The Godfather has rightfully earned its place as a cinematic masterpiece; as a further celebration of this great film on its 45th anniversary, here are its top memorable scenes
(Note this list does not include Godfather Part II and III)
Spoilers ahead obviously
5.) Opening Scene
Michael: “You come to me, and you say: “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder for money.”
The iconic opening scene immediately introduces us to Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone and sets the tone for what audiences are about to see.
Nate: Perhaps the most parodied scene in pop culture in the years following its release, this scene is iconic because it showcases Brando’s style and his form of method acting. From his speech patterns to his deliberate movements, it is a performance in the truest sense, a full embodiment of a character.
4.) The Death of Sonny
Michael: Protagonists are rarely killed. But then again The Godfather features a cast of characters whose actions make them antagonistic, even if we are supposed to side with them. Santino “Sonny” Corleone is a perfect example of the ‘villainous hero” or anti-hero. He’s violent and irascible, an ideal mobster. So his death is in ways almost expected and perhaps deserving as a consequence for his actions. Yet the Corleone family, with all their faults, are still the most relatable to the audience, and the violent ambush that is Sonny’s murder is shocking and affecting to us. While The Godfather may be a ‘fairy tale’, it’s one that reminds us that no one is immune in a life of crime.
3.) The Death of Vito Corleone
Michael: Unlike his son Sonny, Vito Corleone dies in a manner that few in the “olive oil” business ever do. He’s not killed (although attempts are made on his life) and there’s no violence involved in his death. He simply dies in his garden playing with his grandson. An ironic end to a man whose life was filled with blood and murder. In the end, the ruthless Don Corleone was playing with and acting like a child; a return to the innocence he once had before entering the world of the Mafia. This scene is beautiful in its simplicity and profound in its message: even the very powerful will fall, and often with no glory or ceremony at all.
Nate: Vito Corleone has a memorable line early in the film: “A Man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man” so in a parallel it’s almost fitting that the powerful head of one of the great mafia families dies not at the hands of a gunshot but rather as a “real man” – among family.
2.) Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey
Michael: As the youngest in the family, Michael Corleone was always reluctant to join the family ‘business’, yet events out of his control force him to reconsider joining the ranks. When a rival family attempts to kill Vito, the Corleone family decide the only one able to carry out revenge is the unsuspecting Michael. Although he had been portrayed as perennially reticent, the chance to avenge his ailing father spurs Michael to act. And so the plan is hatched to kill the men involved, Virgil Sollozzo and the corrupt cop under his payroll, Captain McCluskey. The plan itself is relatively simple in its execution and the young Corleone carries out the deed with precision and brutality; a seemingly natural act for a man who had pledged to never kill. With this scene, Michael begins his journey to be the next Don and viewers are brought along on an exciting, sad and dramatic ride.
Nate: This is really the beginning of one of the greatest character arcs in film history. From war hero to crime lord this is where Michael Corleone makes the decision to accept the dark side. This is also a prime example of Al Pacino’s acting ability and Francis Ford Coppola’s restraint and precision behind the camera. Tension is built because we know things are going to escalate but we don’t know when. Unlike the later scenes set in Italy there are no subtitles for this scene when the conversation shifts to Italian, It’s a clever choice from Coppola because as he withholds information, viewers have nothing to gauge the climate of the room other than Pacino’s facial expressions. Coppola then tightens the shot in on Pacino and we see his eyes dart back and forth in a true moment of “the eyes being the windows to the soul” as he wrestles with the decision to execute the plan and become a part of the lifestyle he originally tried to avoid. A true masterclass in filmmaking.
1.) The Baptism
Michael: The ultimate display of duality present in the lives of Mafiosi, the baptism scene remains ever important for not just being haunting but mesmerizing. With these final frames of the movie, Michael solidifies himself as a criminal and heir to a bloody empire. It’s a tragic scenario for a man who was supposed to escape the grasp of his family. There is no going back now, Michael has made his choice. Adding to the memorable nature of this scene is Nino Rota’s score. In this case, it’s a thundering pipe organ that plays as a beautiful backdrop to scenes that are anything but beautiful. This musical juxtaposition is also presented thematically; Michael is attending the baptism of his nephew (a holy event) while he has simultaneously ordered the execution of the baby’s father and his other enemies (an unholy event). And so with these scenes, the double life that seems to be a staple of the mob life is disturbingly illuminated in a most masterful way.
Nate: The Godfather is an exercise in duality, of good and evil, of right and wrong and the gray areas that exist in defining those boundaries. Throughout the whole movie, Coppola frames his characters with shadows emphasizing this duality – half in the shadows, half in the light. If the restaurant scene was the beginning of the transition for Michael Corleone then this scene is him embracing the dark side completely
Severed Horse Head
Michael: In one of the more grisly scenes of the film, Corleone family associates send a message to movie producer Jack Woltz for his refusal to do the Don a favor; they kill his prized racehorse and put the head in his bed sheets. It’s obscene, graphic and just plain disturbing. Yet in all its vileness it has a profound effect, not just on Woltz obviously, but on audiences watching and reminds them that these protagonists are anything but good people.
Nate: Shock value at its finest. This scene emphasizes the power of the family and the influence the family has not just in New York but all throughout the United States.