Blood Oranges in The Godfather

Film 4′s Excellent “Films For Life” Series has reached its peak after screening The Godfather (1972) on Monday. Even though I’ve seen this film over a hundred times (this is no exaggeration), I doubt that I will ever tire of it. I  have yet to see a film that is better than The Godfather, and that includes the excellent sequel.

Yes that’s right, as much as I love the sequel, The Godfather is better than the Godfather Part II. I will outline a few reasons why

Reason Number 1. The transition of the character of Michael Corleone: Al Pacino’s transition of Michael Corleone, from an innocent young war hero who has no intention  of joining the “family business” (as  shown when he reveals what his family really does to Kay in the wedding scene with disgust and embarrassment) to Michael being completely corrupted by it. Michael”s transition from innocence to evil throughout the course of the film is an expert part of the film’s narrative and one of Coppolla’s big achievements. In Part II, Michael displays continual coldness as his soul has already been taken over by evil

Reason Number 2. The Wedding Sequence We spend around 30 long minutes at the wedding of Connie, where although really and truly it should seem out-of-place within the narrative, its purpose in introducing at a leisurely pace the main characters, their back story’s and Sicilian customs  was unprecedented in mainstream cinema. I think that Coppolla got the idea from an Italian Realism of Luchino Visconti. The Godfather Part II imitates the scene in the communion of Michael Jr.

Reason Number 4. Marlon Brando What more can you say. II has Robert DeNiro, but Brando still trumps it.

Reason Number 3 Classic Scenes/Classic Lines: The first Godfather boasts more classic scenes and quotes than II. 

“Leave the gun, take the Cannolli”

 “Luca Brasi Sleeps with the fishes”,

“Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever”

“Hey, listen, I want somebody good – and I mean very good – to plant that gun. I don’t want my brother coming out of that toilet with just his dick in his hands, alright?”

“…badda-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit”

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Classic scenes include Vito listening to requests on his daughter’s wedding day.  The horse’s head scene. Michael’s first kill in the restaurant and the tension that leads up to that act (Note the sound of moving train in that scene to signify the tension very Hitchcock). Sonny going to beat up Connie’s husband.  Sonny’s death (Bonnie and Clyde style bloody martyred violence). Michael’s ordering the deaths of the heads of the five families while juxtaposed with him at the baptism of his sister’s child (note the balance between life and death, and good and evil. Good: the church; the innocence of the baby as the priest asks Michael does he repent the devil as he says “I do” with evil in his eyes. Evil the acts committed on Michael’s orders). My favorite scene comes at the end when Kay asks him whether he ordered the murder of his sister’s husband, after she hysterically accuses him of such. When he hesitantly replies no, Kay is filled with doubt of who he really is as the door closes on his affairs.

Oranges

It is a well-known fact that the presence of oranges in the Godfather movies is a prominent symbolization of death and the heralding of it. In the Godfather Part II Don Fannucci plays with an orange just before he is murdered by Vito. At the beginning of the same movie Johnny Ola brings an orange into Michael’s office before the Michael and his families are attacked by gunmen.

In the first Godfather Jack Woltz’s prized Stallion is beheaded and left in his bed after he shares a meal with Tom Hagen where a bowl of oranges lays in the middle of the table. When the heads of the five families are at a meeting with Vito there are bowls of oranges on the table; soon after all the members are executed on Michael’s orders.

Marlon Brando’s Don Vito in the first film twice exerts the orange symbolism. The first comes when Sollozo’s men attempt to assassinate him while he browses around some oranges in a market stall. After he gets shot he tips the display of oranges over (see above).  Later on in the movie he dies from a heart attack as he playfully covers the orange skin on his mouth to scare his grandson. (below)

There are many more examples of the presence of oranges coupled with the demise or attempted demise of characters littered throughout. Francis Ford Coppolla initially said that this was purely an accident; but after the realization of this coincidence, made a conscious decision to continue it.

I can only conclude that the relevance of the oranges derives fromthem being a popular and important Sicilian commodity especially during the early part of the 20th Century. The Mafia was borne out of fiefdoms and landowners near the end of the nineteenth century in Sicily of whom often owned plots of land filled with citrus fruits that included oranges. The Mafia depicted in the Godfather movies are of Sicilian origin. Therefore I believe that the symbolic meaning for the oranges were more of a cultural signifier to the Mafia and Sicily especially when considering that Coppolla was not allowed to mention the word mafia in the movie.

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