Catching up with the Classics: the Godfather

I consider myself to be something of a pop culture buff, but lately I’ve realized that distinction really only applies to the ’90s forward. Which leaves a whole bunch of stuff from other decades, and which means that there are a lot of so-called “classic” movies that I’ve never seen. Some of these, I’m downright embarrassed about (see: the subject of this post). Some of these, I definitely know I should watch, but can never quite seem to motivate myself to actually watch (e.g. Citizen Kane). And others, I’m completely ambivalent about (for example, I have a friend who considers it appalling that I’ve never seen Die Hard and Jurassic Park. Are these really necessary cinematic experiences? Or even classics?).

Whatever the case, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to start catching up on some of these classics. Since I just started law school, this plan will likely be derailed pretty quickly, but I figure I might as well get working on making a dent in my list of classics (it’s a long one).

It seemed to me that there was no better place to start than the Godfather since, as I mentioned above, I’m pretty embarrassed never to have seen the movie. Also, my dad owns the triology (and loves them). And, I just went to Sicily this summer, and that definitely made me want to watch the movie even more. So, upon watching, here are my thoughts on this classic:

  • I found the movie difficult to watch on its own terms – there are so many scenes and lines that I already knew were “classics,” and that knowledge inevitably colored my perception of them. For example – rather than being completely surprised when the man finds the horse’s head in his bed, you’re more like, “oh, hey, it’s the horse head scene!”
  • I know Brando got the Oscar for this, but I was much more impressed by Al Pacino. He played Michael so quietly, but I thought it was really effective. Also? He was way hot back in the day.
  • I was blown away by how many amazing actors there were in this movie. It has to be one of the best (or the best?) casts in a movie, ever. The exception to this: Talia Shire. Really? She got an Oscar nomination for this? All she does is act hysterical and scream a lot.
  • This will sound super obvious, but I liked the themes of family/duty/honor, and the conflict between doing what you want and fulfilling some sense of familial obligation.
  • I loved the tension of the baptism scene at the end. Perfectly done.

Ultimately – I really liked the movie. I can’t wait to discover more great, but entirely new to me, films.

My grade: A

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79 thoughts on “Catching up with the Classics: the Godfather

  1. REALLY?? I am sorry but I couldn’t disagree with you more. What makes this movie so incredible is the writing. I have read this screenplay and it is so skillful it amazes me. The writing gives the actors and director all the room they need to take us through the story but interpret it, using their own skill.

    I love that this movie does not rely on huge special effects, tons of unnecessary violence and sex to tell us a wonderfully crafted story. This family is so conflicted and we as the audience are taken along for the ride.

    I agree with you about Al Pacino—and he is even more effective in Godfather Two. And the baptism scene was perfect—agreed.

    By the way don’t even bother with Godfather Three—worst movie ever and Sophia Coppola was laughable. Citizen Kane—great flick, I highly recommend it.

    • I feel that I must agree with both of you. The writing is phenomenal, but without the incredible acting the words would mean nothing. Look at all the films Keanu Reeves have butchered!

      But I will agree that Godfather III is probably the worst movie I have ever seen, next to Waterworld. See the second because it begs to be appreciated, but skip the third and see something more worthy of your time, energy and brain space.

      • I agree with singlegirlmodernworld. Its been while since I watched the third. I keep feeling like I should give it a second chance but just can’t.

        I really enjoy Al Pacino’s older stuff. I really was amazed at the acting in Serprico. Its just so different from his loud acting now.

        I too have so many great and no so great classics I still have to watch. But do to the difference in time/culture I feel that I need to be in the right mood/mind set.

  2. The Godfather is the perfect movie! Everything about it was brilliantly done! I’m so glad you finally watched it because you would’ve missed out on Michael Corleone!

    Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! :)

  3. Um. Yeah. I’m with ya — except I’ve STILL never seen this film in its entirety. Because I’ve seen it in fits and starts, I just figure I can piece it all together.

    But to really appreciate it, I should probably just sit down and watch it…the entire way through…

    Jurassic Park? Pretty good flick, btw…

  4. Ah yes, The Godfather. I’ve only ever managed to see the first one, but for the most part I couldn’t get into it; maybe it’s because I happened to be doing other things on my phone, or I was distracted in some way by something. I will make an effort to watch it again when it swings by on Film4 once again though.

    Similarly how you’re watching the classics, I’ve just started up a series of blog posts on the old horror movies. The famous, infamous and the B movies, hence why I was drawn to your blog.

    I loved the post. I would suggest watching Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Those are brilliant movies and are definitely coined the classics. =)

  5. I’ve never seen the Godfather then again I’m only 18 years old and I was content with watching cartoons for most of my life. I have had many chances to actually watch it but have never done so. Guess that leaves me out for the count but maybe I’ll actually take the time to sit down and watch. Don’t have attention span for it though so I don’t know! Nice post!

  6. Talia Shire did not receive an Oscar nomination for The Godfather. She was nominated for The Godfather Part 2 in which she is very good (and she’s truly sensational in the otherwise mediocre The Godfather Part 3).

    Pacino most assuredly deserved Best Supporting actor in 1972 (even though he was the lead, that’s what he was nominated for). But he was up against James Caan and Robert Duvall, and the three Godfather actors cancelled each other out. It’s even more absurd that Pacino didn’t win Best Actor in 1974 for Godfather Part 2.

    You now need to see the magnificent Godfather Part 2. Different from the first one–more ambitious, darker, moodier, devastating. And the sequences with Robert DeNiro are haunting and among the best ever filmed in any movie ever made.

    I don’t know if I’d call Jurassic Park a classic, but it’s a great movie and marvelously entertaining.

  7. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I’m glad to see a woman other than myself who truly appreciates The Godfather. I posted an essay about it on my blog http://jenniesisler.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/an-offer-he-cant-refuse/ and I was beginning to think I was the only woman on earth who could appreciate this movie. Although I think Talia Shire is severely overrated as an actress, the character of Connie Corleone goes through such a transformation between the second and third movies that she really becomes the puppet master in the family. Thanks for a great tribute to a great movie!

  8. I’ve had Citizen Kane on my TV stand from Netflix since MAY, so I’m with you on that one/ I also recently saw the Godfather too; couldn’t agree more about Pacino being a total babe in these movies; if anything, he’s even hotter in part 2, so happy watching!

  9. I feel the same way whenever I watch a so-called classic.
    When my boyfriend finally sat me down and forced me to watch Star Wars I already knew all of the plot twists and classic lines.
    I still need to watch the Godfather Part II, so I can’t really tell you that it gets better, but everyone else seems to think so.

  10. I’ve always claimed that The Godfather is more a family movie than a gangster movie. It is a perfect alignment of directing, writing (better than the novel), and acting. Part II is arguably even better. I’m one of the few who thinks Part III is also quite good – it is underrated, in my opinion. If you watch Talia Shire’s character evolve through the trilogy, she makes quite an impressive transformation by the end. Thanks for posting this thoughtful review!

  11. Wow i have seen all the Godfather movies countless times..amazing in everyway..Robert De Niro playing a young Vito Corleone was wayyyyy hotter though :)

  12. My husband loves this movie, I like this movie a lot, and my son is completely confused by it.
    The last time we watched it I noticed that oranges in the movie repeatedly appear in the scenes with ….. well, you will have to watch it to see :-)

    I hope you liked Sicily!

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  13. At the outset, let me also say congrats on being Freshly Pressed. Well deserved!
    The Godfather-Parts One and Two, arguably the two best films ever made, exemplify what a ‘Classic’ should be; well acted, well scripted, and memorable. It was a great choice on your part to begin ‘catching up with the classics’ with this film. I hope after you see Part Two, (which I’m sure you will love even more than Part One),that you will post your review/thoughts on it as well.

    Keep up the great work!!

  14. I think it could be a gender thing. I rhapsodize about Godfather I & II all the time – I think they are mindblowing movies. And my wife can’t understand what the fuss is about – she says Godfather I is a nice movie. I’m like, what do you mean, its a nice movie. She says what do you want, I’m telling you it is nice. She doesn’t understand. I keep telling her. “He’s Not That Into You” – now that’s a nice movie. Godfather is Godfather.
    But we both agree that Godfather III should never had been made.

    Nice blog, BTW.

  15. The first two Godfather movies are in my top ten movies of all time. The scripts, the music, the acting … everything. To me the high point of Part II is Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth (modeled on Meyer Lansky).

    I’ve probably seen the two movies 25 or 30 times each.

  16. I’ll go back to the original intent of your post and put in my two cents on “classics”:
    The reason Jurassic Park and Die Hard aren’t classics is because they are well-crafted “Grand Entertainments”, like Gone With the Wind, or The Ten Commandments. A Grand Entertainment doesn’t require expert writing or acting. It just must be an audience-pleaser. To be a classic, a film must work on many different kinds of levels, and reveal different layers when re-viewed. The first two Godfather films satisfy this, though II is a much better film than the first, a rarity in sequels. You can enjoy expert writing, cinematography, editing, acting, sets, music, costuming – they work as whole films, but also in individual scenes. They have a full range of tragedy and comedy. They reflect the times the story is set in, but also the times the movie was made during.

    There’s no excuse for not giving Citizen Kane a try except laziness, because it is so influential upon so many films and styles that came after it. You can check out the restored DVD from any Public Library for free. If you don’t, you will be cited and fined for lack of proper pop culture credentials. (I liked reading your article.)

  17. Well, I finally watched it a couple of years ago [http://iamyouasheisme.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/godfather-mafioso/] and I was not impressed. As a friend who loves it said, “It’s a soap opera for guys.”

    I’m not commenting on the technical aspects of the writing, direction, or the acting. They were obviously good, with the exception of Dianne Keaton whom I find unbelievable in this film, but the story and tone of it. It’s a fantasy, a nostalgic rhapsody to the Mafia.

    Personally, I don’t understand the facination with the Mob, but that’s me. At least movies like Goodfellas and Donny Brasco try to tell it like it is. This was simply gangster romance, and not all that believable either.

    And that baptism scene…later appearing in The Devil’s Advocate as a sort of homage, I guess…I wonder if that was borrowed (ripped off?) from the final wedding scene of Before the Revolution?

  18. The God Father makes my top ten so I am glad you liked it. One of my favorite aspects was that if you betrayed the community, family, you paid the ultimate price. They didn’t mess around did they:)

    I am probably a bit older than you as most of my favorite movies were before the 90′s:) Some of my other favorites include Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dirty Harry (first two), and of course Star Wars. Good luck with Law School.

  19. If “The Godfather” is in my Top Ten, then “The Godfather Part II” is in my Top Two ( I don’t know what the other movie is in my Top Two). I think “The Godfather Part II” is the best movie I have ever seen.

    I was just talking movies with someone last night. We were talking about Westerns. I think “The Searchers” starring John Wayne might be my favorite Western. And Clint Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter” is also excellent.

    “High Plains Drifter” (short story)

    http://tim-shey.blogspot.com/2010/07/high-plains-drifter.html

    “High Plains Drifter” (autobiography)

    • Another Clint fan:) Love the westerns. I like almost all of his westerns, including two mules for sister sarah…but Outlaw Josey Whales might be #1 followed by a Fist Full of Dollars.

  20. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. Am I the only one who enjoyed the re-edited special edition of The Godfather I and II wherein the two films were cut together? As for catching up on Citzen Kane, it’s a great film on it’s own terms. Innovative and influential. But it’s more than just the writing and acting. It’s the use of lighting, camera angle, sets. So many firsts! It’s not necessary to be aware of these aspects of the film, but I wonder if it can be fully appreciated without that knowledge.

  21. As far as I know, The Godfather is still considered one of the top movies of all times (and often, the best of all). And I can’t argue with that. I’m just 26, saw The Goddaddy like four years ago, and then I discovered what a damn good movie is like.

    I didn’t like Part III so much, but part I and II are really good. If there’s something I didn’t like is the eternal suffering scenes, like when Don Vito is shot and takes half scene to fall to the ground, or the cop with a bullet in the freakin’ forehead and doesn’t die instantly. And even with this errors, for me is the best movie ever.

    I found the novel in a store some years ago, started to read it and now I don’t know where it is (shame on me!) But the book is so good for itself. The part between the attack to Don Vito, the death of Luca Brasi and the revenge of Michael is so intense (yeah, like a double rainbow all the way across the sky). The way it’s being narrated is… well… I really can’t explain it, you have to read it.

  22. Have you seen Apocalypse Now? It’s one of my all time favs, which is a bit weird on my part. I prefer apocalypse now redux, but the theatrical version is also great. (it’s also a chance to see a really young Lawrence Fishburne)

  23. Congrats on being freshly pressed! I am instantly drawn to any post with “Godfather” in its title. It’s very fun to get to know the classics! I’ve always felt that this movie was so innovative that it stepped up the movie-making game. Now that you’ve seen it, I bet you can see its influence in tons of other movies. Try watching “Psycho” and “Notorious”, both by Hitchcock. You may just enjoy them!!

  24. Jurassic Park & Die Hard are epic films – everyone should see them at least once they are what the 90s were all about. If films reverted back to the 90s formula with fresh ideas cinema would be outstanding thats why hollywood is trying to remake everything lol. I tried watching the Godfather but it was too boring granted im def going to watch them but i found it hard to concentrate on them but i’ll def give them another go!

  25. Thanks for the great post and congratulations. The two Godfather movies are my favorites of all time. The third was awful. The novel by Mario Puzo is even better. He really explains the way Italian immigrants were discriminated against when they came to America and they had to turn to a life of crime to support their families–the theme that comes out in the second Goffather movie. The acting, the tension and the conflict between family and honor on the one hand and brutality on the other makes the two movies riveting. Nice job!

    • I would disagree about the 3rd movie. True, it wasn’t as good as the first two, but the only thing truly horrible about The Godfather Part III was Sofia Coppola’s acting…or lack thereof, as the case may be. The only reason she got the gig was being the daughter of the director.

  26. So good to know I’m not the only one who’s behind in seeing the classics! Yes, Godfather is a great movie. (So is the book, btw.) I’ve tried to make commitments to do the same thing – catch up on all those movies I “should have” seen, and am constantly not succeeding. (I haven’t seen all of Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Maltese Falcon, Casablanca…) Recently finally saw Dog Day Afternoon. You think Pacino is good in Godfather…have you seen that? He’s amazing.

  27. Godfather I and II are obviously superior, but i don’t think Godfather III sucked that bad. The scene with Sofia Coppola and her cuz, played by the delicious and tightly-wound Andy Garcia, and co-starring the gnocchi they were dual-rolling on the wooden cutting board – well that raised the movie right then and there.

  28. I also loved the Godfather trilogy.

    But there is one movie you jjjust have to watch if you haven’t yet: Silence of the Lamb.

    May you survive all those lawyer jokes out there. LOL

    Tom Daigle
    Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

  29. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite movie because at different times different movies are more appealing, but The Godfather trilogy is one of those that I can watch all three movies back to back.

  30. i’m quite a fan of the whole trilogy- even the last one w/sofia coppola. actors allowing to act at its best! the horse head scene may not e surprising but it’s still fun even after 10+ viewings of it. i agree that the script allows the actors to explore the space so to speak.
    ia slo suggest you give citzen kane a go again. also try: serpico, dog day afternoon, apocalypse now, jurassic park- it may not be an intense drama w/riveting performances but it def. is a classic in its own right! that one and shawshank redemption… have fun watching movies! :)

  31. The Godfather trilogy is iconic, timeless, classic, epic, etc. Maybe it’s my longtime desire to be a mafia wife or the very “understandable” and relatable characters. But good for you. As for “older” movies, check out “All About Eve” with Bette Davis…one of my faves! And good for you for expanding your horizons! We all should.

  32. I am sure, locked away in most of everyone’s house, you will find a dusty copy of The Godfather, it’s a movie one never get’s tired of watching and to go with that was the great sound track. The trilogy also touches on issues that evolved around that time, with Italian-Americans fitting into society and the growth of the underworld.

    Did you know, when Al Pacino starting casting for the scene, they used to laugh at him during the shooting. The film bosses said no to him but Francis Ford Coppola kept inviting Al Pacino back for small screen tests. He then asked Diane Keaton whether she preferred Al Pacino or Robert De Niro for the role of Michael, she said Al Pacino because he “undresses her with his eyes”…..

    The character of Michael was so flawed and how ironic that while most around him met a truely awful death, his was very different in Part 3…..

    Congrats on being FP.

  33. Citizen Kane and Fiddler on the Roof – 2 movies I’ve been putting off forever.
    Classics.
    And if you want to sound cooler than ever, then perhaps Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia!
    Thats nearly 16hrs of your life watching these classics.

  34. I love Godfather movies too. Classic indeed and one of the best. Although many people here have said about how bad the 3rd installment of the movie is, I think you should still watch it to complete the Godfather experience. :) While I agree that compared to the first two Godfather movies, the third just didn’t do quite well. I still watched it. Now you made me want to watch Godfather again. :)

  35. The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2 are two films on a very short list of ‘perfect films’ As a novelty and if you can find it, seek out The Godfather Epic which is the first two films re-edited with a ton of new footage and put into chronological order. It will never replace the films but the new footage is interesting to watch. Sadly its not available on DVD but Im sure someones bootlegged it.

  36. Good idea to catch up with the classics- Part 2 is just as good. I agree about the cast, except I love Talia Shire. Part 3 doesn’t deserve the crippling negativity it gets- it isn’t great, but it’s still worth a watch. As for Die Hard and Jurassic Park- both classics in my opinion which are still as exciting today as they were upon release, and definites for someone who loves their pop culture.

  37. Godfather & GF2 are so achingly beautiful. Every time I watch them I feel myself almost aching for the innocence of the early 20th century. The best scene is the end of Godfather one, when all of the family’s vendettas are exacted, set against the ritual of the baptism. Nice stuff. Great post. Now go see the rest of Coppala’s work.

  38. Ok, I know I’m late to this party but I have to comment. The Godfather I & II are my two favorite movies of all time. The 2nd one is incredibly well directed and it’s like you’re watching two movies in one. DeNiro is fabulous in that movie. Quick side note: did you know that Brando and DeNiro are the only two actors to ever win an oscar for playing the same character?

    Anyway, the first movie is a classic on so many levels. One commentor above mentions that the family is so conflicted. I have to disagree with that, and instead would say that they are not conflicted at all because this is their way of life. They live this conflict day in and day out and is nothing out of the ordinary for them. Anyway, glad you had a chance to watch it!

  39. The Godfather is one of my favorite movies. Believe it or not, the sequel is every bit as good, but it doesn’t have Brando. Every time I see that film I am amazed at the subtlety in Brando’s performance. He gets so much out of so little movement. I agree with you about Pacino, at least for that film. In subsequent films Pacino went way over the top, although I do admit he’s got one of the greatest screaming voices in cinema. How does such a little guy project that much? [Jon Lovitz voice] Acting!

    But back to Brando: The very first scene in the film where they cut to the inner sanctum with all of the people coming to pay tribute to Don Corleone and to ask him favors. The scene is shot from behind Brando so you’re looking at the guests looking at him. All you see for a brief instant is Brando’s arm make a gesture — as if to say ‘continue.’ That’s it. Yet it conveys such power and gravitas. When Brando finally speaks it is riveting.

    I would go back and check out some of his classic work from the 50s. Of course there are Waterfront and Streetcar — must sees. There’s also Sayonara, an underrated gem, and The Men, which is his first film.

    Here is a link to a post I wrote about the Godfather 2. http://worldofkeitho.com/2011/02/15/this-is-the-business-we-have-chosen/

    • Couldnt agree with you more about Brando in Godfather I. So much acting from so little dialogue and movement. Have to tell you though, that when he motions his hand in that opening scene, it’s to tell his “flunky” to get the guest a shot, remember? Sorry, just had to clear that up, haha.

  40. As I read someone once write: as regards the ‘Godfather’ movies, the second isn’t as great as most say, the third isn’t as bad as most say .. but the first is still the best.
    As far as American cinema of the ’70s goes, the first two are indeed damn fine specimens (and the third’s pretty good). A lot of Pacino’s ’70s work is exceptional (‘Scarecrow’, ‘Panic in Needle Park’, ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, ‘Serpico’, ‘Bobby Deerfield’). A lot of Scorsese/De Niro’s is too of course (‘Mean Streets’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘King of Comedy’).

  41. Surfing WordPress websites, I arrived at this page and read it delightfully. I have the same opinion as the one of Elisheba-san. For me, the most impressed thing about this movie is this movie was created in a low cost but great scenes and production were improved by hiring excellent artists in each field, camera, actors, costume, effects, etc. Even though I watched this movie many times, I cannot believe it is in low cost. I think this Coppola’s approach is great, but he seems to had bad experience with Paramount Pictures…

  42. Good luck on your continued journey with classic films! I usually don’t consider something classic until it’s pre-1960s, but that is very subjective. My favorite films are almost exclusively pre-1980. I think the journey through this older films will be quite fruitful and provide a much more original story structure than what is being released today (remakes, comic book films, sequels, etc.).

  43. I saw it for the first time maybe 2 months ago and had a similar experience. I’ve seen so many parodies of it that there weren’t any real surprises. It almost felt like it was scene by scene.

    I don’t usually like mafia movies, but I can see why everyone enjoyed this one.

  44. I too loved Al Pacino more than Brando in the movie. Just like you said I also have a list of movies I haven’t gotten around to watching yet. I was able to cross “Ferris Bueller’s day off”, Poltergeist and 2 others from the list but there is still a lot left.

  45. I watched the Godfather so early in my life, I’m not sure how I’d react to it now. But trust me, if you haven’t watched a lot of pre-90s movies, you’re in for a TREAT. Also, go Ann Arbor!

  46. You should check out AFI’s top 100 list to familiarize yourself with classics. They go pretty far back and may include movies you might not completely enjoy but they represent get steps in cinematic history.

  47. Catching up with the classics is a burden to heavy to pull… but you living without having seeing them would mean living on the earth and never having stared at the Sun.
    The Godfather was surely the finest point to begin. And the article was amazing. Everything crisp, everything intact!

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