'The Godfather' Turns 40


With all the fanfare of James Bond's Golden Anniversary, it's been easy to overlook the fact that this year also marks the 40th anniversary of one of cinema's greatest achievements: Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. In celebration of the occasion, Insight Editions has released The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives, an incredibly detailed tome containing never-before seen stills and production materials, insightful anecdotes and rare, removable memorabilia from all three Godfather films. It's an offer you can't refuse…

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"I think it's a film that in one way suggests the great days of Hollywood, like Casablanca, that really endured from that period," film historian Peter Cowie, author of The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives, tells ET. "At the same time it is timeless. It's as modern as yesterday's crime … and it has an almost mythical quality, like The Odyssey or The Iliad. … Every new generation seems to like it; it doesn’t seem to have any wrinkles, or date at all."

A saga by Mario Puzo that Coppola likened to a story of king with three sons, The Godfather stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire and John Cazale in the tale of an Italian immigrant who establishes roots in America and grows to power using organized crime, then must pass his dynasty along to a reluctant son. With the first film ranked at No. 2 on AFI's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, The Godfather trilogy as a whole garnered 29 Oscars including Best Picture wins for the first two installments.

In addition to its "gallery of rogues and semi-virtuous people alike," one of the reasons Cowie feels that the film endures is due to its operatic quality: "I think it's that swirling feeling of being swept along on a tide of destiny, above everyday life, which separates [The Godfather] from a very good film like Goodfellas. … I think people want to escape into that grandeur of great opera when they see a film like this. That may be the secret."

Cowie adds, "I think we also have to ask ourselves whether we would be talking about The Godfather on quite such an elevated scale if there hadn’t been a Godfather: Part II. I think Part II extended the story, enriched the character in particular of Michael (played by Pacino), and gave the whole story the element of a saga. … I think on the whole it added dimension to The Godfather itself in retrospect. When people talk about The Godfather they also have The Godfather: Part II in mind."

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Interesting behind-the-scenes trivia that Cowie delves into in The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives includes how Coppola was actually Paramount's third choice for director, and how studio execs initially wanted either Robert Redford or Ryan O'Neal to play Brando's character of Don Corleone.

The book also contains replications of archival memorabilia contained in red envelopes interspersed throughout, including a page from Puzo's novel annotated during the writing of the screenplay, publicity posters for the Godfather films and an intriguing promotional leaflet on the prosthetic teeth created especially for Brando and other stars of the film to help establish their characters.

The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archivesis available now.