In 1969, American author Mario Puzo made readers an offer they couldn’t refuse: the chance to dive into the world of New York’s Mafia scene with an entirely different point of view. While most gangster features looked at things from the perspective of an outraged outsider, this crime novel focused on the perspective of a family of gangsters within the Mafia. Just how much do you know about this literary classic?
The Godfather, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, follows Corleone family patriarch Vito and his children, Santino (Sonny), Frederico (Fredo), Michael, daughter Constanzia (Connie) and informally adopted son Tom Hagen. While the title Godfather applies to Vito, who is the actually godfather to movie star Johnny Fontane, the central character of the novel is actual Michael Corleone. Initially, Michael has very little interest in the family business or the mob war currently underway with the other four Mafia families in New York. However, after Vito is shot by Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, Sonny and Michael must step up to run the family business. Hagen assists as the family’s consigliere (counsellor), as do the caporegime’s (capo’s) Clemenza and Tessio.
After Michael murders Sollozzo and corrupt police Captain McCluskey, the conflict escalates into a full-blown war that leads to Sonny’s murder. Under his retired father’s tutelage, Michael ascends to the head of the family and orchestrates a plan to relocate the family’s power base from New York to Las Vegas. Along with detailing the events that transpire between 1945 to 1955, the novel also provides the back story of Vito from his early childhood in Corleone, Sicily to adulthood.
The novel was later adapted into a three-time Academy Award, five-time Golden Globe, and Grammy Award-winning feature film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather film was released in 1972 and starred Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. Along with writing the screenplay, author Puzo also assisted with other production tasks. The film grossed $269 million worldwide, breaking numerous box office records and became the highest grossing film of 1972. While the plot largely follows the novel, the film ends on a less upbeat tone with Michael’s wife becoming aware of his newfound ruthlessness.
This theme was explored further in the subsequent sequel, The Godfather Part II, which won six Oscars, and became the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. A third film, The Godfather Part III, served as the epilogue to the trilogy and follows Michael – now a Mafia kingpin – as he attempts to legitimize his criminal empire. Although this film was generally less favored by critics, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Following its release, The Godfather remained on the The New York Times Best Seller list for 67 weeks and sold over nine million copies in just two years. The film spawned by the novel is considered one of the most significant films, especially from the gangster genre, in cinematic history. In 1990, it was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. After 50 years, both the novel and subsequent sequels, remain some of pop culture’s greatest critical and commercial successes, in addition to establishing new benchmarks for the gangster genre in both paper and film.