Posts Tagged ‘Robert Duvall’

Falling Down (1993)

Director: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Tuesday Weld, Frederic Forrest

Every day, people struggle to find their place in this world. The lucky ones who make it work carve out a piece of the proverbial pie for themselves and their families. Some who aren’t as fortunate wind up as lost souls who become frustrated and lash out. We’ve seen their kind all too often. Occasionally they show up on the television, their images displayed 24/7 by all the news outlets for all the wrong reasons. What we don’t hear about as frequently are the stories of those who’ve worked hard their whole adult lives, only to have it pulled out from under them on the day when they are considered non-essential personnel. How one handles the idea that they are no longer relevant or necessary is what makes up the difference between our two main characters in “Falling Down.”

Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) is a man who has always had something of a short fuse, sometimes scaring those close to him half to death, but never really having been pushed into violence. He’d always felt secure enough in his work and in his marriage that he never took it that far. Yet, the potential danger was always there, bubbling just underneath the surface. From his clean-cut appearance, including a white shirt and tie, you’d think the guy was a Mr. Rogers type. One hot Los Angeles morning, Bill reaches his boiling point. After becoming fed up with endless highway traffic delays (in a claustrophobic scene meant as an homage to Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2”), Bill abandons his car with the personalized license plate ‘D-FENS’ and continues his journey on foot. When pressed, Bill simply states, “I’m going home!” This day is special to Bill, as it is his little girl’s birthday.

His destination would make Bill a sympathetic character under normal circumstances, and it does until we learn the whole truth about him. Bill has been unemployed for over a year, his marriage is long since over and his ex-wife Beth (Barbara Hershey) has even issued a restraining order against him. Still, nothing will deter Bill from making his way to his former house in Venice, California. Anyone standing in his way between the highway and his home had better clear a path. “Falling Down” would not be one tenth as intriguing if everyone complied with Bill’s wishes.

Some of the roadblocks in Bill’s journey are representative of everyday complaints we find ourselves making. For instance, he balks at having to pay the Korean convenience store owner 85 cents for a can of soda when it won’t give him enough change for the pay phone. In response, he lobbies for a return to a time when prices were more reasonable, trashing the store as he does it. In one of the movie’s best sequences, he enters a fast food restaurant and interrupts the lives of its customers and employees. He has it in mind that he wants breakfast, and causes a scene when it’s revealed that they stopped serving breakfast shortly before he arrived. To force the issue, Bill pulls out a gun (one of many acquired in an earlier run-in with a Latino gang), but it’s all for show. He even accidentally fires a few rounds into the ceiling. Eventually changing his mind, Bill orders from the lunch menu. It is upon receiving his food that Bill once again makes an observation that we’ve all made at one time or another: Why the heck do the burgers in the fast food menus always look thicker and juicier than the one in your hand?

During the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” days, Bill Foster might have been portrayed as an anti-heroic vigilante. Michael Douglas instead plays a troubled, confused and ultimately sad man who has allowed the world to beat him down, but one who doesn’t see himself as others see him. Bill at one point asks in a surprised tone of voice, “I’m the bad guy?!” Playing the other side of the coin is Sgt. Prendergast (Robert Duvall), a man who is on his last day on the job as a police officer. Like Bill, Prendergast faces an uncertain future, one which he is forcing upon himself so that his nervous wife (Tuesday Weld) won’t have to spend every day wondering if he’ll come home again. Unlike Bill, Prendergast is meeting the changes in his life with grace and dignity. It is natural, through the processes of motion picture conventions, that these two should cross paths in a final showdown. But to succumb to the notion that this is a true contest of good vs. evil is to ignore all the evidence. There are critters lurking about in this story that are more soulless than Bill will ever allow himself to become. The strongest example of this is the army surplus store owner (Frederic Forrest) who reveals himself to be an unflinching neo-Nazi, a man with nothing but hate in his heart. Bill himself has legitimate points to make about modern consumerism and the class system. It’s the ways in which he goes about exposing these areas of our society that are wrong.

The famous nursery rhyme about a certain English overpass’s imminent destruction serves as a metaphor for the decline of Bill Foster’s psyche. Throughout the film, he himself is “falling down.” It is for this reason that one must keep in mind, however amusing or quotable certain scenes or lines of dialogue may be, we are not bearing witness to a comedy here. “Falling Down” is actually a very tragic tale, but is so well-acted by its leads that it rises above the dark, melancholy cloud that its story casts. It’s easily one of Douglas’s three best pictures of his acting career, and probably the best in the career of director Joel Schumacher (with the possible exception of “The Lost Boys”). Made during a time when the US was entering into a period of slow but steady economic recovery, “Falling Down” is also a movie that reaps the benefits of possessing a story with the same resonance in 2015 as it had in 1993.


MASH (1970)

Director: Robert Altman

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Roger Bowen, René Auberjonois, Jo Ann Pflug

Comedy often seems to come from a very dark place. That’s not all that surprising as the world itself is just as dark, moreso for some than others. It’s a great defense mechanism; we might surely go mad without it. Those in military service, who witness horrors that nightmares are made of, need it just as badly as anyone. If a soldier’s sense of humor gives the impression that he’s something of a prick, that may not be due to a character flaw, merely a sign that he’s seen a lot of terrible things in his time. In “M*A*S*H,” superior officers (and women in particular) are treated with such disrespect that it’s hard to say whether these men were this mean-spirited before the war, or if it’s only a symptom of having to patch up the wounded on a daily basis, but perhaps they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

The war in question is the Korean War, although it could have just as easily been the Vietnam War (especially since the latter conflict was still VERY MUCH ongoing at the time). The year is 1951, and Captains “Hawkeye” Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and “Duke” Forrest (Tom Skerritt) have been assigned as combat surgeons for the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. As they arrive in a stolen Jeep, it is already clear that these men are the sort for whom following the rules sounds too inhuman. That they are bunkmates with Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), a religious zealot, doesn’t jive well, either. They’re more at ease once they’ve successfully gotten the Major switched out for Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre (Elliot Gould), who even comes bearing a jar of olives for their martinis.

For Hawkeye and the others, the arrival of Major Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) at first really begins to suck the fun out of everything. She doesn’t even seem to agree that Major Burns is a lousy and incompetent surgeon. Ultimately, they come up with a plan to embarrass both her and Major Burns when they learn of the hot and heavy affair that their two enemies have started, placing a microphone under their bunk and broadcasting their words of passion to the entire camp. Now, everyone calls Major Houlihan by the nickname “Hot Lips.” Major Burns is emotionally compromised to the point of attacking Hawkeye and subsequently being led away from the camp in a straight jacket, but the degradation of “Hot Lips” is far from over, as the boys all camp out in front of the women’s shower, having placed bets on whether she’s a natural blonde. The curtain is raised, and Major Houlihan, still with shampoo in her wet hair, storms into the cabin of Col. Henry Blake (Roger Bowen), where he is entertaining his mistress in bed, and demands that he do something to discipline the members of the 4077th. Her request is denied.

Our protagonists’ behavior is not always cruel and selfish. When Father Mulcahy (René Auberjonois) comes to Hawkeye with the news that the dentist known as “Painless” intends to commit suicide (hence, the theme song “Suicide is Painless”), Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke devise a scenario that involves a final meal for Painless (in a sequence deliberately staged to satirize The Last Supper) and a “black capsule” placebo, both satisfying Painless’s desire to commit suicide and easing Father Mulcahy’s conscience in knowing that the man is not actually killing himself. However, even this situation does not avoid turning a woman into an object. Painless’s entire reason for ending his life is because he had recently been unable to “get it up” for a woman. Therefore, Hawkeye convinces one of his girlfriends (Jo Ann Pflug) to be the one to help “cure” Painless.

Had this movie been filmed in a traditional manner, it wouldn’t be half the classic that it is. Perfectly timed zoom camera angles, overlapping dialogue, and a healthy dose of improvisation really help out. Apart from Robert Altman’s brilliantly unorthodox method of directing, what makes “M*A*S*H” so immensely entertaining is the talent in its cast, some for whom this was their very first movie (like Bud Cort, who would go on to star alongside Ruth Gordon in “Harold and Maude”). Even Donald Sutherland, who is hard to see as Hawkeye now because of the way Alan Alda took that role and made it his own, is terrific. Sally Kellerman, in particular, gives my favorite performance in the movie. In the football game which takes up most of the final 20 minutes, pay attention to her in particular. Every word out of her mouth during this sequence is pure comic gold. Speaking of the football game, its inclusion is enough for me to hail “M*A*S*H” as my favorite football movie. It was also during this game that the word “fuck” was spoken in a major Hollywood studio film for the very first time, uttered by actor John Schuck as Painless. Nowadays, that word can appear in a movie hundreds of times over, but in 1970, it was groundbreaking.

“M*A*S*H” was nominated for Best Picture, but the anti-war comedy lost to the more patriotic, serious drama “Patton.” That in no way diminishes the impact this movie had, and continues to have. Even now, almost 45 years later (and 40+ years since the end of the Draft), I can still laugh at all the jokes until my sides hurt. There have been other movies which have spawned a television series (and vice versa), but none quite like “M*A*S*H,” equally as groundbreaking on the small screen as its cinematic parent, and staying on the air four times as long as the Korean War actually lasted. Incredibly, one actor from the movie was retained. Gary Burghoff who plays Radar, would continue the role when the show premiered in 1972 on through to the final episode, which aired in 1983 to what was then the largest audience for a single TV entertainment broadcast in recorded history.

Each of us learns to cope with horror and tragedy in his own way. “Hot Lips” Houlihan is vilified because she approaches her task as a nurse with the sort of coldness we’ve probably associated with one or more doctors we’ve seen in our own lives. It’s the best way she knows how to do her job, even if it does make her appear less than human. Anyone who’s seen as many patients, sewn up as many bullet holes, and amputated as many limbs has to distract themselves somehow. Throw in the fact that this was a time when the youth of America were being snatched up at random to serve in a war they didn’t agree with or believe in, and it’s no wonder why some might choose to stir up trouble for their own amusement.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn

It was madness that sent thousands upon thousands of young American men halfway around the world to “make the world safe from Communism.” It was the Draft which ensured that many who never would have entertained the possibility of military service would never come home from this war. Back home, it was lies and deceit coupled with the horror stories reported on the news that inspired anti-war protests. Lyndon Baines Johnson could have been regarded as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents of all time for certain key accomplishments, but the tragic mistake that was the Vietnam War will forever tarnish his legacy. Those who survived and returned home would often wind up so emotionally scarred that the madness only deepens as time goes on. Though their tour may have ended, Vietnam never truly left them.

Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) faces quite a conundrum. When he is in Vietnam, there is only the mission, otherwise he can’t wait to get out. But on the occasions when he is returned home, all he can think about is getting back. So, while in Saigon with nothing to do, the special ops soldier drinks himself half to death until someone hands him official papers telling him which way to jump. This time, he’s been summoned to his most unusual mission yet, a top secret assignment which will have him traversing into Cambodia, where he is to locate and “terminate” the rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who is said to have gone insane and has been carrying out his own “missions” without any authorization from the U.S. Military. Willard has been sent on missions where he’s had to kill specific people before, just never an American. Never an officer, and certainly not one who at one point was being considered for promotion to the rank of General. Willard hitches a ride on board a Navy Patrol Boat, along with its crew of four. On several occasions, they run into trouble, once inadvertently murdering the innocent passengers of a civilian boat while checking it for hidden weapons. Each successive obstacle causes further paranoia among the crew, with some resorting to hallucinogenic alternatives to the reality of their situation. Willard himself, although bothered by these events, remains focused on his mission. There are casualties among the crew, but eventually Willard reaches his destination, finding the previous soldier sent to do the same mission (Scott Glenn) and an American civilian photo-journalist (Dennis Hopper), both seemingly worshipping the Colonel, and finally Kurtz himself.

Despite changing the location of the story, adapted from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness,” from the African Congo to the jungles of Vietnam, the question raised by the source material of what defines civilized behavior is every bit as well-represented. “Apocalypse Now” features one of my favorite opening scenes of any movie. As the song “The End” by The Doors plays on the soundtrack, we know even without considering the Vietnam setting that this is a story which is not destined to end well for anyone. Terrific use of the rotating blades of the ceiling fan in Willard’s room in mimicking those of the helicopters flying outside. I also love the way Martin Sheen instantly lets us in on his character’s state of mind. Willard may be good at what he does, but he’s also prone to flying off the handle, which leads me to suspect that it was no accident that he was picked to go after Kurtz. I find myself in complete agreement with the actor in that my two favorite film roles of Sheen’s are this one and 1973’s “Badlands.” Laurence Fishburne, then 14, lied about how old he was in order to win the role of the 17-year old “Clean.” By the time production was finished, Fishburne had reached his character’s designated age. Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper are all masters of their trade. Bizzare as it may sound, Col. Kurtz sits somewhere around fourth or fifth in my top five of Brando’s film roles, but he’s still an absolute joy to watch… even when the things Kurtz has to say don’t really make much sense. Dennis Hopper has always been a scenery-chewer, owing a lot to his ability to play characters of questionable sanity. He turned his manic meter up to 11 for this one, and I love that about him.

The behind-the-scenes account of “Apocalypse Now” is almost as intriguing as the film itself. I’ve yet to see the documentary “Hearts of Darkness” for myself, though what I have heard really makes me want to check it out. Tensions between Brando and Hopper were such that Brando refused to be on set as the same time as his co-star. Martin Sheen nearly died for this movie, suffering a heart attack after the first 12 months of the film’s arduous production. The story also goes that, for the opening scene which I love so very much, Sheen had just celebrated a birthday and did not have to act like a man who’d had one too many drinks. “Apocalypse Now” wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for director Francis Ford Coppola, either. In addition to playing referee between an overweight Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper, Coppola also had a typhoon to deal with, unreliable Filipino extras,  nervous breakdowns, rising production costs and having to replace his original lead actor, Harvey Keitel, after just the first two weeks. That he ended up creating one of if not THE greatest war movie of all-time is a miraculous sign of just how much blood, sweat and tears went into piecing this masterpiece together.

All of that being said, some directors just don’t seem to know when to leave well enough alone. Of all those who release special extended director’s cut editions, James Cameron easily has the best track record. Francis Ford Coppola has thankfully never attempted to “improve” his “Godfather” movies, but 2001’s “Apocalypse Now Redux” was a bitter disappointment, and a clearly inferior film to the more familiar 1979 cut. I have no problem criticizing this version with extreme prejudice! Nearly an hour’s worth of footage was added, and none of it makes anything resembling a welcome contribution. Especially puzzling is the decision to reinstate the French rubber plantation scene. This scene does so much to slow down the pacing of the movie that it would be like if Peter Jackson had integrated the much-talked about “Tom Bombadil” scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” into 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The crew can get where they’re headed just fine without having to make that elongated pit stop. The first time I saw “Apocalypse Now,” it was on a fullscreen VHS copy from my local video store. It made such an impression on me that I had not returned the tape before running out to purchase my own copy, this time in widescreen as it is meant to be viewed. If you haven’t seen “Apocalypse Now” and have been unsure as to which version is the best one to watch, I’m telling you now that the original version is the only one your eyes should ever witness. To do otherwise would be madness.

29b. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo

Don’t ask me to choose a favorite between “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II,” for that would be a truly impossible task. In the past, I often went back and forth on which one I preferred. It seemed to change with every single viewing, so I finally gave up and decided to love them equally. That is why both occupy the same space on my list of favorite films. But “The Godfather Part II” takes certain chances that “The Godfather” did not, beginning with its narrative structure. Being asked to shift back and forth between two time periods, many critics found the movie had left them horribly confounded. The argument was that the audience was never given enough time to get accustomed to either storyline. I confess that this also happened to me the first time. Upon further study, I came to see it for the stroke of brilliance that it really is.

All that I love about the cinematography of “The Godfather” is once again present in “The Godfather Part II.” For example, in the sequences involving the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), the sepia tones are even more pronounced than they were in “The Godfather.” The proverbial photograph is even more faded. This is because Vito’s scenes span from his immigration to the U.S. as a nine year old in 1901 to his ascension to power as an adult in the 1910’s and 1920’s. I especially like seeing those old Model T’s, the cars that resembled motorized carriages. My favorite visual aspect of the 1950’s scenes is the interior design of the residences. From family photographs I’ve been shown, this movie really captures how living in a house in the 1950’s would have looked.

The one thing that really keeps me coming back, though, is the acting. There are many actors at the top of their game here. The ones who stand out for me are Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, and of course Al Pacino. Each of them plays a character we’re already familiar with, and now it’s as though we know them intimately, like they are people who exist in the real world.

De Niro, who won Best Supporting Actor, is so convincing as the young Vito Corleone that it’s scary. He really has all of Marlon Brando’s mannerisms from the previous film down pat. There is a way that he scratches his chin that informs us this is most certainly the same guy we saw before. Also effective is the way De Niro, as Brando had before, contorts his face and tilts his head to the side to express that Vito has been made weary by a prior conversation. But I think my favorite is when he’s explaining to someone the reward factor of doing him a favor. He touches his index finger to his temple and says, in Italian, “I won’t forget it.” Vito always knew how to return a favor. His scenes are here to show us how Vito and Michael both arrived at the same destination, yet the paths they took to get there and the manner in which they approached them were quite different.

Diane Keaton, returning as Michael’s wife, Kay, portrays a character who is perhaps the strongest person in the entire movie. She is the only person willing to stand up and tell Michael he’s gone off the deep end without any fear of what the consequences of her actions might be. She knows, as well as Michael does, that being the mother of his children gives her an advantage that no mafia boss or Corleone family underling will ever possess. In fact, all of the women in Michael’s life have had a certain power over him, even his sister, Connie. But it is Kay who can be on the outside looking in and still have the greatest affect on him, no matter how hard or how many times he slams that door in her face.

At no other point in the history of the Academy Awards has a bigger mistake been made than when Art Carney was awarded Best Actor instead of Al Pacino. Not to disparage Art Carney, but the tour de force performance which Pacino gives here really has no equal. I suppose it would be easier if everyone who was up for an acting award had given the same performance, but that’s not how the Oscars are set up. Still, to deny Pacino an award for this specific film is downright criminal.

In 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” there was a line that served as that movie’s overall theme. It went as follows: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” This is also applicable to the character of Michael Corleone. He was a hero in WWII, but he did not die in that war. Instead, he rose to become the most powerful mafia don of them all, wiping out everyone who stood in his way. Here, he continues his metamorphosis into full-on villain, and he completely alienates himself from those whose lives he has spared. For Michael, the Shakespearean fall is complete. It is as beautiful as it is tragic.

For “The Godfather,” I was able to single out my favorite scene in the movie. For its sequel, that’s not quite so easy. In “The Godfather Part II,” there are five scenes which I enjoy equally. In the order in which they appear in the film:

1) Fredo’s incidental betrayal revealed. In the previous scene, Michael has asked his brother Fredo (John Cazale) if he had ever met either Johnny Ola or Hyman Roth. Already guilt-ridden, Fredo has said he has never met either man. Now, at the New Year’s Eve party, Fredo reveals in casual conversation with the person next to him that he did in fact know both men. Apparently he had either forgotten or was unaware that Michael was sitting within earshot of the whole discussion. Michael doesn’t have to say a word. You can see the realization forming in his face, and you know he’s already thinking about what his next move should be now that he feels his own brother has betrayed him and the family (mostly him).

2) “You’re nothing to me now.” Michael has come to Fredo to find out what he knows about Hyman Roth’s connections within the Senate hearings against the Corleone family. Fredo tells him what he knows, and also pleads with him to understand that he didn’t know when he met with Roth and Johnny Ola that they were planning a hit on Michael. His only intrigue was that they said there would be something in it for him if he helped out on the negotiations between them and Michael. He’s upset that, despite being Michael’s older brother, he was passed over for leadership of the family. Once Fredo has his say, Michael completely disowns him. There is but one sin left for Michael to commit against Fredo that will cause him to sink any lower than this moment of pure cold-heartedness towards his own blood. This was, I think, John Cazale’s best scene in either movie because this was the one scene where we really got into Fredo’s head to know what he’s been thinking all of these years.

3) “It was an abortion, Michael!” When the movie begins, Kay is pregnant with her third child. It is going to be a son, and she knows this. Michael later learns that the child has been lost. After the senate hearings Michael has been facing have been adjourned, Kay informs Michael that she and the kids aren’t going back to Las Vegas with him. Michael is agitated, but tries to calmly convince her that she’ll soon be glad he stopped her and that he knows she’s also upset over losing the baby. That’s when Kay reveals she had the pregnancy terminated. Being raised Catholic, among other reasons, this has Michael incensed. As Kay goes on explaining why she did it, watch Michael’s face. I don’t know from what dark corner Al Pacino pulled this rage, but he looks as though his head is literally going to explode out of anger before Michael finally slaps Kay. Absolutely terrific performances from both Pacino and Keaton in this scene.

4) Birthday party flashback. It’s December 1941, and the family is waiting for Vito to arrive home so they can throw a surprise birthday party for him. As the family members talk of the recent Pearl Harbor bombing and of the many Americans who enlisted in the armed services out of patriotism, Michael informs them that he has enlisted in the Marines. It’s an excellently shot sequence for two reasons. Look at the only member of the family willing to congratulate him: Fredo. Also look at the seating arrangements. Sonny (James Caan) sits at the head of the table while everyone else sits on the left side of the table. Everyone, that is, except for Michael. When it is time to yell “surprise,” Michael is left sitting by himself at the table. This segues directly into…

5) Michael sits alone outside his home. Michael had earlier told his adopted brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), “I don’t feel I have to wipe everyone out, Tom. Just my enemies.” He has succeeded in doing exactly that, but he has also angered many other people. The rest are so frightened of him that they dare not have anything to do with him. At the beginning of “The Godfather,” Michael was the rebel of the family, always on the outside looking in. Now he is the head of the family, but finds himself on the inside looking out. It gets awfully lonely at the top of the mountain.

29a. The Godfather (1972)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard S. Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Diane Keaton, Abe Vigoda, Talia Shire, Gianni Russo, Alex Rocco, John Cazale

I finally understand what made Roger Ebert so particularly enthusiastic about “Citizen Kane.” He loved and admired Orson Welles’ 1941 magnum opus so much as to lecture an entire film studies college course devoted to the subject. As passionately as Ebert felt about that movie, I feel the same way about Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” Don’t let the fact that I rank it in the bottom 20’s in my personal top 50 fool you. Excising all other factors and speaking strictly on the subject of the movie as a work of art, “The Godfather” is my “Citizen Kane,” the one movie I feel sets the bar against which all other movies before and since should be measured. It is a triumph of filmmaking in every conceivable manner. What’s more: “The Godfather” is the greatest Shakespearean tragedy that William Shakespeare didn’t write.

What makes “The Godfather” so visually compelling is both the time period in which the action is set, and the color scheme used to emphasize it. When we are first introduced to the Corleone family at the wedding of the youngest of Vito (Marlon Brando)’s four children, Connie (Talia Shire), it is 1945. World War II has only just come to a close. Everything you see is an accurate representation of the period, including the beautiful and exquisitely humongous automobiles. Singing at Connie’s wedding is Vito’s godson, Johnny Fontaine, who is an obvious homage to Frank Sinatra, right down to the pack of swooning young women who flock around him and shriek at the sound of every soothing note he sings. The subtle but otherwise detectable sepia tones in which the film is shot makes for an experience akin to that of staring at an old photograph. We are meant to see this as events which took place long ago, yet seem somehow familiar.

The story takes place in several different locations. My favorite of these is in the middle of the film when Michael (Al Pacino) is forced leave the country for Sicily. Here, the clothing, while still completely dignified, is somewhat more down-to-earth, and I really love that contrast to all the business suits and tuxedos of New York. Every single shot of the villages and open fields looks like an expertly painted canvas. It makes me want to travel there, knowing full well that the Sicily I find would look nothing like it does as represented here.

“The Godfather” also contains my favorite scene from any movie I have ever viewed. It is the incident which leads to Michael’s exile to Sicily. Let me set this up. Michael is a WWII veteran, one who has done everything he can to deliberately stay out of the family business. But he’s been emotionally compromised by an attempt on his father’s life, further attempts to finish the job, and a crooked cop (Sterling Hayden) who broke Michael’s jaw. Suddenly, Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), the man who set up the assassination attempt on Vito, wants to call a truce. He and Michael meet at a small, quiet Italian restaurant with the cop serving as Sollozzo’s bodyguard. Michael has come to the meeting with the intention of killing both men, which has simultaneously amused his family and given them cause for concern in regards to Michael’s safety. He assures his older brother Sonny (James Caan) that “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” But whom is he really trying to convince of this? His brother, or himself?

Now to the scene in question. Michael has gone to the restroom to retrieve a gun which has been planted there for him. When Michael returns, Sollozzo speaks to him in Italian, continuing the conversation they’d been having before Michael left the table. The fact that there are no subtitles during the entire discussion is key: What they are saying is irrelevant next to what we know Michael is planning, what he is thinking, and the expressions on his face as he is waiting for the right moment. Echoing Michael’s racing heartbeat is a train passing by outside the restaurant, growing louder by the second. As the noise from the train reaches its most deafening levels, Michael stands up out of his seat and shoots both men dead.

This is a big game-changer as far as character development is concerned for Michael. Up until now, the only men he has ever killed in his life were on the field of battle, the sort of killings that earn a man the right to have medals pinned on his chest. There can be no medals awarded for this deed. Michael has cemented his place in the family business, against all his efforts to stay out, a fact that distresses even his father who had much bigger plans for his youngest of three sons. Soon, when he’s able to return to the United States, Michael will inherit his father’s title of Godfather, and give orders for those under him to commit unspeakable acts, orders which even the ruthless Vito was incapable. I find it fitting, after all of the murders, back-stabbings and revenge killings, that the saddest death in the whole movie has nothing to do with the expiration of a physical human body. It moves me to tears just thinking about Michael’s transformation, one more clue as to why Al Pacino is my favorite screen actor of all-time and Michael Corleone my favorite character out of all the movies I’ve seen in my life.

The scope of the influence that “The Godfather” has had on the film and television industry over the last 40+ years can never be overstated. From just about any crime drama presented theatrically since 1972 to television series like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” and even “Weeds,” the signature of “The Godfather” is clearly visible. The score by Nino Rota is legendary. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you almost certainly know at least one of the many memorable tracks by heart. The same is true for the dialogue, and the countless catchphrases that have become ingrained in popular culture.

It seems unthinkable now, but the version of “The Godfather” which stands is quite contrary to the version that Paramount Pictures initially wanted. Coppola was their third choice to direct after Sergio Leone and Peter Bogdanovich both said “no” on the grounds that they already had other projects lined up. Virtually none of the main cast members gelled with Paramount’s vision, particularly Brando and Pacino. Brando was thought to be a risk due to production delays on his recent films, of which he was the cause. Paramount wanted Ernest Borgnine for Vito Corleone. I appreciate Borgnine, but I can’t imagine what they were thinking. Pacino, being an unknown who was considered “too short” for the role of Michael, was not Paramount’s first choice by a longshot. The studio would have had Robert Redford or Ryan O’Neal in place of Pacino. Both are fine actors, but the casting of either would have changed the complexion of “The Godfather” entirely. In fact, Coppola had to threaten to quit the movie to get Paramount to allow him to have Pacino. Sometimes, you have to make them an offer they can’t refuse.