It is extraordinary, given today’s Cinema – with its rapidly changing trends, kaleidoscopic styles, reckless pursuit of youth markets and readiness to abandon established values – that the Godfather, a film produced thirty years ago and steeped in old fashioned production values and infused with worthy moral imperatives, should still be regarded as the epitome of classic film making. Obliterating competition from such masterpieces like The Matrix, Gladiator and Casablanca; it is no wonder that recent egalitarian polls confirmed this work of genius as the “best film of all time”.
What is the secret of The Godfather saga’s longevity and the general publics continuing approbation? Certainly the three original films are sterlingly crafted; scripting, cinematography, production design, acting – and music, are all exemplary. However, it is the essential ingredients of the story itself, of the unfolded testimony of a family – a dynasty riven and driven by violent domination, yet nevertheless underpinned by common bonds of basic fraternal decency.
In the final analysis, a family not unlike most other families; the points of identification – paternal, maternal and sibling love, mutual respect, sundry problems shared and solved – are universal. The trilogy proposes an alluring fiction, laced with pertinent fact, about the Corleone Family, an established and respected Mafia concern in 1940’s New York and how, when violence instigated by the unscrupulous drug traffickers, causes the head of the family, Don Corleone, the eponymous Godfather, to be gunned down.
The family’s younger idealistic son, Michael, is prompted to abandon his principles to revenge his father. Later, the tale is told of how Don Corleone first came to the United States from Sicily to establish his power and dynasty. Finally we learn of how Michael expands Corleone influence to include gambling in the emerging Las Vegas and ultimately how he attempts, often against the odds, to legitimize all aspects of family business. Many attempt to explain what makes The Godfather the masterpiece that it is.
The foundation of the film is based on the appointed head of the family, Michael Corleone, who suffers the remarkable transformation from a naval officer, despising all evil, to the unmerciful Godfather, surrounded by violence. Such scenes as The Diner, The Baptism and Hail Mary illustrate the utter brutality that Michael develops after his first kill. We understand that he has all the malice attributes that a villain has in a film, but, regardless, he is appointed our hero. We show sympathy and consideration as we feel the sheer distress he burdens after every kill.
The scene I will analyze for you is ‘The Diner’ scene, probably the most prominent scene in the trilogy. In this scene, we witness the remarkable transformation of Michael. The situation for the Corleone family is grim at the time and Michael has been appointed to meet one of the heads of an apposing gang, who shot Mr. Corleone, Michael’s father, in the back. A head of police is present at the diner to allow Michael some ‘comfort’ regardless of him punching Michael a few scenes before.
The audience has been set up with the story and know the extreme danger Michael is about to embark upon. However, the Corleone organization has concealed a gun in the toilet of the diner, which Michael must use to execute his counterparts. Being told what is meant to happen allows the audience to focus on what will go wrong or how it will happen; creating a lot of attention on the scene. After eating his dinner, Michael becomes impatient and asks to be excused from the diner. When frisked, also creating atmosphere to the scene, he leaves.
At first he can not find the gun, sending shivers down the audience’s spine, but soon finds the gun. The gun being not found immediately is meant to horrify the audience as they should know the importance of this task. It makes the audience, normal people, cheer for a gang member to shoot a police officer; an inexplicable situation. That is the masterpiece of the Godfather. As Michael holds the gun, a train noise is heard, getting louder and louder. This is called non-diegetic sound, creating mood and atmosphere.
There is no music, but the train noise shows the frustration and conflict in Michaels mind. As he returns, the train noise builds again until he shots. This noise has an influence on the audience as well because they appreciate that Michael does not mean for this to happen; it is merely uncontrollable. Before long this has dreadful consequences. Michael must flee America to avoid the police and soon tastes revenge. If the story is at the heart of The Godfather, then the lifeblood stemming from that is in the acting.
Marlon Brando’s status as possibly America’s leading vintage actor has remained confirmed through the decades in no small part due to the Godfather. Marlon Brando was given a fitting funeral in 2004 when Radio 1 put The Godfather soundtrack on in his memory. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Andy Garcia all launched their careers; with Robert De Niro often seen as the epitome of Italian-American acting. For many decades, The Godfather has dominated the top 100 films and it is almost inevitable that it will never be surpassed and will continue to do so forever.