Hi, everyone. Welcome to another edition of Music Monday.
(Image found online. Original source unknown.)
Fifty years ago the landscape of cinematic history changed with the premiere of one of the greatest films ever made. “The Godfather”, Francis Ford Coppola’s Academy Award winning masterpiece about Don Vito Corleone, a man at the head of an organized crime operation in New York City, was released in 1972. From its debut, it was hailed as a work of art, a masterful tale of family, respect, business, honor and the Italian culture both in America & in Europe. It also produced two sequels.
As an Italian American woman, there was no way I could let a monumental anniversary like this go without paying homage to its place in history. My dad was a huge fan of the movie and the 1969 book by Mario Puzo (who also wrote the screenplay with Coppola). I remember trying to watch it with my father when I was barely a teenager but gave up after the heartbreaking death of heir apparent first born son Santino (“Sonny”, played by James Caan).
Once I watched it as an adult I, of course, saw it for the phenomenal event that it was. I was especially struck by how fair, balanced and gentle Don Corleone was (played to perfection by Marlon Brando, who won the Best Actor Oscar for the role, which he famously declined), a man of many traits who valued family and could clearly see justice in even the most offensive situations. Case in point: Don Corleone was asked by an undertaker to kill the two the men who brutally beat his daughter. The Godfather told the anguished man that was not justice as his daughter was still alive. But that did not mean the men who hurt her did not deserve to suffer as well. And when Sonny was killed, his heartbroken father called for a truce rather than an act of revenge in order to save the lives of his other two sons.
Yet none of his boys inherited their father’s sense of balance. Each one fell victim to the predominant trait they inherited from Don Corleone. For Sonny, it was his temper. For Fredo, it was his pride. For Michael, it was his need for revenge. It cost two of them their lives and for Michael, it cost him his first wife & his daughter, as seen in the third installment of the trilogy (Don Vito also adopted a fourth son, Tom Hagen, when he was a child. He grew up to be the family lawyer and conciliary, played by Robert Duvall).
If everyone yearns to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, you can believe nearly everyone wanted to be Italian after seeing this film, despite the gangter underscore to the story. And it has been part of our pop culture vernacular for five decades. It has been referenced in so many other movies and TV shows I have lost count (but probably most famously in “The Sopranos” for obvious reasons). I think my favorite ones are in “You’ve Got Mail” (both Tom Hank’s & Greg Kinnear’s characters acknowledge quotes from the film) and in “Modern Family” in S4 E13, “Fulgencio”. Surprisingly in that story arc it was nice guy Phil Dunphy who took his turn as The Godfather to save his family’s honor with the help of his son, Luke. It was an exceptionally funny episode from a series full of them & definately worth the watch if you have not seen it.
But for me, like with everything else, the film was about the music-in particularly-the theme song. I remember being in another room of my house when I heard the hauntingly beautiful instrumental score coming from the living room. My dad was watching the movie again but this time it looked remarkably different than what I remembered. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) was walking along the hills of Sicily as the gorgeous theme played. I loved it so much (and the music from Connie’s wedding scene too, especially The Tarantella) that my dad bought me the album. But surprisingly enough, the theme song was not on The Godfather’s Family Wedding Album.
My grandmother remembered hearing a version of it by Italian vocalist Jerry Vale, so we searched the stores for it and found it on his 1974 greatest hits compilation. Crooner Andy Williams had a hit with his interpretation of the song in 1972 but not many singers have covered it in the past five decades, so Vale’s is still the rendition I come back to time and time again (although Andrea Bocelli’s 2015 Sicilian version, Brucia la terra, is quite beautiful). And as gorgeous as the instrumental score by Nino Rota was, the addition of the lyrics by Larry Kusik turned the song into an event fitting for a film considered the second best ever made after “Citizen Kane”.
Viva IL Padrino.
Warmed by the sun
Deep velvet nights
When we are one”.
From top to bottom: The 1972 movie poster for “The Godfather”; The Corleone men (L-R): Michael (Al Pacino), Don Vito (Marlon Brando), Santino (James Caan) and Fredo (John Cazale): The Godfather’s Wedding Album (1972) and “The Greatest Of Jerry Vale” (1974). (Images found online. Original sources unknown.)
Jerry Vale: “Speak Softly Love” (The Love Theme To “The Godfather“), music by Nino Rota, lyrics by Larry Kusik).
Stay safe and well.