The Godfather

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Films

The Godfather
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by Albert Ruddy
Written by Novel:
Mario Puzo
Mario Puzo
Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Marlon Brando
Al Pacino
James Caan
Robert Duvall
Diane Keaton
Music by Nino Rota
Carmine Coppola
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Editing by Marc Laub
William H. Reynolds
Murray Solomon
Peter Zinner
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) March 15, 1972
Running time 175 min.
Country Flag of United States United States
Language English
Budget $6,000,000
Followed by The Godfather Part II
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

The Godfather is an Academy Award-winning 1972 crime film based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, with screenplay by Puzo and Coppola. The film stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and James Caan. The story spans ten years from late 1945 to 1955 and chronicles the Corleone Mafia family.

The Godfather is ranked as the third best American film in history by the American Film Institute, and is the top movie on the Internet Movie Database's Top 250 list. It is also the number one movie on Metacritic's top 100 list, and #7 on the Rotten Tomatoes all-time best list. It was subsequently followed with The Godfather Part II in 1974 and The Godfather Part III in 1990.


  • Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone — the head (the "Don") of the Corleone family. He is the father of Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Connie and surrogate father to Tom Hagen.
  • Al Pacino as Michael Corleone — the Don's youngest son, recently returned from military service following the end of World War II. He wants nothing to do with the Corleone family business.
  • James Caan as Sonny Corleone — Vito's hot-headed oldest son; he is being groomed to succeed his father as head of the Corleone family. He is the family's underboss.
  • Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen — an informally adopted son of Vito Corleone, he is also the family lawyer and the new consigliere (counselor).
  • Diane Keaton as Kay Adams — Michael's girlfriend.
  • John Cazale as Fredo Corleone — the middle son of Vito Corleone. Fredo is not very bright and appears to be a weakling and a bumbler.
  • Talia Shire as Connie Corleone — Vito Corleone's only daughter. She marries Carlo Rizzi.
  • Richard S. Castellano as Pete Clemenza — a caporegime for the Corleone Family.
  • Abe Vigoda as Sal Tessio — a caporegime for the Corleone Family.
  • Al Lettieri as Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo — a heroin dealer associated with the Tattaglia Mafia family.
  • Gianni Russo as Carlo Rizzi — marries Connie Corleone.
  • Sterling Hayden as Captain Mark McCluskey — a corrupt police captain in the pay of Sollozzo.
  • Lenny Montana as Luca Brasi — a strong-arm man utilized by Vito Corleone.
  • Richard Conte as Emilio Barzini— the don of the Barzini crime family., was killed by Al Neri.
  • Al Martino as Johnny Fontane — a world-famous popular singer and godson of Vito.
  • John Marley as Jack Woltz — a powerful Hollywood producer.
  • Alex Rocco as Moe Greene — he created Las Vegas from a desert stop-over for GIs.
  • Morgana King as Carmella Corleone — Vito's wife and mother of Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Connie.
  • John Martino as Paulie Gatto — A "button man" (soldier/hit man) and Vito's driver.
  • Victor Rendina as Philip Tattaglia— Don of The Tattaglia crime Family.
  • Simonetta Stefanelli as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone — A beautiful young girl whom Michael Corleone meets in Sicily.


Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

The film begins at the wedding of Don Vito Corleone's daughter Connie to Carlo Rizzi in late summer of 1945, on Long Island, New York. Because "no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day," Corleone, known to his friends and associates as "Godfather", and Tom Hagen (the Corleone family consigliere, or counselor) are preoccupied with hearing requests from friends and associates. Meanwhile, the Don's youngest son Michael, who has returned from World War II service as a highly decorated war hero, tells his girlfriend Kay Adams anecdotes about his father's criminal life, reassuring her that he is not like his family.

Among the guests at the celebration is famous singer Johnny Fontane, a godson of Corleone's, who has come from Hollywood to ask the Godfather's help in landing a movie role that will revitalize his flagging career. Jack Woltz, the head of the studio, refuses to give Fontane the part, and Hagen is sent to California to fix the problem. Woltz angrily tells Hagen that he will never cast Fontane in the role, which would be perfect for him, because he "ruined" a starlet that Woltz favored. The next morning, Woltz wakes up to find the bloody severed head of his prize stud horse in the bed with him.

Upon Hagen's return, the family meets with heroin dealer Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo, who has influence with the rival Tattaglia family. He asks Don Corleone for political protection and financing to start the mass importation and distribution of heroin but, despite the huge amount of money to be made, Corleone refuses. The Don's oldest son, hotheaded Sonny, breaks ranks during the meeting and indirectly expresses interest in the deal, for which his father later privately rebukes him.

After Don Corleone's refusal, Hagen is abducted by Sollozzo and his henchmen, while the Don himself is badly wounded during an assassination attempt, but survives. Sollozzo persuades Hagen to offer Sonny the deal previously offered to his father, but Sonny refuses to consider the deal, promising a war with the Tattaglias and Sollozzo. The Corleones now prepare for the likelihood of all-out warfare with the rest of the Five Families, who will unite against the Corleones.

Michael, who is recognized by the other Mafia families as a "civilian" in their conflict, visits his father in the hospital, but finds nobody guarding him. Realizing that his father is being set up to be killed, he moves him to another room, calls Sonny with a report, and goes outside to watch the door. After he has bluffed away some of Sollozzo's goons, police cars arrive with the corrupt Captain McCluskey, who breaks Michael's jaw with a single punch. Just then, Hagen shows up with "private detectives" licensed to carry guns to protect Don Corleone.

Following the attempt on his father's life at the Hospital, Michael volunteers to kill Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey, who is acting as Sollozzo's bodyguard. Sonny and the other senior members of the Corleone family are initially amused by Michael's supposed naiveté and Sonny admonishes him for reacting too personally and emotionally. However, Michael convinces them that killing Sollozo and McCluskey is in the family's interests ("It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.")

A meeting between Michael and Sollozo, with McCluskey attending, at a restaurant is arranged, ostensibly to discuss peace. Michael excuses himself to go to the restroom, retrieves a planted revolver, and executes Sollozzo and McCluskey with near- point-blank-range shots to the head. To avoid arrest for the murders, Michael is sent to Sicily, where he lives under the protection of a local Mafia Don. While there, he falls in love, then marries a local girl, Apollonia, who is subsequently murdered during an attempt on Michael's life.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Don Corleone returns home from the hospital and is distraught to learn that Michael was the one who killed Sollozzo and McCluskey. Some months later, in 1948, Sonny severely beats Carlo for hitting Connie. The next time Carlo beats her, Sonny drives off alone to find him and kill him. On the way, he is ambushed and machine-gunned to death.

Instead of seeking revenge for Sonny's killing, Don Corleone meets with the heads of the Five Families to arrange an end to the war. Not only is it draining all of their assets and threatening their survival, but ending the conflict is the only way that Michael can return home safely. Reversing his previous decision, Vito agrees that the Corleone family will provide political protection for Philip Tattaglia's traffic in heroin. At the meeting, Don Corleone realizes that Don Barzini, not Tattaglia, was responsible for the mob war.

With his safety guaranteed, Michael returns from Sicily. More than a year later, he reunites with his former girlfriend, Kay, telling her that he wants to marry her. With the Don semi-retired, Sonny dead and middle brother Fredo considered incapable of running the family business, Michael is now in charge, and he claims that the family business will soon be completely legitimate.

Clemenza and Tessio, two Corleone Family caporegimes (underbosses) complain that they are being pushed around by the Barzini Family and ask permission to strike back, but Michael refuses. With his father as consigliere, he plans to move the family operations to Nevada and after that, Clemenza and Tessio may break away to go on their own. Michael further promises that Connie's husband, Carlo, is going to be his right hand in Nevada, while Hagen will be the Family's Las Vegas lawyer.

In Las Vegas Michael is greeted by Fredo in the hotel-casino partly financed by the Corleones, run by Moe Greene. Michael explains to Johnny Fontane that the Family needs his help in persuading Johnny's friends in show business to sign long-term contracts to appear at the casino. In a meeting with Moe Greene, Michael offers to buy out Greene but is rudely rebuffed. Greene believes the Corleones are weak and that he can secure a better deal from Barzini.

Michael returns home. In a private meeting, Vito explains his expectation that the Family's enemies will attempt to kill Michael by using a trusted associate to arrange a meeting as a pretext for assassination. Shortly afterwards, Don Vito dies of a heart attack while playing with his young grandson in his tomato garden.

During the funeral, Tessio conveys a proposal for a meeting with Barzini, which identifies him as the traitor that Vito was expecting. Michael arranges the murders of Moe Greene, Philip Tattaglia, Emilio Barzini, Salvatore Tessio, Anthony Stracci, and Ottilio Cuneo, all to take place during the baptism of Connie and Carlo's second son, for whom he will be godfather. After the baptism, Michael confronts Carlo about Sonny's murder and tricks him into admitting his role in setting up the ambush. "Today," Michael tells him, "I settle all Family business." Michael informs Carlo that his punishment is to be excluded from the family business and hands him a plane ticket to exile in Nevada. Carlo gets into a car to go to the airport, and is strangled by Clemenza.

Later, Connie confronts Michael, accusing him of Carlo's murder. Kay questions Michael about Connie's accusation, but he refuses to answer. She insists, and Michael lies, assuring his wife that he had no role in Carlo's death. Kay is relieved by Michael's denial. As the film ends, she watches Clemenza and new caporegime Rocco Lampone pay their respects to Michael, kissing his hand and addressing him as "Don Corleone." The door closes as she sees that Michael has become the new Godfather.

Differences from the novel

One of the primary parts of Puzo's novel which was not used for the movie was the flashback story of Don Corleone's earlier life, including his arrival in America, marriage and fatherhood, Don Fanucci's murder, and his rise in importance in the mafia, all of which were later used in The Godfather Part II.

Many subplots were trimmed in the transition from the printed page to the screen, including: singer Johnny Fontane's misfortunes with women and his problems with his voice; Sonny's paramour Lucy Mancini's new-found love in Dr. Segal (a character entirely missing from the film), who not only repairs Lucy's loose vagina but puts Michael in touch with the surgeon who repairs Michael's facial bones (which had been damaged by Capt. McCluskey) and also operated on Johnny Fontane's vocal cords, thus restoring his singing voice; Jack Woltz' increasing pedophilia; Kay Adams's home life; Luca Brasi's demonic past; Don Corleone's ingenious plan used to take Michael out of exile in Sicily; the detailed attack on the two men who assaulted Bonasera's daughter, which was led by Paulie Gatto and was only alluded to in the film; and information about Fredo Corleone, indicating that his frantic seduction of showgirls is a coverup for deeply closeted homosexuality. (This theme is elaborated in Mark Winegardner's sequel The Godfather Returns.)

Characters with smaller roles in the film than in the novel include Johnny Fontane, Lucy Mancini, Rocco Lampone, and Al Neri (the latter two are reduced to non-speaking roles). Characters dropped in the film adaptation beside Dr. Segal include Genco Abbandando (only spoken of, he appears in The Godfather II), Nino Valenti (Johnny Fontane's "nice guy" friend, dying from alcoholism) and Dr. Taza from Sicily. Also, in the book, Michael and Kay have two sons, but in the movies they have a son and a daughter.

The novel and film also differ on the fates of Michael's bodyguards in Sicily, Fabrizio and Calo. The film has them both surviving (Calo, in fact, appears in the third installment). In the book, however, Calo dies along with Apollonia in the car explosion, and Fabrizio dies at the end as one more victim in the famous "baptism scene", shot in his restaurant in America after he's traced and found (he is killed in a scene in The Godfather Saga, which was deleted from The Godfather: Part II).

The ending of the book differs from the end of the movie: whereas in the film Kay suddenly realizes that Michael has become "like his family," the drama is toned down in the book, where Tom Hagen lets her in on secrets for which, according to him, he would be killed should Michael find out. During the film's baptism scene, the heads of the remaining four of five families are assassinated. In the novel, only Barzini and Tattaglia, previously at war with the Corleones, are killed.

Spoilers end here.


Coppola and Paramount

Francis Ford Coppola was not the first choice to direct, as at least two other directors were approached first. Italian director Sergio Leone was offered the job, but he declined on the basis that he did not find the story interesting. (He went on to direct his own gangster opus, Once Upon a Time in America, which focused on Jewish-American gangsters.) At the time, Coppola had directed eight previous films, the most notable of which was the film version of the stage musical Finian's Rainbow — although he had also received an Academy Award for co-writing Patton in 1970. Coppola was in debt to Warner Bros. for $400,000 following budget over-runs on George Lucas' THX-1138, which Coppola had produced, and he took The Godfather on Lucas' advice.

There was intense friction between Coppola and the studio, Paramount Pictures, and several times Coppola was almost replaced. Paramount maintains that its skepticism was due to a rocky start to production, though Coppola believes that the first week went extremely well. Paramount thought that Coppola failed to stay on schedule, frequently made production and casting errors, and insisted on unnecessary expenses. Coppola says, in the DVD commentary, that he was shadowed by a replacement director, who was ready to take over the minute Coppola was fired, but despite such intense pressure, Coppola managed to defend his decisions and avoid being replaced.


Coppola's casting choices were not popular with the studio executives at Paramount Pictures, particularly Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone. Paramount, which wanted Laurence Olivier (who was unable to take the part due to health problems), originally refused to allow Coppola to cast Brando in the role, citing the difficulties Brando had had on recent film sets. At one point, Coppola was told by the then president of Paramount that "Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture." After pleading with the executives, Coppola was allowed to cast Brando on the condition that he appear in the film for much less salary than his previous films, that he perform a screen-test, and that he put up a bond saying that he would not cause a delay in the production (as he had done on previous film sets). Coppola chose Brando over Ernest Borgnine, as the former won him over with his screen test. Brando went on to win an Academy Award for his portrayal.

The studio originally wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O'Neal to play Michael Corleone, but Coppola wanted an unknown who looked like an Italian-American, who he found in Al Pacino. Pacino was not well known at the time, and the studio did not consider him right for the part, in part because of his height. Pacino was given the role only after Coppola threatened to quit the production. Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Martin Sheen, and James Caan also auditioned. Elvis Presley was also interested in the role, but did not audition.

Before Robert Duvall was cast, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were considered for the role of Tom Hagen.

A then unknown Robert De Niro auditioned for the roles of Michael, Sonny, Carlo and Paulie Gatto. He was cast as Paulie, but Coppola arranged a "trade" with Bang the Drum Slowly to get Al Pacino from that film.

Sylvester Stallone auditioned for Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto, Anthony Perkins for Sonny, and Mia Farrow auditioned for Kaye. William Devane was seen for the role of Moe Greene.

Coppola cast his infant daughter, Sofia, as Connie and Carlo's newborn son, Michael Francis Rizzi, in the climactic baptism scene near the movie's end. Sofia Coppola played roles in the later Godfather movies. In Part II, she plays a nameless immigrant girl on the ship that brings Vito Corleone to New York. In Part III, she plays a major speaking role: that of Michael Corleone's daughter Mary. Coppola also cast his sons as Frank and Andrew Hagen, the two sons of Tom Hagen. They can be seen in the Sonny-Carlo streetfight scene and behind Al Pacino and Robert Duvall during the funeral scene.

Star salaries

Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton all received $35,000 for their work on The Godfather, and Robert Duvall got $36,000 for eight weeks of work. Marlon Brando, on the other hand, was paid $50,000 for six weeks and weekly expenses of $1,000, plus 5% of the film, capped at $1.5 million. Brando later sold his points back to Paramount for $300,000.


Most of the principal photography took place from March 29, 1971 to August 6, 1971, although a scene with Pacino and Keaton was shot in the autumn — there were a total of 77 days of shooting, fewer than the 83 for which the production had budgeted.

Locations around New York City and its environs were used for the film, as well as the Sicilian towns of Savoca and Forza d'Agrò outside of Taormina. At least one location in Los Angeles was used also (for the exterior of Woltz' mansion). A scene with Pacino and Keaton was filmed in the town of Ross, CA. Interiors were shot at Filmways Studio in New York.

One of the movie's most shocking moments comes early, involving the real severed head of a horse. Animal rights groups protested the inclusion of the scene. Coppola later stated that the horse's head was delivered to him from a dog food company; a horse had not been killed specifically for the movie.


Argentina:  15
Australia:  PG
Austria:  15
Belgium:  PG
Brazil:  12
Canada ( Brit.Col):  11
Canada (Alberta):  12+
Canada (Manitoba):  PA
Canada ( Ontario):  AA
Canada ( Maritime):  15
Canada (Quebec):  13+
Canada ( Home Vid.):  18
Chile:  18
Colombia:  18
Denmark:  15
Finland:  K-15
France:  -12
Germany:  16
Hong Kong:  IIB
Iceland:  16
India:  11
Israel:  PG
Italy:  VM14
Japan:  R-12
Mexico:  C
Netherlands:  9+
New Zealand:  R18
Norway:  15
Peru:  15
Poland:  PG
Portugal:  M/18
Singapore:  12
South Korea:  15
Spain:  13
Sweden:  15
Taiwan:  PG
United Kingdom:  18
United States:  R

The Godfather received its American release on March 24, 1972. Internationally, its release dates were:


The film is greatly respected among international critics and the public. It was voted greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, and #3 of all time by the American Film Institute. It has consistently ranked #1 on IMDb's Top 250. In the 2002 Sight & Sound poll of international critics, it was ranked as the 4th best film of all time. Both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II have been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. This is not the case for the third installment in the "Godfather" trilogy.

The soundtrack's main theme by Nino Rota was also critically acclaimed; the main theme ( Speak Softly Love) is well-known and widely used. It is the personal favorite film of many film critics including Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, Charles Taylor of Salon and Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper.

The Godfather was released on March 24, 1972, and was an enormous box office hit, smashing previous records to become the highest grossing film of all time (until that record was broken by Jaws in 1975). It made USD $5,264,402 in its opening weekend and went on to gross $81,500,000 in its initial run; nearly fourteen times its budget and marketing campaign. Re-releases boosted its North American total to $134 million.

The Godfather won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando refused to accept the award and sent actress Sacheen Littlefeather in his stead to the Oscars to explain why) and Best Writing (adapted screenplay) (Francis Coppola, Mario Puzo). The film was nominated for eight additional Academy Awards. Furthermore, it won five Golden Globes, one Grammy, and numerous other awards. Nino Rota's music score for the film was initially nominated for an Oscar, but was subsequently withdrawn when it was discovered that Rota recycled some of the music he had written for an obscure 1958 Italian film Fortunella.

Stanley Kubrick believed that The Godfather was possibly the greatest movie ever made, and without question the best cast.

Cinematic influence

Although many films about gangsters had been made prior to The Godfather, Coppola's sympathetic treatment of the Corleone family and their associates, and his portrayal of mobsters as characters of considerable psychological depth and complexity was hardly usual in the genre. This was even more the case with The Godfather: Part II, and the success of those two films, critically, artistically and financially, opened the doors for more and varied depictions of mobster life, including films such as Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and TV series such as David Chase's The Sopranos.

The image of the Mafia as being a feudal organization with the Don being both the protector of the small fry and the collector of obligations from them to repay his services, which The Godfather helped to popularize, is now an easily recognizable cultural trope, as is that of the Don's family as a "royal family". (This has spread into the real world as well -- cf. John Gotti — the "Dapper Don", and his celebritized family.) This portrayal stands in contrast to the more sordid reality of lower level Mafia "familial" entanglements, as depicted in various post-Godfather mafia fare, such as Scorsese's Mean Streets and Casino, and also to the grittier hard-boiled pre-Godfather films.

Influence on popular culture

The Godfather along with the other films in the trilogy, had a strong impact on the public at large. Don Vito's line, "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse" was voted as the second most memorable line in cinema history in a 2005 poll, called AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes by the American Film Institute. It is often used in a humorous way.

Reports from Mafia trials and confessions suggest that Mafia families began a "real life" tradition of paying respect to the family don by kissing his ring, in imitation of the ending scene of the movie. There is no evidence of this custom being mentioned prior to the movie.

An indication of the continuing influence of The Godfather and its sequels can be gleaned from the many references to it which have appeared in every medium of popular culture in the decades since the film's initial release. That these hommages, quotations, visual references, satires and parodies continue to pop up even now shows clearly the film's enduring impact.

Sequels and adaptations

The Godfather Part II

A sequel, The Godfather Part II, was released in 1974. It consists of two parallel storylines, with the focus switching between the two. The first storyline follows Michael Corleone in the late 1950s, as he deals with a decaying marriage and a growing gambling empire; the other is a flashback sequence following his father Vito, from his youth in Sicily through the founding of the Corleone crime family in New York and the births of his children. The main theme is the contrast between Michael struggling to legitimize the family business, and Vito building his criminal enterprise. Vito is played by different actors at different ages, but the adult Vito is played by Robert De Niro, who won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for a role in which he speaks almost no English dialogue. De Niro and Brando remain the only actors to win Oscars for playing the same character. Many critics consider the sequel to be superior to the original film in quality, one of the few film sequels to achieve such acclaim.

The Godfather Part III

In 1990, Coppola released the third film in the saga, The Godfather Part III, which was a commercial success, but critical and fan response was mixed. However, the movie still received seven Academy Award nominations, among them Best Picture and Best Cinematography. The film is also notable for the key role played by Coppola's daughter, future Academy Award winning filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who was asked to play Mary Corleone on short notice after Winona Ryder became ill. The movie was set in 1979, and focused on an aging Michael Corleone. Parts of the film were very loosely based on real historical events concerning the very short papacy of John Paul I in 1978, and the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in 1982.

Chronological versions

In 1977, Coppola edited The Godfather and The Godfather Part II together for TV, putting the scenes in chronological order and adding some previously unseen footage, but also toning down the violence. This version of the story was called The Godfather Saga. In 1992, Coppola created another chronological version, this time including Part III as well, for a direct-to-video release that had a running time of 583 minutes. This version also incorporated new previously deleted scenes that had not been seen in The Godfather Saga.

DVD release

The Godfather was released on DVD for the first time on October 9, 2001 as part of a DVD package called The Godfather DVD Collection. The collection contained all three films with commentary from Francis Ford Coppola and a bonus disc that featured a new 73 minute documentary titled The Godfather Family: A Look Inside, plus a 1971 documentary. The package also contained deleted footage, including the additional scenes originally contained in The Godfather Saga; "Francis Coppola's Notebook" a look inside a notebook the director kept with him at all times during the production of the film; rehearsal footage; and video segments on Gordon Willis' cinematography, Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola's music, Francis Ford Coppola, locations and Mario Puzo's screenplays. The DVD also held a Corleone family tree, a "Godfather" timeline, and footage of the Academy Award acceptance speeches.

Video game

In March 2006, a video game version of The Godfather was released by Electronic Arts. Prior to his death, Marlon Brando provided voice work for Vito, however, due to poor sound quality from Brando's failing health, a sound-alike's voice had to be used instead. James Caan, Robert Duvall and Abe Vigoda lent their voices and likenesses as well, and several other Godfather cast members had their likeness in the game. Francis Ford Coppola said in April 2005 that he was not informed and did not approve of Paramount allowing the game's production, and openly criticized the move.

Retrieved from ""