The Godfather Films

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					                                  The Godfather Films

Mario Puzo wrote the Godfather books as a descriptive—a chronicle of the possibly
inevitable triumphs and tragedies of an Italian crime dynasty in America. Some would
even go so far as to say that it contains a “lesson” as to the emptiness and isolation that
the criminal “deal with the devil” entails. And yet the film and its symbols have become
pop culture legends, synonymous with criminal celebrity: Snoop Dogg has an album
called The Doggfather, and John Gotti was referred to as “The Godfather” by his real-
life Gambino crime associates. Is art imitating life or vice versa? Do we hate Vito and
Michael Corleone or do we want to be like them?

The plots are extremely complex and you should definitely either rent the films on your
own for your own edification and enjoyment or ask me for clarifications about stuff that
confuses you. There is stuff that confuses me about these films and I have seen them
about five times.

The film opens at the wedding of Connie Corleone to Carlo _______. Behind the scenes,
Vito “the Godfather” Corleone is tending to various aspects of family business, and all
the people who come to him asking him to use his great power as head of the Corleone
crime family to help with their little problems. Among then is an undertaker whose
daughter was brutally raped but whose attackers received lenient sentences, a man who
wants the Godfather to keep his daughter from being deported, Johnny Fontane [a thinly
disguised characterization of Frank Sinatra] who complains that a big Hollywood
producer won‟t let him star in a film that could resurrect Johnny‟s career. Family
concierge Tom Hagen (the family‟s lawyer and strategic advisor) goes out to California
to fix the problem with the producer for Johnny. The producer rebuffs Tom, calling him
“my Mick-Kraut friend”, explaining that, although Johnny would be excellent in the film,
he won‟t get the role because he seduced one of the producer‟s girlfriends with his “olive
oil voice” and “Guinea” charm. (We also know that the producer owns an extremely
flashy race horse.) This is one of the most famous scenes in all of crime cinema, and
dramatically captures how the Corleones gain compliance when the soft approach fails.

32:33 to 33:46 “Making a Point”

Back in New York, the family is struggling with the question of whether to become
involved in the new and rapidly emerging business of narcotics. Conflict between the
Corleones and the other Italian crime families begins when Vito rebuffs the request of
Salazzo “The Turk” to allow The Turk to do drug business in the city and to bless the
Turk‟s new narcotics trade. Salazzo and his family, the Tataglias, make their play to
seize the reins of power from Vito. They kill Vito‟s spy Luga Brasi, kidnapTom Hagan,
and attempt to murder Vito, putting him in the hospital and near death. Salazzo sends a
message to the Corleones through Tom Hagan, offering a peace deal based on the mutual
interest in preserving business. (Remember, the Turk has nothing against anybody; he
only wanted the Godfather out of the way so he could go about his narcotics business.)

Now Mike begins to emerge. Earlier in the film he was a minor player, even telling his
girlfriend, Kay Adams, that he had nothing to do with the family business. But despite
his past life as a law abiding American who fought heroically in WWII, he seems to be
gradually sucked into the family business as the family needs him now. Mike
successfully bluffs down would-be assassins who came to the hospital to finish off his
father Vito (taking a major lick from corrupt police captain McClesky in the process).
So early on we see Mike will fight for family. He then begins to plot with the other
family members to try to strike back against Salazzo and the other Tataglias. Because
Mike is still technically a “civilian” in the minds of the other families competing with the
Corleones, the Turk says he wants Mike to be the Corleone‟s representative at a meeting
to discuss peace. But the Tataglia's have underestimated the Corleones in general and
Mike in particular, as Mike personally hatches the plot to murder Salazzo and New York
police captain McCluskey, who is on the Tataglia payroll. After Tesio, a family captain,
figures out the location of a meeting where the Turk and McCluskey want to discuss
business with Mike, we see how far Mike will go to protect his family.

1:26:00 to 1:29:10 “The Corleones Strike Back”

Mike flees to Sicily. The Godfather comes home from the hospital and is devastated to
learn that Mike has been sucked into the family business this way. The film has a
number of new major twists, including the murder of Santino “Sonny” Corleone (James
Cahn), who was driving to go help his sister Connie after her husband Carlo beat her, and
Mike‟s brief marriage to a Sicilian beauty named Apollonia, who is inadvertently
murdered when one of Mike‟s bodyguards turns traitor and tries to kill Mike with a car

Vito orders no retaliation for Sonny's murder and makes peace with the other families.
However, after the meetings with the heads of the other families, he comes away
intuitively realizing that his main enemy is not Don Tagaglia, whom Vito dismisses as a
“pimp”, but Don Barzini, who envies Don Corleone‟s position of prominence among the
other dons (This information becomes very important later.)

Now that there is peace, Mike can come home and reunites with Kay, whom he still
deeply loves and is [in my view] a symbol of his connection to mainstream America that
always seems to elude Mike. He wants the full American dream—love, children, family.

2:13:13 to 2:15:32 “Seeing Kay”

The family captains, Tesio and Clemenza, say they want permission to form their own
families, but Mike, who has now emerged as the family leader with Sonny dead and Vito
ailing, rebuffs them. He wants to begin to move the family to Las Vegas and toward full
legitimacy, and goes out there to intimidate Mo Green [a thinly disguised caricature of
Bugsy Seagal] into selling out his casino interests to the Corleones. Notice how Mike is
all business with Green and all family with Fredo, his inept older brother.

2:22:27 to 2:25:19 “Mo Green”

There is a touching scene where the Old Godfather, knowing that his days are numbered,
prepares Mike for the power struggle with Barzini that will surely follow the Godfather's
death, and how to spot the inevitable traitor that will emerge upon this event. We also
see how it still hurts Vito that Mike became the new Godfather and not a success in
mainstream American society. Shortly after this, the Don dies an ironic and symbolic
death—stricken by a heart attack as his grandson Anthony “shoots” him with a plant

At the Don‟s funeral, Tesio reveals himself to be the traitor. Mike now has the jump on
his enemies, and in the following scene, at the baptism of Mike‟s nephew, we see the
juxtaposition of the holy and the profane that symbolizes the nature of the crime family in
America. (The guy who takes it in the eye is Mo Green, which becomes important for
understanding the Godfather II.)

2:38:24 to 2:41:19 “Assaptism”

We see Tesio led off by Mike‟s men to be executed, and the final act of
revenge/protecting the family is the execution of Carlo (the brother-in-law) who beats
Connie and sold out Sonny. None of us in the audience mourns Carlo's passing.

The final scene has Mike, who fought so ruthlessly and brilliantly to protect the family,
lying to both Connie and Kay about Carlos‟ death, denying any involvement. A last
symbolic moment occurs when Clemenza swears his loyalty to Mike, the new Don, and
Mike„s bodyguard shuts the door on Kay as Mike begins to conduct business in his

                                         The End

But The Godfather, Part I cannot be completely understood apart from the context
provided by The Godfather, Part II. In its opening scene, we flash back to Sicily in 1901,
where Vito Andolini (later, Vito Corleone‟s) mom gives her own life to save Vito from
the brutal Don Cicci, who has been wiping out the Andolinis and other competitors for
some time. Vito flees to America, and under the towering symbol of the Statue of
Liberty becomes one of the masses of Italians and other immigrants who see America as
their chance for prosperity.

We flash forward to Lake Tahoe in 1958, when Connie Corleone has become a tragic and
self-destructive person, and we meet (the mythical) Nevada Senator Geary. The
upcoming famous scene, in which Mike wants the Senator to use his influence to help
Mike get new gaming licenses, is in my view the most important scene in either of the
two films.

16:27 to 19:39 “My Offer”

We meet Frankie Pentangeli [based, I think, on “Lucky” Luciano], who runs what is left
of the family crime business in New York, and wants to strike at his rivals, the Rosato
brothers, with everything he has. But Mike does not allow it. The Rosato‟s are protected
by Hyman Roth [inspired by Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky] with whom Mike has
business dealings involving heated negotiations over casino investments. He wants
Pentangeli to chill because he needs to make sure everything is smooth with Roth.
In a twist, someone [we later find out who] betrays the family, and assassins are able to
infiltrate the family compound at Lake Tahoe and make an attempt on Mike‟s life, who
escapes death through a combination of luck and savvy. Mike is enraged beyond words,
and confides in Tom Hagan—the only person he completely trusts. He instructs Tom to
run the business to give Mike time to settle some things in Miami and New York.

We flash back to New York in early 20‟s. Vito, who is just a young guy with a family
trying to get by, loses his job when local strongman Don Fannuci, who runs a local
protection racket, orders Vito‟s employer (a butcher) to fire Vito and hire the Don‟s
cousin instead. Now Vito first meets Clemensa, who brings him into the criminal
lifestyle. [At this point, do you blame Vito, with a family to feed and no job?]

Back to the 1950s . . . In a complex series of plot contortions, Mike meets Roth in Miami
to discuss business. He pretends he does not know that Roth engineered the attempt on
Mike‟s life (although even Mike does not yet know who the family traitor is). Mike then
flies to New York and meets with Petangeli and demands Frankie‟s assistance in getting
back at Roth. But first Pentangeli is to make peace with the Rosatos to make it seem to
Roth that everything is square between him and Mike. But the Rosatos [who are at least
partly inspired by the Irish Westies], attempt to murder Frankie at the peace talks. Later,
we see that Senator Geary is found covered with blood after a bizarre sex game with his
prostitute. Since this happened at a brothel owned by Fredo Corleone, the family is able
to protect Geary in exchange for his loyalty to the Corleones. Mike has completely
turned the tables on the Senator, who once called Mike a “greaseball”.

We also see that, despite the emphasis on family, the Corleones are not a healthy one by
any stretch. Connie is a raging drunk, absentee mother, and sexually promiscuous with
numerous guys. Fredo resents his younger brother Mike„s preemption, and Kay resents
Mike for failing to separate the family from the criminal rackets. Fredo is also a heavy
drinker, womanizer, and general failure and family joke.

We the audience also learn that it was Fredo who betrayed the family, being deceived by
Johnny Ola (Roth‟s man) into allowing the hit men into the compound when the attempt
was made on Mike‟s life. (Fredo had foolishly believed it was just an intimidation
attempt and that Fredo himself would get a piece of the action if it forced Mike to make
favorable terms with Roth.) Mike goes to Havana to do a business meeting with Roth
and other prospective investors eyeing expansion in Cuba. [What is not so clear to me is
whether Mike was seriously considering actually investing with Roth. We would think
not, since he knows Roth tried to have him killed. But if he only went to Cuba as part of
his play against Roth, then why did he have Fredo bring the two million dollars cash for
investment money, especially when we know that Fredo is a bungler and a flake and
could as easily forget the money in the bathroom stall as bring it? This part of the film
has always confused me.]

Mike tells Roth that is having doubts about investing in Cuba, having witnessed first
hand the dediation and effectiveness of the current rebellion. He then confronts the ailing
Roth about the attempt on Pentangeli‟s life.

1:31:20 to 1:34:39 “Confronting Roth”
After confiding in Fredo that he knows Roth is out to kill him, Mike discovers to his
dismay and grief that it was Fredo who had betrayed him. Mike‟s hit man murders
Johnny Ola, and then goes after Roth, but barely fails and gets killed himself instead.
The rebellion in Cuba succeeds and everyone is forced to flee. Mike confronts Fredo
about his betrayal and Fredo runs from Mike.

We flash back to young Vito in New York. He and Clemenza and Tesio, who are now
petty thieves by profession, have been confronted by Don Fanucci, who wants a piece of
their action or he‟ll turn them into the cops. But Vito has a different idea, and we are
seeing the kinds of bold moves that enabled Vito to ultimately become the top don in
New York.

1:53:33 to 1:55:08 “Paying Fanucci”

Later, Vito corners Fanucci, and we see what he had in mind when explaining to his
friends that he would make Fanucci agree to less money!

2:01:44 to 2:04:26 “Fanucci End”

[Again, as with the first film, observe the juxtaposition of the holy and the profane.]

                               Switch to disk 2 at this point.

Back to the late 1950‟s, and we see there is an ongoing congressional investigation into
the Corleone family. At one point there is a poignant scene where Michael has just
returned from fighting the family‟s battles, and finds Kay busy at a sewing machine when
he gets back to Tahoe. No doubt he thinks her behavior is absurd—he could buy her
1,000 new dresses, but no doubt she thinks the same of his actions. We also see Michael
trying to get back to first principles, to ask himself why he does what he does, and we see
his last dying connection to what he truly loves.

4:49 to 6:12 “Ma”

Back to young Vito in New York, who has become a man of respect, starting to do little
favors for others in the neighborhood. He and Tesio and Clemensa start an olive oil
business as a front for their operations. [The evolution from petty thief to mafia don has
happened so naturally and smoothly that we have to ask ourselves how much we really
judge Vito and if we would have done it any differently ourselves. He has come to
America and did what he felt he had to do to make it here.]

At the Congressional hearing, where Mike is being questioned by a congressional
committee we see a whole new Senator Geary.

14:22 to 15:46 “Congress”

[Think about Geary‟s hypocrisy, corruption, and moral bankruptcy, and compare him to
Mike and Vito.] In a statement before the committee, Mike denies all charges and
appeals to his military record and patriotism. Later, we find out that Pentangeli is still
alive (he escaped the assassination attempt by a miracle of luck) and is in the witness
protection program. He will testify before Congress and federal court that Mike is the
head of the Corleone crime family. Later, Mike actually finds Fredo, confronts him over
his betrayal, and then says, “you're nothing to me now.”

Mike gets out of Pentageli‟s testimony by implicitly threatening to murder Frankie‟s
brother, forcing Frankie to change his testimony before the Congressional committee.

In an ironic twist, we see that, however good Mike was at business, he could never quite
win in matters of family—the thing for which he fought so hard. See how their exchange
goes when Kay says she wants to leave him and take their children.

34:20 to 37:13 “Kay Leaving”

We flashback to young Vito, who returns to Sicily to settle the Andolinis family's blood
feud with old Don Cicci (the guy who had murdered the Andolini family back at the turn
of the century) in gruesome fashion, slicing the old don up with a switchblade. Flashing
forward back to the 1950s, Mike‟s mother dies, and the final destruction of the family's
enemies follows, but the family goes with it. Roth and Pentangeli are variously
eliminated, and finally, so is Fredo, whom Mike will not forgive. Mike, who has become
a nearly invincible monster in dispatching his foes, allows his ruthless, heartless nature to
carry over to his family—the very thing he fought for. And in one final flashback to the
1940s, we see that he might have ended up alone no matter what choice he made. Notice
that this is the only time in either film that we see him drinking wine, instead of water.

1:06:42 to 1:09:50 “Family”