“Humoresque” (1946) starring John Garfield & Joan Crawford

Sid [to Paul]: You’ll do all right. You have all the characteristics of a successful virtuoso. You’re self-indulgent, self-dedicated, and a hero of all your dreams.

Paul Boray (John Garfield) comes from a working-class background; he and his family live above their humble grocery store in NYC. Paul has been playing the violin since he was 11 y.o. (which his mother supports). Paul’s father has a hint of an European accent; he’s skeptical re: his son’s musical potential. A section of the story is told in flashback; a very young Robert Blake plays Paul. While his older siblings work their retail jobs, as a young adult, Paul lives for his music and wants to become a concert violinist. One of Paul’s classmates at the National Institute of Music, Gina (Joan Chandler- her first role), has strong feelings for him; they have a connection and live in the same neighborhood. Like many young people, Paul is idealistic and feels that talent itself will take him to where he wants to go. Paul has potential, but he doesn’t have the right connections, his best friend/pianist Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant) explains.

Helen: Bad manners, Mr. Boray, the infallible sign of talent.

At a high society party w/ Sid, Paul meets Helen (Joan Crawford) and Victor (Paul Cavanagh) Wright, the wealthy/influential hosts. Victor (who is older) is perceptive, but also weak man; Helen is strong-minded, yet insecure (and relies on alcohol). Helen becomes Paul’s patroness; she finds him a manager, helps him choose a new suit, and sets up his first public recital. Eventually, Paul embarks on a concert tour and becomes a big success. Paul and Helen also fall in love, but it is a destructive type of love that may risk Paul’s career… and maybe more!

Sid: Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?

“Humoresque” is a must-see for classic film fans, esp. those who like classical music. You hear pieces by Dvorak, Chopin (Etude in G-flat major), Wagner (Tristan and Idolde), Bizet (Carmen), etc. Garfield’s violin “performances” were actually played by two pro violinists standing on either side of him, one moving the bow and one doing the fingering. The music was performed by Isaac Stern; in closeups of the hands alone playing the violin, those are his hands. Levant did all his own piano playing. The screenplay (written by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold) has great dialogue (w/ memorable lines); the movie is based on a short story by Fanny Hurst.

Helen: I spend my life doing penance for things I never should have done in the first place.

Garfield (then 33), a Method actor, tried to get an emotional bond w/ the character Crawford (42 y.o.) played by looking deeply in her eyes. This unnerved Crawford, who told director Joe Negulesco: “Tell him to stop looking at me!” LOL, but they have some great onscreen chemistry! Garfield had just come off filming The Postman Always Rings Twice (his most well-known role). While working on this movie, Crawford won the Best Actress Oscar for Mildred Pierce. There is some gorgeous B&W photography here, as well as some creatively framing shots. After sparring w/ Paul for the first time, Helen goes to the bar in the next room to make herself a drink; then we see Paul framed as if he’s inside her brandy glass. Looking back, we realize that Paul also became her addiction. Check this film out- you won’t regret it!

[1] As Helen, Joan Crawford gives her greatest performance and she should have been nominated for Best Actress that year. John Garfield is also at top of his form and he certainly is a good match for Miss Crawford. 

[2] A from rags to riches tale with an extra something. The extra something here is Clifford Odetts, the language is as pungent as its pace. The truth in John Garfield’s face rises everything several notches but, perhaps, the biggest surprise… is Joan Crawford’s performance. …she’s rounded and brilliant, torn between who she is and who she would like to be.

[3] ]This film is an outstanding example of the “noir” qualities which were a hallmark of the 30’s to the early 50’s – from the earlier stages of talking pictures, through the depression and post-WW II years. Joan Crawford was one of the two best (along with Bette Davis) at portraying this type of cold, possessive, and thoroughly selfish, powerful female presence.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Godfather: Part II” (1974) starring Al Pacino & Robert De Niro

[Don Cicci is threatening to kill young Vito]

Signora Andolini: But Vito is only nine. And dumb-witted. The child cannot harm you.

The early buzz on The Godfather (1972) was so positive that a sequel was planned before filming ended. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the entire script over a weekend b/c Al Pacino said he didn’t like the original and wouldn’t do the film. Later, he admitted to Coppola that he hadn’t actually disliked the first script all that much, but knew it could be better. Pacino was paid $500,000 plus a 10% share of the profits; he’d earned only $25,000 for the first film. Since Coppola had such a difficult time directing The Godfather, he asked to pick a different director for the sequel (and take the title of producer for himself). He chose Martin Scorsese, but the film executives rejected the idea; Coppola agreed to direct again and was given a lot of creative freedom.

Only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in Mario Puzo’s book. The story re: Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is unique to the film. De Niro (just 30 y.o.) had screen tested for Sonny; Coppola was so impressed that he called him back again to audition for Vito. De Niro (who is 25% Italian) lived in Sicily for 3 mos. and studied the Sicilian language for 4 mos. – wow! This was the first sequel to receive 5 Academy Award noms for acting: Talia Shire (Best Actress in a Suporting Role), Lee Strasberg (Best Actor in a Supporting Role), Michael V. Gazzo (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) and Pacino (Best Actor); De Niro took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Sen. Geary: I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself. You and your whole f*****g family.

Michael: We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.

The communion party here is a stark contrast to Connie’s wedding in Part I; it is out on Lake Tahoe (and for show/publicity), lacks culture (Frank Pentangeli laments that there is no traditional Italian food/songs), and (above all) seems emotionally cold. Sen. Geary (G.D. Spradlin) intentionally mispronounces “Corleone.” There is the awkward photoshoot w/ the donation check Michael gave to the local university. Before he died, Vito admitted to Michael that he hoped he’d a “big shot” who “pulled the strings” (like a governor or senator). We see Michael rebuffing the demands of the (openly racist) Sen. Geary, and making demands of his own. He is seeking respectability (still) and also trying to expand his empire to Cuba (w/ the help of Hyman Roth, played by renown acting teacher Lee Strasberg). Pacino requested that Strasberg take on this role, as he admired the man’s talent so much!

[during the play ‘Senza Mamma’]

Genco Abbandando: Vito, how do you like my little angel? Isn’t she beautiful?

Vito Corleone: She’s very beautiful. To you, she’s beautiful. For me, there’s only my wife and son.

In flashback, we see the life of young Vito Andolini; his father was killed for insulting a powerful man, Don Cicci. Soon after, his older brother (in hiding) was killed. When his mother (boldly) appealed to Don Cicci, she was shot/killed also. Vito was hidden by some (brave) neighbors and travelled alone to Ellis Island. The clerk thinks that Vito’s surname is the name of his hometown (Corleone). Then the boy is put into quarantine for several weeks in a tiny room from where he can see the Statue of Liberty. Wow, what an impactful series of scenes (w/o much dialogue)!

Michael Corleone: My father taught me many things here – he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

As one astute reviewer noted: “The Godfather Part II is not really a movie about the mafia, it is a movie about a man’s life long struggle.” While Vito’s empire was built on respect, Michael’s empire is built on fear. Look at the way Michael treats his own family- yikes! He doesn’t even acknowledge the fiance of his younger sister Connie (who he compares to a “whore”). Connie (Talia Shire) has lived overseas, trying to escape issues at home; she hasn’t spent much time w/ her kids (which concerns Mama). As for older brother Fredo (John Cazale), he’s still handling the hotel/casino end of the business, but wants to do more. His blonde/buxom wife gets drunk and flirts openly w/ other men. Michael is embarrassed by her behavior; Fredo is emasculated as he can’t control his wife (w/o intervention from bodyguards). There is an (obvious) distance between Michael and his adopted older brother/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), who is no longer privy to certain aspects of the biz. Kay (Diane Keaton) is still around, BUT we can sense the tension in the marriage; Michael had promised her that the biz would be “legitimate” several years ago. Then there is the audacious shooting in their bedroom; hitmen were able to come onto the estate w/o being noticed!

Vito Corleone: I make him an offer he don’ refuse. Don’ worry.

In 1920, Vito is already married w/ a baby son (Sonny) and delivering groceries in Little Italy; he is a quiet and observant young man. His best friend Genco (Frank Sivero) takes him to a show to see the actress he has a crush on. They see a flashily-dressed local man, Don Fanucci (Gaston Moschin), threatening the actress and her father backstage w/ a knife; Genco said they need to get out of there. It turns out that Don Fanucci is pushing around local businessmen; Vito loses his job b/c his boss (who is like a father to him) is forced to hire the don’s nephew. Vito handles this disappointment well, not even taking the box of food offered to him. We sense that somehow he will find a way to provide for this family. Enter Clemenza (a very young Bruno Kirby- best known for When Harry Met Sally), who is a petty criminal who asks Vito for help. Vito seizes the opportunity, hiding a bedsheet folded up w/ handguns in his apt.

This is NOT your typical sequel; it’s a mix of a sequel and prequel (as many viewers have commented). The two stories have distinct looks, as they take place in different time periods (mainly the early 1920s and late 1950s), and b/c of their different tones. Though Michael’s world is much bigger in scope than young Vito’s, it lacks the warmth of a happy home/family and close friendships/connections. Michael has distanced himself so far from his Italian/immigrant roots that he no longer recognizes the values of his father’s generation. Is Michael the villain and Vito the hero (some viewers have wondered)? De Niro (youthful/slim/handsome) knows how to play subtlety; he just becomes the character! You will even see a few gestures that Brando used, but they come off as natural.

[1] Al Pacino’s performance is quiet and solemn… He is cold and ruthless, with a whole contrast from the idealistic innocent war hero we initially met at the beginning of the first film…

De Niro’s rise, from an orphan child by a family feud back in Italy to a hood in New York and his position as a respected Don, provides a welcome break from Pacino’s relentless attitude…

[2] Al Pacino is the standout in the ensemble cast and its amazing how his eyes have changed from the first part. They are now cold , ruthless and unemotional and betray the price which Michael Corleone has paid for power.

[3] Without spoiling, I will simply say the Robert De Niro as the young Vito is the best acting performance of all time, a role for which he won a richly deserved Oscar.

[4] Nino Rota’s musical score plays an even greater role in this equal but different successor than it did in the predecessor. Yearning, lamenting, stimulating bygone ages, see how infectiously Nino Rota’s music affects our sentiments for the savage events on screen. It is the pulse of the films.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Last of the Mohicans” – Director’s Definitive Cut (1992) starring Daniel Day-Lewis

British Officer: You call yourself a patriot, and loyal subject to the Crown?

Hawkeye: I do not call myself subject to much at all.

In what is now upstate NY in 1757, the last members of a Native American tribe, the Mohicans- Uncas (Eric Schweig), his father Chingachgook (Russel Means- an activist in his first movie) and his adopted white brother Hawkeye AKA Nathaniel Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis)- live in peace alongside British colonists. They hunt a deer and bring it to the (log-cabin) home of their friends- the Cameron family. The two daughters of a British colonel named Munro (Maurice Roeves)- Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice (Jodhi May- at just 16 y.o.)- travel from London to visit their father. In Boston, they’re met by their friend, Major Duncan Heyward (Steve Waddinton), who wants to marry Cora. They didn’t realize that it this was a dangerous time to come to this region, b/c their father’s letters were intercepted. When Cora and Alice are kidnapped by Col. Munro’s traitorous scout, Magua (Wes Studi- a scene-stealer), Hawkeye and Uncas go to rescue them in the crossfire of the French and Indian War.

Maj. Duncan Heyward: I thought all our colonial scouts were in the militia. The militia is fighting the French in the north.

Hawkeye: I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia.

The screenplay was written by Michael Mann (who also directed) and Christopher Crowe; it was adapted in part from The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826), a novel by James Fenimore Cooper, as well as the 1936 film adaptation The Last of the Mohicans. DDL (who is a Method actor) lived in the forests (North Carolina- where this film was shot) where his character might have lived, hunting and fishing for several months. The shoot employed more than 900 Native Americans from all over the US, mostly from the Cherokee tribes. Schweig (just 25 y.o.) is of Inuit and German heritage from Canada. Means (then age 55) was chosen my Mann for his role, though not a professional actor! He was of Ogala/Lakota Sioux heritage and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Duncan: You there, Scout! We must rest soon, the women are tired.

Magua: No, two leagues, better water. We stop there.

Duncan: No, we’ll stop in the glade just ahead. When the ladies are rested, we will proceed. Do you understand?

Magua: [speaking Huron] Magua understands that the white man is a dog to his women. When they are tired, he puts down his tomahawk to feed their laziness.

Duncan: Excuse me, what did you say?

Magua: Magua say… he understand the English very well.

Magua (who is a compelling villian w/ an interesting backstory) explains to Gen. Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau) that his village was burned and children killed by English soldiers. He was taken a slave by a Mohawk warrior who fought for Col. Munro (Grey Hair). Magua’s wife believed he was dead, so she became the the wife of another man. To gain his freedom, Magua became “blood brothers” w/ the Mohawk, though he “stayed Huron in his heart.” He believes his “heart will be whole again when the Grey Hair and his seed are dead.”

Cora: l don’t know what to say, Duncan. l truly wish they did, but my feelings don’t – don’t go beyond friendship. Don’t you see?

Duncan: Respect and friendship. lsn’t that a reasonable basis for a man and a woman to be married? And all else may grow in time?

Cora: Some say that’s the way of it.

On my recent re-watch (I hadn’t seen this since H.S. ELA class), I noticed the (quiet) feminism of Cora. She (gently) refuses to marry Duncan b/c she doesn’t love him; she is protective of the (more fragile) Alice (even talking a pistol from a dead soldier for protection); she helps in the infirmary at the fort; and stands up for Hawkeye (before he is imprisoned for “sedition”). Also, you have to admit that Stow and DDL look great together and have sizzling chemistry! One of the best things about this movie is its music, incl. the love theme (which was inspired by a then-modern Irish song that Mann’s wife liked).

Cora Munro: Why were those people living in this defenseless place?

Hawkeye: After seven years indentured service in Virginia, they headed out here ’cause the frontier’s the only land available to poor people. Out here, they’re beholden to none. Not living by another’s leave.

Though there is the romance between Cora and Hawkeye, this movie is also bring to mind the ideals of Romanticism, where man’s most spiritual attribute was his imagination, nature was imbued w/ the divine, and the best life was stepping to one’s personal drummer. While Duncan stands for British imperialism (the old world), Hawkeye represents American individualism (the new world). Cora admits to Hawkeye that this frontier is very “stirring” to her, perhaps revealing that she’s ready for something new in her life (love).

[1] The love story I liked better was the one played in the background, an story that is absent, yet strongly felt throughout the movie. I am referring to the love story between Eric Schweig’s character, Uncas and Alice Munro, played by Jodhi May. It is the subtleness and the overtone-nature of the love that builds in us a sense of involvement.

Wes Studi is probably the fiercest villain I have seen on screen. His mere presence builds an acute level of intimidation. The character portrayal is flawless, and the casting done is excellent.

[2] “The Last of the Mohicans” was one of the most popular and acclaimed films of 1992. Its vision of early America, as it was during the French and Indian War, is captured in its utter brutality and beauty, complete with the many driving ambitions and clashing cultures of everyone involved.

This movie has a bit of everything, including action, romance, war, and passionate drama.

[3] Yes, there are many battle scenes, great reenactment of the scenery of the novel, and villains in all camps that provide the stormy progress of the novel. But it is in the quiet moments where Chingachgook speaks about the Great Spirit, the sanctity of nature, and his waiting to join the Great Council in the sky as the last of the Mohicans that the film’s power is best communicated. The acting is very fine and the cinematography is splendid.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Remains of the Day” (1993) starring Anthony Hopkins & Emma Thompson

There’s nothing to being a butler, really; when you’re in the room, it should be even more empty. -Cyril Dickman, former butler (for 50 yrs) at Buckingham Palace

In pre-WWII England, the duty-bound head butler at Darlington House, Stevens (Anthony Hopkins- age 55 and at the top of his game), meets his (potential) match in a young housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson- just 33 and already quite accomplished). Stevens oversees a staff of over 30 servants; Miss Kenton is second-in-charge (though she isn’t afraid to stand up to him when he is wrong). Stevens’ elderly father (Peter Vaughn, best known for Game of Thrones) works as an under-butler, though he is in failing health. The young nephew of Lord Darlington (James Fox), Mr. Cardinal (Hugh Grant), worries that his uncle is making the wrong decisions. (Grant once stated that this movie was the best one that he ever made.) Leaders from various nations gather at the house for an important conference, incl. the American senator, Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve- a fine performance and looking gorgeous). The possibility of love and his master’s involvement w/ the cause of appeasement (w/ the Nazis) challenge Stevens’ orderly little world, as well as the world-at-large!

...as a bit like a priest who puts his life almost on an altar. He serves his lord unconditionally, and in this case, his lord is literally a Lord (Darlington). Perhaps it’s a mentality that we don’t know so well in the United States, except in the military, or indeed, in the priesthood. Within Stevens’ life there is a very, very small area that is his, and the rest of the time he belongs to, or is committed to, a larger idea, or ideal: that of unquestioning service to an English aristocrat: his master, right or wrong. -James Ivory, director (describing Stevens)

Stevens is a devoted man. He’s very conscientious of his duties, but he never wants to express himself too loudly. He has been trained since birth to know his place, never to speak out. That is one of the things which is sad about the film. Stevens has lost the opportunity in life. He wanted Miss Kenton, but he never could come to express his feelings to her. If you are not ready to express yourself or grab the moment, you lose out. -Ismail Merchant, producer

Did you know that many of the individuals who contributed to this film are outsiders to British high society? The author of the source novel, Kazuo Ishiguro, was born in Japan and raised in England by his immigrant parents. As a young man in his 20s, he traveled across the US, w/ the dream of becoming a singer/songwriter. Director James Ivory is an American known for his calm demeanor and low-key style. Ismail Merchant (his partner in work and life) hailed from India; he was known for his outgoing personality. Their frequent collaborator/screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a German-born/Jewish Brit who married an Indian man and lived most of her life in India. She also wrote the screenplays for A Room with a View (1985) and Howards End (1992)- which also starred Hopkins and Thompson. Hopkins is from a small town in Wales (where his idol-turned-mentor, Richard Burton, also grew up). Reeve is American, though he attended college/trained for several years in England.

Stevens: …a man cannot call himself well-contented until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer. Of course, this assumes that one’s employer is a superior person, not only in rank, or wealth, but in moral stature.

This movie was nominated for 8 Oscars incl. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium, Best Original Music Score, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (but it didn’t win in any of these categories)! John Cleese was offered the role of Stevens and loved Ishiguro’s novel. He withdrew after Harold Pinter (the first screenwriter) “took the humor out.” Anjelica Huston was being considered for Miss Kenton; Meryl Streep wanted the role, but didn’t get it (a rare case)! Jeremy Irons had also been considered for a part in this movie (I’m assuming Lord Darlington). Look for young/Irish actress Lena Headey (Cersei on Game of Thrones) as a maid who falls in love w/ the head footman, Charlie (Ben Chaplin).

Lewis: You are, all of you, amateurs. And international affairs should never be run by gentlemen amateurs. Do you have any idea of what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could just act out of your noble instincts, are over. Europe has become the arena of realpolitik, the politics of reality. If you like: real politics. What you need is not gentlemen politicians, but real ones. You need professionals to run your affairs, or you’re headed for disaster!

I saw this movie a few times as a teen w/ my family; we tended to watch more drama than comedy (even when young). FYI: My parents lived 7 years in England in the 1970s (where I was born). I’m definitely an anglophile, as some of you have already noticed from this blog (as well as my tweets). Though this is mainly a story of unrequited love, on my recent re-watch, I noticed the importance of politics. After all, we (in U.S.) just had an “amateur” go into politics (which Sen. Lewis warned against); he even become president in 2016! Just b/c Lord Darlington had class privilege and wealth, he assumed he was better suited to make decisions than common men. In one of the deleted scenes, Lord Darlington even commented to Stevens that “democracy won’t work in England.” Compare that w/ the scene in the pub (in the final act), where an opinionated/working-class man declares: “I think any man in England has the right to be called a gentleman.”

The British Government was trying to keep England on an even keel, so that they would not have to go back to war. World War I was a terrible tragedy for that country, and no one wanted to face a war of that sort again. Historically, it seems now to have been a fruitless and dangerous kind of appeasement of a proven dictator, but a generation of young Englishmen had been recently decimated by the Germans, so it’s not surprising that figures in the British government in the late thirties tried to reason with Hitler. -James Ivory, director (on Naziism and WWII aspects of the movie)

In the 1930s, Stevens was proud to serve his Master’s cause. As the years pass, and new, more accurate information becomes available, Stevens’ pride diminishes. Lord Darlington is used as a pawn by the Nazis, because he yields to a common aristocratic urge to contribute something large to the world. He is somebody who starts off with very good and noble impulses, but because of a certain kind of naiveté, which almost all of us would share, he becomes a pawn. -Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the novel

There is some terrific acting here, from both Hopkins and Thompson; they’d previously played a romantic pair in Howard’s End (which I haven’t seen in many years). They seem to genuinely like and respect each other also IRL. The key to Stevens is restraint, though he probably feels deeply (you just see it in his eyes). Miss Kenton eventually reveals her emotions; Stevens can’t express himself to her (sadly). In the tense/pivotal scene in Stevens’ study, Miss Kenton asks re: what book he is reading. She questions/teases him until he backs himself into a dark corner. In perhaps a (masculine/penetrative) move, Miss Kenton enters Stevens’ personal space and takes the book from his hands. Their faces are very close, but (alas) there is no kiss! Some critics/viewers have wondered what exactly Miss Kenton sees in Stevens. Perhaps he is attractive b/c he is unapproachable (hard to get)?

“The Godfather” (1972) starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, & Robert Duvall

Don Corleone: …a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

The Godfather is “Don” Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando- age 47), the head of the Corleone mafia family in New York. Brando wanted to make his character “look like a bulldog,” so he stuffed his cheeks w/ cotton for his audition. For the filming, he wore a mouthpiece made by a dentist. On the day of his daughter Connie’s (Talia Shire) wedding, he is meeting w/ several members of his (Italian-American) community on his estate on Staten Island. There is a saying that the Don’s adopted son/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall- age 40 and wearing a bad hairpiece), says: “no Sicilian can refuse a favor at his daughter’s wedding day.” Michael (Al Pacino- not yet famous at age 31), the Don’s youngest son/decorated WWII Marine, is also present w/ his blonde/WASP girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton- only 25). Pacino and Keaton started dating during filming and were a couple for 5 years. Michael seems thoughtful and introverted, as well as uninterested in the family business. Don Corleone is an influential man w/ connections to businessmen, politicians, judges, and celebs. He can be kind/generous to those who give him respect, but ruthless against those who don’t. When a dangerous rival wants to sell drugs, and needs the Don’s agreement, he says no way! His oldest son Sonny (James Caan) seems to disagree. What follows is a clash between the Don’s “old-school” values and the ways of the new generation.

Don Corleone [to Sollozzo]: I said that I would see you because I had heard that you were a serious man, to be treated with respect. But I must say no to you and let me give you my reasons. It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.

I saw some scenes (over the years) of this iconic movie; however, I don’t recall seeing it fully until this past week! Director Francis Ford Coppola (only 33) had received some notice for one earlier movie; he was young and untested like much of the cast. He wasn’t enthusiastic about making this movie (at first); he thought the book by Mario Puzo was too sensational. I learned that he feared being fired by the studio for the first 2 weeks of filming! The unique (dark) lighting chosen by cinematographer Gordon Willis also made the execs worried, until they were convinced that this showed the shady ways of the Corleones. Willis earned the nickname “The Prince of Darkness” w/ the choices that he used; it turned out well (of course). Brando (due to heavy prosthetic makeup) is usually lit from above. Michael is brightly-lit in the first act of the film (before the Don is shot). Then the lighting scheme changes; we see half of his face in shadow. Once he has transitioned to the head of the family, dark shadows appear over his eyes. Caan (playing a loud/hot-headed man) is usually more well-lit than Duvall (who is calm, soft-spoken and tactful in his speech). Did you know that Caan improvised the part where Sonny throws the FBI photographer’s camera to the ground? Kay’s face usually looks bright; Keaton was lit from the side. However, I wasn’t a fan of the wigs (or hairdos) they chose for Kay. She is dressed in shades of red for most of the movie (a red/white spotted dress at the wedding, a maroon dress at the hotel dinner, and a bright red hat and coat when she goes to the estate).

Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.

Kay: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.

Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

There is much to admire here, but the most important thing is that we really care for these characters and go on a fascinating journey. As Roger Ebert commented (after the 25th anniversary): “In this closed world, The Godfather is the good guy. He is the hero that we root for.” I was esp. impressed by Brando when the Don becomes injured/weak; as for the tough-guy moments (we know he can do those well). Pacino (youthful/handsome) gives a nuanced performance (which may be a surprise to younger viewers); it’s almost all in the eyes (as we find w/ the finest of screen actors). We don’t see the angry/volatile side of Pacino (Coppola’s first choice for the role) until the final act when he yells at Kay. I learned that the studios wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neill for the role of Michael- LOL! Martin Sheen (w/ long hair and a mustache) auditioned for the role also; you can see some clips of screen tests on YouTube. All the supporting cast (incl. those who came from open calls, such as Abe Vigoda) suit their roles well. Look out for two veterans from the Golden Age of Hollywood- Richard Conte (the smooth-talking Don Barzini) and Sterling Hayden (the racist/crooked cop- Chief McCluskey). Both Conte and Hayden are in fine shape; they were known for noir films (I got into this genre over quarantine life). Fredo (John Cazale) doesn’t have a big role here, but I learned that he will feature more in The Godfather: Part II. He received much acclaim (from his peers and critics), died rather young, and was engaged to Meryl Streep.

This movie appeals to many people across the decades all around the world. One critic said: “It’s a simple story about a king and his three sons.” I’m sure it was rare to see a well-developed story of immigrants and first-gen Americans (w/ dark hair and olive/tan skin tones), even in the early 1970s. Having a Italian-American director must’ve been a great asset; it was Coppola’s idea to incorporate a real Italian-speaking wedding band, non-actors (incl. members of his own family), scenes which reflect everyday life (w/ kids running around, cooking, domestic disputes, etc.) There is the gorgeous/romantic sequence shot in Sicily where (some critics say) Michael finds true love (Appolonia) and happiness for the first time. When I saw the chaste courtship scenes between Michael and Appolonia (and her extended family) , I was reminded of the stories of my own family (parents, aunties, and uncles) who grew up in Bangladesh. This is a must-see film you can’t refuse!