Oscar has an odd relationship with film franchises with the majority of sequels not being nominated for the Best Picture prize. One exception to the rule is The Godfather Part II which won the Best Picture award in 1975. Two years earlier The Godfather also won the same prize and in the next two post I’ll look at both movies and discover if the sequel is better than the original.
The first Godfather film introduces us to the Corleone family by way of a family wedding where sister Connie is getting married to Carlo Rizzi. The celebration is also traditionally where Connie’s father Vito, known as the godfather, can answer any requests that are asked of him. Vito’s youngest son Michael returns from the war to see his family first time and introduces Kay to the clan. Here we meet hot-headed older brother Sonny, dim-witted middle brother Fredo and adopted son and family advisor Tom Hagen. The Godfather is arguably about Michael’s evolution from mild-mannered ex-soldier to eventual head of the crime family. Indeed, after Vito is shot and almost attacked in hospital, Michael feels he needs to avenge his father in some way so hits back at the family that attempted to assassinate him. When the hit goes down, Michael is shipped to Sicily while Fredo is despatched to Las Vegas. While in Sicily, Michael falls in love and marries a local girl, eventually finding a shred of happiness before the family catches up with him and his wife is killed by way of a car bomb. Returning to America, a harder Michael becomes Vito’s right hand man and is eventually made the family’s Don following Sonny’s murder. Michael marries Kay and the two have a son together but the marriage is doomed right from the get-go due to Michael’s change in attitude. Indeed the first film sees several hits arranged by Michael while he himself attends the Christening of Connie’s youngest child.
The joy of the first Godfather film is that it has a simplistic story which is enhanced by both well-written characters and great performers. Michael’s story from mild-mannered soldier into the new head of the family is intricately told. This gradual change in the character underlined how good a storyteller director Francis Ford Coppola is and I totally understood the motives of all of the characters. It’s also a testament to Al Pacino that the character of Michael is such an interesting one and he conveys the character’s transition beautifully. I can understand then that Pacino was annoyed when he found himself in the Supporting Actor category at that year’s Oscar ceremony. Whilst Marlon Brando was chosen to represent the film in the Lead Actor category I don’t understand why Pacino couldn’t have stood alongside him. I believe that The Godfather is definitely Michael’s story more than it his father’s and the fact that Pacino is on screen longer than Brando emphasises this point even more. Although not up there with his performance in On the Waterfront, Brando’s second Oscar win was still deserved as he portrayed Vito’s charisma perfectly. Memorably Brando didn’t attend that year’s ceremony and instead sent a young Native American woman as he wanted to deliver a political message. Also nominated for their roles in the film were James Caan and Robert Duvall who played Sonny and Tom respectively. I feel that Caan and Duvall formed a great trio with Pacino with the latter particularly impressing as the calm adopted member of the Corleone clan.
Aside from the performances there was much to like about the film from the way each scene was designed to the memorable costumes that each character wore. The ceremonies that begin and end the film are a perfect example of how costume reflects the character’s ranks and demonstrates how beautifully laid out each scene is. No review of The Godfather would be complete without a mention of Nina Rota’s score which is now synonymous with the film. Interestingly it was disqualified from featuring in the Original Score category due to the fact that it was based on previously recorded material but nonetheless it’s still a piece of film music that’s lasted the test of time. Ultimately you don’t need me to tell you how good The Godfather is but if you continue on to the next post you’ll see how I think the sequel compares to the original.