Tickets are already on sale for screenings of new digitally restored prints of the first two Godfather movies at the Film Forum, September 12 through October 2. I'm curious as to how much the restoration might lighten up and sharpen the images associated with Gordon Willis, who was involved in the project.
This imment revival led me to think about what makes the first two Godfather films as tremendously rewarding as they are. There are at least two qualities that make them worth seeing again and again.
The first is the screenplay, credited to Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. The plot is intricate but not spelled out to the audience, so moviegoers explore and discover the world of The Godfather through a series of story developments. The dialogue brims over with wisdom, and lines in the script that might not even be discernible on an early hearing turn out to reveal or at least underscore much about the characters and situations. Even character actions that might seem innocuous at first seem to resonate so much more upon return visits.
The second important quality is the casting, which runs deep. The performers comprised a dream cast from the start, but I don't think anyone could have anticipated exactly how well they worked individually and as an ensemble. James Caan's Sonny personifies a hair-trigger personality, John Cazale's Fredo a squirrely one. Robert Duvall's Tom Hagen seems to carry around the type of personal history that Thomas Pynchon referred to when he wrote (in his Foreward to 1984), "a Robert Duvall character with a backstory in which he has seen more than one perhaps would have preferred to." And of course, the young, doe-eyed Al Pacino pulls off one of the great character shifts of cinema.
But there's much more to the casting than that, even more than the role assignments being perfect or near-perfect right down to the character actors and bit parts. There's also a rare and powerful chemistry that comes from a kind of "acting school" hierarchy at work in the movie. The actors who play the big bosses—Marlon Brando and Lee Strasberg as well as underrated gangster movie veteran Richard Conte—were, in their ways, mentors to the younger actors who play their successors in the movie. That type of relationship, embedded in the training and experience of the actors, comes through in scene after scene on an almost subliminal level.
Here's a trailer. It gives me chills.