Francis Ford Coppola, 1972
Areas of focus
1. “I believe in America…”
The opening words of the film are spoken by Amerigo Bonasera, a
man with an Italian accent who has given up on the American legal
system and come to Don Vito Corleone for “justice.” We see him
from the Don’s perspective, in a single long take, within Vito’s
darkened chambers. Notice how each detail – the sepia tones, the
Venetian blinds, the old world décor, the Don’s distorted face and
muffled voice, his conservative tuxedo with the rosebud lapel –
contributes to the mood.
How would you describe this mood and what it implies about the
Why does the camera keep shifting back and forth between this
inner sanctum and the noisy wedding party just outside?
The film’s first violent act is the killing of a horse, but we
never see the act itself. What makes this scene so
Most of it is a single long take that gradually reveals the
grisly deed. How does Coppola use music, color, texture,
voice, and editing to both prepare and shock us?
3. Meeting with Sollozzo.
In one of the film’s many “business meetings,” Sollozzo
tries to convince the Don to help him enter the drug
trade. Tom Hagen prepares Vito (and us) with a two-
minute briefing about Sollozzo [beginning at 33:50],
interspersed with shots of the men arriving for the
meeting. How do you know who has the power in this
Pay attention to the actors’ positioning, their dress and
the body language, what they say, how they say it, and
what they don’t say. Analyze the scene from the
perspective of a social historian, an economist, a
communications expert, or a military tactician.
4. Luca Brasi Sleeps with the Fishes.
Watch how Coppola prepares us for Luca
Brasi’s death. Begin as Brasi, framed in his
bedroom doorway, puts on his bulletproof vest
and checks his gun. Follow him through the
gleaming hotel corridor to the bar. Notice the fish
etched on the glass and the brown tones of the
room. Watch the men’s hands and faces as they
speak in Sicilian.
Compare this to other death scenes throughout
Michael at the Hospital.
We begin to see a new side of Michael when he takes
steps to save his father at the hospital. What personal
qualities does he demonstrate in this scene?
How does Coppola create suspense and suggest
Michael’s silent thoughts?
Pay close attention to the sound track, lighting, editing,
and other elements of film. Contrast Michael’s reflective
methods with Sonny’s outgoing style in the scenes that
“How’s the Italian food in this restaurant?”
The scene in which Michael shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey at
dinner is one of the film’s most chilling moments.
Which parts of the scene do you find most compelling? Why?
Who has the power in this scene?
Does the power shift at any point?
Do you expect something to go wrong?
Does your attitude toward Michael change by the final shot?
Explain your expectations and responses in terms of what happens
in the scene and how it is filmed.
The Sicilian interlude is an important part of the book.
Why do you think Coppola chose to include it in the
What does it contribute to the story and to our
understanding of Michael?
Contrast the music, color, and other cinematic qualities
of these scenes to those that take place in New York and
The Don Dies.
Vito dies in his garden while playing with his grandson.
Did you expect him to die when you first saw this scene?
What guided your expectations or surprised you?
Some of the details (the insecticide gun, the orange)
were not in the book. Why do you think they were added
to the film?
Much of the interaction between Brando and the child
was improvised. Does this scene seem different from the
rest of the movie?
Baptism and Murder.
The crosscutting between the church baptism and the revenge
killings is the film’s grand finale and one of the most celebrated
examples of editing in movie history. Why do you think the editors
chose to splice together shots from different locations (something
that was not in the book)?
Notice their use of matching action (like walking up the stairs), the
priest’s voice, music, color, and other film elements to link shots.
What thematic connections are suggested here?
What does the crosscutting tell us about Michael? How do you judge
him at this point in his life?