The Godfather is a 1972 crime drama film based on the 1969 novel of the same name by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, with a screenplay by Puzo, Coppola, and an uncredited Robert Towne. It stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, and features Richard S. Castellano, Abe Vigoda and Sterling Hayden. The story spans ten years from 1945 to 1955 and chronicles the Italian-American Corleone crime family. The Godfather received Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In addition, it is ranked as the second greatest film in American cinematic history, behind Citizen Kane on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) list by the American Film Institute.] It is also ranked as #1 on Metacritic's top 100 list and in the top 10 on Rotten Tomatoes' all-time best list.
- Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone – the boss (the "Don") of the Corleone family, Formerly known as Vito Andolini. He is the father of Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Connie and surrogate father to Tom Hagen. Husband of Carmela Corleone. A native Sicilian.
- Al Pacino as Michael Corleone – the Don's and Carmela's youngest son, recently returned from military service following the end of World War II. The only college-educated member of the family, he initially wants nothing to do with the Corleone family business. His evolution from doe-eyed outsider to ruthless boss is the key plot-line of the film.
- James Caan as Santino Corleone – Vito and Carmela's hot-headed eldest son; he is being groomed to succeed his father as head of the Corleone family. He is the family's underboss.
- Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen – an informally adopted son of Vito and Carmela Corleone, he is also the family lawyer and the new consigliere (counselor).
- Diane Keaton as Kay Adams – Michael's girlfriend and, ultimately, his wife and mother to his children.
- John Cazale as Fredo Corleone – the middle son of Vito and Carmela Corleone. Fredo is not very bright and appears to be the weakest of the Corleone brothers.
- Talia Shire as Costanza "Connie" Corleone – Vito and Carmela's only daughter. She marries Carlo Rizzi.
- Richard S. Castellano as Peter Clemenza – a caporegime for the Corleone family.
- Abe Vigoda as Salvatore Tessio – a caporegime for the Corleone Family.
- Al Lettieri as Virgil Sollozzo – a heroin dealer associated with the Tattaglia family.
- Gianni Russo as Carlo Rizzi – Connie's husband. Becomes an associate of the Corleone family, and ultimately betrays Sonny to theBarzini family.
- Sterling Hayden as Captain McCluskey – a corrupt police captain on Sollozzo's payroll.
- Lenny Montana as Luca Brasi – an enforcer utilized by Vito Corleone.
- Richard Conte as Emilio Barzini– Don of the Barzini family.
- Al Martino as Johnny Fontane – a world-famous popular singer and godson of Vito.
- John Marley as Jack Woltz – a powerful Hollywood producer.
- Alex Rocco as Moe Greene – longtime associate of the Corleone family who owns a Las Vegas hotel.
- Morgana King as Carmela Corleone – Vito's wife and mother of Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Connie, and surrogate mother to Tom Hagen.
- John Martino as Paulie Gatto – A "button man" (soldier/hit man) under Capo Pete Clemenza and Vito's driver.
- Victor Rendina as Phillip Tattaglia– Don of the Tattaglia family.
- Simonetta Stefanelli as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone – A stunningly beautiful young girl Michael meets and marries while in Sicily.
- Louis Guss as Don Zaluchi – Don of the Zaluchi family of Detroit.
- Tom Rosqui as Rocco Lampone – a soldier under Clemenza who eventually becomes a caporegime in the Corleone family.
- Joe Spinel as Willi Cicci – a soldier in the Corleone family.
- Richard Bright asAl Neri – Michael Corleone's bodyguard. He eventually becomes a caporegime.
At the wedding reception of Don Vito Corleone's daughter Connie and Carlo Rizzi in the late summer of 1945, Vito, the head of the Corleone Mafia family – who is known to his friends and associates as Godfather – and Tom Hagen, the Corleone family lawyer and consigliere (counselor), are hearing requests for favors from friends and associates, because "no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day". Meanwhile, the Don's youngest son Michael, a decorated Marine war hero returning from World War II service, tells his girlfriend Kay Adams anecdotes about his father's criminal life, reassuring her that he is not like his family.
Among the guests at the celebration is the famous singer Johnny Fontane, Corleone's godson, who has come from Hollywood to petition for help in landing a movie role that will revitalize his flagging career. Jack Woltz, the head of the studio, will not give Fontane the part, but Don Corleone explains to Johnny: "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." Hagen is dispatched to California to fix the problem, but Woltz angrily tells him that he will never cast Fontane in the role, for which he is perfect, because Fontane seduced and "ruined" a starlet that Woltz favored. The next morning, Woltz wakes up to find the bloody severed head of his prize $600,000 stud horse in the bed with him. Woltz gives in. Upon Hagen's return, the family meets with Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo, who is being backed by the rival Tattaglia family. He asks Don Corleone for financing, political and legal protection for the importation and distribution of heroin, but despite the huge amount of money to be made, Corleone refuses, explaining that his political influence would be jeopardized by a move into the narcotics trade. The Don's oldest son, hotheaded Sonny, who had earlier expressed to the Don his support of the family entering into the narcotics trade, breaks rank during the meeting and questions Sollozzo's assurances as to the Corleone Family's investment being guaranteed by the Tattaglia Family. His father, angry at Sonny's dissension in front of a non-family member, privately rebukes him later. Don Corleone then dispatches his top button man (hit man), Luca Brasi, to infiltrate Sollozzo's organization and report back with information.
Soon after his refusal to support Sollozzo, Don Corleone is shot several times in an assassination attempt, and it is not immediately known whether he has survived. Meanwhile, Sollozzo and the Tattaglias kill Luca Brasi. Sollozzo then abducts Tom Hagen and persuades him to offer Sonny the deal previously offered to his father. Enraged, Sonny refuses to consider the deal, and issues an ultimatum to the Tattaglias – turn over Sollozzo or face war. They refuse, and Sonny responds by having Bruno Tattaglia, son of Don Phillip Tattaglia, killed.
Michael, who is considered a "civilian" by the other Mafia families, not involved in mob business, visits his father in the hospital, but is shocked to find there is no one guarding him. Realizing that his father is again being set up to be killed, he calls Sonny with a report, moves his father to another room, and goes outside to watch the door. With the help of Enzo the baker, who feels indebted to the Don and has come by the hospital to pay his respects, he bluffs away Sollozzo's men. Police cars soon appear with the corrupt Captain McCluskey, who breaks Michael's jaw when he insinuates that McCluskey is being paid by Sollozzo to set up his father. Just then, Hagen arrives with "private detectives" licensed to carry guns to protect Don Corleone, and takes Michael home.
Following the attempt on the Don's life at the hospital, Sollozzo requests a meeting with the Corleones, which Captain McCluskey will attend as Sollozzo's bodyguard, and Michael volunteers to kill both men during the meeting. This initially amuses Sonny and the other senior members of the family; however, Michael convinces them that he is serious, and that killing Sollozzo and McCluskey isin the family's interest: "It's not personal. It's strictly business." Although cops are usually off limits for hits, Michael argues that since McCluskey is corrupt and has illegal dealings with Sollozzo, he is fair game. At the meeting, after being searched by McCluskey, Michael excuses himself to go to the restroom, where he retrieves a planted revolver and assassinates Sollozzo and McCluskey. For his safety Michael is sent to Sicily, while the Corleone family prepares for all-out warfare with the rest of the Five Families, united against the Corleones, as well as a general clampdown on the mob by the police and government authorities. In Sicily, Michael lives under the protection of Don Tommasino, an old friend of the family. While there, he falls in love with and marries a local girl, Apollonia Vitelli, who is later killed by a car bomb intended to assassinate Michael.
Back in New York City, Don Corleone returns home from the hospital and is distraught to learn that it was Michael who killed Sollozzo and McCluskey. Some months later, in 1948, Sonny severely beats Carlo Rizzi for brutalizing the pregnant Connie, and threatens to kill him the next time he abuses her. An angry Carlo responds by plotting with Tattaglia and Don Emilio Barzini, the Corleones' chief rivals, to have Sonny killed. Carlo beats Connie again in order to lure Sonny out. Furious, Sonny drives off alone to fulfill his threat. On the way, he is ambushed at a toll booth and machine-gunned to death in his car.
Instead of seeking revenge for Sonny's killing, Don Corleone meets with the heads of the Five Families to arrange an end to the war. Not only is it draining all of their assets and threatening their survival, but ending the conflict is the only way that Michael can return home safely. Reversing his previous decision, Vito agrees that the Corleone family will provide political protection for Tattaglia's traffic in heroin. At the meeting, Don Corleone deduces that Don Barzini, not Tattaglia, was ultimately behind the mob war and Sonny's death. With his safety guaranteed, Michael returns from Sicily. More than a year later, he reunites with his former girlfriend, Kay, telling her that he wants to marry her. With the Don semi-retired, Sonny dead and middle brother Fredo considered incapable of running the family business, Michael is now in charge, and promises Kay to make the family completely legitimate within five years. Peter Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio, two Corleone Family caporegimes (captains) complain that they are being pushed around by the Barzini Family and ask permission to strike back, but Michael denies the request. He plans to move the family operations to Nevada and after that, Clemenza and Tessio may break away to go on their own. Michael further promises thatConnie's husband, Carlo, is going to be his right hand man in Nevada. Tom Hagen has been removed as consigliere and is now merely the family's lawyer, with Vito serving as consigliere. Privately, Hagen complains about his change in status, and also questions Michael about a new regime of "soldiers" secretly being built under Rocco Lampone. Don Vito explains to Hagen that Michael is acting on his advice. In Las Vegas Michael is greeted by Fredo and Johnny Fontane in the hotel-casino partly financed by the Corleones, and run by Moe Greene. Michael explains to Johnny that the Family needs his help in persuading his friends in show business to sign long-term contracts to appear at the casino. In a meeting with Moe Greene, Michael offers to buy out Greene but is rudely rebuffed. Greene believes the Corleones are weak and that he can secure a better deal from Barzini. As Moe and Michael argue, Fredo takes sides with Moe. Afterward, Michael firmly tells Fredo to never again take sides with anyone against the family.
Michael returns home. In a private moment, Vito explains his expectation that the Family's enemies will attempt to kill Michael by using a trusted associate to arrange a meeting as a pretext for assassination. Vito also reveals that he never intended a life of crime for Michael, hoping that his youngest son would hold legitimate power as a senator or governor. Shortly afterwards, Vito dies of a heart attack while playing with his young grandson Anthony in his tomato garden. At the burial, Tessio conveys a proposal for a meeting with Barzini, which identifies him as the traitor that Vito was expecting. Michael arranges for a series of murders to occur while he is standing as godfather for Connie and Carlo's son: Don Stracci and his bodyguards are shot by Clemenza with a shotgun as they exit an elevator; Moe Greene, while having a massage in one of his hotels, is shot in the eye by an unknown assassin; Don Cuneo, while leaving a hotel, is trapped in a revolving door by Willi Cicci and shot; Don Tattaglia and a woman he is with are gunned down while in bed by Rocco Lampone and another unknown assassin; Finally, Don Barzini is shot on the steps of a courthouse by Al Neri, who is disguised by wearing his old policeman's uniform.
After the baptism, Tessio believes he and Hagen are on their way to the meeting between Michael and Barzini that he has arranged. Instead, he is surrounded by Willi Cicci and other button men. Realizing that Michael has found out about his betrayal, Tessio tells Hagen that his betrayal was only business. Meanwhile, Michael confronts Carlo about Sonny's murder and gets him to admit his role in setting up the ambush. Michael informs Carlo that his punishment is to be excluded from the family business and hands him a plane ticket to exile in Las Vegas. Carlo gets into a car to go to the airport, where he is garroted by Clemenza.
Later, Connie confronts Michael, accusing him of Carlo's murder. Kay questions Michael about Connie's accusation, but he refuses to answer. She insists, and Michael lies, assuring his wife that he had no role in Carlo's death. Kay is relieved by his denial, believing it to be true. The film ends with Clemenza and new caporegimes Rocco Lampone and Al Neri paying their respects to Michael. Clemenza kisses Michael's hand and greets him as "Don Corleone." Kay watches as the door closes.
Unused parts of the novel
One of the primary parts of Puzo's novel which was not used for the movie was the flashback story of Don Corleone's earlier life, including the circumstances of his emigration to America, his early family life, his murder of Don Fanucci, and his rise in importance in the mafia, all of which were later used in The Godfather Part II. Many subplots were trimmed in the transition from the printed page to the screen, including: singer Johnny Fontane's misfortunes with women and his problems with his voice; Sonny's impulsive dabbling in street crime as a teenager and his utter lack of the tact and coolheadedness possessed in such abundance by his father; Sonny's paramour Lucy Mancini's new-found love in Dr. Jules Segal (a character entirely missing from the film), who not only repairs Lucy's vaginal malformation but puts Michael in touch with the surgeon who repairs Michael's facial bones (which had been damaged by Capt. McCluskey) and also operated on Johnny Fontane's vocal cords, thus restoring his singing voice; Jack Woltz's increasing pedophilia; Kay Adams' home life; Luca Brasi's demonic past; the Corleone family's victorious rise to power in earlier New York gang wars in which Don Corleone survives a previous assassination attempt and Al Capone sends triggermen from Chicago in an unsuccessful attempt to aid a rival gang; Don Corleone's ingenious plan used to take Michael out of exile in Sicily; the detailed savage attack on the two men who assaulted Bonasera's daughter, which was led by Paulie Gatto and involved retainer thugs (which was only alluded to in the film). According to the book, the reason Michael gives Sonny for his new-found aggression is "They made it personal when they shot Pop. It is not business, it's personal"; but in the movie, he states his father's motto, "It's business, not personal".
Additionally, the novel makes it clear that Lucy was not pregnant by Sonny when she moved to Las Vegas, thus leaving no room for Vincent Mancini of The Godfather Part III. Puzo wrote the screenplays of all three movies, so the contradiction was well known to him.
Novel and film comparisons
Characters with smaller roles in the film than in the novel include Johnny Fontane, Lucy Mancini, Rocco Lampone, and Al Neri (the latter two are reduced to non-speaking roles). Characters dropped in the film adaptation beside Dr. Segal include Genco Abbandando (only spoken of, he appears in a deleted scene featured in The Godfather Saga; he first appears on film in The Godfather II) and Dr. Taza from Sicily. Also, in the book, Michael and Kay have two sons, but in the movies they have a son and a daughter.
The novel and film also differ on the fates of Michael's bodyguards in Sicily, Fabrizio and Calò. The film has them both surviving (Calò, in fact, appears in the third installment). In the book, however, Calò dies along with Apollonia in the car explosion, and Fabrizio is shot and killed as one more victim in the famous "baptism scene" after he is tracked down running a pizza parlor in America. Fabrizio's murder was deleted from the film but publicity photos of the scene exist. (He is later killed in a completely different scene in The Godfather Saga which was deleted from The Godfather Part II).
The ending of the book differs from the end of the movie: whereas in the film Kay suddenly realizes that Michael has become "like his family", the drama is toned down in the book, where Tom Hagen lets her in on secrets for which, according to him, he would be killed should Michael find out. During the film's baptism scene, all the heads of the Five Families were killed. In the novel, only Barzini and Tattaglia, previously at war with the Corleones, are killed.