The Godfather was released in 1972 and based on the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola from a screenplay by Puzo, Coppola and an uncredited Robert Towne. It stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard S Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte and Diane Keaton, and features John Cazale, Talia Shire, Al Martino and Abe Vigoda. The fictional story, which spans ten years from 1945 to 1955, chronicles the development of the Italian American Corleone crime family. Two sequels followed: The Godfather Part 2 in 1974, and The Godfather Part 3 in 1990.
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 had been ranked third - behind Citizen Kane (1941) and Casablanca (1942) - on the AFI's 100 years....100 Movies list by the American Film Institute. It was moved up to second when the list was published again in 2008.
In late August 1945, as the movie opens, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) hears requests for favors during his daughter Connie's wedding reception, while his adopted son Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) listens. Actor/singer Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), Corleone's godson, asks for help in landing a movie role that will revitalize his flagging career. Hagen is dispatched to Hollywood to meet with studio head Jack Woltz (John Marley) to ensure Fontane gets his desired role. After rudely refusing to cast Fontane, Woltz caves in when he finds the severed head of his beloved, prized racehorse "Khartoum" in his bed as he awakes in the morning.
Upon Hagen's return, the family leadership meets with "The Turk" Virgil Sollozzo (Al Leti), who asks Don Corleone to protect the rival Tattaglia family's heroin business. Don Vito disapproves of drug trafficking and feels his political influence could be jeopardized, so he rejects the potentially lucrative proposal. He then sends his primary henchman, Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), to visit Sollozzo's organization, but Brasi is caught by Bruno Tattaglia and Sollozzo, and gets garroted.
Don Corleone is shot nine times in the back at a fruit stand in an assassination attempt (though Sollozzo later says he was hit with "five shots"). Sollozzo kidnaps Hagen and persuades him to offer Corleone's eldest son, Sonny (James Caan), the deal previously offered to the Don. As a warning, the Tattaglias send the Corleones fish with Luca Brasi's bulletproof vest to confirm that he "sleeps with the fishes". The youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), whom the other Mafia families consider a "civilian" uninvolved in mob business, thwarts a second assassination attempt at the hospital where his father is being treated, but his jaw is broken by corrupt police officer Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden). Sonny retaliates by having Bruno Tattaglia killed.
Sollozzo and McCluskey meet with Michael at a local Italian restaurant in an attempt to settle the dispute. Michael pretends he needs to use the bathroom, and following a plan he initiated, retrieves a gun hidden there. Michael returns to the table and kills both Sollozzo and McCluskey. He leaves the country and takes refuge in Sicily, where he soon marries a young local woman named Appolonia Vitelli (Simonetta Stefanelli). The third Corleone brother, Fredo (Jon Cazale), is sent to Las Vegas where he is sheltered by casino operators the Corleones back financially. Open warfare soon erupts between the Corleones and the other members of the five families, while the police and other authorities begin to clamp down on Mafia activity. Don Vito is particularly distressed when he learns of Michael's involvement, since he had planned for Michael to remain uninvolved in the "family business."
Sonny impulsively leaves the guarded family compound to confront Carlo (Gianni Russo) who has been abusing Connie (Talia Shire). Sonny beats up Carlo on the street and threatens to kill him if he ever abuses Connie again. Later, Carlo beats Connie again and upon getting her phone call, Sonny, who is enraged, drives from the compound for her home. En route, he is ambushed and massacred by machine gun-wielding thugs at a toll booth. Meanwhile, Michael narrowly escapes death in Sicily when his wife is killed by a car bomb intended for him.
Don Vito meets with the other Five Family dons and settles their dispute, withdrawing his opposition to the Tattaglias' heroin business. He deduces from the negotiations that the Tattaglias were acting on behalf of the more powerful Don Barzini (Richard Conte). With his safety now guaranteed, Michael returns home. More than a year later, he marries his long time American girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton). As his father withdraws from active control of the Corleone family, and as middle brother Fredo is seen as incapable of shouldering the Don's responsibilities, Michael becomes head of the family and its business. He promises Kay he will legitimize its businesses within five years.
Biding his time, Michael allows rival families to pressure Corleone enterprises and eat away at their revenues, disturbing several of his caporegimes. He directs them not to retaliate, disclosing plans to move family operations to Nevada while spinning off New York operations to family members who stay behind. Michael chooses Carlo to go to Vegas and replaces Hagen with his father as his consigliere; Vito explains to the upset Hagen that he and Michael have longer-range plans for him and for the family.
Michael travels to Las Vegas, intending to buy out their casino partner, Moe Greene (Alex Rocco). Greene angrily rejects the proposal, deriding the Corleones as a failing organization. Michael is particularly angered when Fredo, under the sway of Greene and his associates, warns his brother that Greene is too important to be treated in that fashion.
Vito Corleone collapses and dies while playing with his young grandson Anthony in his tomato garden. At his funeral, caporegime Tessio (Abe Vigoda) arranges a meeting between Michael and Don Barzini, now seen as the dominant figure in the New York families. As Vito had warned Michael, Tessio's involvement signals his shift of allegiance to the Barzini family; the planned meeting is intended to result in Michael's assassination. The meeting is set for the same day as the christening of Connie and Carlo's son, where Michael will stand as his godfather.
As the christening proceeds, Corleone assassins murder each of the dons heading the other New York families and Moe Greene in Las Vegas. After the christening, Tessio learns that Michael is aware of his betrayal, and is taken off to his death. Michael confronts Carlo over his presumed involvement in setting up Sonny's killing, saying he is out of the Family business and handing him a plane ticket to Las Vegas. After Carlo confesses he betrayed Sonny to Barzini, he is escorted to a waiting car only to be garroted from behind by Clemenza (Richard S Castellano)
Later, a distraught Connie accuses Michael of murdering Carlo. When Kay confronts him privately, he denies killing Carlo, an answer she appears to accept. Soon afterward, Michael meets with his capos. Clemenza greets Michael as "Don Corleone" and kisses his hand. Rocco Lampone kisses Michael's hand as well. Unknown to them, Kay is watching. She realizes that Michael has become the new Don.