Firstly, I would like to admit that whenever my dad said to me that I had to watch The Godfather I always felt like I couldn’t be bothered, then one day I did and I became like my dad telling other people and hearing them groan and make an excuse. If you’re one of those people, make it your mission this week that you watch it. You won’t regret it. This instalment of Books vs. Films is a bit tricky because honestly, the book is exactly like the film, give or take. So I guess I’ll start at the beginning. I have to tread pretty carefully with this review because I don’t want to give anything away, so there will be absolutely no spoilers, just the usual plot synopsis and general opinion. There aren’t any sub sections and it won’t be set out like the usual posts, because it just can’t be done – there is no comparison, they are the same.
The Godfather was masterfully written by Mario Puzo and published in 1969, it follows the life of Don Vito Corleone, a fictitious mafia lord who runs a ‘family’ in New York and Long Island. It takes into account the happenings of this family between the years 1945-1955, and trust me, a lot happens to them. The main character arc follows Vito and his children; his daughter Connie and his three sons, the eldest Sonny/Santino, Fredo/Freddy and the youngest, Michael. Puzo manages to weave words like tangled webs of betrayal and what he often calls ‘Sicilian logic’ so even a simple double-cross isn’t without a stroke of genius and unbelievable cunning, which is why this book is like an unstoppable force that puts a heavy door between the reader and anything else they need to do that day. I found myself at work practically dribbling over the pages while Don Vito plans a hit with his consigliesore (councillor) and family lawyer Tom Hagen or literally feel my heart thumping out my chest when Sonny does something irrational – who needs a relationship when you can read a good book?
If that isn’t enough, all of Puzo’s brilliant imaginings were then turned into one of the best adaptations in movie history in 1972 by director Francis Ford Coppola. If I could advise you of anything it’s to watch the film first, because then you will have Marlon Brando’s iconic and excellent voice going in your head like a ghostly but solid whisper every time The Don speaks. With an all star cast this film only made the book come alive and gave me something very real and sinister to place the devious and mercenary Mafioso characters to. Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone is accessible and cold, unscrupulous yet innocent and when put next to Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone they both work together like bread and butter. The whole film radiates this vintage charm and acts like a window into 1940’s mafia like no other film has been able to do, the original 1932 Scarface makes a mockery of organised crime and suggests that to be a slick criminal is a losing game, whereas The Godfather invites you in like one would imagine the mafia would and makes you excited and happy to be there when this lifestyle was common, accepted and in its prime.
Some other actors that I believe make the film work but are under looked are James Caan as Santino, I think that he completely fits the physical description the book offers and then delivers his lines in the exact emotional spectrum that you would expect the eldest child of a mafia Don to say anything. Even when he’s talking about food he sounds angry, and I think that comes from good acting. The book goes into detail about everything, as books often do, but mostly about Sonny and his childhood, and also his relationships with women, which break off into sub stories, thankfully the film cuts them away and instead fills it with beautifully Italian American gangster dialogue such as “leave the gun, take the cannoli”.
Another portrayal I always found excellent in its own right is Robert Duvall as German-Irish Tom Hagen, acting as the families understanding yet brutal lawyer I found that Duvall added an extra depth to this character, although Hagen is a crucial part of the book, he swiftly became one of my favourites as he deals with the legalities of the families illegal activities with the same sensitivity and understanding as a doctor deals with their patients. He’s quiet when he needs to be, talks exactly when you want him to but keeps everyone at peace and is truly a middle man. I think Duvall would have made an excellent lawyer, or maybe a doctor, but as the Don always reminds him, he will never be Sicilian but instead their “kraut-mick friend” which is also what I am. Maybe I should find myself a nice little mafia family and settle into a life of crime.
The book mostly deals with the events of the first film with a bit of the second, the majority of the second was written purely for the film, but this just makes it more amazing. I was waiting for everything in The Godfather II to unfold in the book, when it didn’t, I immediately realised how great these films are. Unfortunately it isn’t a secret that the third instalment was indeed terrible, I couldn’t get through it after watching these two cinematic gems.
So to conclude, all I have to say is get some beers in the fridge, cook some pasta, sit down and watch The Godfather. If you can endure the wait, leave it for a night and let all the events settle in, and then watch The Godfather II. Then, if you haven’t already, at some point in your life, maybe make it your next summer read, buy a shitty old paperback of The Godfather by Mario Puzo and enrich your life. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes can’t be wrong.
I’ll leave you with the wise words of Tom Hanks: “The Godfather is the I-ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” What day of the week is it? “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.”- Joe Fox, You’ve Got Mail.
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