Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather, has sold over 21 million copies and spent 67 weeks on the bestseller list. The novel about New York’s most powerful organized crime family, the Corleones, is eternally greeted with open arms and enthusiasm; it’s impact still deeply entrenched in pop culture.
For the most part, reviews of the novel were positive and ranged from “fun fiction” to “shockingly believable.” Hal Burton of The Saturday Review wrote “…a staggering triumph…the definitive novel about a sinister fraternity of crime.”
And while most did hail the quality of the novel, some criticized Puzo’s glorification and romanticisation of the criminal characters, stating that he them too likeable. In a 1996 interview with the Associated Press, Mario Puzo addressed his portrayal of the Corleones, admitting that “with their emphasis on honor and family, I made the Mafia more romantic than the thuggery or buffoonery of the real thing.”
The film version of The Godfather was released in 1972 and was an astounding success. In fact, a negative review is difficult to find. Vincent Canby, in his New York Times review from 1972, wrote that “Coppola has made one of the most brutal and moving chronicles of American life designed within the limits of popular entertainment.” That review was one of the least enthusiastic I’ve come across. Most were along the lines of “From the ‘I believe in America’ speech to the final shot…this is near flawless film-making. ‘The Godfather’ is one of the greatest American movies” (Kevin A. Laforest, Montreal Film Journal). Even all the reviews submitted to commemorate the film’s re-release for its 25th Anniversary in 1997 showed the film had not lost any of its appeal. These were all equally positive, and often even more so. Somewhat ironic that perhaps like revenge, The Godfather may be a dish better served cold for all its heat and passion – it never seems to go out of style.
Now, perhaps I may be biased considering that The Godfather is my personal favourite trilogy of all time, thus meaning that I may overlook negative comments and reviews… But… Nah. It’s just timeless.
The Godfather Part II was released two years after the original and the reviews for the second instalment actually paint a different picture than those of the original. Although mostly very positive, hailing this film as the greatest sequel ever made, in general they tended to be mixed. Roger Ebert (one of my personal foes, although he knows nothing of my existence) of the Chicago Sun Times wrote in his review in 1975, “The stunning text of ‘The Godfather’ is replaced in ‘Part II’ with prologues, epilogues, footnotes, and good intentions.” Ebert gave the film 3 stars. SO rude. However, Ebert later added the film to his “Great Movies” list, stating that in conjunction with the original, it is a must see.
There was one review – by Dan Jardine of the Appollo Movie Guide – that I think perfectly illustrates the feeling The Godfather Part II evoked in many people. He wrote “The mother of all sequels: a film at once both greater and lesser than its predecessor.” Many know exactly what Mr. Jardine means – feeling a deep connection with the first installment of this trilogy, its characters, its music, its mood, one can only deepen the feeling by revisiting these people and those places.
And then there was The Godfather Part III. Yes, it is the least-looked upon of the trilogy and many thought it a huge disappointment, including myself. However, my least favourite reviewer Roger Ebert gave this film 3 1/2 stars and found it to be superior to Part II. He makes the very valid point that in comparison to Part I and II, Part III is mediocre. On its own merit, however, The Godfather Part III is far from a bad film.
Positive and negative reviews aside, the trilogy holds an impressive legacy. Together they received 28 Academy Award nominations and won 9, including the Best Picture Oscar for the first two films. The Godfather was the top grossing film of all time for three years running. Part II was the first sequel to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture and the first picture ever to receive 5 Oscar nominations for acting. Parts I & II are both on the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Greatest American Movies of All Time,” listed at #2 and # 32, respectively. Both I and II are on Roger Ebert’s list of Great Movies and was voted #7 on TV Guide Magazine’s list of “50 Greatest Movies on TV and Video” (August 8-14, 1998), The Godfather, Part II took top honors on that list, ranking #1. The Godfather was voted the “Greatest Film of All Time” by the readers of Entertainment Weekly; its sequel placed 6 rankings behind at #7. Both Parts I & II are on Time Magazine’s “All-Time 100 Best Films” and IGN FilmForce lists The Godfather as the #1 “Top Drama of All Time” with Part II as #7 on that list. And on and on – it is, in fact, difficult to see any “great films” list, whether by a fan or an established “expert” where one or both of these films is not listed or mentioned.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll be aware of how much I like to make lists of my favourite films and therefore how much of a #saddo I am. But fun lists aside, you cannot deny the legacy and greatness of this trilogy.