The Godfather

The Godfather

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Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) is among the best films ever produced. Consistently ranked as one of the top three films by the American Film institute, this gangster film sits among the likes of Citizen Kane (1941), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and the more recent Schindler’s List (1993) (American). When it was released, The Godfather was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won three: Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was adapted from the best-selling novel, with the same name, by Mario Puzo (Mast & Kawin, 332). The film takes place in a ten-year span between 1945 and 1955. It follows the Sicilian family headed by Vito Corleone who is played by Marlon Brando; Corleone is also the godfather or head of the Corleone Crime Family. Coppola’s film is not the first big screen version of a gangster film: Scarface (1933), The Public Enemy (1931), and Little Caesar (1931) are all pre-production code gangster films, but American Movie Classics’ Tim Dirks believes The Godfather “reinvented the gangster genre” (Dirks). Still, The Godfather’s has many similarities to pre-production code gangster films especially with its use of violence, and its portrayal of corruption of both the gangsters and the ‘good guys.’
The gangster films of the 30s and 40s had all but disappeared until The Godfather revived the genre. These films were not new to Hollywood: The Public Enemy (1931), Little Caesar (1930), and Scarface (1932), but the production code put an end to the style of the early gangster classics. Two production code principles for films made during its time, 1934-1967, were that “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it…the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin” and “[l]aw […] must not be belittled, ridiculed, nor must a sentiment be created against it” (The Production code). These principles along with the film noir era essentially ended the way gangster films were made. Following the enforcement of the code, the focus shifted from the gangsters to the ‘good guys’ (Dirks). David Stirritt, film critic for the Christian Science Monitor, says Coppola’s film “revived the gangster genre” (Dirks). This revival helped other gangster films to make it to the big screen: Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1991) and Casino (1995), and Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco (1997).
The similarities between The Godfather and early gangster films are evident when they are compared.

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For example Little Caesar follows the rise and fall of Rico “Little Caesar” Bandelli through the Chicago underworld. Similarly, in The Public Enemy Tom Powers quickly rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld. In both films the gangster lifestyle is glorified and intriguing. Similarly, The Godfather offers a look into the intriguing life of the gangster and his influence, power, and brutality. Ultimately though, the early gangster of the 30s fall; Rico “Little Caesar” Bandelli and Tom Powers suffer a violent death. This also happens to the gangsters of The Godfather (Little Caesar, The Public Enemy). Sonny is ambushed by members of a rival mob family and Vito Corleone, although he survives and assassination attempt, eventually dies in the end (The Godfather).

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