In this original New York Times review of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, published on March 16, 1972, columnist Vincent Canby describes specifically the plot and themes of the film. He then proceeds to sing the praises of Coppola’s efforts. Ultimately, we can see how this popular film was well-received even upon its initial release, given that Canby’s article was nothing short of glowing.
Canby begins the article by introducing Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel The Godfather first. More often than not adapted screenplays from novels aren’t well liked, partly because there is a great deal of expectation surrounding them, but also because creating what many people have envisioned differently is a daunting task. Still, Canby begins his series of compliments by praising Coppola for being able to stand up to the task and really make the film as good as if not better than the novel, while still remaining true to the characters and plotline.
He continues by turning to the complexities of both the characters as well as story difficulties, describing how characters that are very well liked may very well act out in later scenes, making it difficult to establish whom to vote for. For instance, the typical mafia wars here are not particularly glorified, nor does Coppola hide the brutality of the family business. Instead, despite the rather small portion of a community that has actually experienced it, he gives us a full and true sense of both the violence as well as the love and respect present within the Corleone family.
Finally, Canby attempts to make a brief mention of the superb acting in the film, but with so many incredible people, most of whom would go on to lead very successful careers if they weren’t already, he struggles and only specifically calls out Marlon Brando for his incredible return to film, and Al Pacino, who starred. Coppola receives many compliments for his rather lengthy feature film, 175 minutes in fact, all of which are of course well deserved.