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Appreciating the subtleties of 'The Godfather'

So, everyone knows about The Godfather. It’s widely regarded as the greatest gangster film ever made & one of the best of all time, in any category. Here, I’ll attempt to shine some light on the subtle details that are used throughout the film which I’ve never seen pointed out.

Now, everyone knows about the famous scenes & dialogues; ‘Offer he can’t refuse’, ‘The horse head’, ‘Leave the gun, take the canoli’, ‘Sleeping with the fishes’ etc. What everyone seems to miss (or atleast never seem to mention), are the little clues that are placed through-out the film, that predict of things to come. Without further ado:-

The Wedding Scene

Nothing wrong in this scene; seems like a perfectly good gangster wedding, where everyone’s drinking, dancing & enjoying themselves, but look closely.

  1. The kid who drools over the amount of cash being given out (“all cash, small bills, in that little silk purse, if only this was someone else wedding”) is the same guy that betrayed the Corleone family for the first hit on the Don. This small scene, masquerading as a comedic effect, shows this kid as being open to bribery.
  2. A photographer takes a picture of Don Barzini, only to get roughed by one of his goons. They then hands him the negative from the camera, which is promptly destroyed. Seems like a perfectly normal thing gangsters might do. Only, it also shows how Don Barzini wanted to stay in the shadows, which is important for the plot later on.

Clemenza & Tessio

Clemenza is shown dancing & enjoying himself at the wedding, like if it was his own daughters wedding. Tessio, on the other hand, is only sitting around, or shown dancing with a little girl. This, to me, shows that Clemenza is fully loyal, committed, while Tessio is holding back. Also, Clemenza congratulates Michael on the Don’s survival when he arrives at home. He jokes about Michale’s relationship with Kay, offers cooking tips & teaching him how to shoot. Tessio’s never shown doing any such thing, like he’s holding back on the ‘personal relationship’ part.

The use of alcohol through-out critical scenes

The number of times Coppolla has used alcohol in critical scenes is striking. I can’t say for certain if it means anything, but here’s a break-down of when it’s used.

  1. Don Corleone refills Sollazzo’s glass with wine when he first comes to discuss going into business together.
  2. Sollazzo offers it to Hagen when discussing terms of a deal, after the hit on the Godfather.
  3. Santino suggests it to the kid that betrayed the Don for his attempted assatination.
  4. Hagen takes a shot himself, before breaking the news of Santino’s death to the Don.
  5. Michael offers Carlo a drink when confirming that it was him that got Santino killed.

I also find it intriguing that Michael lets it be known publicly, during a meeting with Clemenza, & Tessio, that Hagen is out as consiglieri, & he’ll be moving forward with Carlo, but when confronting him after the baptism, he indicates that he’s always been on to him.

The Godfather
1972 ‧ Drama film/Drama ‧ 2h 58m

Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, this mob drama, based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, focuses on the powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). When the don’s youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), reluctantly joins the Mafia, he becomes involved in the inevitable cycle of violence and betrayal. Although Michael tries to maintain a normal relationship with his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), he is drawn deeper into the family business.
Release dateMarch 24, 1972 (Canada)
Critic reviews
So, at the bottom line, the film has a lot of terrific mood, one great performance by Pacino, an excellent character segue by Brando, and a strong supporting cast. Full review

A.D. Murphy
Variety
Epic in scope while maintaining a patience and intimacy characteristic of European art cinema, “The Godfather” is rightly considered one of the greatest films ever made. Full review

Elliot Panek
Common Sense Media
With performances, style and substance to savour, this shows how it is possible to smash box office records without being mindless. Full review

Kim Newman
Empire

Mezatino: Nice work. I haven’t watched the movies in years and was planning to do so soon. I’ll keep an eye for these moments and see if I notice any others.

Fistandantalus: Michael is always thinking a few steps ahead. Look in Godfather II where he tells Hyman Roth that Frankie Pentangalie ordered the attack on his home. But then tells Frankie that Roth set it up. Always playing chess with people.

ueeediot: > I also find it intriguing that Michael lets it be known publicly, during a meeting with Clemenza, & Tessio, that Hagen is out as consiglieri, & he’ll be moving forward with Carlo, but when confronting him after the baptism, he indicates that he’s always been on to him.

Keep your enemies closer.

There are a couple reasons he does this. One, it’s his sister’s husband and he wants her to relax and he wants to appear as though he is including Carlo in the family. Next, as mentioned elsewhere, keeping Hagen through the end of movie one would have meant to break the promise of Vito. Vito promised that HE would not break the peace. With Michael having Vito’s consigliere it could appear as though Vito was acting through Michael, even after death.

Tom was never really demoted. He was put aside for a while so Michael could achieve his long term goal of wiping out the 5 families. Of course he figured out it was Carlo who baited Sonny into action. That was so simple and Carlo was so stupid for doing it. Let’s see… Sonny was murdered at the toll booth. Hmmmm, how would they have known he was going to go through THAT toll booth at THAT specific time?

W1Z3RD: Films really do live by the “Don’t make em like they used to” quip. So many movies now hold your hand because they think no ones going to get it. You got movies from the 70s-80s that didn’t do this and they’re GOAT.

Baghdad_AssUp: I did not care for the GodFather.

It insists upon itself..

What do you think?

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