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What Do American Audiences Consider Obscene?

I caught Coppola’s classic at a U.S. hotel not long ago, and the way it was edited for television audiences reveals something fascinating about American sensibilities. The scene in which Sonny Corleone is executed was presented uncut.

Played by James Caan, Sonny is trapped in his car at a toll booth by another vehicle full of gunmen, who riddle him with machine gun bullets, as do other assassins who had been hiding in the booth. Gasping and covered in blood, he staggers out of his car to be hit with a sustained volley of machine gun fire that makes his body convulse repeatedly. He then falls dead in a bloody heap, at which point one of the killers walks up to his body and unloads the rest of his ammo into him point blank. The killer then kicks Sonny’s corpse in the head for good measure. Wholesome all-American fun; wish my kids could’ve seen it.

In contrast, another scene was edited for television. Michael and Apollonia Corleone’s wedding night in Sicily is extraordinarily sweet as played sensitively and without dialogue by Al Pacino and Simonetta Stefanelli. Michael and his young bride are alone in the bedroom. She is clearly a virgin, both excited and at the same time frightened. Michael doesn’t rush her. He waits for her to step toward him, and then cradles her face and kisses her gently on the forehead and then — the censors get out their scissors. In the original movie, but not on television, Apollonia’s breasts are briefly visible before the couple embrace and passionately kiss. Sure they just got married in a Catholic Church, sure they love each other, sure the woman is portrayed as a human being and not an object but hey, the sight of breasts might scar the innocent so out it goes.

I have seen the Godfather on television in Spain and in Sweden and in both countries the wedding night scene was uncut, whereas the scene of Sonny’s execution was edited to be shorter and less graphically violent. Apparently people in those countries have a different sense than Americans about what is shocking and obscene and what is not.

The other comparison point that comes to mind is what I have learned in my career from combat veterans. Sadly enough, many psychiatric hospitals have former soldiers in them who saw something like what happened to Sonny Corleone and never got over it. In contrast, I have never had a never heard of VA patient who had to be hospitalized for PTSD because he once saw a pair of breasts and never got over it.

 

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Blogs on Film

Sidney Lumet’s Many Contributions

Sidney Lumet | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

In the wake of his passing, tributes to Hollywood legend Sindey Lumet focused mainly on 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, and Dog Day Afternoon, all worthy pieces of cinema (Serpico is less so, in my opinion). He deserves credit for at least two other things.

First, he largely rescued Sean Connery from Bondage by casting him in meaty dramatic parts as Connery’s interest in Bond was waning. The Hill, The Offence, and The Anderson Tapes remain highly watchable today, and they showed the film world that Connery had a lot more talent than his role as 007 let him exercise.

Second, Lumet made one of the best Holocaust films ever, The Pawnbroker. From slump-shouldered Rod Steiger, Lumet coaxed a performance that is the actor’s best — better even than his more heralded role as Sheriff Gillespie in In the Heat of the Night. And the classic Lumet claustrophobic New York sets work perfectly to help us feel Sol Nazerman’s agony and his inability to escape the horrors of the war and memory.  Sadly, the film isn’t watched as often as Lumet’s other great movies, probably because it’s simply emotionally harder to experience (The Verdict is also a portrait of overwhelming loneliness but it ultimately treads more gently on the viewer’s spirit because it has an uplifting ending). But it remains one of the high points of Lumet’s distinguished career.