For those that find in them a certain joy every time the orchestra of film kicks, when those studio logos lighten the dark of the screen and the familiar trumpet notes sound, you know what I mean when I say that the greatest films ever made are a must see for everyone. Those top 100 or 200, or 500 films that everyone should see before they die. Film is subjective though, and there are many lists. Fortunately for us, the American Film Institute compiled a list of the top 100 films of the 20th Century. From top to bottom, the list compiles the greatest American films released in the first 100 years of cinema.
Number three on that list is the greatest book to film adaptation ever made, Mario Puzo’s classic saga of the Corleone family in The Godfather. Listed as the number one film on my other film history series, IMDB’s top 100 films, The Godfather still gets its due as the third greatest film ever created by the AFI itself, rightfully so.
Released in 1972 by Francis Ford Coppola, the film tells the story of Don Corleone’s handover of the family to his reluctant son over a nine years stretch from 1945 to 1954. The film stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, and Robert Duvall, one of the greatest ensembles on screen. The film was the first real breakout success fro Coppola, but it took a hardheadedness on his part to make it happen.
He was the third choice to direct, and the studio was dead set against either Brando or Pacino in their roles. On repeated occasions he was almost fired and the studio was unsure of how it would be received so the budget was slashed. Fortunately for all, Coppola stuck strong to his ideals and made the film in his vision, into the Gangster opus we have now.
To summarize the film would take away from its majesty, plus it’s an amazingly long complex plot (one in which you’ll be more than caught up). The beginning of the film takes place at the wedding of Don Vito’s daughter. Here we meet each of the major players, Michael, Sonny, the Don. Soon after we learn of the method by which Don Corleone makes his offers, we learn of the new rival in town and the burgeoning drug trade. The Don isn’t comfortable with getting involved in the drug trade, unsure that his pocketed politicians would be willing to help smuggle heroin and so a violent war between factions takes off.
The kidnaps, offings, and epic intergang rivalries between Sollozzo and the Corleones crafts one of the greatest crime films, nay the greatest films of all time. The film won best picture and Marlon Brando won best actor (which he famously refused in protest of American Indian treatment at Wounded Knee) and has been consistently rated among the greatest films ever made on every list ever compiled. At the time, it became the highest grossing film of all time, crushing studio expectations and spawned an immediate sequel, The Godfather II considered also among the top movies ever made. Many even consider it to be better than the original. The infamous lines of Don Vito, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” was named the second most famous movie quote of all time, and the film essentially created the subculture of the Italian Mob in film and literature. Television Crime Dramas as well as shows like The Sopranos all pay homage to Coppola’s masterpiece as nearly every scene from his film has infiltrated the deepest pores of American Pop culture.