Cult Movies: Gangster classic The Godfather remains a riveting epic after 50 years

Marlon Brando in The Godfather
Ralph McLean

The Godfather

THE Godfather is 50. With that significant birthday meaning a predictably lavish Blu-ray box set release for the original film, its equally acclaimed – some may even venture superior – follow up and the deservedly less appreciated third instalment have also been re-released to provide "the last word" on director Francis Ford Coppola's epic tale of family, mob morality and unchecked gangsterism, at least until the next notable anniversary rolls around and a 'extra-super deluxe' edition is rolled out to shake us down one more time at any rate.

However, such an event also allows us a chance to reflect on the original movie and just what it means in terms of cinematic history. Almost every large scale gangster fable to grace screens both big and small in the half-century since The Godfather first appeared owes it a huge debt. If this tale of mumbling Italian crime overlord Vito Corleone and his dysfunctional family didn't exist, then neither would the guys from Goodfellas or Tony Soprano and his messed up clan.

Marlon Brando is unforgettable as Corleone, exuding a snake-like charisma all of his own every time he opens that cotton wool-stuffed mouth, but really the entire trilogy is the story of his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) and his journey through the ranks of organised crime.

Much more than a simple gangster story, this is a sprawling study of family, loyalty, machismo and betrayal all dressed-up in the finest period clothes and boasting moments of genuinely shocking blood and gore.

Re-watching Coppola's first film today is remarkable for many reasons. Firstly, it's never looked plusher than it does in this set. Even if you already have the film in your home –and if you're reading this there's a fair chance you do, or even if you invested in the Blu-ray upgrade that emerged in 2007, The Godfather Trilogy is still worth digging deep into your wallet for.

Paramount have apparently spent over 4,000 hours correcting every single blemish, every little stain and minute scratch for this release. The result is a sparkling visual experience.

Secondly, you may have forgotten how long it is. The film sprawls its way over almost three long hours and, while it holds your attention impressively, it's still a criminally slow-burning yarn all the same.

Finally, it's easy to forget how pulpy the source material from writer Mario Puzo was, with much of that soap opera style tension transposed into the film's very core. Puzo's best selling 1969 novel was awash with overwrought family dynamics and the vibe of Dynasty with more danger and the ever-present potential for someone to pull a gun or leave a severed horse's head on your pillow rather than throwing a Martini over you remains palpable on screen throughout.

Coppola does romanticise the lifestyle of these essentially morally vacuous thugs relentlessly, of course, but it remains impossible to take your eyes off the epic drama as it twists and turns endlessly.

It may be 50-years-old, but The Godfather remains an incredible piece of art all the same.

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