"I believe in America" -- and America embraced The Godfather, turning it into a landmark artistic triumph and blockbuster hit. The movie was initially planned as a low-budget adaptation of Mario Puzo's Mafia family best-seller, and young director Francis Ford Coppola was hired because Paramount thought he would be easy to control. Instead, he fought the studio to cast little-known Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and foundering Marlon Brando as Don Vito, and he turned The Godfather into an operatic period epic about family, honor, and American economic success (the word "Mafia" is never used); in return, he was almost fired during production. The finished film's narrative drive and imagery were astonishing. Beginning with the opening sequence intercutting Vito's sepulchral study with the bright wedding outside, Coppola renders the Corleones threatening in their business and appealing in their closeness as they negotiate the legacy of Vito's prosperity. Gordon Willis' shadowy cinematography infused the film with shades of black, brown, and gold, contrasting bleak Family dealings with warm family loyalty. The famously extreme violence, particularly the horse head and Sonny's tollbooth demise (echoing 1967's Bonnie and Clyde), revealed the cost of protecting the family honor; the baptism montage elevated Michael's corruption to diabolical proportions as he consolidates his business power. Highly anticipated and critically revered, The Godfather became one of the biggest box-office hits of all time, adding several catchphrases to the cultural lexicon, revitalizing the gangster genre, turning Pacino into a star, and reviving Brando's career. Nominated for 10 Oscars, The Godfather won Best Picture, but Brando snubbed his Best Actor prize and Coppola lost Best Director to Cabaret's Bob Fosse. Willis' cinematography wasn't even nominated, and although Nino Rota's memorable music did initially receive a nomination, the Academy rescinded it when they discovered that Rota included material in the score from one of his earlier compositions. In 1998, the American Film Institute named The Godfather one of the three greatest American films ever made, testifying to its enduring artistic legacy.
by Lucia Bozzola review