I watched The Godfather last night. It was the first time that I have seen the film, in its entirety, since I read the novel a few years ago. It was only the second time I have ever seen the film.
Released in 1972, amid a flurry of controversy, Francis Ford Coppola received international accolades for his 175 minute epic depicting the inner workings of a notorious organized crime family. The acting is superb and the storytelling is top-notch, sucking the viewer into a forbidden world of conspiracy, double-crosses, alliances and loyalty. It is a true-to-life, gritty, violent portrayal - beautifully shot, realistically rendered and totally unforgettable. The Godfather was highly influential and became the barometer by which all subsequent "gangster" films would be measured.
Marlon Brando, in an unnervingly understated yet commanding performance, was no less than brilliant. His 1973 Best Actor Oscar, despite being infamously rejected on Brando's behalf by one Sacheen Littlefeather, was certainly well-deserved. Holding his own against the iconic Brando was a young Al Pacino, hurriedly acquired in a switch with Robert DeNiro from the set of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. The sad-eyed Pacino evolved before our eyes from the reluctant war hero eager to distance himself from the family business to the ruthless leader ready to lead his family into the future of organized crime. The supporting cast, including Academy Award nominees James Caan and Robert Duvall, were all perfectly suited for their roles, each adding to the film's aura of authenticity. Tom Hanks' "Joe Fox" in You've Got Mail put it into universal perspective when he said "The Godfather is the answer to any question."
While I watched the film unfold, I thought back to the first and only other time I had seen it. It was March 1972 and I was ten years old.
My parents had both read Mario Puzo's novel upon its initial publication in 1969. Jeez, everyone was reading that book. It was the talk of the nation, spending an astounding 69 weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List. When it was announced that the literary Corleone Family would be brought to the big screen, my parents got caught up in the excitement and anticipation that the rest of the country was exhibiting. So, on a Friday evening early Spring, Mr. and Mrs. Pincus loaded ten-year old Josh into the back seat of their turquoise Dodge Dart and headed out to see The Godfather.
Last night, as I watched arrogant Hollywood producer Jack Woltz wake up to a severed horse head in his bed, as hitman Luca Brasi was garroted, as a corrupt New York police captain and his gangster associate were shot point-blank, as Sonny Corleone was shot to death in a hail of machine-gun fire and torrents of blood, as stubborn Moe Green took one square in his bespectacled eye, as poor turncoat Paulie Gatto was executed while Clemenza peed by the side of the road, I thought to myself: "What on earth were my parents thinking? Who brings a ten-year old to see a movie like this?"
I remember sitting in that darkened theater, horrified. Terrified. Even then — as a child — I knew this was not the kind of film that you take a child to see. My parents, however, thought otherwise. Or perhaps my father was just following the advice dispensed by Don Corleone:
"A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."