COLUMN: Have Thanksgiving with “The Godfather”


"The Godfather" is a film often shown on Thanksgiving on AMC. The movie features an Italian crime family's complicated relationships.  Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Thanksgiving seems to get short shrift when it comes to movies. There are dozens of Halloween and Christmas movies, but besides “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “Hannah and Her Sisters”  there are not a lot of classic movies set during Thanksgiving.

A perfect example is “The Godfather." AMC often shows this Oscar-winning classic on Thanksgiving. Dev on “Master of None” once said his dad watches it every year on Thanksgiving before falling asleep. So what is it about this film that makes for good Thanksgiving viewing?

“The Godfather” tells the story of the Corleone crime family from the mid-1940s to early '50s. Aging boss Vito Corleone rules over his empire as his three sons wonder who is going to take his place. The youngest son, Michael, begins to cautiously assume this role in the midst of a gang war.

Thanksgiving has transcended its historical origins to become a celebration of family. It allows people to sit down and rejoice in the ties that bind them to others. Director Francis Ford Coppola’s film is nothing if not a celebration and critique of those familial links.

Michael draws love and strength from his family. But his commitment to them increasingly takes precedence over his morals and adherence to laws. His character arc is one of the better-crafted tragedies in American movies.

“The Godfather” has an epic scope that is fitting for a holiday that seems to encourage excessive eating. Director of photography Gordon Willis gives almost every shot the quality of a luxurious Renaissance painting. Composer Nino Rota’s melancholic score is beautiful and expansive.  

This movie has a lot of excellent subplots that contribute to its 2-hour-and-55-minute run time. Its episodic structure makes for a richer viewing experience and deepens the characters. A good example is a sequence set in Los Angeles that establishes the Corleone family as a more menacing force.

“The Godfather” has an excellent cast. Marlon Brando gives a legendary performance as Vito. Al Pacino showcases the excellent acting techniques he would use throughout his career in his role of Michael. Richard S. Castellano is effective and frequently funny as Peter Clemenza, a high ranking member of the Corleone crime family.

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the ties that create a family. This makes any good movie about family a great holiday watch. But there is still something special about spending Thanksgiving with “The Godfather.”   

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