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Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli: "The Godfather" Celebrates Its 50th Birthday

NEWS | FEATURES | PREVIEWS | EVENTS

By Bruce Chadwick


originally published: 03/06/2022

Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli: "The Godfather" Celebrates Its 50th Birthday

You remember that scene. Pete Clemenza and a fellow gangster drove Paulie, who didn’t go to work the day Vito Corleone, the crime boss, was gunned down in lower Manhattan, to the marshes of what was to become Liberty State Park, in Jersey City, and shoot him. When they leave, burly Clemenza instructs his fellow hood, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

No one ever forgets that scene.

March 15 is the 50th anniversary of the film’s debut in 1972. What a history it has had! Most polls of all-time best films rank it among the top three (with Citizen Kane and Casablanca). It wound up as a three movie trilogy that grossed (in today’s money) over $1.4 billion and won nine Oscars. All three films have become television favorites. They are often strung together as a near eight hour long crime trilogy. Some of its lines became cult classics, such as the cannoli line, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” “I don’t want my brother coming out of that toilet with just his dick in his hand,” and “You straightened my brother out?” It crowned the career of Marlon Brando and gave birth to the careers of Al Pacino, James Caan, John Cazale, and Robert Duvall.

Did law enforcement quash the Mafia in that 50 years? Of course not. The drug cartels have made the mob even stronger.

What was it about The Godfather that made it so appealing to both critics and audiences? After all, there have been hundreds of mob movies over the years, going all the way back to James Cagney in Public Enemy in 1931. The mob ruled the silver screens in color and black and white films. Some of Hollywood’s finest actors have played the gangster, from Cagney to Edward G. Robinson to Richard Widmark, George Raft, Joe Pesci and Jack Nicholson.



 
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Why was The Godfather better, so much better, than all those other mob films?

First, you must remember that in 1972, when the movie came out, Italian-Americans were seen as one dimensional people and the subject of numerous ethnic jokes. Nobody gave them credit for achieving anything. The film gave them new life.

Gangsters were seen as hollow “hoods” in all of the crime films. The Godfather changed that. In the film, Don Corleone is seen as criminal mastermind and mob tough guy, but also as a loving dad trying to bring up his kids properly, as we all try. He succeeds and fails at that, as we all do.

The film has great character development. Young Michael, the returning war hero, does not want to have anything to do with the family crime business, but events draw him into it and he kills two men who had tried to kill his father. Eldest son Sonny is seen as  a temperamental young man who never thinks things through, but, even so, you like him (remember the scene where Sonny, enraged that sister Connie’s husband hit her, beats the daylights out of the husband, even bashing him on the head with a garbage can cover?).

The family has its successful sons, such as Michael, but it as its failures, such as Fredo. Don’t some of our own families have that, too?

Most of all, the movie is about the “family,” and that is the crime family and the real life family. People in the Corleone crime family, Clemenza, Tessio and the rest of them, work for that family. The Corleone “real” family does all it can to help each other get through family and individual tough times. Above all, there is intense loyalty to both families. Remember the Las Vegas scene, when Michael tells Fredo to never go against the family?

The movie is about loyalty. These men are true to each other and the  their loyalty is unquestioned. Frankie Pantangeli even gives his life for the family.

The movie highlights the family beautifully, right from the first frame. We are at the Don’s daughter’s  wedding and meet all the Corleones, seen as being “right” in their “wrong” lives. After fifteen minutes of the movie, you see the Corleones as the heroes and the police and FBI as the villains.

The marriages. Crazy. The women, such as Connie and Kay, struggle with their husbands and have as many bad times as good ones. Poor Kay winds up getting the door slammed in her face in the last scenes of Godfather I. All of Connie’s man troubles are showcased in both parts one and two, Her hubby Carlo dies kicking out the car window. The movie also had its critics, who protested the traditional, textbook treatment of the women in the film as baby rearing, diner cooking, husband pleasing “mommies” and, worse, as “mafia wives.”

It is, in a sense, a movie about the American dream. The Corleones achieve that dream, but in the wrong way. Even so, they do it and moviegoers admire them for that, as they have always admired gangsters in movies for corralling the dream. In films, mobsters were discriminated against and could not get anywhere in American society, so they trod the crime path to success. If you had money, dressed well and lived in a big house, you achieved the American dream. These gangsters did all that, but in their own way. People admired them for their success.

Now, at 50, The Godfather is being restored in a new print. Some scenes will be made lighter in color, such as the opening wedding scene, and some a bit darker. The film will still look the same, though, and still show all of director Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliance.

“You have to understand that as a filmmaker I really didn’t know how to make The Godfather. I learned how to make the Godfather making it,” Coppola told the New York Times.



 
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The film was Coppola’s masterpiece. “It’s the movie I’m most known for. If you ask everyone to name  why I should be at all  even considered of importance, they’ll say The Godfather,” he recently told the Times

The people who worked with him on the movie agree. I met Robert Duvall a few years ago. I asked him which ones of all the good movies and television series he starred in, and there were many, did people ask him about when they met him.

“Ones? There were no ‘ones,’ just The Godfather. People just pepper me with questions about the movie,  about the whole cast. People want to know if we had gangsters on the set serving as consultants or if I had friends who were gangsters. God, people loved The Godfather,” he said.

So, I want you to see The Godfather. I’ll make you an offer you cannot refuse...



Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he served as the arts and entertainment critic for the History News Network, a national online weekly magazine. Chadwick holds a Ph. D in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on U.S. history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a history professor at New Jersey City University.





EVENT CALENDAR

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The Wolves

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 7:30pm
McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theater)
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
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The Caretaker

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
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The Wolves

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 7:30pm
McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theater)
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
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Brooklyn Rider

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 7:00pm
Grunin Center
1 College Drive, Toms River, NJ 08754
category: music


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The Caretaker

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
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Vivid Stage presents "Soft Animals"

Thursday, September 29, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Oakes Center
120 Morris Avenue, Summit, NJ 07901
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Sweet Baby James

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Algonquin Arts Theatre
60 Abe Voorhees, Manasquan, NJ 08736
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The Wolves

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theater)
91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540
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OPENING NIGHT: AN EVENING WITH RENÉE ELISE GOLDSBERRY

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC)
100 South Street, Morristown, NJ 07960
category: music


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Joey Skaggs: Metamorphosis, Cockroach Miracle Cure, Urania Leilus, The House, Panta Rei, The Hauntings of New Hope - Shorts Program - Online for 24 Hours and In Person at 7PM!

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 7:00pm
NJ Film Festival
71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
category: film


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Adelphi Orchestra - Love Letter to Humanity

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Fair Lawn Community Center
10-10 20th Street, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
category: music


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The Caretaker

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 8:00pm
Shakespeare Theatre Of NJ - F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940
category: theatre


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