through all three movies.
The casting is superb and the performances all the actors deliver are incredible. Notable mentions are, of course, by Marlon Brando as the paternal mobster, Robert DeNiro as the younger Vito Corleone, and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. All the actors become their characters and lend outstanding credibility to them.
Truly deserving of the Oscar it received for Best Picture., the Godfather series are a masterpiece in cinema and ones that endure in movie lovers’ hearts and minds long after they have seen the films.
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