Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-One, Part One: ‘The Godfather’ (1972)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. Both men are putting together some strong scores as we enter the top five of each list. Can the quality be maintained, or has someone got a stinker up their sleeve? Read on to find out…

We enter Yasser’s top five with a genuine, solid gold classic. Routinely chosen as one of Hollywood’s greatest it saw the glorious return of a cinematic legend and the birth of a new generation of stars. None of that will matter if Fred didn’t like it, though.

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.

Fred: Yasser- we both have two films on our list that, in anyone’s eyes, are regarded as definite classics

Yasser: This is true

FS: First you had ‘Casablanca‘, and this week it’s ‘The Godfather‘. Why do you think it’s a great film?

YA: It’s like the perfect ‘family’ film. We’re in the top five now and we both have some really heavy hitters. Everything about the film is wonderful – the cast, direction, score, tone, the script. It’s very, very iconic and it’s quintessential for every movie fan. If you’ve not seen this film and you reckon you’re a film buff, you should be sleeping with the fishes

FS: I assume you mean ‘family’ as in the mafia, not as in ‘like Disney

‘The Godfather’
1972 – USA
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton

YA: What are your initial thoughts?

FS: I’d seen this back when I was first really getting into films. I remember finding it quite hard going for the first hour or so. However, I think it’s a film you can only really appreciate as an adult. This is the first film on your list that could threaten to break into my top 10

YA: … Whoa…

FS: Seriously

YA: That’s a pretty bold statement, Fred

FS: It’s a fantastic movie from beginning to end. This must be the best possible start to the conversation for you

YA: (laughs) I’m well buzzing. Watching it earlier, I knew you’d appreciate the old tone to it, but I didn’t imagine that reaction

FS: Where shall we start?

YA: For me, the thing that really stick out is the stellar cast

FS: Okay. Who in particular?

YA: We’ve got some professionals here – Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton – but the main man has to be the Don himself, Marlon fucking Brando

FS: I was kind of hoping you’d say that. There is no question Brando gives an excellent performance, but I really think Pacino and Duvall are better

YA: Pacino grows into his role

FS: This is the best he’s ever been. You know my opinion of him, that he’s become the ultimate over-actor. Here, he is pitch-perfect. I’d have given him the Oscar over Brando, who often looks like what he is – an actor in his 40s, made-up and padded to look 20 years older. Don’t get me wrong, Brando transcends that 90% of the time, but it sticks out a mile in some scenes

YA: I don’t think Pacino is particularly brilliant at first, and neither did Coppola, who was seriously considering dropping him until he saw him in the scene where Michael Corleone (Pacino) meets Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) and Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri). I think it’s only just before then, when Michael visits Vito (Brando) in the hospital, that I really start to appreciate Pacino. It’s in that sequence that Michael starts to change, and you bloody see it too! He’s a very different actor from who he became later

FS: I think his initial stillness and nervousness was needed to paint Michael as the reluctant one amongst the brothers. He’s thrown in at the deep end due to what happens to Sonny (Caan) and Fredo’s (John Cazale) unsuitability for the role of Don. Michael’s like a royal prince who never expected or wanted to be king, but circumstance and his loyalty dictate that he must

YA: He may be a reluctant successor, but he’s certainly the best choice of the three

FS: Even Vito sees that Michael could have a better life away from the ‘family’, but he’s still desperate for him to be involved, which is why he’s so proud when he takes charge of the situation in the hospital. He cool, calm and detached

YA: The series of murder attempts on his family shake him into action

FS: Yes, and even though the others think Michael will not be up to it, he proves himself far beyond what they thought him capable of. It’s tragedy after tragedy for him, but he seems to understand better than anyone that it’s part of that life, and there is no point getting angry or upset

FS: Pacino’s performance is my favourite in the film. I’m not sure anyone else could have played Michael and held the attention whilst surrounded by such a good cast

YA: I’m shocked with what you said about Brando

FS: Why?

YA: It’s Brando, man!

FS: I think that is part of the problem. The actor and the role have been romanticised out of all proportion. The legend who hadn’t had a hit in years and was seen as a spent force, returns in triumph in the biggest film of the decade to show he still has it

YA: I disagree with that. Even though he’s stuffed his cheeks and he mumbles, there is such a presence he brings

FS: It is a great performance, I’m not disputing that, but the tricks take away from that a tiny bit. I mean a tiny bit. I don’t think someone of his talent needs the tricks. Don’t get too hung up on it as all I’m really saying is that, in my opinion, Duvall and Pacino give better performances than Brando. That’s a compliment to the film, not a criticism of Brando

YA: Fair enough

YA: Duvall. Ahhh Duvall!

FS: How good is he?

YA: He’s brilliant. You FEEL like he’s a lawyer

FS: The role of Tom Hagen (Duvall) is one that could have been lost if it wasn’t cast right, but he owns the role

YA: Yeah, he brings the gloss and finish to the family, to keep them all together

FS: Agreed. In many ways, Hagen has the best understanding of what it takes to be head of the ‘family’

YA: It’s a shame he’s adopted as he’d make the best Don

FS: You know I love a good ensemble cast

YA: Everyone plays a part, and he definitely does. I love Hagen’s relationship with Sonny

FS: Yeah. They’re total opposites. Hagen knows Sonny is a moron, but he has to bite his tongue to groom him as Vito’s successor

YA: Let’s talk about the story

FS: Okay. It’s pretty bloody amazing, isn’t it?

YA: It takes place over several years without jarring or stagnating

FS: A three-hour running time can dissuade casual viewers from watching certain films, but this crams so much in that it cracks along at a real pace without neglecting any aspect of the story. It sucks you in.

YA: Yes, although I do find Michael’s switch in characteristics when he returns from Sicily a wee bit… hmmmmmm

FS: Really? Tell me more

YA: I know he gets colder with Kay (Keaton), but when he returns, he says he’s been back for a year. Then he talks about how he wants them to be together, says all the right things about building a life, the importance of family and love blah, blah, blah

FS: (laughs)

YA: You know he’s being fake as fuck and I can’t believe how naive Kay is. He makes out that he was waiting for the right time, but he just got married in Sicily!

FS: I think the story calls for Michael to have his soul amputated. He loses his conscience

YA: It’s a necessary shift, but I don’t like it at first, because I liked him as a good guy too

FS: I suppose there would be no story without the switch

YA: True

FS: The sets, costumes and the whole feel of the film are super

YA: What I love about the Sicily section is the way it’s integrated into what’s happening in New York. It’s a tonal change that doesn’t feel that different. That’s the best thing about the story. It covers so much over so many years without feeling distant. In fact, if the third film had been close in quality to the first and second, this would’ve been the trilogy I’d picked and not ‘Lord of the Rings

FS: It’s just so well written and executed. If just one element had been different it could have ended up as a disjointed, dull disaster

FS: So, Francis Ford Coppola. He’s had an eclectic directorial career

YA:Apocalypse Now‘ is a bit of a letdown

FS: I agree

YA: ‘The Godfather’ Trilogy is his finest work

FS: This would be difficult to top, even if he’d only made the first one. The pace and feel of the film are an absolute credit to him

YA: And Mario Puzo

FS: Yes, but he had to bring it all together. The performances, the look, editing. Is that why it makes your top five?

YA: Like you, I was introduced to ‘The Godfather’ when I was first getting into movies. At first I was put off by its length and barely knowing anything about it. When I watched it, it was such an experience. It is one of the mantles of why I love movies so much. There is this grand story about the Cosa Nostra in New York, an I loved reading up on the mafia with the friend who introduced me to the film

FS: Okay

YA: It was sheer class how the story was pieced together to blend so many years in the character’s lives. The story seemed so flawless. It’s amazing what they cover and it all fits in the slots like a big jigsaw puzzle. It’s easy to understand why it’s a timeless classic. It’s iconic, relentless, brilliant characters played by wonderful actors. and there is a realism to it you can relate to. The tone, direction, score – all perfect. It’s a movie for movie buffs

FS: You’ve really sold it with that summary. It is a supreme piece of cinema. I’d be struggling if I had to pick faults. There are one or two bad hair-pieces and make-up jobs, but that is nit-picking. It’s a great choice

YA: Fred, mate, do the honours

FS: There aren’t many films in the history of American cinema with a reputation to match ‘The Godfather’. In a golden period of film-making, this is the jewel in the crown. The establishment of a new generation of exciting talent on both sides of the camera coupled with an epic story made this the key movie of the ’70s. At the centre, at odds with the rest of the movie, is Marlon Brando, an actor lauded like few others who had apparently lost his spark and become an introspective, lazy liability. Something magic happened, though. Brando found what had made him great and I think a combination of his own prodigious talent, a director with a real vision of what he wanted from him, and a cast of young actors – many of whom probably idolised Brando – willing to go toe-to-toe with him and each other instead of fading into the background and gifting the legend centre stage ignited the production. For me, Pacino and Duvall give the really sensational performances, but there are notable supporting turns from Keaton, Caan, Richard Conte and Sterling Hayden. It’s very difficult to fault such a well-realised film. Every element, artistic and technical, is tremendous. 10/10a classic, and rightfully so

YA: Mate, I’m truly made up with that. What I really want to know is how far up your list could this go?

FS: I was watching it and thinking ‘this could make the top ten‘. It’s the best movie you’ve picked so far. I was looking at my own list and thought ‘is this better than ‘Inherit the Wind‘ at 11? Probably. Is it better than ‘City Lights‘ at 10? I don’t think so

Next time: Another 1970s masterpiece – ‘All the President’s Men’


4 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-One, Part One: ‘The Godfather’ (1972)

    […] it. The nearly all the other big movies of the 1970s either had links to old Hollywood (‘The Godfather‘, ‘Network’, ‘The Sting’, ‘Chinatown’), the […]

    […] The Godfather […]

    […] Is this like Brando in ‘The Godfather‘? Great because of who it is rather than how good the performance actually […]

    […] I think part of me didn’t choose it as it felt too obvious but that was a mistake. ‘The Godfather‘ is the big one, though. I don’t think it would make it into the top 10 but we would be […]

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