home Film & TV The Enduring Legacy of The Godfather Fifty Years On

The Enduring Legacy of The Godfather Fifty Years On

By Cormac McCarthy 

IMDB has a famous list of the top 100 films ever made, as voted for by the users of the site. At number one is The Shawshank Redemption, at number two is The Godfather: Part One and at number three is The Godfather: Part Two. 

While IMDB should never be a metric of a film’s inherent quality and of course, no two people have the same top 10 film list, it still is quite incredible the sheer adoration and critical praise that is directed at both Godfather films a whole fifty years after their release. 

Both winning Best Picture in 1972 and 1974 respectively, they are the only set of films in which the original and the sequel won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Part Two, itself, is one of only two sequels to win Best Picture (The other being The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King)

Thanks to such a legacy, many cinemas throughout Cork were screening the films for those of us too young to have seen it in its original release. I myself took this opportunity. I had seen Part One many times, although not in a year. Similarly, I had only seen Part Two once the previous year. 

This lack of recent exposure enhanced the experience, allowing me to both notice details that I hadn’t before, while still giving a new and fresh experience as a viewer. 

The Godfather: Part One was, at one point in time, the highest-grossing film ever made worldwide, universally celebrated for its quite groundbreaking and genre-defining qualities. Among these, it is its acting that stands the test of time. 

The stellar cast includes Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton. While Brando commands a presence in every scene he is in, it would be wrong to identify any of the cast to be the standout performer, as this is an ensemble piece. 

It is not the characters themselves that make the film so enduring but rather the interplay between them and how the constant struggle for control dominates their lives. The Godfather is a film in which a minor character can prove to be the most memorable. The sleaziness of Police Captain McCluskey or the sneering Sollozzo is the essence of the film’s quality. 

A film is only the sum of its parts, and great care is given to every detail of The Godfather. 

Its iconography within American cinema is also down to its authenticity. From the costumes to the dialogue (both English and Italian), to the very intricacies of the American Mafia. It brings effervescent energy to the film, without ever feeling overdone or laborious. While glamourizing in a sense, the constant threat of violence and atrocity that bubbles underneath the surface indicates to the viewer that this world is ultimately a destructive one. 

The Godfather: Part Two furthers these themes of power and vengeance by continuing the saga. Francis Ford Coppola was given full creative control on the film so that his full artistic vision could be brought to the fore. The sets are more glamourous, the stakes are higher, and the prestige is even grander. 

The film splinters into two parallel plotlines. The first follows on from the previous film where Michael has assumed command of the family. Here, we see him wrestling to control operations while constantly living in the shadow of his father’s glory. 

The second storyline brings the viewer back in time to early 20th century New York City. Here, the film follows the early years of Michael’s father Vito Corleone as he slowly builds the foundations of his soon-to-be crime empire. Robert DeNiro’s performance is quite magnificent here, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the process. He takes on Brando’s interpretation of the character of wisdom ahead of his years while still bringing a sense of innocence of a character that is at the start of his own journey.  

The film juxtaposes the two plotlines as we see Michael and Vito’s own methods of grappling with the power in which they have themselves. Both enact their own vengeance against those who have wronged them. The theme of vengeance framed against their own Catholic guilt is a theme present in both films. 

The legacy of these films does not come down to one particular thing but I would hazard that it comes down to the fact they are universal in their theme of loyalty to family. At the heart of both of these films is that man is not an island and should never forget that fact. 

I would highly recommend. Although a bit slow-paced for the modern era, it is perfect in its faults.