Movie Review
The Godfather (1972) Review

The Godfather (1972) Review

1972: The cast of the film, ‘The Godfather’ pose for a family portrait during the wedding scene in a still from the film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based upon the novel by Mario Puzo. Left to right: Robert Duvall, Tere Livrano, John Cazale (1935 -1978), Gianni Russo, Talia Shire, Morgana King, Marlon Brando and James Caan. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

The wedding reception for Don Vito Corleone’s daughter Connie (Talia Shire) and Carlo Rizzi is held in the late summer of 1945. (Gianni Russo). Friends and acquaintances refer to Vito (Marlon Brando), the leader of the Corleone Mafia family, as “Godfather.” According to Italian custom, “no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day,” therefore he and Tom Hagen, the Corleone family lawyer, are hearing pleas for favors. Amerigo Bonasera, a successful mortician and friend of the Don, is one of the individuals who asks the Don for a favor. Amerigo’s daughter was viciously beaten by two young men after she rejected their advances; the criminals received light punishment from the presiding court. The Don is disappointed in Bonasera because of Corleone’s shady business operations, which prevented Bonasera from having much contact with the Don. The link between the godmother of Bonasera’s disgraced daughter and the Don’s wife allows the Don to gain the undertaker’s new loyalty. In exchange for future service, the Don consents to have his men punish the guilty young men (in a non-lethal manner).

While the wedding is going on, the Don’s youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), a decorated US Marine hero who served in World War II, arrives and tells his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) anecdotes about his family, informing her about his father’s criminal life. He reassures her that he is different from his family and doesn’t intend to join them in their criminal dealings. As Michael introduces Kay to the main characters during the wedding scene, it provides as crucial exposition for the rest of the movie. When Fredo (John Cazale), Michael’s next elder brother, discovers Michael at the party, he is pretty inebriated and quite naive. The Don’s eldest son, Santino, also known as Sonny (James Caan), is married but a hot-tempered philanderer who sneaks into a bedroom to have sex with one of Connie’s bridesmaids, Lucy Mancini. Santino is the next in line to become the Don after his father retires (Jeannie Linero). Tom Hagen, who was homeless when he met Sonny in Manhattan’s Little Italy area, is not a biological relative of the Don family, but is still regarded as one of his sons because the Don took Tom in and took care of his upbringing and schooling. Despite not being of Sicilian descent, Tom is now a skilled lawyer who is being prepared for the key role of consigliere (counselor) to the Don.

“The Godfather” Al Martino, Talia Shire 1972 Paramount Pictures

Corleone’s godson Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), a well-known singer, is also a guest at the party and has traveled from Hollywood to ask Vito for help in getting a role in a movie that may revive his waning career. A role that would have made Fontane an even bigger star is rejected by Jack Woltz (John Marley), the CEO of the studio, but Don Corleone tells Johnny: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The Don also answers a request from the baker, Nazorine, who prepared Connie’s wedding cake, who wants his nephew Enzo to become an American citizen, and receives congratulations from Luca Brasi, a formidable enforcer in the criminal underworld.

Hagen is sent to visit Woltz in Los Angeles after the wedding, but Woltz yells at him and says he won’t ever use Fontane for the part. Woltz has resentment toward Fontane because the latter seduced and “ruined” the starlet he had been pursuing for fame and having a sexual relationship with. But when Woltz awakens early the following morning and discovers something wet in his bed, he is persuaded to grant Johnny the part. He screams in terror when he discovers the severed head of his prized $600,000 stud horse, Khartoum, in the bed with him after pulling back the sheets to find himself in a pool of blood. (An omitted sequence from the movie suggests that Vito’s top hitman, Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), is accountable.)

Hagen’s family meets with Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), who is supported by the competing Tattaglia family, after Hagen returns. For the purpose of importing and selling heroin, he approaches Don Corleone for financial support as well as political and legal protection. Despite the enormous profit to be had, Vito Corleone declines, claiming that doing so would undermine his political influence since the judges and politicians he has linked himself with over the course of many years will break off their relations with him. Sonny, the Don’s eldest son, who had earlier encouraged the family to engage in the drug trade, breaks ranks during the meeting and starts to doubt Sollozzo’s claims that the Tattaglia Family will guarantee the Corleone Family’s investment. Sonny’s father silences him with a single glance after becoming enraged at his disagreement with a non-family member and subsequently reprimands him in private. Then Don Corleone sends Luca Brasi to spy on Sollozzo’s organization and bring back intelligence. Brasi is stabbed in the hand by Sollozzo during the meeting when he is stooping to allow Bruno Tattaglia to light his cigarette, and he is then garroted by an assassin.

Don Corleone is shot and killed in an attempted assassination outside of his office shortly after his meeting with Sollozzo, and it is not immediately clear if he survived. Since Paulie Gatto, the Don’s regular bodyguard, had to miss work due to illness, Fredo Corleone was given the responsibility of driving and protecting his father. Being unable to shoot back and making mistakes with his rifle, Fredo demonstrates his incapacity. Sonny asks Clemenza (Richard S. Castellano), one of his father’s two “caporegimes,” to locate Paulie and bring him to the Don’s residence after learning about the Don being shot and Paulie’s departure.

Tom Hagen is kidnapped by Sollozzo, who holds him captive for several hours until convincing him to make the same bargain he did with Sonny’s father. Sollozzo learns the Don has survived the assassination attempt when Tom is freed. Tom is sternly instructed by him to persuade Sonny to accept his offer.

Furious, Sonny refuses to take it into account and gives the Tattaglias the choice of turning over Sollozzo or engaging in a protracted, bloody, and expensive (for both sides) gang war. They decline and tell the Corleones that Luca Brasi “sleeps with the fishes” by giving Sonny “a Sicilian message” in the form of two fresh fish wrapped in Luca Brasi’s bulletproof vest.

Later, Clemenza drives Paulie and Rocco Lampone, one of the family’s hitmen, into Manhattan. If the crime war starts, Sonny wants to “go to the mattresses,” or lay up beds in residences for the Corleone button men to use as a base of operations. Clemenza instructs Paulie to stop the car in a remote location so he can urinate on the way back from Manhattan. Paulie is fatally shot by Rocco, who then takes Clemenza and flees with Paulie and the automobile.

After supper with Kay at her hotel, Michael, who the other Mafia families view as a “civilian” and not engaged in mob activity, goes to see his father at a small private hospital. When he arrives, he is startled to discover that no one is watching over him. A nurse explains that the men were breaking hospital rules and were asked to leave by the police about 10 minutes prior to Mike’s arrival. He phones Sonny for assistance, takes his father to another room, and goes outside to keep an eye on the door after realizing that his father is once more being set up to be assassinated. Enzo the baker (Gabriele Torrei), who has visited the hospital to pay his respects, offers his assistance to Michael. They deceive Sollozzo’s soldiers as they pass by by bluffing together. As soon as Michael suggests that Sollozzo bribed Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) to frame his father, McCluskey savagely hits Michael in the cheek and fractures his jaw. Just then, Hagen, who is protecting Don Corleone, shows up with “private detectives” armed with permits, and he takes the hurt Michael home. As a response, Sonny has Don Phillip Tattaglia’s (Victor Rendina) eldest son and underboss, Bruno Tattaglia (Tony Giorgio), slain (off-camera).

Captain McCluskey will act as Sollozzo’s bodyguard at the meeting with the Corleones that Sollozzo seeks after the hospital attack that nearly cost the Don his life. Sonny and the other senior Family members find it funny when Michael offers to kill both men during the meeting; nevertheless, Michael persuades them that he is serious and that killing Sollozzo and McCluskey is in the family’s best interests: “Not on a personal level. It’s all about business.” Michael won’t be viewed as the Corleones’ dubious envoy because he is regarded as a civilian. Michael contends that McCluskey is fair game because he is dishonest and has shady relationships with Sollozzo, despite the fact that police officers are often off limits for hits. Michael also makes the implication that newspaper writers employed by the Corleone family would enjoy writing stories about a dishonest police captain.

Clemenza meets with Michael and gives him a tiny pistol after taping the trigger and grip to hide any fingerprint traces. He advises Michael to leave the pistol behind and gives him instructions on how to carry out the murder. A war, such as the one that will be sparked by the murders of Sollozzo and McClusky, is required roughly every five to ten years to clear out the ambition and resentment that develops between the Five Families. He also tells Michael that his family is very proud of him for becoming a war hero during his time in the Marines. Michael receives assurance from Clemenza that he can do the job well and that everything will go according to plan. Before Michael, Sollozzo, and McCluskey arrive, the Corleone’s informers are supposed to locate the meeting’s location and hide the handgun. Before leaving for the meeting, Sonny promises Michael that he will let Kay know that they won’t be saying goodbye.

Before the meeting, McCluskey searches Michael for weapons but finds none during the search in the Bronx’s little Italian eatery. After speaking in Italian for a while with Sollozzo, Michael excuses himself to visit the restroom, where he finds the hidden revolver. When he gets back to the table, he shoots McCluskey first before killing Sollozzo. While the Corleone family gears up for all-out conflict with the Five Families (who are unified against the Corleones), as well as a general crackdown on the mafia by the police and the officials, Michael is ordered to hide in Sicily. The don is devastated to find that Michael killed Sollozzo and McCluskey three months later when he comes home from the hospital.

The marriage of Connie and Carlo is breaking down in the meantime. Carlo’s alleged infidelity and his possessive manner toward Connie are common topics of contention between them. No one, not even a high-ranking Mafia don, is permitted to become involved in a married couple’s personal issues in Italy, whether they entail infidelity, money, or domestic violence. Connie tells Sonny that Carlo hit her when she questioned him about having an affair when he noticed a bruise on her face one day. In the midst of a busy street, Sonny finds Carlo and violently beats him for torturing the pregnant Connie. He then threatens to murder Carlo if he ever hurts Connie again. As a result, a furious Carlo concocts a plan to have Sonny killed alongside Tattaglia and Don Emilio Barzini (Richard Conte), the Corleones’ main enemies.

Later, knowing that Connie will answer, Carlo has one of his mistresses call his home. Connie is asked by the woman to tell Carlo not to meet with her tonight. Connie, who is quite pregnant and upset, throws a fit and scatters the dinner plates throughout the kitchen and dining area. In order to draw Sonny outside and away from the Corleone complex, Carlo uses the altercation to beat Connie. Sonny is furious and drives off (alone and unprotected) to carry out his threat against Carlo after Connie calls the compound to report that Carlo has assaulted Connie once more. On his way to Connie and Carlo’s residence, Sonny is ambushed at a toll booth on the Long Island Causeway by several cars of hitmen brandishing Thompson sub-machine pistols. Sonny is then brutally shot to death.

The Don receives word of Sonny’s murder through Tom Hagen, and he asks Bonasera for permission to personally oversee the embalming of Sonny’s body. Instead of seeking retribution for the death of Sonny, Don Corleone meets with the leaders of the Five Families to discuss a truce. In addition to depleting all of their resources and endangering their lives, the conflict must be resolved in order for Michael to return home safely. Vito reverses his former position and accepts that the Corleone family will support Tattaglia’s heroin trade as long as it is controlled and not sold to minors. Despite exhibiting early indications of senility, Don Corleone concludes at the meeting that Don Barzini, not Tattaglia, was ultimately responsible for the outbreak of the mob war and Sonny’s death.

Michael endures his exile in Sicily with patience under the protection of Don Tommasino (Corrado Gaipa), a longtime family friend. Michael and his constant bodyguards Calo (Franco Citti) and Fabrizio roam aimlessly across the countryside (Angelo Infanti). Michael meets Apollonia Vitelli (Simonetta Stefanelli), the lovely young daughter of a bar owner, in a tiny village and develops feelings for her. They engage in traditional Sicilian courtship and marriage, but soon Michael’s presence is discovered by Corleone foes. One day, Tommasino delivers the unfavorable news of Sonny’s murder to Michael as he is teaching his new wife to drive. He desires to transport Michael to a more secure area. As the pair is about to leave, Apollonia is killed as a result of a rigged car (originally intended for Michael) exploding on ignition; Michael, who saw the car explode, witnesses Fabrizio quickly leaving the grounds seconds before the explosion, implicating him in the assassination plot. (In a scene that was cut, Fabrizio is discovered and killed years later.)

Michael goes back to his house knowing he will be safe. After a total of four years apart—three in Italy and one in America—he meets up with his former flame Kay more than a year later, in 1950. He declares his desire for them to get married. Kay accepts his offer despite being annoyed that he took so long to get in touch with her. Michael is in control now that Don Vito is semi-retired, Sonny is deceased, and middle brother Fredo is deemed unable to operate the family firm. Michael assures Kay that he will fully legalize the family business within five years.

Two years later, Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio (Abe Vigoda) demand permission to retaliate against the Barzini Family because they feel bullied by them, but Michael turns them down. After moving the family business to Nevada, he intends for Clemenza and Tessio to split off and start their own families in the New York region. Carlo, Connie’s husband, is further assured by Michael that he will serve as his right-hand man in Nevada (Carlo had grown up there), despite Carlo’s knowledge of his involvement in Sonny’s murder. Tom Hagen is no longer the consigliere; instead, Vito is the consigliere and acts as the family’s attorney. Hagen questions Michael about his new status in private and about the clandestine establishment of a new government of “soldiers” under Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui). Hagen is informed by Don Vito that Michael is following his advise.

About a year later, Michael makes a trip to Las Vegas where he meets with Moe Greene (Alex Rocco), a wealthy and cunning casino owner seeking to diversify his business ventures. After the Don’s attempted murder, Fredo had been dispatched to Las Vegas to study with Greene about the gambling industry. Michael makes an arrogant attempt to buy Greene out, but he is angrily rejected. Greene thinks Barzini will give him a better deal and that the Corleones are weak. Fredo sides with Moe during the tense negotiation between Michael and Moe. Michael cautions Fredo not to “take sides with anyone against the family” ever again as Moe storms out of the meeting.

Michael comes back home. In a private conversation, Vito shares his belief that Michael will be killed by the Family’s adversaries, who will set up a meeting as a cover for the crime. Vito also admits that he had always hoped his youngest son would hold legitimate power as a senator or governor, and that he had never actually intended for Michael to lead a life of crime. A few months later, while playing with his young grandson Anthony (Anthony Gounaris) in his tomato garden, Vito passes away suddenly. Tessio delivers a meeting request to Barzini at the funeral, revealing himself to be the traitor Vito had been expecting.

Kay asks Michael if he’ll accept to serve as the baby boy’s godfather for Connie and Carlo. Michael agrees, taking advantage of the chance to get rid of the other five families as rivals while also using the baptism as a defense. During the ceremony, there are two murders that happen at once:

A shotgun-wielding Clemenza shoots Don Stracci (Don Costello) and his bodyguard to death in a hotel elevator.

An unnamed assailant shoots Moe Greene through the eye while he is receiving a massage, killing him.

The St. Regis Hotel’s spinning door traps Don Cuneo (Rudy Bond), who is then fatally shot by soldier Willi Cicci (Joe Spinell).

Rocco Lampone and an unidentified companion murder Don Tattaglia in bed alongside a prostitute.

Al Neri (Richard Bright), who is posing as a police officer, shoots Don Barzini, his bodyguard, and his driver on the steps of his office building.

Tessio thinks he and Hagen are headed to the meeting he has set up between Michael and Barzini after the baptism. Instead, as Hagen moves away, he is surrounded by Willi Cicci and other button men. Tessio admits to having betrayed Michael after learning that Michael has exposed him, telling Hagen that he has always respected Michael and that his treachery “was merely business.” For “old times’ sake,” he asks Tom if he may let him go, but Tom declines. Driven away and never seen again, Tessio (it is implied that Cicci shoots and kills Tessio with his own gun after he disarms him prior to entering the car).

After being reached by Barzini personally, Michael confronts Carlo about the killing of Sonny and pushes him to acknowledge his involvement in planning the ambush. (The primary members of Barzini’s personal security who assassinated Sonny were.) Carlo is promised by Michael that he won’t be killed, but that he will be barred from any family business as payment. A plane ticket to exile in Las Vegas is given to Carlo. But on Michael’s orders, Clemenza quickly garrotes Carlo to death when he gets into a car going to the airport.

Later, as movers remove the furniture in preparation for the family’s trip to Nevada, a frantic Connie confronts Michael at the Corleone ranch. She claims that he killed Carlo to exact revenge for both his cruel treatment of her and his alleged involvement in Sonny’s death. She also claims that he cunningly waited until their father passed away so Vito couldn’t intervene. After Connie is removed from the home, Kay asks Michael about Connie’s accusation, but he declines to comment and warns her not to inquire about his company or his occupation. She pushes, and Michael flatly lies to reassure his wife that he had nothing to do with Carlo’s passing. Kay feels relieved that he is true. Clemenza and the new caporegimes Rocco Lampone and Al Neri arrive and pay their respects to Michael as the movie comes to a close. Michael is greeted by Clemenza as “Don Corleone” and given a kiss on the hand. Kay observes as the office door closes.

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