Evening Standard from London, Greater London, England on August 24, 1972 · 22
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Evening Standard from London, Greater London, England · 22

London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Thursday, August 24, 1972
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COLOUR Walker’s Godfather 22— EVENING STANDARD THURSDAY AUGUST 24 1072 Violence is a family business Vlir f v j3r from the herbs of four continents macerated in oaken vats Pour yourself a generous measure add chunks of ice slice of orange and top it up with a shoosh of soda Then very slowly and deliberately empty the glass Magnificat! 1 'f- n : l - '"'r FAR LEFT: Godfather’s last game — Bnido onnge peel between his teeth plays the bogeyman for his grandson LEFT: The violent death of the Godfather’s eldest son 4 FILM: The Godfather (Cert X: 175 mins) Paramount Universal Empire ABC I DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola STARS: Marlon Brando Al Pacino I SUPPOSE “ blood" Is the chief element In The Godfather Not only the amount of it you see on the screen But the blood ties between the members of the Mafia family— end the blood that the family spills in defence of its unity in the protection of its power to lay down the larw the Mafia law in American society Often the two go rivefflngly together with a vividness that conveys an unforgettable sense of shock The film begins and ends with two holy rituals — a wedding and a baptism — that are interleaved with violence And this conflict between the sacred and the profane runs right through director Francis Ford Coppola’s dynastic story of the fall of Don Vito Corleone The Godfather (Marlon Brando) and the rise of his son Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) Outside in the blinding sun- court and agrees to perform acts of vengeance for supplicant fellow-Italians who find the American law offers them no redress for the private wrongs done their honour or their businesses Thus the film drives home the first of its cynical truths: that in this day and age when the machinery of the Law often delays Justice it is attractive to turn to an organisation like the Mafia which metes out revenge — a “kind of wild justice” as Bacon called it — in return for total obedience And at the end of the film Michael the new “Godfather” attends the christening of his "godson” while his henchmen move out among the members of a rival Mafia gang and slay (hem in one of the most chilling blood-baths shown on the cinema screen The vow to renounce Satan alternates crudely but stunningly with the delivery of an enemy’s soul to its Maker by the quick pressure of a trigger finger This sense of ritual is what permeates The Godfather and gives a sense of dynastic structure to the plot a feeling of epic continuance to what could hare been Just a random series of gangster atrocities Running nearly three hours without an interval it sets down roots in society It shows organised crime to be the passport to the American Dream which the immigrant Sicilian ” Godfather ” wrote out for himself In one central sequence when son Michael has to flee to Sicily to escape a gang vendetta— an Immigrant In reverse— the film sums up vividly through his courtship of an Italian girl the code of honour revenge and instant justice which was carried on the emigrant boats to America Only a film as long and essentially as serious as this one could have afforded such a vital analysis of the “ morality " of the Mafia It explains the inexorable ic with which Michael the lege-educated boy is drawn Into the family business of crime by Alexander Walker And because it Is a “business” the violence in the film takes on a peculiar justification It isn’t the prodding titillating " come and enjoy jit ” kind It is dispensed w-Jh awesome impersonality — as “per contract” you might say to people who expect it “There's nothing personal in this” becomes the gruesome prelude to a liquidation but it's only stating the truth This is business efficiency in action Such an ethos enabled The Godfather to include a multitude of violent episodes The garrotting of a henchman while his gun hand is pinioned to a bar counter by a stiletto : the vendetta that blows holes in Sonny ( James Ca&n) the short-temdored Sftfl ftk broV daylight the revenge that Michael takes on a crooked police chief (Sterling Hayden) ana his Mafia paymaster over the coffee in a trattoria the strangling of a brother-in-law mercifully masked from us by the car windscreen until his agonised reflex shatters the laminated glass Yes I suppose it is heightened even glamorised — the police harassment of the Mafia Is conspicuously absent in the film whereas in real life the Mafia chiefs live lives of constraint and watchfulness Volcano Even though you must be tired of reading about Brando’s triumph as the Godfather how the king has regained his throne it really is that — an extraordinary performance He’s introduced in the first shot with his back to us Gradually the circling camera reveals a transplanted volcano —a volcano that’s grown cold over the years but one that retains its brooding power The eyes are nearly sightless —they look through not at a person — the head sits like a meteorite on the shoulders the voice Is a quiet wheeze It takes five minutes to get your bearings on this conception: then it's hypnotic Oddly enough he doesn’t seem inwardly wicked Simply a man made by his times as the monster ww made by Frankenstein In his magnificently down-beat death scene when he grandson ability suggests the frailty of evil But Brando Isn't the whole film If he delivers the goods then Al Pacino as his heir in the Mafia is the bonus It is Pacino's coldly effective style which makes plausible the transition of the boy from a “respectable ” member of the family to the new head of it coldly proclaiming that it's “business as usual” as he moves the head-' uarters west from New York to e casino empires of Las Vegas With Its attention to period-even the colour looks like the 1940s— and its sureness in every detail The Godfather shows that there Is still life in the massive production engineering which made Hollywood studios the wonder of the entertainment world in their great days

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