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The Godfather. Director—Francis Ford Coppola Paramount release—1972 Running time—175 minutes Genre—Drama/Gangster. Academy Awards. Wins: Best Actor—Marlon Brando Best Film Best Adapted Screenplay. Nominations: Best Supporting Actor—James Caan Best Supporting Actor—Robert Duvall

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the godfather
The Godfather
  • Director—Francis Ford Coppola
  • Paramount release—1972
  • Running time—175 minutes
  • Genre—Drama/Gangster
academy awards
Academy Awards


  • Best Actor—Marlon Brando
  • Best Film
  • Best Adapted Screenplay


  • Best Supporting Actor—James Caan
  • Best Supporting Actor—Robert Duvall
  • Best Supporting Actor—Al Pacino
  • Best Director—Francis Ford Coppola—
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Musical Score
  • Best Sound
crime gangster genre
Crime/ Gangster Genre
  • These films are developed around the sinister actions of criminals or gangsters, particularly bank robbers, underworld figures, or ruthless hoodlums who operate outside the law, stealing and violently murdering their way through life.
  • In the 1940s, a new type of crime thriller emerged, more dark and cynical - see the section on film-noir for further examples of crime films.
  • Criminal and gangster films are often categorized as post-war film noir or detective-mystery films - because of underlying similarities between these cinematic forms.
  • Marlon Brando as Vito “the Don” Corleone—The Godfather
  • Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
  • James Caan as Santino “Sonny” Corleone
  • Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen
  • Talia Shire as Connie Corleone
  • John Cazale as Fredo Corleone
the five families
The Five Families
  • The Corleones

(Godfather’s family)

  • The Tattaglias
    • They are the first family to begin working with narcotics in the 1930s.
    • In the 1940s, the Tattaglias begin to gain power after being supported by drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo, even managing to gain a vital toehold into Little Italy, Manhattan, crippling the Corleone family's empire.
    • They are also behind the attempted assassination of Don Vito Corleone.
the five families cont
The Five Families, cont.

The Barzinis

The Straccis

The Cuneos

  • America, New York, 1940s
  • Sicily 1940s
  • Las Vegas, 1940s
acting functions and motivations marlon brando
Acting: Functions and Motivations: Marlon Brando
  • “Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather is quite individualized.
  • Brando gives the Godfather a complex psychology, a distinctive appearance and voice, and a string of facial expressions and gestures that make him significantly different from the standard image of a gang boss. As for stylization, Brando keeps Don Vito in the middle range. His performance is neither flat nor flamboyant; he isn’t impassive, but he doesn’t chew the scenery either.

Means to over-act

opening scene
Opening Scene…
  • In the under-lit office (masterfully photographed), American justice has failed.
  • Ostensibly, the Don is a gentle, restrained, 53-year-old aging man, sitting behind his study's desk. His face has a bulldog appearance with padded cheeks, and he speaks with a high-pitched, hoarse, raspy, gutteral mumbling accent. On his lap is a cat whose head he lovingly and gently strokes.
  • Although he moves stiffly, he wields enormous lethal power as he determines the dispensation of real justice - who will be punished and who will be favored.
  • He is upset that the funeral director Bonasera hasn't asked for a favor earlier, although he now asks for murderous revenge (instead of justice). The Don promises justice - and then asks for a return favor as a friend...

Discussion/Scene Analysis:

  • After viewing the opening scene:
    • How does this portray Don Vito Corelone?
    • What subtleties are present?
    • What camera ANGLE is primarily used?
sound in the godfather
Sound in The Godfather

“Just as Michael Corleone is steeling himself to shoot the rival gangster Sollozzo, we hear a loud, metallic screech, presumably from a nearby elevated train” (Film Art 278).


The sound suggests impending danger, both for the victim and for Michael himself: after the murder, his life will change irrevocably.

temporal relations flash forward
Temporal Relations: Flash-Forward
  • 6.41-6.43

A small-scale instance of this occurs in The Godfather. Don Vito Corleone talks with his sons Tom and Sonny about their upcoming meeting with Sollozzo, the gangster who is asking them to finance his narcotics traffic. As the Corleones talk in the present, shots of them are interspersed with shots of Sollozzo going to the meeting in the future.

This editing is use to provide exposition about Sollozzo while also moving quickly to the Don’s announcement, at the gangsters’ meeting, that he will not involve the family in the drug trade.

  • Who do you have sympathy for in this film? How does the director achieve this?
  • How does Don Vito Corleone become a sympathetic character?
  • Are all the killings fair/ just? Why/ why not?
  • Who do you blame for Sonny’s death?
  • Why is it important that Michael, who was not supposed to be a part of the family, becomes the Don by the end of the film?
  • How does Michael’s relationship with Kay contribute to audience’s understanding of him?
a modern five act play
A Modern Five-Act Play
  • Act I
  • Vito Corleone is at the height of his reign.
  • Marriage celebration of his daughter, Connie
  • Michael, the youngest son, has just returned from war. He is a college-graduate, served in uniform, dating a non-Italian—an Irish girl named Kay—whom he wants to marry
act ii
  • Sollozzo makes his offer to the Don
  • Sollozzo detects a sign of family disunity and makes his move to overthrow the Corleone family with the help of the Barzini family
  • Orders the murder of Vito Corleone
  • Attempts to replace the old world values with modern values—a major theme/motif
act iii
  • Michael foils another attempt on his father’s life.
  • The brothers, Sonny and Michael, are contrasted.
  • The planned execution of Sollozzo & Chief of Police
  • Michael flees to Sicily, falls in love with Apollonia, marries her, and loses her.
  • Sonny is ambushed
act iv
  • Michael returns to the United States.
  • Vito gives him some final advice on the Barzini threat.
  • Vito dies and Michael becomes the heir—The Godfather
  • Michael takes charge
act v
  • Michael consolidates his power
  • Extends the family operations to Las Vegas
  • Methodically eliminates his enemies
  • Violates the old standards, placing his own dark motives above family, friendship, and church—MAJOR THEME/MOTIF
baptism scene
Baptism Scene

Use of montage

  • Contrast the music/ images inside the church with the events outside of the church.

How does this illuminate Michael’s personality?

How is Michael different from his father, Vito?

allegory metaphor
Allegory & Metaphor
  • The Cosa Nostra as a metaphor for capitalism, a way of doing business in a world where only the fittest survive.
  • The Godfather becomes a shrewd analysis of power politics.
  • Marlon Brando saw it as an allegory of corporate America, claiming that “the tactics the Don used aren’t much different from those General Motors used …”
  • Coppola observed the central story to be about a king with three sons
metaphor cont d
Metaphor Cont’d
  • A metaphor for America
  • Both benevolent organizations?
  • Both have their hands stained with blood from what they believe is necessary to do to protect their power and interests.
  • Both are capitalist organizations motivated by profit.