If you've ever wanted to see what happens when Templar Knights go Satanic then return from the dead, boy, have I got the movie for you!
The Godfather. 1972. Directed & Written by Francis Ford Coppola; based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name.
Starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard S. Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Diane Keaton, Abe Vigoda, Talia Shire, Gianni Russo, John Cazale, & Rudy Bond. Paramount Pictures/Alfran Productions.
Rated 14A. 175 minutes.
The Godfather is one of the rare films I believe is better than its source material. I read Mario Puzo’s novel a long time ago when I was about eleven or twelve years old, one weekend as I was in the woods hunting and fishing with my grandfather and uncles. It captivated me every waking moment when I wasn’t busy hauling gear or casting a line. The violence and sexuality and the raw language of Puzo struck me. Something I never forgot, as a reader and as a young man who eventually went on to become a published author himself. Part of reading that novel always stayed in my mind. Then when I’d finally seen the movie adaptation not long after it made me understand there was a way for film to improve upon its origins. Francis Ford Coppola and his ambition made this into a worthwhile project. As is evident, he’s a director that never backs down. Many of his choices throughout the production weren’t exactly what the studio and producers imagined, everything from the dark, shady look of the cinematography to the casting of Al Pacino. Luckily, Coppola’s iron will seems to eternally capable of winning out, and we’re left with his choices. Undeniably the best ones possible. Not every last classic of American cinema is as classic as the critics and audiences who love it want us to believe. That being said, certain classics are considered exactly that for a reason.
The Godfather nails every last bit what it aims to do. There’s not a single moment of bad acting, nor is there ever a misstep in the way its shot. If this were made like every other picture at the time, the end product wouldn’t be near as fascinating. Rather for a movie that’s considered classic, as if to signify it’s part of a type or a set of movies from that era that are alike in some way, this one is very much different from other films from the 1970s. Coppola dared to take on a dangerous story, one that accentuated the underworld of Italian-American crime while taking a legitimate look at the real people caught up in its Black Hand. Further than that he didn’t settle for making a blockbuster that appealed to the specific demographics Paramount Pictures had in mind. He came out with something more visually beautiful and intricate than an average Hollywood picture. This let the whole film industry and its varied audiences know that even the major studio productions can keep their artistic heart without being an independent project. Forever, I’ll consider Coppola – for this and Apocalypse Now particularly – a reason for why directors can still be artists within a studio system.
Let’s talk about oranges! We’ve all heard about this one, so take a deeper look.
First scene is between Tom Hagen and Jack Woltz, a bowl of them sits at the table. This is the first sinister event where the oranges give us a foreboding look at what may soon come. Of course, we know what ends up in Woltz’s bed not too long after. A gruesome scene. This sets up the whole element of oranges signifying something bad about to happen, which extends through the film, as well as its sequels. One of those nice little pieces of symbolism that makes this movie feel more akin to great literature than great movies, though it’s clearly one of the latter above anything else.
Second scene comes just prior to Don Corleone being gunned down in the street. He goes to buy some fruit, oranges to start, and this ominously lets us know there’s about to be a tragedy.
I love that Coppola decided to use this little system because it gives the whole thing greater depth, along with the good writing in general and the nicely fleshed out characters. In every way, the director makes sure this becomes more than a big studio picture with dollars in its eyes. Best part is that the orange symbolism goes on throughout the trilogy, not only a part of this first film.
The cinematography from director of photography Gordon Willis is all around fantastic. As is the editing. These aspects collide in such a perfectly classical way. Francis Ford Coppola exerts such great, effective control as director, which is in part due to him taking on the screenwriting duties, as well. The look of the scene where Don Corleone is gunned down has to be one of the best in the entire trilogy. Without a doubt. The darkness almost seems to encroach the sky, as the deadly scene commences. Then the overhead shot of Vito being shot, falling on the car, the guns going off, it’s so effortlessly gorgeous and well blocked that you know how everything is laid out came about meticulously. Some shots can appear accidentally. This is not that type, whatsoever. One example of the eye Coppola has for framing. That’s a reason why the overall film is so damn good. Every bit of the darkened camera work, the shadowy lighting, all those thoughtfully considered shots and the precise blocking, it all makes this better than any average big budget adaptation of a novel. The directorial choices out of Coppola are impeccable. Not every director can block well enough to make it evident. A guy like Coppola does so to a point of feeling like a theatre director, making his shots stand out at all angles.
So much acting talent to take in. Even during the most seemingly insignificant moments and scenes this whole cast makes everything interesting, at times powerful. Partly Coppola, through the original writing of Puzo, is able to convey gangsters in a more three-dimensional view than they’d ever been seen before onscreen. Gangsters have been around the Hollywood stories since as early as films were being made. Yet this movie takes us further into the psychology of these men. You don’t always agree with the way these characters act, nor that they’re so involved in such dastardly criminal activity on many levels. Although you will find yourself a little more informed, at least in the way they do things. The characters themselves and the performances take us into the human beings behind the business. Again, these actors won’t make you necessarily empathise, but they will always, always keep you hooked to the story and the intensity of the plots.
Above anything else, The Godfather is entertaining. The characters and the plot, every inch of the story rivets the audience. Marlon Brando is at the pinnacle of his career, no matter what other great, epic roles he’s taken. Likewise, James Caan and Al Pacino are both fantastic in their respective roles as the Corleone brothers; distinct personalities, each part of the same crime family and subject to its effects, so while they feel real different they are also just like real brothers. Add to these lead actors guys like Abe Vigoda, Richard S. Castellano and others only round out the cast making the story rumble right off the page. Oh, and Robert Duvall can never be forgotten. He crafts Tom Hagen into just as classic a character as the rest, often overlooked simply because of the other star power bursting through the screen.
If you don’t dig this movie, that’s fine. You cannot, however, claim this is not a classic. And not a perfect one. There are so many amazing aspects to The Godfather, from the powerful acting to Coppola’s adaptation of Puzo to the downright saliva-worthy cinematography. Each time I watch it, and until this writing it’d been a good seven or eight years, there’s a new love I find somewhere between those luscious, dark frames, all the brooding Pacino looks and the well delivered dialogue. This is one movie that will never fade in its awesomeness. Until the end of time it’ll remain one of the greatest in cinematic history.
Deliverance. 1972. Directed by John Boorman. Screenplay by James Dickey, based on his 1970 novel of the same name.
Starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, Ed Ramey, Billy Redden, Seamon Glass, Randall Deal, Bill McKinney, Herbert ‘Cowboy’ Coward, Lewis Crone, Ken Keener, Johnny Popwell, John Fowler, Kathy Rickman, & Louise Coldren.
Warner Bros./Elmer Enterprises.
Rated 18A. 110 minutes.
Truly, despite the praise he does certainly get, I do feel John Boorman is an underrated director. There are some of his films which are heralded properly. Others are not. I’m one of the ten people on the planet who loves Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, even if he hates it himself. Then there’s The Emerald Forest, a film I never knew existed until it popped up for a special screening while I lived in Ontario, and one that surprised me after the credits rolled. There’s also Zardoz, which is not particularly great, but it’s weird, unconventional, sports Sean Connery in a mind boggling outfit, plus it tries to tackle an interesting science fiction topic regardless of the end result. On top of that, though, is the weight of Excalibur – possibly the King Arthur tale to end all King Arthur tales, featuring an enjoyable cast, excellent visuals, and a great story. Also, can’t forget The General, a true tale of Martin Cahill starring Jon Voight and Brendan Gleeson. So while he has a few films, including more than I’ve listed, which people seem to love, Boorman has his fair share of misunderstood titles, too.
Now, certainly Deliverance doesn’t, and never will, fall into the category of his films which people don’t give enough respect. However, I’m not sure people take the time to appreciate its masterpiece qualities. Too many will only refer to the infamous “Squeal like a pig” scene, which I’ve included above linked from YouTube. While that is definitely the most intense scene, as well as holds a particularly weighty significance, the film is so much more. It is one of the ultimate city dweller vs. hillbilly movies out there. Perhaps its greatness is due in part to the novel of the same name by James Dickey, published in 1970. Even more than that, the screenplay was adapted by Dickey himself. So I’m always keen on a story that gets shaped into a film by the same author. Add in a talented main cast, a raw and beautifully gritty aesthetic, luscious landscapes caught in perfect frames, and you’ve got Boorman’s greatest work in cinema.
A group of friends head out to the wilderness for a weekend excursion, in the forest, on the water. Canoes and gear in tow. Lead by the survivalist Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the group consists of mild mannered Bobby (Ned Beatty), easygoing Ed (Jon Voight), as well as Drew (Ronny Cox). When first they arrive in hillbilly central, Drew befriends a young boy, clearly the victim of inbreeding, and they play “Dueling Banjos” together; afterward, though, Drew tries to shake the boy’s hand and receives the cold shoulder. Brushing off this early, strange incident, the men head further to find someone to drive their vehicles down to the end of the river where they plan on canoeing.
Except the vast Appalachians hold many horrors. And when the city men run into a couple disgruntled mountain men their weekend outing goes from wild to worrisome. Once an act of hideous physical violence is committed against Bobby, the equal act of violent retribution by Lewis propels the four friends into not a fight for their lives, but for their very humanity.
If they’re lucky, they’ll see the city again. Someday.
“We‘re going to rape this whole landscape,” Lewis (Reynolds) sadly tells his friends in the opening moments of the film; he’s referring to the destruction of beautiful natural spaces to create man-made, artificial spaces. So when the mountain men take the city boys hostage and one of them proceeds to rape Bobby (Beatty), these words echo through our ears. The rape of Bobby is a metaphor – it is the mountain, the landscape fighting back by proxy.
Also, early in the movie we see Ed (Voight) unable to kill an animal. Later he’s confronted with one of the mountain men and similarly can’t bring himself to shoot the bow’s arrow, which demonstrates the idea that Ed sees all life as sacred or precious, even in a case where he’s being hunted alive; this is the fundamental difference between Ed and Lewis, but most importantly between Ed and the dangerous men in the woods.
One of the most impressive contrasts in the entire film is near the end, after Ed and Bobby are sitting down at a table with a crew of old folks. They all start to eat, as Ed comes in last. He sits down and tries to put his best face on, but bent over his ready meal Ed cries a little, almost bursting out in front of everyone. It’s because Ed finds himself back amongst the civilized, even if they’re still down South, out in hillbilly county. Such a stark difference from the other mountain people he’s met out there, and that’s sort of what hits him – how certain people can be so hateful, disgusting, evil, while other people in the same area are welcoming and hospitable.
The acting in Deliverance is part of why the film works. If lesser acting talent were employed, Boorman would never have gotten the resonance out of this plot and story that’s intended. Reynolds is always a treat, especially in many of his early movies. But above all else, it is the performances of both Beatty and Voight which make the whole thing so special, and definitively powerful as one of the best films of the 1970s.
Voight provides us with one of the best characters because, as I mentioned, the contrasts and parallels through which we watch the character of Ed are a large reason for the movie’s excellence. Via Ed we see the city vs. rural battle, as well as a very human quality. With all the nastiness, from the mountain men and later the city boys themselves, there is a thread running through Deliverance concerning humanity – what it is, how one holds onto it in times of terrifying strife and pain, how we cope with the inhumanity of others, and more. On the other side of that there is Beatty’s character Bobby, whose sexual assault is the catalyst for murder; though, I would say definitely justified. But in his case the idea of justice also comes into the situation, whether or not murder can be justified under certain circumstances. Also, Bobby represents an idea of manhood – the covering up of Lewis killing the mountain men initially is supported by Bobby, as he quips “I don‘t want this gettin‘ around.” A lot of themes happening here intertwined with the characters, with the construction of masculinity hovering around heavy after the rape. So having quality actors such as Voight and Beatty in the meatiest roles is a huge success. There’s a range in these two which lends itself to the thematic elements present, and in turn we also get two iconic performances viewers will never forget easily.
A landmark film of the 1970s. 5 stars. From a more fearless time of filmmaking, both in terms of technique and also of story, Deliverance absolutely delivers the goods. There are too many amazing moments in this film to list them all one by one, but hopefully I’ve covered some of the best, most inspiring aspects of this amazing and brutal movie. John Boorman will be remembered most for this, no matter how many great pieces of cinema he delivers. The examination of city life, and justice, versus rural backwoods style living and their draconian forms of so-called justice; the performances of Jon Voight and Ned Beatty particularly; and Boorman’s capturing of nature, while unnatural things happen within it – all these aspects make up the cinematic classic that is Deliverance. Perhaps the most perfect movie about men surviving in the backwoods. Either way, tread lightly. Though this is a solid movie with tons to offer, it isn’t always easy to watch.
Wes Craven's early work expresses a ton of violence from angry, ugly people at pretty young things.