Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Godfather is a novel written by Mario Puzo about a fictitious Italian Mafia family. The novel was adapted into a film of the same name directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. The film spawned two sequels.
The Godfather (in Italian Il Padrino) is a term used to identify the boss of a Mafia clan, the eldest or the most representative member of a family. (See godparent for the origins of the term.) In the novel, this character was Don Vito Corleone, whose surname recalls the town of Corleone, Sicily. Similarly, the surname of Don Vito's mother is Corigliano, coming from the town of Corigliano Calabro, Calabria, which is well known for ndrangheta activity.
It should be noted that in the movie sequel, The Godfather II, it was revealed that the Godfather's real name was Vito Andolini and he was given the surname Corleone as a result of a mistake during his registration at Ellis Island. This was a common occurrence which still occurs even today. However, in the book, this fact is made explicit, with the 12-year-old Vito adopting the Corleone name by choice, instead of having it given to him in error.
The motion picture adaptation of The Godfather (1972) was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola had directed several films prior to this, but none of them had had a significant impact on the public. Shooting began on March 29, 1971 and was completed on August 6, 1971. The producers of the movie did not believe that The Godfather would be very successful; hence, there was an extremely low budget for the film. Interestingly, this obliged the crew to use regular lights, instead of the production/set lights, lending a realistic look to the film.
The producers originally wanted Robert Redford to play Michael Corleone, but Coppola wanted Al Pacino. Pacino was not well known at the time, and was not considered right for the part. Pacino was only granted the role after Coppola threatened to quit the production.
Mario Puzo actually helped with the screenplay and making the movie, as well as the sequels. The movie was an enormous box-office hit, smashing previous records to become the highest-grossing film of all time (until that record was surpassed by Jaws in 1975, and a number of other movies afterwards).
The role of Don Vito Corleone was memorably acted by Marlon Brando, and Brando won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the aging Don. Many of the actors playing the supporting roles were largely unknown or minor actors; however, they rocketed into the limelight with the success of The Godfather. In particular, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall enjoyed long, successful, highly acclaimed careers.
Since its release on March 15, 1972, The Godfather has been accused of glorifying the image of the Mafia. Don Vito Corleone was portrayed by Brando as a Mafia Don whom people could actually respect (although the actions of Don Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II worked to tear down this image).
The opening scene is one of the most famous portraits of the Mafia. The dialogue between Corleone and Bonasera ("I believe in America") points out the importance of the Mafia being based on family hierarchies. Bonasera is forced to accept the Godfather as head of the system and must demonstrate that he considers himself part of the family (he must call him "Godfather"). Only then can he hope for support for his problem, which is - not coincidentally - a family problem itself. The scene also highlights the attitude that the mobsters are filling a need caused by the establishment's failure to fulfill the promise of the American dream. The contrast between the conventional American dream and the story of the Corleones is a powerful theme in the films.
The decisions to commit various violent and illegal acts are taken in a dark, brownish colored office, symbolizing a secure, cozy, and calm atmosphere. This is contrasted by the bright, loud, and hectic wedding, which is celebrated in parallel outside the house. This can be understood as the glorification of the positive framework the Mafia creates by playing down crime and violence at the same time.
Once the opening scene with Bonasera is completed we are given entrance to the wedding of the Don's daughter and are introduced to the four sons of the Corleone family: Sonny, Fredo, Michael, and the adopted Tom. During the wedding scene there is slight insight given into the personalities of all the major characters; we see Sonny's violent temper, Fredo's lack of control, Michael's lack of approval for the activities of the Corleone Family, and Tom's role as friend and confidant. Once the wedding is underway Johnny Fontane , the Don's godson and a famous singer, makes an appearance and requests a favor from the Godfather. There is a movie being produced in Hollywood that he feels would bring him back into the public eye and sky-rocket his career to never before seen heights. Unfortunately, the director of the movie refuses to give him the part and he feels that Don Vito must intercede on his behalf.
Tom Hagen (the family's consigliere, or counselor) goes to Hollywood to Woltz International Pictures run by Jack Woltz to negotiate a movie part for Johnny Fontane. Originally spurned by Woltz, chased off the lot with racial slurs and threats of violence, Tom is graciously welcomed to Woltz's own house once the producer realizes that he represents Don Corleone and is not merely a "hustler" hired by Johnny to intimidate him. Tom Hagen is shown Woltz's prize racehorse, Khartoum, and is treated to fine food and drink in a rather splendid mantion. However, Woltz still refuses to give Johnny the part. It seems that, many years earlier, Woltz had been grooming a young lady to be the next biggest hit in Hollywood when Johnny walked in and swooned her away. Woltz has taken it upon himself to run Johnny out of Hollywood and feels that this role would only raise Johnny beyond even his wildest dreams. The next morning, Woltz wakes up noticing blood. He takes off the bed coverings and finds Khartoum's head. The scene closes with his screams echoing across the compound.
The scene containing the horse's head was one of the most controversial in the film. Animal-rights groups protested the inclusion of the scene, but Coppola stated that the horse's head was delivered to him from a dog food company; a horse had not been killed especially for the movie.
After Tom returns to New York we move on to a new problem facing the Corleone Family; a man known as Sollozzo, "The Turk", has approached the family offering to bring the lucrative narcotics business under the families umbrella. He is backed by other families of the New York Mafia and his offer will earn the Corleone's several million dollars within the first year. The Dons son Santino, Sonny to friends and family, thinks it a good idea to join with Sollozzo and Tom seems to be leaning, but the Don feels that the politicians that he controls, who look the other way on gambling and liquer and women (Which the Don and the politicians both see as simple necessities that all men need), would not be so lenient on cocaine and heroin and the police would not be bought off so easily. He turns down Sollozzo, respectfully and in a person, and wishes him good fortune on his own. However, Sollozzo feels that he must have the support of the Corleone's and is not satisfied with a mere "good luck".
Heading home from work one day, with his bodyguard conveniently home sick, the Don is gunned down by two hitmen after purchasing some oranges from a street vendor (It should be noted that, in all three Godfather movies, the presence of oranges signifies a death or close call extremely soon). He miraculously survives but remains in critical condition, rushed to a hospital for emergency care. Sadly, he is not safe even in the hospital when, under the pay of Sollozzo, Police Captain McCluskey arrests the Mafia guards placed to guard the Don and leaves the path open for Sollozzo hitmen to finish the job. Michael, visiting his father, notices the lack of any guards and, with the help of an innocent baker who came to pay his respects to the injured Don, gives the hitmen the impression that there are guards in place and an assault would only end in an open gunbattle. With his failure to kill the Don, and the realization that Sonny, Don now that Vito is incapacitated, would hunt him down no matter how much of a boon the drug industry could be, Sollozzo decides it better to broker a truce rather than continue a fight he had no hope of winning. He tries to arrange a meeting with Michael, who has previously had no involvement with the criminal side of the Corleone business, but that does not go as planned.
Sollozzo's plan to avoid being killed rested on three points: 1) He has a Police Captain, McCluskey, as a personal bodyguard and on his personal payroll. Nobody in Mafia history had killed a Police Captain before, the retaliation from the Police and other Families would be fatal. 2) The location for his negotiations with Michael would be a secret from everybody except himself, McCluskey, and the driver of their car. Even Michael wouldn't know until they arrived. Thus, no hitmen would be waiting for them to do what they thought Michael couldn't. 3) Michael had shown nothing but disdain for the Corleone Family business, seeking to distance himself from all aspects of the criminal life. He had kept himself clean throughout his entire life and even served with distinction in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. Sollozzo felt that Michael would not act rashly like Sonny was known to do. Unfortunately, Sollozzo had overlooked three facts that cancelled out his three points: 1) McCluskey was a dirty cop; the people on the Corleone payroll in the newspaper industry would easily profit from the story of him being killed in a Mafia shooting and his murder could thus be attributed to "business". The other Mafia families would thus have nothing to retaliate over. 2) Police Captains had to be on call 24/7, McCluskey had signed where he was going to be and the Corleone plant in the Police relayed the information to Sonny, this allowed them to plant a gun in advance for Michael to use. 3) Michael might not have been intimately involved in the running of the criminal empire set up by his father, but he did love his father and did not take kindly to an attempted murder. He sought vengeance.
The ensuing tension exploded when Michael killed both Sollozzo and McCluskey at the meeting, vengeance for his father. The several Families in New York went to war over his actions, violence and vengeance were now dominant over business and Sonny thrived in his element. Michael goes to hide in Sicily for several years, even the Corleone connections could not protect him from a government who sought him over the murder of a Police Captain, where he fell in love with a woman named Appollonia. The two get married, but Appollonia is murdered by one of Michael's bodyguards, Fabrizzio, after bad news reaches them from the States. At this time, Santino Corleone is murdered at a toll booth by a large group of men with Thompson 1928 guns. He had been rushing to his sisters house where she was being beaten by her husband when he was ambushed on the road. Upon learning of his oldest sons death, Don Vito, home from the hospital and regaining his health, calls a meeting of the heads of the Mafia throughout the entire United States. At the meeting he states his wish to end the War among the Families, a war which is tearing apart their entire way of life and runing everyone. He forgoes all rights of vengeance over his son, Sonny, and hopes the others will also halt their attacks and retaliations. However, he states that he does not forgive anything that might happen to Michael, soon to return from Sicily, and that even is he is struck by lughtning the Don will take revenge. The other Dons agree, provided that Don Vito concede to allow drug trafficing in a controlled manner, and peace is restored. After the death of Appollonia, Michael remains in Sicily for a while before returning home. This is the time during which Mario Puzo's The Sicilian takes place. Upon returning home, the power in the family is gradually transferred to Michael, who seems to have lost his loathing for the family business. He marries his old college sweetheart Kay Adams. Michael plans on moving the family to Las Vegas. Life goes on relatively peacefully, until the Don has a heart attack while playing with his grandchildren.
In one of the last scenes in the movie, after Michael reveals his plans to move to Vegas and his will to buy out his main competition, Michael acts as godfather in the baptism of his sister's newborn baby, Michael Rizzi (played by Sofia Coppola). At the same time, his henchmen, acting under his orders, kill the family's enemies, including the heads of other families and potential business opponents in Vegas, to remove any anger still borne against the Corleone's from the killing of Sollozzo and McCluskey many years ago and to pave the way for his domination of the gambling scene. This is Michael Corleone's own baptism into "the family" as the new Godfather. As a final act, Michael has Carlo Rizzi killed, revealing that it was Carlo who was responsible for Santino's death. The ambush on the road which had Sonny killed was obviously planned in advance and required the participation of either Sonny's sister or brother-in-law to draw Santino away from his fortress in a rage without his bodyguards. Since his sister obviously wouldn't conspire to kill him it was obvious that his brother-in-law was the perpetrator.
Note: Notice that the movie starts out with the wedding of Carlo Rizzi and Connie and ends with the end of their marriage with the murder of Carlo by Michael. Michael becomes everything he promised he would not.
The film is greatly respected among critics and the public. It was voted greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly. Voted #3 of all time by the American Film Institute. It is currently ranked #1 on IMDB.
The Godfather won three Academy Awards:
- Best Picture
- Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando refused the award)
- Best Writing (adapted screenplay) (Francis Coppola, Mario Puzo)
It was nominated for eight additional Academy Awards.
A sequel, The Godfather Part II, was released in 1974. It consists of two parallel storylines, and the film switches back and forth between them. One storyline is the continuing story involving Michael Corleone in the 1950s; the other is a flashback sequence following his father, Vito, from his youth in Sicily up through the founding of the Corleone crime family in New York and the births of Michael and his siblings. This version of Vito is played by different actors at different ages, but the adult Vito is played by Robert DeNiro, who won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for a role in which, interestingly, he speaks almost no English-language dialogue. Many critics consider the sequel to be equal to (if not superior to) the original film in quality.
Coppola re-edited the two movies together, in chronological order (adding some previously unseen footage but also toning down the violence), into one long saga for TV broadcast, entitled The Godfather Saga (aka "The Godfather: The Complete Novel For Television" and "The Godfather: 1901-1959--The Complete Epic"). While easier to understand, this version is not as interesting from a critical and artistic standpoint as the originals.
Both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II have been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
In 1990, Coppola released a belated third film, The Godfather Part III. This film was successful financially, but critical and fan response was mixed. However, the movie still received seven Academy Award nominations, among them "Best Motion Picture" and "Best Cinematography". The film is notable for the key role played, though ineffectually, by Coppola's daughter, the future Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who was forced to play Mary Corleone on short notice after Winona Ryder became ill.
The movie was set in 1979, and focused on an aging Michael Corleone. Parts of the film were loosely based on real historical events, including the death of Pope Paul VI, the election of John Paul I, and his subsequent death.
In the late 1990s, rumors circulated regarding another installment of the series, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Andy Garcia apparently expressing interest. However, after the death of Mario Puzo in 1999, a new sequel appears very unlikely.
The video game company Electronic Arts is currently working on a video game version of The 'Godfather. Prior to his death, Marlon Brando provided the voice for Vito. Francis Ford Coppola said in April 2005 that he was not informed of Paramount's decision to allow the game to be made and he did not approve of it.
The movies have powerfully influenced the image of the Mafia among the public. The scene where Don Vito (played by Brando) in a deep voice says "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" is often parodied.
Reports from Mafia trials and confessions have suggested that Mafia families began a "real life" tradition of paying respect to the family don by kissing his ring, in imitation of the opening scene of The Godfather.
The image of the Mafia as being a mediaeval-style organisation with a "royal family" doing favours for underlings is very popular. For example, in John Grisham's novel The Firm, the Mafia is depicted as having an organisation wherein the top mobsters marry into the "royal family". However, this image bears little resemblance to the more sordid reality of a Mafia "family", which is depicted in the film Goodfellas.
And then they will fear you (Vito to Bonasera)
Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. (Clemenza to Rocco)
Don't hate your enemies, it affects your judgement. (Michael to Vincent - Part III)
Being kind to a fellow man is profitable, in every sense. Both personally and bottom line. (Michael in a speech in Part III)
- ISBN 0399103422 (hardcover, 1969)
- ISBN 0451167716 (mass market paperback, 1983)
- ISBN 0451208447 (hardcover, 2002)
- ISBN 0451205766 (paperback, 2002)
features the voices of Marlon Brando, James Caan, and Robert Duvall. Al Pacino refused to reprise the role of Michael Corleone because rival publisher VU Games is still trying to hire Pacino to voice Tony Montana in its upcoming Scarface game. Even if Pacino could voice the game, his voice would probably have changed too much. The game will release on December for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Xbox 2.
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