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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Great Christmas Movie: The Godfather


In an earlier post on books adapted to film, I wrote that The Godfather may be the only example where the film is clearly as good or better than what was also an outstanding novel. With Christmas a week away, it is worth noting that The Godfather is also a fine Christmas book/movie. Everyone includes Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life (along with a few newer additions like Scrooged and Elf) on their best holiday films list. But the one that no one seems to include is not only a fine holiday film, but one of the best ever made in any genre.

At first glance, The Godfather may not seem like a typical Christmas classic, what with the Mafia and murders and such, but a closer look reveals that it touches on most of the things that we supposedly care about during this festive time of year, and what we want in our holiday films and books:

1. A Christmas setting. At least part of the film, and in fact one of the most pivotal parts, occurs during the Christmas holidays: the scene early in the film where Don Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) is shot by rival gangsters. At roughly the same time, consigliere Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall) is kidnapped by men from the same crime family that shot the Don, and what is he doing? He's Christmas shopping. Before being released he is taken to a diner near a lot selling Christmas trees. It couldn't be more holiday-friendly if the Grinch walked into the scene with Tiny Tim on his back.

2. Christmas is one of the only times of the year that many people go to church. One of the final scenes in the film show the baptism of the nephew of Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino). The scene shows an entire Catholic baptism ritual, in both Latin and English. It doesn't get much more church-like than that, even with the assassination of the heads of the five New York crime Families intercut throughout the baptism.

3. The holidays are about family. We constantly hear about how the holidays are a time for family, and our Christmas films must mirror that. Well, there has never been a film more centered on family than The Godfather. Everything these characters do is done in the name of family, usually to the exclusion of any outsiders. At one point, Michael Corleone warns his brother Fredo (played by John Cazale): "Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever takes sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever." That ranks right up there with "God bless us, everyone" in the Pantheon of holiday sentiments.

So when you sit down this Christmas season to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and Frosty the Snowman, don't forget The Godfather. It's a holiday offer you can't refuse.

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