SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) - A father passes down a legacy of power, corruption and violence to his sons, one of whom rejects those values, only to take control with a ruthless contempt in order to preserve the family business. It's a uniquely American story that weaves in elements of assimilation, loyalty, sibling rivalry and quest for power, with a heavy dose of bloodletting.
"The Godfather" is that rare motion picture that satisfies the visceral desire for sensational entertainment, the emotional need for affecting drama, and the intellectual drive for art. Born from a mass market potboiler about the Mafia by an author desperate to make a few bucks, the resulting film version is one of the great American films about family - brought to life with vivid direction and craftsmanship and some of the best actors ever to appear on screen.
Francis Ford Coppola (pictured), a graduate of Roger Corman's low-budget film studio and co-author of the screenplay for the 1970 George C. Scott bio "Patton," had only one big studio feature directing credit (the Fred Astaire musical "Finian's Rainbow," which bombed), but was promoted for the job by the number two executive at Paramount, Peter Bart. Initially turned off by the material, Coppola was convinced by family and friends (including George Lucas) to take the job, in order to make the money necessary to keep Coppola's San Francisco production company, American Zoetrope, afloat.
Opening on March 15, 1972 to blockbuster business, 'The Godfather' became a landmark, inspiring two film sequels, imitations, book sequels, a computer game, parodies, and more cultural references than nearly any movie of the last half-century.
READ MORE: "The Godfather" Turns 40 On CBS News.com
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