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The Godfather screenplay

The complete screenplay of The Godfather with script notes.

The Script

The Godfather Screenplay (PDF).

Script notes

The Godfather is a remarkable film. It's very unusual to find a movie where the critics and the general audience agree so completely about the quality of a film at the upper end of the spectrum. Of course there are plenty of examples where the critics and the audience both hate a film. The Godfather is convoluted and complex but at its heart it's an almost Shakespearian tragedy of the destiny of a young, intelligent, kind man, swept up in drama he inherited.

Our hero is Michael Corleone and we essentially follow his life from the end of the Second World War as he's demobbed from the US Marine Corps, through to the mid '50s. Over this decade the world changes around him but he is also changed by it. He's the son of Don Vito Corleone, who is the head of a Mafia crime family in New York, and at the start of the film he's determined to strike out on his own to make a life away from the violence and intricate politics of organised crime.

Life, however, doesn't allow him to walk away unless he's willing to sacrifice his sense of familial duty and honour so he slowly turns into a younger version of his father. The script is very violent, but appropriately so. These people are violent men and they react with lethal force to anything that threatens them. The story is also set in a misogynistic time, among misogynistic people and in a misogynistic culture of male pack-behaviour and patronage. By making the story so immersed in its period the narrative survives this rather old-fashioned limitation but there are countless moments where it's made clear that women are not to be trusted with secrets. The role of the woman in this world is to be a wife, a mother, a mistress or a whore. These are the only options and, tellingly, the women don't even get to pick for themselves.

Buried in the tale is an environment of pure corruption. Everyone has a price, everyone can be used like a tool. It's memorable for its language, for its setting and for its plot but it really strikes home in two areas. The juxtaposition of the dangerous and competitive world of crime with the quiet, subdued home-life of the family is compelling. Best of all, however, is the character of Michael. He's a hero and a villain, rational but impulsive, intelligent but stubborn. His journey is that of Hamlet and Odysseus and his character is beguiling and terrifying. We find him intensely charismatic, deeply engrossing and yet, should we meet him in the light of day we would see in him a cruel and dangerous killer. Few screen characters have been so gripping.

"The whole thing is in the preparation. I like to work three months or more on a script and come to the floor with it finished to the letter."

Carol Reed