The Godfather and I both turn 40 this year and it’s not only one of my favourite films, but it was probably the first film I ever saw. (That sounds strange? To explain, my father was a cinema manager when I was a baby and I was taken to visit him at work when it was showing).
So, to celebrate the brilliant films in The Godfather Trilogy (and Godfather 3) I’ve compiled a list of 40 things that I love about them.
40 – Cooking lessons with Clemenza: Clemenza was the cuddly, avuncular uncle type, who took a break from training Michael how to execute Sollozzo to teach us how to make a great pasta sauce.
39 – The Tarantella #1: Acting as a counterpoint to the haunting signature score, is the jaunty Tarantella being danced to at Connie’s wedding, which is soon followed up by a very rude song that you don’t need subtitles to understand.
38 – The Tarantella #2: Anthony’s confirmation party at the opening of The Godfather Part 2 shows how much the family have changed, becoming “respectable” and “white bread”. Frankie Five Angels tries to get the band to play the Tarantella by singing the tune, but the band don’t know it and it turns into Pop Goes The Weasel, much to everyone’s amusement and Frankie’s disapproval…foreshadowing future character developments
37 – Diane Keaton’s idiosyncratic line delivery: Diane Keaton was such a 70s style of actress actress, the neurotic kook from Annie Hall, casting her instead of a more conventional actress brought the rather staid character of Kay alive.
36 – Al Pacino’s eyes: Dispelling the myth that brown eyes are always cute or puppyish, Pacino perfected a poker face that was devoid of emotion, forcing people to bend to his will.
35 – Ellis Island: The immigration centre off-shore from Manhattan was in ruins when the film was made, but now has been restored providing an interactive visitor experience. It demonstrates the extent to which the film producers researched their subject. Walk into Ellis Island today and you step into the set of the young Vito’s entrance to America.
34 – “Jonny Fontaine with his olive oil voice and guinea charm”: Jack Woltz got some great lines in a few short scenes, being brilliantly bullish before later being put in his place by the Don’s characteristic, personalised ruthlessness
33 – The oranges: Throughout the trilogy oranges make appearances at times of betrayal & often forewarn of death; Don Vito is buying fruit when he is gunned down, they are prominent at the meeting of the heads of five families, Vito makes comedy teeth with orange peel just before he dies. Look out for more appearances and you’ll always be suspicious of oranges in future…
32 – “I am Enzo the Baker”: He’s just an incidental character who waits with Michael at the hospital, but he has a backstory and a character – this is another example of the rich tapestry of the film.
31 – Fredo telling Anthony to say Hail Marys to improve his chances of catching fish: Poor, poor Fredo the tragic manchild.
30 – “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday” BOOOOOOM: Beautiful Appolonia (Michael’s Sicilian bride) dies almost literally mid-sentence, destined never to get to use her new English skills, her death leaving a silent shadow over Michael as the story moves on.
29 – The festa: Young Vito is going to “make his bones” by killing Fanucci, against the background of a noisy, colourful festa.
28 – I don’t believe in coincidences: The Don makes his speech at the “peace conference” after Michael has fled to Sicily following the killing of Sollozzo and the death of Sonny – he makes it clear that he won’t tolerate any “accidents”.
27 – Luca Brasi’s death face: Luca Brasi was the hard man that protected the family, so losing him was a great blow to the Corleones. Lenny Montana, who played him, was a former wrestler and made the scene seem almost too real by using his wrestling-acting skills (rather than make-up) to turn his face purple as he was strangled.
26 – “I’m just going to dip my beak”: This is the philosophy of Fanucci, the Don that Vito needs to kill to make a mark on his neighbourhood and start on his new career. This is how they operated, not taking everything, but making their businesses sustainable by skimming a bit off every top they came across.
25 – Lee Strasberg’s evil eyes: Hyman Roth never came across as the avuncular elder statesman his dialogue was making him out to be, Strasberg (founder of the famous method acting school & inheritor of the Marilyn Monroe estate) is untrustworthy in all his scenes, making his demise even more satisfactory.
24 – Fredo ordering a strawberry daiquiri while Michael gets a club soda: Having some quality time, the brothers visit a cafe in Havana, Fredo chooses a daft, indulgent drink, Michael keeps his cool with what is basically water, showing us how different the brothers are.
23 – “I don’t want my brother coming out of the bathroom with just his dick in his hand”: Sonny may not have made a great Don, but he delivers one of the best lines ever (and it is basically sound advice)
22 – Clemenza stopping off for Cannolis then “taking a leak” when tasked with killing Paulie: You see echoes of this little sequence in the films of Scorsese and in the Sopranos.
21 – Moe Green getting shot in the eye, through his glasses: Green & Hyman Roth were (roughly) based on the real-life gangster developers of Las Vegas, Bugsy Segal and Meyer Lansky. Segal was also killed with a shot to the eye, but it was in his apartment, rather than on a massage table.
20 – the killing of Roth at the airport: It’s not the fact that the character was getting the ending he deserved, but because it was an “impossible” situation they found a solution for, with echoes of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald.
19 – Genco Olivio: The legitimate moneyspinner (named after the Don’s first Consigliere) was also the gift from America that Vito gives to the elderly Sicilian Don Ciccio who killed his mother, immediately before he gets his revenge.
18 – Robert De Niro dealing with the improvised blanket muffler that catches fire: Calm when he shoots Don Fanucci there’s a brief moment of panic here. It’s just another little realistic detail that the cast of largely method actors added to their portrayals.
17 – the fear on Bonasera’s face when the Don comes to visit him to call in his favour: Poignantly, Don Vito simply wants the undertaker to fix up Sonny’s body before his mother sees him.
16 – Sonny’s death at the Long Island tollbooth: From the desperate call from his sister Connie, to the headstrong angry beating of Carlo then, nearing home and safety, Sonny was killed off beyond any doubt with about a hundred bullets to his body. Surely I’m not the only person who gets nervous at tollbooths?
15 – whoever arranged the meeting is the one who betrayed us: Which of the Don’s oldest friends and most loyal associates would be the man that caused the deaths and betrayed the Corleones? At the Don’s funeral, Tessio unsuspectingly reveals it was him, he begs for mercy and doesn’t get it.
14 – the death of Don Vito: Retired, playing with his grandson in the garden, we see Vito Corleone as the elderly respectable businessman he wanted to be. This sequence was largely improvised, including the reaction of little Anthony (played by Francis Ford Coppola’s son Gio).
13 – McCluskey’s greed: The corrupt policeman was played with relish by Sterling Hayden. He can’t wait to try the veal and had already tucked is napkin into his collar to settle down to a feast when the end came suddenly for him.
12 – The “thunderbolt”: Michael’s courtship of Apollonia was sudden, short and clumsy and a counterpoint to the gloom of the previous scenes. It was never referred to afterwards, almost as if it happened in a dream.
11 – “I thought I was out and then they pull me back in”: The one and only great moment in The Godfather 3, it’s worthy of mention mostly because it was quoted so often in The Sopranos.
10 – Tom Hagen: With so many colourful and dynamic characters around, Tom can be overlooked, but he plays a key role throughout, never imposing his personality, getting on with the task in hand and even getting to act as the lawyer he trained to be when Michael is investigated by the Senate committee. And uber-fans still debate why Michael dropped him as Consigliere
9 – Frankie’s brother visiting from Sicily: Just when it looked like Michael was sunk by Frankie’s testimony, he pulls off a masterstroke, simply by bringing the (innocent) brother over from the old country, leading Frankie to clam up and eventually end things “the way the Romans” did with a warm bath and a razor. Frankie Five Angels was created when Richard Castellano refused to come back as Clemenza, this storyline would have been even more dramatic with the original character they intended it for.
8 – “Roth”: Michael tells Tom he knows the truth about Hyman Roth. It’s one of his few explosive moments and just the way he says the name with venom and the New York diction is unforgettable.
7 – Carlo’s foot going through the windscreen when he is garrotted: Not only did Michael kills his brother-in-law whose son he stood as Godfather for, on the baptism day AND after promising forgiveness, he makes sure his killing is brutal.
6 – Fredo casually and drunkenly sealing his fate: They are in a dodgy Havana nightclub, it’s clear that Michael isn’t enjoying himself and his night is going to get worse when he realises that his brother has been consorting with his enemies. And Fredo doesn’t have a clue.
5 – “I know it was you Fredo”: The New Year’s Eve party taking place during Castro’s coup, Michael kisses his brother full on the lips and reveals that he knows about his betrayal. Fredo runs off into the night like a scalded cat and Michael’s heartbreak is clear.
4 – The horse’s head: It has become a byword for Mafia revenge and in a film packed with imaginative deaths and injuries to humans, it still stands out as horrific.
3 – the flashback sequence at the end of Part 2: Before Michael had gone to war, before Sollozzo had interested Sonny in his investments, before the Don became old and frail. Michael, who we have seen turn isolated and cold through events, is just the kid brother who they all tease in this sequence.
2 – “I’m going to talk to Michael in Italian”: with this line, the pace in the scene of Sollozzo’s execution really picks up. It’s quite simply the most intense, brilliantly performed scene with the viewer completely in Michael’s head throughout. EDIT – the actual line, I now know from re-watching is “I’m going to speak to Mike in Italian” – added insult by using the chummy shortened version of Michael’s name,
1 – The door shuts on Kay: Michael’s transformation is complete and Kay is completely shut out of this side of his life.