American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There have been a lot of movies where stars have repeated the triumphs of their parts - but has any star ever done it more triumphantly than Marlon Brando does in "The Freshman"? He is doing a reprise here of his most popular character, Don Vito Corleone of "The Godfather," and he does it with such wit, discipline and seriousness that it's not a ripoff and it's not a cheap shot, it's a brilliant comic masterstroke.
The Brando character is named Carmine Sabatini this time, but in every other respect he's the Godfather. He looks like him, talks like him and, most of all, has the easy air of great authority long exercised. In the film, he has a job for a young man who has just started in film school. He wants him to pick up a package at the freight terminal of the airport and deliver it to a certain address. Of course, we're thinking it's drugs - that's what the young man assumes - but actually this delivery is of a most peculiar nature. It is a giant lizard.
The young man is played by Matthew Broderick. He has got off to an uncertain start in New York City after all of his possessions and money were stolen by a thief (Bruno Kirby) who met him in Grand Central station and offered him a ride. Now he's in trouble at New York University's film school, where the professor (Paul Benedict) doesn't want to hear excuses, he only wants to hear how all of his students have purchased his book. So when Kirby wanders by, Broderick chases him down the street, collars him, and demands his possessions back. Kirby offers him better than that: He offers him a job.
The job involves a trip to Little Italy, and the cloistered world behind the anonymous shop front of a social club where Carmine Sabatini keeps his office. On the wall is a photograph of Mussolini, there for nostalgia's sake ("It is like you might have a photo of the Beatles," Sabatini explains to the young man). The job offer is made, and accepted (after the don symbolically crushes some nuts in his hand) and, before Broderick realizes it, he has been swept up into the embrace of this Mafia family.