Awesome addition to Brando's portraits
EVERYBODY must know by now that The Godfather ("X," Paramount, Universal, Empire, ABC 1) is a story of the Mafia, from Mario Puzo's novel; that the film is expected to "gross" more than any previous movie, that it is showing simultaneously at four. major West End cinemas, and that it runs for three hours without an intermission.
The question is how far it lives up to. this well-sold image. Approaching from the firm conviction that any film which lasts three hours must be too long, I must admit I never found "The Godfather" dull.
Nor does it seem over-long after the first half hour or so which establishes the sumptuously sombre setting and introduces with solemnity the venerable "Godfather," Don Vito Co r le one (Marlon Brando) wielding his authority over the members of his family and their shares in the family business as securely as if this were some black "Forsyte Saga" (in the sense not of black power but of black comedy).
From his daughter's lavish wedding reception he can be called aside to attend to an appeal from the underworld to redress the court's too-lenient sentence for a nasty attack on the plaintiff's daughter.
Corleone's youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), a pleasantly conventional young American soldier planning his marriage, seems about to graduate from the family business of vendetta into normal society.
Destiny and the machinations of rival gangs or families drive him to carry on "The Godfather's" ruthless administration of illegal justice, so that at the very ceremony where he is renouncing Satan on behalf of his baby godson he is taking over the management of some of the most cold-blooded and remorseless murders ever screened.
Undoubtedly the sombre opulence of the furnishings, the black hair and black suits of the predominantly Italian, pre dominantly male cast contri
bute to the atmosphere of menace which permeates the picture as it permeates the popular image of the Mafia. • If to entertain means to hold the attention, "The Godfather" entertains magisterially to the end of its three hours. The production, the performances, and director Francis Ford Coppola's assured polish are as superb as in the plushiest drama directed by William Wyler, from the New York interiors and street scenes to the sunlit splendours of Sicily, whither the immigrant exiles at last go home to end their part in the dark drama.
Brando's own performance as the old Don is another meticulous and awesome addition to the gallery of this remarkable portrait-actor. It does not supersede the promises of Al Pacino, who takes over from Brando's performance as smoothly as Michael Corleone carries on his father's mission of blood. Slightly reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman, Pacino appears to have great reserve of power from which to fill his slight frame.
On all these scores "The Godfather" may claim to fulfil expectations. My reservations are twofold. First, although this is a film evidently about Mafia operations in New York, it does not after all pro
vide any illumination about the Mafia, its origins, history and raison crdtre. The Mafia image (it is not named) is used only as a slightly new context for a particularly violent exercise in the old gangster tradition.
The ultimate question is the attitude of the film which, if not of positive sympathy for the Mafia's ends and means, appears at least to be one of acceptance. In one crucial scene Michael placates his girlfriend's doubts of his family's trafficking in murder by appearing to equate his family with palicemen and politicians or men of power in any sphere.
This cool acceptance of what Chambers Dictionary defines as the "preference for private and unofficial rather than legal justice" has a disturbing dual effect. It gives the film's violence an academic quality which freezes the normal human response of revulsion; and it conveys a destructive view of human society which is thoroughly unacceptable.
The very young American ideas in Billy Jack ("AA," Classic, Piccadilly and Chelsea Curzon) as practised in a progressive school in Arizona, also show a preference for private rather than establishment justice.
With their eclectic echoes of Maharishi mysticism, Korean karate, Red Indian peace-puffing and snake ceremony, Californian Jesus-cults, international free love, and participation in rehearsing for life have a good deal of absurdity and pathos which the extravagances of contemporary youth often assume in the eyes of those who are a little older.
At least the ideals are wellintentioned and the absurdities usually harmless and even funny, as When the bumbling sheriff finds himself, involuntarily taking part in a drama group's rehearsal of a "happening."
The "Freedom School" is situated on an Indian reservation in Arizona. Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) is a half-breed who is the local combination of pop idol, parfit knight, protector of women and children, and defender of his race and tribe. He appears almost like a genie When summoned "Indian fashion" by the mere radar of a schoolgirl's need, though he fails, alas, to respond to the appeal of the schoolmistress, Jean (Dolores Taylor) from her still worse danger pinned naked to the ground by one or two of the white Baddies.
Produced by the National Student Film Corporation, the whole fable is naive but it is often as touching in effect as it is in its desperately earnest and "caring" intention.