1972 • The Godfather

The Godfather

Best of the best so far?

It took me three tries, but Lauren and I finally made it through The Godfather, the 1972 winner of the Best Picture, and the #2 movie on AFI’s 100 Movies list.  The first time we started watching, it was well past 9pm and I fell asleep on the couch after 30 minutes.  Eleven days later we tried again, and this time I fell asleep after 22 minutes.  Lauren finished the movie, but I had to watch it on a Saturday morning to avoid drowsing off.

There’s not much one can say about The Godfather that hasn’t already been said hundreds of times before. What I can say is thank you to Wikipedia for providing a detailed plot that kept me tuned in to what was happening, and also thank you for closed captioning so I could understand what was being said!  Because of these two factors, I was able to understand what was going on most of the time.

Obviously, excellent acting by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, and everyone else. I was surprised just how many big names there were in the movie, and even more surprised how many other big name actors auditioned and were turned down.  I hear it was director Coppola who pushed for then-unknown Al Pacino to play the role of Michael Corleone, and was so adamant about it that he nearly walked out on the film until the studio caved.

Like so many of the other Best Picture winners from this era, there were dozens of moments from the movie that had been spoofed by TV shows or movies countless times before.  My favorite such moment was the severed horse head in the bed which was parodied on The Simpsons.  That scene was certainly the most memorable of the entire movie, in my opinion, especially when I found out that was a real horse head obtained from a dog food company.

I can’t say much else about this masterpiece.  Excellent all-around movie.  Lauren and I are skipping over 1973’s The Sting so we can watch 1974’s The Godfather: Part II in succession.  We’re also going to go right into Part III once we’re finished with that, though many say the third movie only tarnished the legacy.  Anyway, I ranked The Godfather third on the list to this point, trailing only The Best Years of Our Lives and The Sound of Music.

1971 • The French Connection

The French Connection 1971

France and US connected by drugs

After returning from a New Years weekend trip to South Dakota, Lauren and I spent what was left of our Sunday night by watching the 1971 Best Picture winner, The French Connection.

The movie involves a huge shipment of heroin from Marseilles, France to New York City.  Two detectives, Russo and Cloudy, suspect something is up at a table after a visit to a bar one night after work, and do some investigating.  Turns out they’ve stumbled onto this massive drug deal.  Highlights of the movie include the memorable car chase scene where Russo chases down a hitman on a subway using a civilian’s car.

Gene Hackman was the star of the show and played an excellent hard-nosed detective.  He went with his gut feeling throughout the entire movie, and was almost always right about everything despite little or no evidence to back up his instincts.

As always, I like to do a little background research into the movie before watching it, and learned there was a real French Connection a few years earlier.  A book about this event was written by Ernest Tidyman, and then the fictionalized screenplay was produced.

Something struck me as very odd about the real life French Connection.  The lead detectives on the case were Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso.  They were the ones who broke this huge drug case wide open.  It seems to me the fame they must have encountered as a result of the ensuing book and movie got to their heads.  These guys were actors in the movie (though they didn’t play themselves) and then Grosso wound up becoming a movie producer and minor actor, being involved in 36 projects.  I get the feeling they made one big strike as detectives and got out on top and capitalized on the success of the movie loosely based on them, completely giving up detective work and concentrating on film.  Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what it seems like.

Overall The French Connection was a really good movie, good for 13 of 40 on my rankings to this point.  I thought the chase scenes were intense and the story was easy to follow (even for me!).  It helped to have the subtitles on.  It didn’t run on for too long (1 hour, 44 minutes) and rarely strayed from the main storyline.

Next up, we dive into the Godfather movies.