by Steve Habrat
In 1974, director Bob Clark forever tainted the holiday season with his chilling slasher flick Black Christmas, which is credited as being the first holiday-themed slasher horror movie that sliced and diced up teen protagonists. (Contrary to popular belief, John Carpenter’s Halloween wasn’t the first teen slasher film. However, due to its massive success, it is responsible for sparking the teen slasher craze that dominated 1980s.) Two years before Clark’s Black Christmas, director Theodore Gershuny also used the Christmas season as the backdrop for blood-curdling murder and mayhem. While not quite as frightening as Black Christmas, Silent Night, Bloody Night boasts one hell of a B-movie cast (Hey there, John Carradine!), and it packs plenty of gloomy atmosphere, ferocious violence, and (believe it or not), spine-chilling phone calls that will leave you hesitant to ever answer a ringing telephone again. It truly is difficult to believe this brooding little drive-in gem has flown under the radar for so long, especially considering the fact that it is floating around out there in the public domain.
Silent Night, Bloody Night begins with a flashback to Christmas, 1950, with Wilfred Butler storming out of his magnificent mansion in flames and dying out in the snow. On New Year’s Day, Butler was laid to rest, and his home was left to his son, Jeffrey Butler (played by James Patterson). Several years later, the Butler home lies vacant, and Jeffrey is looking to sell the property. Soon, a New York City lawyer named John Carter (played by Patrick O’Neal) and his girlfriend, Ingrid (played by Astrid Heeren), arrive to purchase the home. John begins negotiating with Mayor Adams (played by Walter Abel) and several other prominent town officials, but they all seem a bit scared of something. Meanwhile, a serial killer has escaped from a local insane asylum and has taken shelter in the empty Butler house. As it turns out, this madman is no stranger to the small town, and as he begins claiming lives, he threatens to reveal a horrific secret about the Butler home that town officials believed was buried with Wilfred Butler’s body. With the town on edge and several mysterious disappearances reported, Jeffrey arrives back in town to meet with John and Ingrid, but he is unable to locate them. With the help of Mayor Adams’ daughter, Diane (played by Mary Woronov), the two attempt to get to the bottom of what is going on.
With a title like Silent Night, Bloody Night, you may be under the impression that this impressive little horror movie uses graphic violence and gore to get at its audience. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as Gershuny goes to great lengths to give the film an ominous feel that never wears off. He enjoys giving us outside glimpses of the Butler house, standing silently and almost proudly out in the snow, only to cut to the darkened interior where horrible secrets wander the shadows. The filmmakers muster plenty of atmosphere and they divide it evenly throughout the film’s runtime, but the film isn’t bashful about its bloodletting. Gershuny borrows a page out of Psycho’s playbook and decides to hack up two characters that we have been led to believe would be the film’s protagonists. In a surprise twist, Gershuny unleashes his cold-blooded killer in an intimate moment, bumrushing the viewer with a string of brutal images that are dripping with blood. It’s a terrifying scene that acts as more of a nod to Hitchcock rather than a cheap imitation. Another nifty sequence comes near the end, with a grainy sepia flashback that looks like a hellish permutation of Night of the Living Dead and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It’s best not to reveal too much about the scene, but be warned that it is a visual stunner that is cramped with death and insanity.
Considering that Silent Night, Bloody Night has been cast into obscurity, you might be surprised to learn that there are several well-known actors and actresses attached to the picture. Among the familiar faces are Andy Warhol favorite and Roger Corman star Mary Woronov as the mayor’s pistol packing daughter, legendary horror actor John Carradine as a mute newspaper publisher, and veteran performer Walter Abel as the town’s doomed mayor. In addition to these solid cult players, Patrick O’Neal is strong in his brief run as the kindly lawyer John Carter, James Patterson is seedy and suspicious as Jeffrey Butler, and Fran Stevens is spooked and skittish as town phone operator Tess Howard. Overall, while time hasn’t exactly been kind to it, Silent Night, Bloody Night remains an eerie mystery thriller that wedges its way under your skin with a gruesome slasher spin. It’s acted with plenty of intensity, accompanied by a menacing score, and brought home with a twist climax that is about as bleak as they come. This is a holiday horror movie that is best suited for a snowy midnight hour.
Silent Night, Bloody Night is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
A year before English director Robin Hardy’s tasteful and intelligent 1973 horror film The Wicker Man, fellow English director Ray Austin released Virgin Witch, a sleazy exploitation film that surely pleased midnight audiences craving some non-stop sex and nudity. Featuring slightly above average acting, enthusiastic editing, and playful camerawork, Virgin Witch is a fairly handsome B-movie that doesn’t miss a chance to show off for the viewer. Considering the film falls into the exploitation category, you might be thinking that Virgin Witch also contains some extremely graphic violence to go along with all the sex and nudity, but the film is actually a bloodless affair. It also happens to be devoid of any real attempt to scare the viewer, as clearly the emphasis was on the steamy side of things rather than the satanic rituals presented to us in lighting schemes that could very well have inspired the neon glow of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Despite all the skin on display, Virgin Witch quickly reveals that it is light on plot, stretching its rickety storyline to the breaking point and spreading it thinly as possible. It buries it underneath heaping piles of panache and close-ups of pretty faces, but after about a half-hour, it’s clear that the story doesn’t intend on developing itself much further.
Virgin Witch introduces us to Christine (played by Ann Michelle) and Betty (played by Vicki Michelle), two unemployed sisters who leave a restrictive home and shack up with Johnny (played by Keith Buckley), a free-spirited fellow who enjoys flirting with every girl he meets. Desperate to find a job, the beautiful Christine has an interview with a shady modeling agency run by Sybil Waite (played by Patricia Haines), who quickly takes a liking to the desperate girl and offers her a modeling gig at a remote castle in the English countryside. Despite the virginal Betty’s unease about the job, the girls venture to the castle where they meet a young photographer named Peter (played by James Chase), castle owner Gerald Amberly (played by Neil Hallett), and several other mysterious locals. While exploring the castle, Betty stumbles upon a room that appears to be used for satanic rituals and Sybil begins questioning Christine about her belief in the supernatural. It soon becomes clear that Gerald and Sybil are the high priest and priestess of a coven of witches, and that they intend to use Christine in one of their rituals. Christine partakes in the ritual and after a wild night, she decides that she wants to join the coven. She begins trying to talk Betty into joining, but she also has another sinister plan which involves taking Sybil’s place as high priestess.
Virgin Witch immediately lets the viewer in on what it has on its mind in the very first frame of the film. This puppy is all about the female form and it comes at you like a speeding bullet with psychedelic images of nude girls posing for the camera. Unlike some exploitation films that would simply glare statically at all the flesh, Austin spins his camera around, flips it, slides it, and pushes it in for fast close ups that lend the film a bit of personality. It actually allows it to become a bit more than just a Halloween issue of Playboy in cinematic form. As far as the sex goes, it’s nothing too racy and its dropped right into the scenes that are supposed to be freaky. Austin fills the set with red and green mood lighting as he presents extreme close ups of two characters getting busy on a satanic alter, all while the other members of the coven dance around like grinning school children. It’s not scary or suspenseful and it’s far from erotic. It’s almost sort of goofy in a way, especially when he cuts to the spinning members who look like they took too much acid at psychedelic rock concert. To be honest, there is barely any effort put in to making the film scary—the only attempts to make us jump are a few surprise jolts and an image of a satanic mask that keeps rearing its ugly mug.
While much of the action drifts towards silly, the actors and actresses work double time to sell each and every scene with a straight face. Real life sisters Ann and Vicki Michelle are certainly talented enough, but they aren’t asked to ever challenge themselves. When the action slows, they simply shed their clothing and strut around for the camera. As for the evil Christine, Austin uses camera tricks to give a bit of menace to the performance. He zooms in on Ann’s eyes, which is supposed to signify that she is starting to become our antagonist and that she wishes to cast an evil spell in Sybil Waite. Vicki’s virginal Betty acts the voice of reason to Christine’s free spirited nature, but the script fails to give her much to do, so she basically wanders through the film. Chase’s Peter is fairly strong as the photographer there to show off Ann’s naked body. Surprisingly, he adds a bit of legitimate romantic depth to his character that most wouldn’t have dared to even bother with. Haines has a cold side as Sybil, a lesbian witch who is overjoyed when Christine gives herself over to the coven. Hallett is restrained as Gerald, the laid-back high priest of the coven who gets to have his way with Christine. Buckely rounds out the cast as Johnny, a massive flirt who suspects that Christine and Betty may be in danger.
As Christine’s plot to take Sybil’s place as high priestess kicks in, Austin makes a brief attempt in the last ten minutes to get your pulse pounding. What results is a darkened chase through the castle’s gardens that basically features a bunch of screaming. The smidgeon of suspense is neutralized when Betty and Johnny make a run from the castle, collapse nude in the woods, and Betty whispers to Johnny that she wants him to take her virginity right then and there. Never mind that they were just being threatened by a coven of witches! It’s scenes like this that make it nearly impossible to take the film seriously or view it as a serious horror effort. While Virgin Witch holds up visually, some of the sound work in places makes it difficult to understand what the characters are saying and the thick English accents don’t make it any easier. I’m never one to complain about accents in movies but this one tempted me to turn on the subtitles more than once. Overall, Austin approaches the project with plenty of zest and he does turn Virgin Witch a visual winner, but as a serious horror film, it’s a massive failure. If you’re in the mood to watch a bunch of people run and dance around in their birthday suits, this is the film for you, but if it is sheer thought-provoking terror you seek, it’s best to start looking for a different coven of witches.
Virgin Witch is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
The Godfather Part III is widely regarded as the weakest installment in The Godfather trilogy. Many aim their blame at the performance from Sofia Coppola, director Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter, the fact that the film doesn’t operate as a stand-alone piece, or at the simple fact that the film doesn’t provide a satisfying wrap up to the gangster epic that began in 1972. Many of the major themes are still in tact (The American Dream, family loyalty, corruption, etc.) but I think the film just simply doesn’t tell a story that is as engaging as 1972’s The Godfather or 1974’s The Godfather Part II. In my humble opinion, I think things were properly wrapped up in The Godfather Part II, the film ending with Michael’s vicious hold on the family deteriorating into tragedy. While I don’t think The Godfather Part III holds up to the greatness of the first two films, I still believe that the film is good on its own terms, which I know is odd because the final installment leans so heavily on the events of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. Coppola and returning screenwriter Mario Puzo make a film that thinks even bigger than the first two films, stretching the events out and getting a little bit too implausible for its own good.
The Godfather Part III picks up in 1979, where a graying Michael Corleone (Played by Al Pacino) is being named a Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City. At a celebration after the event, Michael is reunited with his ex-wife Kay (Played by Diane Keaton), who informs Michael that his son Anthony (Played by Franc D’Ambrosio) wants to drop out of law school and pursue a career as an opera singer. Michael is upset by the decision and wishes that he would either remain in law school or join the family business. Michael, who is still desperately trying to make the family business legitimate, is still haunted by the death of his brother Fredo. Michael also finds himself confronted by his late brother Sonny’s illegitimate son Vincent Mancini (Played by Andy Garcia), who wants in on the family business and wants Michael to settle a spat between him and Joey Zasa (Played by Joe Mantegna), who now handles the Corleone family’s criminal interests. Michael has been busying himself by buying up enough stock in International Immobiliare, which is an international real estate holding company. Michael becomes the biggest single shareholder and then looks to buy the Vatican’s 25% interest in the company. As the deal continues, the spat between Joey Zasa and Vincent becomes more and more deadly, pulling Michael back into the criminal underworld. After a brutal assassination attempt, Michael thinks that there may be trouble to be found in the Immobiliare deal.
The Godfather Part III has perhaps the most convoluted plotline of all the three films, which makes some stretches of the film slightly boring. This is disappointing because there wasn’t a slow moment to be found in the previous two entries. It is interesting to see how some of the remaining characters have progressed, mostly Michael’s sister Connie (Played by Talia Shire) and Kay, who has mixed emotions about Michael’s behavior and his ruthless control on the family. The biggest change can be found in Michael, who appears to have lost some of his coldness and embraced a warmer, generous heart. There are still brief flashes of the Michael in The Godfather Part II, but he is nowhere near as menacing as he once was. Coppola also removes some of the ominous feel, this film a bit brighter than the other installments. What has remained in tact is the epic reach of the film, jetting all over from New York City to Sicily and everywhere in between. The film also establishes a creepy love story between Vincent and Michael’s daughter Mary (Played by Sofia Coppola), who are first cousins but apparently are not bothered by this at all. The love story is my least favorite aspect of The Godfather Part III, at once completely unnecessary and incredibly out of place for this series.
Like the first two films, Coppola and Puzo pile on tons of characters that we need to pay attention to. The film introduces us to the vile Joey Zasa, who has turned Little Italy into a drug filled slum. We also meet Don Altobello (Played by Eli Wallach), a seemingly reasonable old man who has a dark side, Michael’s bodyguard Al Neri (Played by Richard Bright), Corleone family friend Don Tommasino (Played by Vittorio Duse), Archbishop Gilday (Played by Donal Donnelly), and powerful Italian political figure Don Licio Lucchesi (Played by Enzo Robutti), to name a few of the new characters. It times, it is almost impossible to keep track of all of them, but you will barely manage. We are really supposed to care about hotheaded Vincent, who is quickly rising to power within the Corleone family. While Garcia plays him with confident determination, at times, I really didn’t care much for his character and would have rather just stuck with Michael, who is facing deteriorating health and wishes to overcome his inner demons, which consistently plague him.
The Godfather Part III explores even further family loyalty, corruption, and the American Dream. With this installment, we learn that Michael has all the power and wealth he could ever dream of, but he still finds himself alienated from a good majority of his family. Apparently, Connie has come around and stands firmly beside her brother, at times even more vicious than he is. His son, Anthony, wishes to keep Michael and the family business as far away from him so he can and seek out an honest living. Yet The Godfather Part III firmly states that corruption is found in big business and yes, even the Vatican. This criminal underworld is like a parasite that has infected even the places that should never have been infected. Michael still voices that he wishes to make the family business legitimate and wash his hands of the mafia but this is easier said than done. Vincent also rejects trying to make an honest man of himself, firmly rejecting the idea all together and instead gleefully descending into the criminal underworld. The downside to the subtext of The Godfather Part III is that it gets a bit ludicrous and looses its subtlety. It is disappointing because this is territory that Puzo and Coppola have covered before and much more effectively at that.
The Godfather Part III is a well-made film and no one can really say otherwise. There are still solid performances to be found, but no one really rises above good and strives for greatness. No one here really challenges what Brando did in the first film and not even Pacino can match the unbearable intensity that he conveyed in Part II. Much has been made of Sofia Coppola’s polarizing performance as Mary but I personally didn’t find her all that bad. I think she is a victim of the subplot that she is thrown into, which is just there to add another layer of tragedy to a story that is already tragic enough. The cinematography is just as beautiful and Coppola can’t resist returning to Sicily to exploit that beautiful countryside and baroque architecture. The film plants here for almost half the runtime but I certainly was not complaining about this aspect. In the end, there is the feeling that all the events that are playing out are vaguely forced and empty, almost like they didn’t need to play out at all. I really liked the scenes with Kay and Michael and their attempts to patch up their relationship but I liked the way things were left in Part II. With the second installment, we knew that Michael was doomed by the suggestions of the final frame and there was really no need for Coppola and Puzo to drag things out further and then put it in bold print and italicize it.
The Godfather Part III is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II could very well be one of the greatest sequels ever made. I hesitate to say the greatest because I still favor the 1972 original slightly more than I do the 1974 follow up. Yet Coppola doesn’t just make a sequel for the sake of making one and getting another paycheck. The Godfather Part II has purpose and it actually enriches the story that was told in the first film. By giving us more of the characters that we only briefly saw in The Godfather and whipping up an absorbing back-story for Vito Corleone, The Godfather Part II actually ends up being more epic in the way it dances from Corleone, Sicily to Lake Tahoe, Nevada all the way to Havana, Cuba. The Godfather Part II turns out to be much darker and moodier than the 1972 original, all the characters barely visible in all the shadows cast in this sordid world of crime. The film also continues to explore loyalty to family and the ugly side of the American Dream, cutting much deeper than they did the first time and turning The Godfather Part II into a sullen tragedy that would have wrapped thing up perfectly.
The Godfather Part II balances two storylines this time around and piles on even more characters that we are supposed to follow. The first storyline is the background of Vito Corleone (Played by Robert DeNiro), how he made it from Sicily to New York and his rise to power in the criminal underworld. The second plotline follows Michael Corleone (Played by Al Pacino), who has fully embraced his role as the uncompromising head of the family business. Michael is looking to move into the gambling industry and has started negotiating business deals with Jewish gangster Hyman Roth (Played by Lee Strasberg). After two hit men try to assassinate Michael in his Lake Tahoe compound, Michael begins to suspect that there is a mole hiding within the family and he is determined to seek him out. Michael leaves his compound and leaves consigliere Tom Hagen (Played by Robert Duvall) to watch over his wife Kay (Played by Diane Keaton) and his two children. Michael then begins his business with Roth even though he is met with protests from Frankie Pentangeli (Played by Michael V. Gazzo), who took over the Corleone family territory in New York after comporegime Peter Clemenza’s death. As the business becomes more and more dangerous, Michael finds that his wife and children are slipping away from him and his family is falling apart.
The Godfather Part II digs deeper into the idea of prosperity and everything that comes along with the American Dream. Coppola and returning screenwriter Mario Puzo suggest that corruption and deceit are everywhere, making the viewer question if there is any honesty in America itself. A side character, Senator Pat Geary (Played by G.D. Spradlin), speaks of his dislike for the Corleone family right to Michael’s face at his son’s First Communion, which takes place near the beginning of the film. He attempts to stand up to Michael but later finds himself bullied into cooperation with the Corleone’s. Coppolla and Puzo portrayed Michael as the most honest member of the Corleone family in the original film but here, Michael has become even more monstrous than we could have ever imagined. His father’s office was shady and ominous, but there were still hints of warmth within it. Michael’s is even darker and downright intimidating, Michael himself barely visible as he sits in an arm chair and listens to his sister Connie (Played by Talia Shire) beg for more money. All the good that Michael possessed has crawled away. We also see Vito embrace a life of crime, fleeing from Sicily to escape the clutches of a ruthless gangster only to find himself back in it in America. At first, Vito starts out trying to make an honest living but that quickly evaporates when he is suddenly thrust into the criminal underworld. He doesn’t put up much of a fight to not get sucked all the way in.
The Godfather Part II does leave the viewer in a crumpled heap by the end of its three-hour plus runtime. The film is a tragedy, a family falling apart from lies, secrets, and neglect. Kay announces that she plans to leave Michael, who slumps in armchairs and stares into space. We question if Michael really even feels anything for Kay or if he only keeps her around to provide him with heirs for the family business. Michael also begins to see his older brother Fredo turn on him, bitter that he has been passed over in the family business and waved off as a fool. The Godfather Part II maintains its tragedy through the tainting of Vito and Michael, both who had promising futures but chose to throw it all away. Further tragic is the way that Michael alienates his family members, intimidating them and pushing them around. He’s a far throw from the soft-spoken war hero that we saw at the beginning of The Godfather.
Both Coppola and Puzo water their characters and then watch them grow in The Godfather Part II. Michael is fully engulfed by the demons he so desperately wanted to bottle up, transforming into a vile piece of humanity every time he walks into frame. While this is Pacino’s show, DeNiro gives a discreetly powerful performance as the young Vito Corleone. What I absolutely love about DeNiro’s performance is that he becomes almost transparent when he studies the ways of the criminals around him. We can see him absorb the knowledge on how to manipulate and con his way to the top. I found it incredible the way that DeNiro allowed us to see the wheels turning. Strap yourself in because Vito has explosive violent rages, ones that come when you least expect them to. I also enjoyed John Cazale as Michael’s older brother Fredo, a hotshot wannabe who puts his foot in his mouth and who is unable to stand up for himself. Fredo is a pathetic soul who has a heart of gold underneath the flashy suits. Diane Keaton is also given more room here to prove herself as Kay. When her rage and disgust with Michael pours out and she reveals a secret that she has kept from Michael, you will simultaneously feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach and have goosebumps.
The Godfather Part II does run a bit long and the amount of ground that is covered is almost exhausting. The understandable absence of Marlon Brando is what knocks The Godfather Part II down just a peg for me. I still find the film absolutely flawless, from the technical aspects all the way down to the background performers, but I just miss his character so much. DeNiro does pad the blow of his absence and he gives one of the finest performances of his career. I do favor this installment’s darker tone over the originals and the original is a pretty gloomy film to begin with. Given the length, Coppola does divvy up the action expertly and never allows the film sag, making the film incredibly consistent. Much like The Godfather, The Godfather Part II is an undisputed classic in the cinema realm, earning just as much respect as the original, if not more. Many consider this to be even better than the original and I can understand why, with the plot thickening and its emotionally draining climax. Heavier than the original, with intensity and pessimism to spare, The Godfather Part II is a spectacular follow up, a true testament to epic filmmaking and storytelling.
The Godfather Part II is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 gangster epic The Godfather is without question one of the greatest films ever made. It’s so easy to see why so many people list this film in their top five films of all time. Not one frame of The Godfather seems like filler or like Coppola was having an off day when he made this flawless masterpiece. There is not one moment in the film where your eyes will wander from the screen or you will become antsy from its nearly three hour run time. It’s an absolutely riveting and extraordinary masterpiece, a harsh examination of family, loyalty, and the dark side of the American Dream. Incredibly influential, it laid the groundwork for the modern gangster dramas that trickle out from Hollywood every now and then, all secretly hoping that they may be the one that bests Coppola’s juggernaut. If you are someone who admires cinema, wishes to study the medium, or someone who works within it, The Godfather is a must-see film for both the technicalities and the story structure of Mario Puzo’s screenplay, which is based on Puzo’s own novel. If you are someone who is an acting buff, the film is a must-see for Marlon Brando’s legendary performance as Vito Corleone, the slurring Don who lurks in the shadows behind a desk and makes offers his victims cannot refuse. Hell, if you walk this earth and call yourself a human being, The Godfather should be required viewing.
The Godfather introduces us to Don Vito Corleone (Played by Marlon Brando), the head of a powerful organized crime family in 1945 New York. When an up and coming rival Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo (Played by Al Lettieri), who is backed by the Tattaglia crime family, comes to the Don for political and legal protection for his drug business, the Don refuses and voices his dislike for the drug importing business. Sollozzo and the Tattaglia family retaliate by attempting to kill the Don and several other affiliates of the Corleones but they only manage to severely wounding him. His loyal sons all rush to his side and his vicious eldest son Sonny (Played by James Caan) takes over the family business while the Don recovers. The Don’s beloved son Michael (Played by Al Pacino), a war hero who has just returned home from service in World War II, reluctantly begins helping the family and ends up lashing out against those responsible for the hit on his father. The reprisal sparks a deadly gang war that sends Michael into hiding along with his younger brother Fredo (Played by John Cazale), but as the war takes more lives and enemies of the Corleones close in, Michael realizes that he must return to protect his father and take over the family business.
The Godfather has a thick plot with quite a bit going happening on the side. Coppola introduces us to several characters throughout the epic runtime and at certain moments, the almost three hour runtime doesn’t seem long enough to cover all the ground that Coppola and Puzo need to. The film, however, isn’t impossible to follow and its accessibility adds to the allure of it. Coppola wins back viewers because there are so many characters; a second viewing is almost necessary just to put faces with names. You are left wanting more from secondary characters like the Corleone’s enforcer Luca Brazia (Played by Lenny Montana), Corleone’s godson Johnny Fontane (Played by Al Martino), the Don’s daughter Connie (Played by Talia Shire), her husband Carlo (Played by Gianni Russo), and the Don’s consigliere Tom Hagen (Played by Robert Duvall). There is also the detour to Sicily that Michael takes where he meets the beautiful Apollonia (Played by Simonetta Stefanelli), who we only see for a brief time.
The technical aspects of The Godfather add to its place in cinema history, a film that is packed with moody lighting, incredible set pieces, a lush trip to Sicily, and rich performances that have become legendary. Throughout most of the film, the characters sit in darkened rooms, offices, and dens, shrouded in shadows with only portions of their faces visible in an amber glow. This dark color palette Coppola uses when the mobsters meet behind closed doors compliments the shadowy subject matter that he is exploring. While the cinematography is grainy in comparison to what we have today, the film avoids looking dated due to being a period film. The set pieces never seem boastful or too grandiose, just subtle enough to let us know that we have taken a trip back in time. Most period films slip in minor showy details to remind you that you are watching a period film but The Godfather is an exception. The flashiest thing in The Godfather is some of the cars that you will see either parked or driven around. Coppola also scores points by taking a scenic journey to Sicily, waltzing through the peaceful and verdant countryside, giving us a slight break from all the paranoia and suspicion that is threaded through the film, but even this trip isn’t airtight.
The most memorable aspect of The Godfather is the performances by the two main actors. Marlon Brando is at his absolute best when he is making offers that can’t be refused. There is a moment halfway through the film when he calls a meeting with the other heads of the five rival families after the murder of someone very close to him. Slurring through Puzo’s silky dialogue, Brando shines brighter and brighter as the scene goes on. He lectures about his loss, his conservative perspective, and his readiness to forgive and move on from the pain that plagues him. It is without question my favorite Brando scene in the entire film. Pacino also checks in with a haunting metamorphosis from a disinterested son who is the apple of his father’s eye into a brooding, chilly, and obdurate gangster. The Don wants something better for his war hero son but he is inevitably drug down into the seedy underworld full of deceit and betrayal. Puzo and Coppola understand that this metamorphosis wouldn’t occur in the blink of an and they don’t demand that it does. Coppola lets his camera sit on Michael, allowing Pacino’s eyes to convey the deterioration of his morality and his soul.
The Godfather isn’t simply a bullet riddled gangster film. The film is a complicated study of family and loyalty, understanding that loyalty is far from a straightforward path. The Corleone family wants so much more for Michael but he gives up an honest life to keep the family business together. The further in he gets, the easier it is for him to embrace darkness. He will kill for this family, to protect them and uphold their name. The film also exposes the dark side of the American Dream, pulling it up like a rock that has been stuck in the dirt, exposing the worms and filth that lurk underneath. The American Dream, which consists of prosperity and success, isn’t obtained by always playing nice and to keep all that comes with the American Dream, you won’t always be able to play fair. It is virtually impossible to find anything wrong with The Godfather and it is completely deserving of its place near the top of the greatest works in cinema. There a few films in the history of motion pictures that are pitch perfect, without one misstep or questionable choice, that continues to stand the test of time. The Godfather is one of those films.
The Godfather is available on Blu-ray and DVD.