I wonder what the iconic American drama was before The Godfather. What was that groundbreaking hit that provoked average moviegoers to revisit it multiple times, quote it constantly, and then teach their grandchildren to do the same?
I believe my grandma would say Casablanca. Typical published movie critics would point to Citizen Kane, and optimists might cheer for It’s a Wonderful Life.
Maybe it’s the darker mafioso component that puts The Godfather on top of the universal list. There is an allure there. Somehow, even a steady moral compass can get swept up by an Italian crime family’s appeal. The Italian is in the delicious food they cook and rich respect obtained by their culture between Sicily and New York City. The family bond is upheld in the highest regard (“We don’t discuss business at the table.”) But, that crime part settles underneath in hushed conversation and occasional bloodshed. It can be ignored or accepted through a rose-colored lens.
It is all an idealized perspective of reality.
It is all so romantic.
My memories of first watching The Godfather involve my dad’s homemade spaghetti and sausage dinners in front of the screen. We cherished the scene when Clemenza teaches Michael how to cook for a large group of mob soldiers and made-men at the table. I remember my dad loving the scene when the Corleone family discusses the restaurant where Michael is to make his first hit. “Yeah, try the veal. It’s the best in the city.” Or, the scene at the end when everyone knows that Tessio is the traitor, and my dad laughed at how cold the reaction is when Tessio knows he’s screwed.
Tessio: Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times’ sake?
Tom: Can’t do it, Sally.
After seeing The Godfather as a teenager and in college, I jumped at the chance to experience it on the big screen (no more double VHS cassettes and putting in the second tape right after Sonny gets violently executed). The 50th anniversary edition of The Godfather was showing at the local AMC theatre, and I wanted to see if this epic movie drama icon still held up.
It did in spades both nostalgically and through my older, seasoned adult eyes. There is no doubt The Godfather is the greatest American drama ever made in all my movie loving encounters. The only contender would be Part II, and I can’t wait until AMC launches that one on its 50th anniversary.
Nino Rota’s poignant trumpet motif haunts you on your drive back home. Al Pacino’s mental and physical transformation as the new Don Corleone is stunning. And, Marlon Brando’s performance is a marvel that continues to be replicated in pop culture.
In the 70s when it came out, the 80s when I first saw it, and up to today, The Godfather is still an icon in filmmaking, music, editing, acting, writing, and pure drama.
In your opinion, what is the greatest American drama ever made? Please share your thoughts!