On this day in 1972, The Godfather premiered in a cold and snowy New York City (set to attend, Brando cancelled at the last minute, and Henry Kissinger was rushed in as a star attraction by Paramount studio head Robert Evans). Adapted from Mario Puzo's best-selling novel, the film made stars of Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan, gave a leg up to character actors like Talia Shire and the brilliant John Cazale, and forever established Francis Ford Coppola as an enfant terrible. Coppola would lose the Best Director Oscar to Bob Fosse (for Cabaret) at the following year's Academy Awards, but could console himself with The Godfather's Best Picture win (along with wins for Best Adapated Screenplay--shared by Coppola and Puzo-- and Best Actor). Oddly, the film's most important figure, genius cinematographer Gordon Willis, was not even nominated (he wouldn't be nominated for the sequel, either, or for Annie Hall, or Klute, or All The President's Men...). Within a year, the movie had become the biggest hit of all time, a position it would hold for three years, until Jaws replaced it in 1975. The film's studio, Paramount, used The Godfather's success to demand upfront money from theater chains, and would utilize faster rollouts of the film across the country to maximize profits (taking a note from Goldfinger, which had done the same thing eight years earlier), forever changing the way potentially "blockbuster" prestige films were marketed by the American film industry. Aesthetically and culturally, the film's impact was deep, wide and long-lasting, touching everything from mob movies to hip-hop to video games to The Sopranos to such recent looks at family and greed as There Will Be Blood.
Remarkably, all of this trivia, history and cultural importance hasn't diminished the film a bit: it remains, along with its first sequel, the finest epic in 70s American cinema. Every time I come across either The Godfather or The Godfather, Part II on television, I have to stop and watch (the other night Part II was on cable, and despite the fact that it was 3/4 over, and it was 1 a.m., and I'd seen it who knows how many times, I was glued to the TV until that final, horrible gunshot sounded across the lake). I love the trailer above because it summarizes so much of the film, without giving anything away. It is the Michael Corleone of teasers: seductive, opaque, and insidious.