The Godfather 9781844572922, 9781838713362, 9781349924233

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) marked a transition in American film-making, and its success – as a work of

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Table of contents :
1. I Believe in America
2. I Believe in Hollywood
3. I Believe in the Mafia
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The Godfather
 9781844572922, 9781838713362, 9781349924233

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BFI Film Classics The BFI Film Classics is a series of books that introduces, interprets and celebrates landmarks of world cinema. Each volume offers an argument for the film’s ‘classic’ status, together with discussion of its production and reception history, its place within a genre or national cinema, an account of its technical and aesthetic importance, and in many cases, the author’s personal response to the film. ‘Magnificently concentrated examples of flowing freeform critical poetry.’ Uncut ‘A formidable body of work collectively generating some fascinating insights into the evolution of cinema.’ Times Higher Education Supplement ‘The series is a landmark in film criticism.’ Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Editorial Advisory Board Geoff Andrew, British Film Institute Edward Buscombe William P. Germano, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art Lalitha Gopalan, University of Texas at Austin Lee Grieveson, University College London Nick James, Editor, Sight & Sound

Laura Mulvey, Birkbeck College, University of London Alastair Phillips, University of Warwick Dana Polan, New York University B. Ruby Rich, University of California, Santa Cruz Amy Villarejo, Cornell University Zhen Zhang, New York University

For Dana Polan

The Godfather Jon Lewis

THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA BLOOMSBURY is a trademark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published by Palgrave in 2010 Reprinted by Bloomsbury in 2018, 2019 on behalf of the British Film Institute 21 Stephen Street, London W1T 1LN The BFI is the lead organisation for film in the UK and the distributor of Lottery funds for film. Our mission is to ensure that film is central to our cultural life, in particular by supporting and nurturing the next generation of filmmakers and audiences. We serve a public role which covers the cultural, creative and economic aspects of film in the UK. Copyright © Jon Lewis, 2010 Jon Lewis has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as author of this work. Series cover design: Ashley Western Series text design: Ketchup/SE14 Images from The Godfather, © Paramount Pictures Corporation; Little Caesar, © First National Pictures; The Public Enemy, © Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.; Scarface, © Caddo Company; The Big Combo, © Security Pictures, Inc./Theodora Productions; Dementia 13, Filmgroup/Garrick Ltd; Love Story, © Paramount Pictures Corporation; The Musketeers of Pig Alley, Biograph Company All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress ISBN: PB: 978-1-8445-7292-2 eISBN: 978-1-8387-1892-3 ePDF: 978-1-3499-2423-3 Series: BFI Film Classics Typeset by Cambrian Typesetters, Camberley, Surrey To find out more about our authors and books visit and sign up for our newsletters.

Contents 1 I Believe in America


2 I Believe in Hollywood


3 I Believe in the Mafia








1 I Believe in America Behind every great fortune is a crime.1 Honoré de Balzac

The Godfather opens with a slow zoom-out that begins in close-up on Amerigo Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto), an undertaker, as he delivers the now famous opening line ‘I believe in America’, then backs away (and opens up) to offer a first glimpse at the Corleone family’s seductive and secretive world. The shot lasts for over two minutes and benefits from a recently introduced computer-timed zoom lens. This opening departs significantly from the novel which begins instead in New York Criminal Court Number 3 as Bonasera witnesses the sentencing of the men who assaulted his daughter – three-year sentences that are suspended because the young men are from good families. Coppola elides this bit of business, along with a second scene in the novel set in a garish Los Angeles hotel suite as we

‘I believe in America’


find a cuckolded Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) drunk and bereft, Coppola begins the film significantly in the Godfather’s place of business, the gangster’s lair, where Bonasera has come to ask for some sort of violent revenge. But the space surprises us and confers a very different vibe. It’s such a comfortable room: a wealthy man’s den, lit in sombre oranges and browns. Like Bonasera, we enter this space with some trepidation, initially afraid that after entering the world of the gangster we may never get out. What we discover along with Bonasera is that our fears (of this space, of what an association with Vito Corleone might mean) are unfounded; once inside we have no reason to ever want out. When Bonasera says ‘I believe in America’, he really means that he believed in America and he has come to Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) not only for justice but for a reason to believe again. ‘You found Paradise in America’, Vito remarks, assessing the situation, ‘You had a good trade, you made a good living, the police protected you, and there were courts of law, and you didn’t need a friend like me.’ When the assault on Bonasera’s daughter went unpunished – again, the novel begins with the perpetrators getting ‘suspended sentences’, a legal term so foreign to Bonasera he has difficulty Vito Corleone




pronouncing it – Bonasera apprehends the fundamental problem of assimilation, that no matter how hard he tries to be an American of Italian descent, he is an Italian American, for whom justice can be had only through Old-World connections, through some sort of affirmation of his heritage. This affirmation is necessarily made in secret as its confirmation threatens his more peaceful public assimilation. Bonasera’s monologue offers an odd but significant entrée into Coppola’s elaborate opening set piece, Connie and Carlo’s outdoor wedding, which is intercut with meetings in Vito’s office (per Tom: ‘No Sicilian can refuse any request on his daughter’s wedding day’). The set piece runs close to half an hour and does what all good introductory scenes do (though it certainly takes its time): it introduces the major characters, defines their particular roles in the larger drama and, in the parlance of contemporary screenwriting, ‘hooks’ us into (wanting to see more of) the film. By the time the scene is complete the stakes of two of the film’s most significant dramas regarding succession and assimilation are clearly introduced. We see firsthand the family’s roots in the Old World: the nervous immigrants seeking justice, the songs sung in Italian (including the naughty ‘Luna mezz’ ‘o mare’), the food, the guests’ thick accents. This is an Italian wedding, a mob wedding. The interior scenes reveal a family business that is at once simple and mysterious; we have no doubt that Vito can do what he’s asked to do, though exactly how he accomplishes things is for the moment left to our imagination. The events depicted outside are less dramatic perhaps but far more complicated; they reveal on the one hand the significance of family ties, on the other the temptations and tensions that threaten to undermine them. Fredo (John Cazale) is drunk, literally ‘out of it’; Sonny (James Caan) sneaks out of the reception to have sex with Lucy Mancini (Jeannie Linero) in an upstairs bedroom; and Michael (Al Pacino), dressed in his military uniform, makes clear to his red-haired, Irish-Catholic girlfriend: ‘That’s my family, Kay; it’s not me.’


The thematic and visual counterpoint of interior and exterior scenes that persists throughout the movie is first established in this scene, which breaks down as follows: 1 INT: Bonasera asks Vito for justice after his daughter is molested; 2

EXT: Vito exits his office to pose for a family portrait but postpones the picture until Michael can be included; Barzini (Richard Conte) greets Vito; Sonny deals with some nosy FBI photographers over by the parked cars;

3 INT: Nazorine (Vito Scotti) seeks a favour, asking Vito to use his influence with the immigration authorities so that his daughter’s fiancé isn’t deported; 4 EXT: We see what Vito sees through the venetian blinds in his office: Michael dancing with Kay (Diane Keaton); 5 INT: Tom tells Vito that Luca (Lenny Montana) wants to pay tribute while Vito, having seen Michael, wants now to move more quickly through all these meetings so he can join his family outside; 6 EXT: Michael and Kay talk about Luca; 7 INT: Luca stumbles through his prepared speech, his hope that Connie and Carlo’s ‘first child … will be a masculine child …’; ‘Luna mezz’ ‘o mare’




8 EXT: Connie (Talia Shire) dances with Carlo (Gianni Russo) as Mama Corleone (Morgana King) takes the stage to sing ‘Luna mezz’ ‘o mare’, in Italian; we then see from Vito’s point of view (from inside his office) the arrival of Johnny Fontane, which prompts Michael’s story about the band-leader and Luca, during which Michael intones for the first time in the film ‘My father made [the band-leader] an offer he couldn’t refuse’; 9 INT: Johnny reveals why he’s flown cross-country; he too asks for a favour (to get him a part in a forthcoming war picture); Johnny exits and Tom is dispatched to locate Sonny whom he finds upstairs having sex with Lucy; 11 EXT: We see Nazorine’s opulent wedding cake, a down-payment for the favour he has requested; 12) INT: Vito and Tom (Robert Duvall) discuss Carlo: ‘Give him a living,’ Vito nstructs, ‘but never discuss the family business with him’; and 13 EXT: Vito exits the office, finally, to pose for the picture; Michael grabs Kay to include her, too; Vito dances with Connie and the wedding scene concludes with a fade-out.

Two key shots in this scene show Vito gazing out of his office window at the family celebration, linking the exterior to the

The Corleone family wedding picture


interior visually and thematically, balancing for Vito want and need, leisure and obligation, family and business. Vito’s commitment to the business performed inside maintains the opulence we see outside: as he tells us later, ‘I work my whole life. I don’t apologize, to take care of my family.’ The business he undertakes at the wedding of his daughter, the work he performs in that warmly lit office, has made the family wealthy. But the acquisition of wealth, and we discover this early on, by necessity involves acts of coercion and violence. This contradiction is at the heart of the movie. Vito is an accommodating Italian-American community leader and a loving father. But he is also a ruthless criminal. After Bonasera asks for ‘justice’, Vito remarks to Tom: ‘we’re not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker says’. Even this early in the film we apprehend that, though he and Tom do not need to pull the trigger themselves, of course that’s exactly what they are. The key to this opening scene is that the violence performed at Vito’s behest is not something we are ever asked to judge. We instead focus on how the family business, whatever it involves specifically, distracts Vito from the business of family … how being a successful Mafia don takes valuable time away from his cherished Vito, awaiting Michael’s arrival




family life, in this case the family celebration of his daughter’s wedding. The scenes in Vito’s home office establish Coppola’s theatrical mise en scène. But while the theatricality keeps the audience at arm’s length, so to speak – after all, we are not like these people; the Corleones are gangsters – it also highlights the notion of performance, a key to Coppola’s mise en scène and to the thematic structure of his adaptation of Puzo’s novel. This performativity is crucial to a larger thematic in play: the gangsters in the film aspire to a legitimate enterprise they can only approximate, only imitate. They play the part of American businessmen not so much or not only because that is what they want to become and are not yet but because that is what others must believe them to be. (Worth noting here: all of the principal male players in The Godfather received Oscar nominations: Brando won Best Actor; Pacino, Duvall and Caan received nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.) In the process of playing the part, the gangster conducts his business (like other businessmen) by holding meetings, by delegating tasks to lower-level employees, middle managers and lawyers. For example, in the film’s first act we track a challenge to the Corleone empire by going from one meeting to the next, from: 1 the olive-oil company office where Vito meets with Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), to; 2 the bar where Luca Brasi is killed, thus foiling Vito’s plan to monitor Barzini and Tattaglia (Tony Giorgio), to; 3 the trailer where Tom is briefly held hostage by Sollozzo, to; 4 Vito’s office where Tessio (Abe Vigoda), Clemenza (Richard Castellano), Sonny, Tom and Michael gather to talk about the attempt onVito’s life, to; 5 the hospital room where Michael tells his father ‘I’m with you now’, to; 6 Vito’s office again where Michael hatches the plan to kill Sollozzo and McClusky (Sterling Hayden), to; 7 the basement workshop where Clemenza gives Michael pointers as they plan out the murders, to;


Vito meets with Sollozzo; Luca Brasi meets with the Tattaglias; Tom meets with Sollozzo




Michael meets with Tessio, Clemenza, Sonny and Tom; Michael meets with his father; Michael meets with Tom and Sonny


Michael meets with Clemenza – note picture of the Pope in the background; Michael meets with Tessio, Sonny and Clemenza; Michael meets with Sollozzo and McClusky




8 the Corleone kitchen as the brothers await the news about the ‘secure’ location for the hit; to 9 the quiet family restaurant where the murders take place.

Each of these nine scenes is meticulously set and dressed; indeed, Coppola’s fondness for interior set pieces places an extraordinary emphasis on set design, lighting and camera placement. For example, in the scene just after Vito is shot and Tom is taken hostage by Sollozzo (no. 3 above), Coppola sets the action in a trailer and he shoots, at least initially, from a distance in remarkably low light. (After the release of The Godfather, the film’s Director of Photography Gordon Willis was affectionately dubbed by his fellow cinematographers, ‘the prince of darkness’.) The human figures are at first indiscernible and we are given no establishing shot to tell us where we are or what is taking place. We share with Tom, for whom we feel sympathy, a profound sense of uncertainty. The suspense is eventually broken when we hear Sollozzo’s voice as he negotiates with Tom. The drug lord then crosses in front of the camera and is captured in a grotesque low- and wide-angle close-up, bathed in monstrous orange light, a clever perversion of the warm orange and

Sollozzo in a grotesque close-up


brown palette that dominates the lighting of the scenes at the Corleone compound. The shot tells us all we need to know about ‘the Turk’; he’s a monster, an old-style gangster. When we finally see Tom, he is by contrast half lit, half dark – an apt physical portrait of the family attorney. Tom is the Corleone’s non-Italian ‘face’ in the legitimate business world, perhaps, but he is also a man well aware of the violence executed in the family’s name. It is Tom’s face, we gather from his earlier meeting with the film producer Jack Woltz (John Marley), which is the last thing one sees before the Corleones resort to violence to get what they want. Though Coppola is no doubt aware of the production adage that it is always better to show than to tell, the young director eschewed expositional scenes or montages in favour of staid pseudocorporate meetings in which the gangsters are shown to be unconvincingly performing the roles of American businessmen. Such a penchant for theatrical set pieces supports a larger thematic about power in America and more specifically power in American capitalism. Everything of importance is accomplished behind closed doors: we never see Vito’s soldiers carry out revenge on behalf of Bonasera because once the deal is sealed its performance is inevitable. And when Michael is brought back to New York after his exile in Sicily, Coppola does not bother showing us the details of his return. The journey is set up and summarised instead in a scene set in a bank boardroom as Vito and the leaders of the five families meet ostensibly to make peace. ‘I hoped that we could come here and reason together,’ Vito says to the other mobsters, ‘And as a reasonable man, I’m willing to do whatever’s necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.’ The scene feels less like a business meeting than its participants would like; a quick look around the room reveals no one who actually looks like a banker. Key throughout is a feeling of menace that ill-fits the surroundings. We recognise that these are not real businessmen. But we know that, in the parlance of the street, they do indeed mean business.




The scene, shot on location in the Penn Central Railroad boardroom on the thirty-second floor of New York City’s Grand Central Station (hence the mural of the locomotive), at once reveals how the gangsters conduct business (at one remove) and how they interact.2 The gangsters at the meeting rely on subtext and intuition regarding alliances, relative strengths and weaknesses, which may finally match the typical corporate board meeting. But Vito’s closing remarks remind everyone what they all do for a living, or at least what they’re all capable of doing if anyone crosses them: I have to make arrangements to bring [Michael] back to safety, cleared of these false charges. But I’m a superstitious man, and if some unlucky accident should befall him – if he should get shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in a jail cell, or if he’s struck by a bolt of lightning, then I’m going to blame some of the people in this room.

When Vito gets into his chauffeur-driven car and heads back to the compound after the meeting, he and Tom go over the day’s events. Tom asks: ‘When I meet with the Tattaglia people, should I insist that his drug middlemen all have clean records?’ Vito replies, ‘I hoped that we could come here and reason together’


‘Mention it, but don’t insist. Barzini is a man who’ll know without being told.’ Tom catches what he assumes is a mistake, a sign that the ageing Don is slipping: ‘You mean Tattaglia.’ But Vito has read the previous scene better and more closely than his attorney. ‘Tattaglia’s a pimp,’ Vito snarls, ‘He never could have outfought Santino. I didn’t know it till this day that it was Barzini all along.’ An ominous chord on the soundtrack emphasises the significance of this remark. But the point isn’t really about Tattaglia or Barzini. Instead it simply highlights Vito’s ability to read the text; he has read the same set piece we have just witnessed and yet discovered something we did not. Coppola’s affection for the theatrical set piece bears a narrative significance as Michael’s ascent to power is revealed in a series of scenes that he (Michael, that is) seems to carefully set, block and direct himself. When Michael decides that his father’s safety and the future of the family’s business interests depend on the assassination of McClusky and Sollozzo, he takes control of a family meeting by taking a seat at the centre of the frame. Sonny’s emotional response to the attempt on his father’s life is revealed in his restless movement. We see Sonny’s anxiety in counterpoint to Michael’s stillness, the youngest brother’s cool-headedness. As Michael establishes control of the mise en scène he also takes control of the family business. In the subsequent scene, Michael gets a crash course in assassination from Clemenza in a basement room at the compound (see p. 15). Seated below a picture of the Pope, the old gangster goes over the script: Just let your hand drop to your side, and let the gun slip out. Everybody’ll think you’ve still got it. They’re going to be starin’ at your face, Mike. So walk outta the place real fast, but don’t run. Don’t look nobody in the eye, but don’t look away neither.

By the time the meeting is arranged, the restaurant is set and dressed by Corleone soldiers who hide a gun in a bathroom stall. Michael




performs the murders (see p. 15), though he only partly follows Clemenza’s advice. In a bit of meta-fictional mise en scène, Coppola plays with our understanding of Michael’s understanding that he is playing a role in a scripted (carefully set, dressed and blocked) scene. Michael returns from the bathroom and sits down. We get anxious because at this point he’s not following the script, which calls for him to kill the two men as soon as he returns to the table. This little ad-lib perhaps reveals Michael’s intent here (he really hates these two men) as well as his growing confidence, his cool, his control. When Michael sits down, we worry for a moment that he might not have the courage to pull the trigger. The action is suspended … so the audience calls even more strongly for its performance. It is a perverse piece of business on Coppola’s part, but he knows we are hoping (maybe even expecting) Michael will succeed. After he pulls the trigger, Michael begins to walk out of the restaurant with the gun in his hand. This too is a purposeful bit of suspense. We really want Michael to remember Clemenza’s advice because we really want him to get away with the murders. It is worth noting here that Coppola’s restaurant set piece offers a variation on a real-life Mafia hit, the murder of Giuseppe ‘Joe the Boss’ Masseria in 1931 at a Coney Island restaurant. The hit, which finally settled the so-called Castellammarese War waged between rival Mafia factions headed by Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, marked the first step in a transition from an old to a more modern Mafia, a drama similarly set in motion by the restaurant murders in The Godfather. Masseria was a decidedly Old-World gangster; he trusted only Sicilians, eventually only Sicilians from certain towns. His murder made way for Maranzano, who at Masseria’s death became the socalled ‘boss of bosses’ consolidating and overseeing the operations of the real ‘five families’. The hit was set up by Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano who excused himself to go the men’s room (like Michael) while Bugsy Siegel and two thugs ‘loaned’ by Meyer Lansky assassinated Masseria. Luciano became Maranzano’s second-in-command, but the


relationship quickly soured because Maranzano could not trust the ambitious Luciano. Maranzano plotted to assassinate his rival, but Luciano, with help again from Lansky, got to Maranzano first. The murders of Masseria and Maranzano marked the emergence of a very new, less rigidly ethnic order, something approximating a national crime syndicate composed of Italians and Jews … fellow immigrants dressed in suits, calling themselves businessmen, working together to achieve the American dream. Michael’s ability to manage the complexities of such a modern Mafia is made clear in one of the film’s final set pieces, Michael’s confrontation with Carlo at the end of the film. We arrive at the scene as Carlo swears ‘on the kids’ that he had nothing to do with the hit on Sonny. Michael knows better and orders Carlo to sit down. Menacingly, Michael swings his chair around and sits close to Carlo. It is a deliberate, theatrical gesture made all the more threatening by a cut to a shot of Michael’s soldiers Rocco (Tom Rosqui) and Neri (Richard Bright) and the family consigliere Tom Hagen all of whom flank Carlo. The set piece is so carefully stage-managed by Michael that Carlo quickly appreciates what sort of scene he’s in. The protestations of innocence stop. Instead: ‘Mike don’t do this to me, please.’ But Michael perseveres. Carlo’s confession briefly relieves the tension, but Michael’s promise not to ‘make my sister a widow’ is clearly a fiction, and Carlo knows it. We cut first to an exterior shot as Carlo’s things are packed into the trunk of a car. Carlo dutifully gets in the front seat because he now has no choice but to follow Michael’s direction. A man seated in the back seat leans forward; it’s Clemenza (an experienced killer; he was Michael’s tutor before the restaurant murders) and Carlo again recognises the sort of scene he’s in. We cut to the steps where we find Michael, Tom, Rocco and Neri, then back to the car as Clemenza throws a garrotte around Carlo’s neck. The script describes the action in the car as follows: ‘[Carlo] chokes and leaps up like a fish on a line …’. The metaphor regards the action on screen and the larger issue of control (as the fisherman




reels in his catch). The sequence ends as we again see Michael, his attorney and his soldiers watching impassively as the scene plays out according to their script. It is interesting to observe how much of The Godfather takes place indoors and how many of these indoor scenes use soft lighting and subdued décor (as in the film’s first scene) to mask the sort of business the characters run. Such comfort and safety are not to be found in the few scenes shot outdoors. For example, Vito is shot buying fruit at an outdoor market. After discovering that Carlo has roughed up Connie, Sonny beats Carlo mercilessly in the street. He teaches Carlo a lesson, perhaps, but such a public scene prompts Carlo’s revenge. He betrays Sonny to Barzini, who orchestrates Sonny’s murder outside at a toll booth. Unlike Sonny, Michael prefers to take care of business from the family compound because he knows that when he leaves his cosy office, he is vulnerable. We get a glimpse of this vulnerability when Michael flies west to Las Vegas to meet with Moe Greene (Alex Rocco). It is in Michael’s willingness, or more accurately, his obligation to leave home for the meeting that we appreciate the gravity of the deal he proposes. This is business, despite the risk, that must be performed in person. Michael coerces a confession from Carlo


The meeting between the two gangsters takes place in a brightly lit hotel room: Moe’s turf. There, Moe conducts business his way, by offering Michael a prostitute and chips with which to gamble. The gesture is wasted on Michael; he neither screws around nor plays at games he might not win. Impatient and uncomfortable in such strange surroundings, Michael quickly shifts the conversation to his bottom line: ‘My credit good enough to buy you out?’ Moe loses his temper: ‘You think you can come to my hotel and take over? I talked to Barzini. I can make a deal with him and still keep my hotel.’ Michael remains stoic and cool; he has plans for dealing with Barzini (who ordered the hit on Sonny and bankrolled Sollozzo) but he doesn’t let on. He sticks to the script: ‘I leave for New York tomorrow. Think about a price.’ Michael flies back to New York and unluckily for Moe it is from there that Michael orchestrates a hostile takeover of the hotel, a business move that begins (in the film’s climactic montage) with the murder of the casino manager. Though the modern gangster controls a vast organisation and he enjoys great wealth, the expression or celebration of such status is by necessity private. The static, mostly interior mise en scène – the long takes played before a mostly stationary camera – emphasises the reserve and cool of this new-style gangster-as-businessman. The Godfather logo depicting a puppeteer’s hand holding a puppet’s strings offers an apt visual referent for this anonymous power and reach, political influence that extends for Vito Corleone, as Sollozzo so colourfully puts it, to ‘all those politicians that you carry in your pocket – like so many nickels and dimes’. We must take Sollozzo at his word because the Corleones’ interaction with politicians is never explicitly shown. The mise en scène purposefully restricts our access to parallel storylines; what and who we see (and what and who we don’t see) in these set pieces is important. The Godfather begins with a wedding attended exclusively by family and Corleone business associates. Absent are the politicians said to be held in Vito’s pocket, a matter




acknowledged by Tom when he informs Vito (as if briefing him for a meeting): ‘Senator Cauley apologised for not coming personally, but said you’d understand. Also some of the judges; they’ve all sent gifts.’ Tom then raises his glass of wine and says ‘Salud’, affirming what these gifts mean as a tribute, as symbols of a secret loyalty. Vito seems less impressed. The look on his face is one of regret; the politicians’ reluctance to be seen at his estate disappoints him. Here Vito reluctantly acknowledges his exile from a legitimate society that places a premium on appearances; the politicians do business with Vito, but from a distance and in secret. Puzo’s first stab at a screen adaptation of The Godfather re-set the story in the 1970s. It was the Production Chief at Paramount Robert Evans’s idea, but after reading this first draft, pretty much everyone agreed that the update didn’t work. Coppola’s subsequent draft better matched the novel’s nostalgic period piece; his script was faithful to a certain time and place and history of organised crime in America. But though he embraced the post-war setting, Coppola strayed from the novel significantly, focusing less on Vito and more on Michael. This change put a lot of pressure on a proposed succession scene in the Corleone family garden which, when production commenced on the film, was still not written. The plan was for Coppola to write the scene himself, but as the pressures of the production mounted he came to realise that he wouldn’t have the time and agreed to let Paramount hire a script doctor. Producer Fred Roos contacted Robert Towne, who, at the time, was a well-regarded TV writer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., NBC, 1964–8, and The Outer Limits, ABC, 1963–5) and script doctor (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967). Towne met with the production team and then with Brando, who gave his input: ‘Just once, I would like Vito Corleone not to be inarticulate.’ Towne then holed up at fellow screenwriter Buck Henry’s house and wrote the scene. The scene as Towne wrote it elaborated the order of succession; it gave Vito (and Brando) a truly reflective speech. And it provided much needed screen time between Michael’s initially uneasy


ascension to family leadership and his sure-handed, cool-headed seizure of power at the end. According to Towne, what Coppola wanted most was a scene to convey how much Vito and Michael loved each other. Towne juxtaposed this affection with (in his words): ‘[Vito’s] ambivalence about what would happen to his son, and his anxiety about giving up his power – his ambivalent feelings about, in effect, forcing his son to assume his role, and having to give up his role …’.3 Towne seemed to intuit what younger filmgoers would come to recognise: that The Godfather was not exactly or not only a gangster picture but a family melodrama in which the drama of succession reflected a universally shared generational conflict. Michael desperately wants to please his father. What son doesn’t? The father wants his son to succeed, but resists, at least at first, when he discovers that such success will come at his expense or at the very least accompany his slide into retirement and insignificance. That Michael ushers in a new, more modern way of doing business may partially explain why young filmgoers responded so eagerly to the film. In 1972 the affirmation of a ‘generation gap’ rather dominated the pop sociology of the moment. This ‘gap’ deeply concerned the Hollywood studios, all of which struggled to find a formula for pleasing such a divided mass audience. The Godfather succeeded in part because it concerned this generational struggle, albeit in metaphor. Though the scene runs for just three minutes and forty-five seconds, it proved pivotal … so pivotal that, when Coppola took the stage to accept the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, he included in his remarks: ‘I’d like to thank Bob Towne, who wrote the very beautiful scene between Marlon and Al Pacino in the garden. That was Bob Towne’s scene.’ Coppola adapted the scene in twelve shots: a two-shot of Michael and Vito, nine sequential over-the-shoulder shots employing the shot/reverse-shot convention and a long two-shot (that runs nearly two minutes uncut) of both men in profile that begins as Vito




gets up and then sits close to Michael and ends as Vito exits the frame, leaving Michael alone with his thoughts. The closing two-shot is cued by Michael’s somewhat impatient assurance, we gather made several times before this conversation: ‘I’ll handle it. I told you I can handle it, I’ll handle it.’ This key bit of dialogue prompts Nino Rota’s Godfather theme, which here marks the exit of one godfather and the arrival of another. In the film’s chronology, Bob Towne’s scene follows Michael’s tense meeting with Moe Greene in Las Vegas. At Moe’s hotel, Michael offers to buy out the Jewish gangster; Moe counters: ‘No, I buy you out, you don’t buy me out.’ Moe is emboldened because he doubts the proposed succession from Vito to

Bob Towne’s scene: shots 1, 2, 3, 11 and 12


Michael: ‘The Corleone family don’t even have that kind of muscle any more. The Godfather’s sick, right? You’re getting chased out of New York …’. Michael coolly dismisses Moe’s assessment: ‘I leave for New York tomorrow. Think about a price.’ Moe then exits in a huff and Fredo, who has been working for Moe, publicly questions Michael’s strategy: ‘You don’t come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Green like that!’ Michael admonishes him: ‘Fredo. You’re my older brother and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.’ When Michael wins at the end, Fredo’s remark finally reveals his poor judgment and weakness. But at this moment in the narrative, it casts doubt on Michael’s and the Corleone crime family’s future. It is the strength, then, of ‘Bob Towne’s scene’ that it convinces us otherwise. Neither Vito nor Michael seem particularly worried about ‘being run out of town’; instead their conversation shifts from family to business and then back again, by turns philosophical and practical. The plan for dealing with ‘the Barzini business’ and the Don’s long unstated dreams for the family and for Michael in particular emerge as Vito’s mind seems to wander: Michael meets with Moe Greene in Las Vegas




1 ‘Your wife and children, are you happy with them?’ 2 ‘I hope you don’t mind the way I – I keep goin’ over this Barzini business.’ 3 ‘I spend my life tryin’ not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, but not men – how’s your boy?’ 4 ‘I want you to arrange to have a telephone man check all the calls that go in and outta here …’. 5 ‘Now listen, whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor. Don’t forget that.’

As with many father–son relationships, there comes a time when the roles reverse. Here we see Vito rueful and unfocused while Pacino’s cool reveals Michael’s confidence, at least until the last shot, which shows Michael leaning back in his chair, for this one moment revealing the weight of his inherited position. The scene pivots on Vito’s eloquent soliloquy on succession, which as Brando had requested from Towne, gives his character a moment of particular clarity: I knew that Santino was goin’ to have to go through this. And Fredo, well, Fredo was … well … But I never – I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life, I don’t apologize, to take care of my family, and I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all those big shots. I don’t apologize – that’s my life, but I thought that – that when it was your time, that – that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone, somethin’.

Michael takes his father’s remarks in stride; after all he too realises that such legitimacy, such a complete assimilation has not yet been won. He remarks in Italian: ‘Another pezzonovante’, another big shot. Michael’s comment is intended to reassure his father, that such powerful men are just ‘big shots’. But a second meaning of pezzonovante is worth thinking about here as well. The term is often used idiomatically to refer to a jerk or idiot, as in the Sicilian insult:


‘Secco gabban de madre, pezzonovante.’ (Translation: ‘Go dry hump your mother, dumbass.’) Sandwiched between the Moe Greene scene and the succession scene in the garden is a brief conversation between Michael and Kay in the back seat of Michael’s chauffeured car. They are well into their conversation by the time we arrive: ‘I have to see my father and his people,’ Michael says, ‘so have dinner with me.’ Kay, who had apparently hoped to spend the entire day with her husband, expresses her disappointment: ‘Oh, Michael.’ Reading Kay’s mood, Michael offers a compromise: ‘This weekend we’ll go out.’ Kay groans, still disappointed; she knows that the family business will get in the way. And it does. As Michael exits the car, Kay tells him she has a favour to ask for Connie. Michael groans and smugly replies that his sister should ask him herself. ‘She’s afraid to,’ Kay adds, ‘Connie and Carlo want you to be godfather to their little boy.’ Michael hesitates: ‘Lemme think about it. We’ll see.’ Though we are invited to view the scene as incidental and transitional, this seemingly innocent conversation establishes a key piece of business Michael intends to deal with after his father dies. Michael’s decision to stand godfather to Connie and

‘I have to see my father and his people’




Carlo’s son at once attends to the business of family and the family business. It serves to celebrate a certain fiction about Michael the family man just as it cements his role as godfather to the next generation in the Corleone crime family.4 Coppola’s masterful montage in the baptism sequence offers a striking visual contrast to the rest of the film. The sequence is composed of sixty-seven shots and runs for just over five minutes. It begins as Coppola cuts leisurely between shots of comparatively long duration and ends as he significantly picks up the pace of the editing: the first thirty-six shots average six seconds; the final thirty-one are roughly one-third that length.5 The first five shots of the sequence are set in the church, a space we see first in a master shot in muted natural light. We move from the back of the hall successively closer to the altar, then shots six through nine take us out of the church to the simultaneous preparations of Michael’s soldiers. To make clear the simultaneity of these events and to emphasise the thematic connection between the sacrament of baptism and the murders that are essential to Michael’s business plan, Coppola cuts only on image. Though we are no longer inside the church in shots six through nine, we continue to hear the sound of The baptism sequence master shot


the church organ and the ritual discourse performed by the priest and Michael. Coppola cuts on form in shots eleven and twelve: from a closeup of the priest’s hands as he anoints the infant to a similar shot of a barber’s hands as he shaves one of the assassins, Cicci (Joe Spinell), two ceremonies featuring similar gestures foregrounding vastly different outcomes. The parallel editing throughout enables an ironic authorial commentary on parallel actions; for example, a dialogue between the priest and Michael that is essential to the baptism ritual is intercut with and thus narratologically frames the murders. The priest asks ‘Do you renounce Satan?’ Michael responds: ‘I do renounce him.’ The church organ swells as we watch a soldier shoot Moe Greene in the eye. ‘And all his works?’ the priest asks. We cut to see Cicci lock Cuneo (Rudy Bond) in a revolving door. Michael replies: ‘I do renounce them’, which cues Cicci’s hit on Cuneo and another gunman’s assassination of Philip Tattaglia. We then cut back to the church as the priest intones: ‘And all his pomps?’ to which Michael dutifully responds: ‘I do renounce them.’ The organ ascends a scale and as the music reaches a crescendo Barzini is shot and tumbles down the courtroom steps.

Michael renounces Satan




Moe Greene; Willi Cicci; Don Emilio Barzini


The final devotional discourse of the baptism is intercut with shots of the bloody aftermath of the murders of Tattaglia, Cuneo and Barzini, shots to which, thanks to the parallel editing, the priest seems to offer benediction: ‘In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sanctu.’ Both narratives end as they began, simultaneously, as the priest blesses the infant. As he does so he seems to speak as well to the baby’s namesake Michael Corleone: ‘Go in peace and may the Lord be with you. Amen.’ Outside the church we find Michael in a whispered exchange with one of his lieutenants, Rocco Lampone. We can’t hear what is said, but we gather that Rocco tells Michael what we already know, that he has won, that his soldiers have murdered all of his rivals. The baptism/assassination sequence itself is so well executed that, after witnessing the hits depicted on screen, we come to admire their author’s expertise; that is, the film author Coppola and the author of the assassinations in the film, Michael. So compelling is the film-making, so expert is Michael’s planning and execution of the killings, it is hard not to feel a sense of elation at this point, a sense that the right man, through means we should hardly endorse, has achieved his goal. Michael has succeeded

Michael gets the news: he has won




as we will never succeed, because we dare not do what he has done for success. We dare not sacrifice what he has sacrificed; we dare not risk what he has risked. By presenting the baptism and the series of executions as complementary actions – in the novel, the murders come after the baptism – Coppola had hoped to depict Michael as a monster. The moral of the story is that Michael pays for his success with his soul. That the 1972 audience resisted such a reading and instead revelled in Michael’s cool execution of his plan may have surprised Coppola, but in retrospect it tells us plenty about a modern American society in which ruthlessness in the marketplace has become a credential for success.6 The consequences of Michael’s ruthlessness present themselves not in the film’s climactic violence (as they would have in a 30s formula picture), but in the film’s brief denouement. By the time we get to this final scene, all but one of the loose ends in the narrative has been tied off: all of the family’s enemies are dead; all of the old scores are settled. After the baptism sequence Coppola takes us through two more murders (of Carlo and Tessio). In these executions – of his brother-in-law and one of his father’s closest friends –

Clemenza affirms his devotion


Michael quells all doubts about his cold-bloodedness and not incidentally, his business competence. No cop or private detective or spurned lover or rival gangster steps in at this point to take Michael out of the film. Instead, he rather simply succeeds. As filmgoers we discover (if we ever doubted) that Vito was right to trust his son and Moe Greene was wrong in his boast that the Corleone family would be run out of town. Michael survives the film safe and secure, but one plot detail remains: what about Kay? So a lot hinges on the last shot of the film: ‘VIEW ON KAY’s face as she looks at what her husband becomes’ is how the script describes it. But her judgment on what she sees – and what we briefly see along with her (and from her subjective point of view): Clemenza and Rocco kissing her husband’s, their new godfather’s hand – matters far less than Coppola had intended, far less than it should. Kay looks on as the men go about a ritual she finds mysterious and strange. But by this point in the film, the ceremony is for us not only not strange, it is the conclusion we’ve been simultaneously waiting and rooting for. To be faithful to the novel, Coppola shot an alternative ending. Taking the question ‘what about Kay’ even further, Puzo had ended View on Kay’s face as she looks at what her husband becomes




The ending Coppola shot but did not use

his novel with a subsequent scene in church where we find Kay lighting a candle, ostensibly for Michael’s sins. With this second ending, we return to the site of Michael’s ascension to crime boss of New York City, but Kay’s actions suggest that she knows that he has lied to her and that she has made a mistake in marrying him. She may be lighting a candle for Michael, but the gesture seems sentimental and self-conscious; we are meant to feel sorry for her. The ending Coppola used is less sentimental. We wonder less at why Michael behaves as he does than at why Kay doesn’t seem to get it. Even at this end point in the narrative Kay is an outsider looking in, a clueless civilian irrelevant to the fascinating world of the movie gangster. We see in this final image that the story will go on without her, that the order of succession from Vito to Michael, from one sort of gangster to another, happens with or without her consent or participation. That the film returns to Kay at the end was consistent with Coppola’s audacious pronouncement upon signing the contract with Paramount to direct the film in 1971: ‘[The Godfather is] not a film about organized gangsters, but a family chronicle. A metaphor for capitalism in America.’7 The emphasis on family melodrama was novel at the time; the notion that the gangster’s private life might be


an entry point (as opposed to a sidebar) to the narrative was indeed new. (The popular HBO series The Sopranos, 1999–2007, which focuses so much on the private life of a gangster family – Tony and his mother, Tony and his wife, Tony and his children, Tony and his crazy uncle – doesn’t début for another twenty-seven years!) The bit about gangster films and capitalism may have surprised the studio executives, but it was very much the sort of thing a former film-school student would say. (Coppola had apparently picked something up from the critical-studies folks during his stint as a student at UCLA.) Indeed, film scholars who taught and wrote about the crime genre routinely drew from Robert Warshow’s seminal essay ‘The Gangster as Tragic Hero’ first published in The Partisan Review in 1948, which viewed the gangster film as a deft unmasking of the American dream.8 Warshow’s essay regarded the gangster’s pursuit of capitalist success as an object lesson on the folly of greed (for its own sake). ‘The whole meaning of [the gangster’s] career is a drive for success,’ Warshow notes, but in the end that success is empty and immoral because ‘brutality itself becomes at once the means to success and the content of success.’ Warshow drew a distinction between real and movie gangsters. He was interested only in the latter. His critique cannily exposed the complexities of the American filmgoer’s attraction to and identification with this movie character: ‘In ways we do not easily or willingly define, the gangster speaks for us, expressing that part of the American psyche which rejects the qualities and demands of modern life, which rejects “Americanism” itself.’ The gangster, Warshow concludes, ‘is what we want to be and what we are afraid we may become’. We finally reject his drive for capitalist success because we recognise through him that the pursuit of such an American dream is a trap, ‘defined not as accomplishment or specific gain, but simply as the unlimited possibility of aggression’.9 The gangster pictures of the early 1930s that interested Warshow – Little Caesar (1931), Scarface (1932) and The Public Enemy (1931)




– were routinely framed by a reformist message or theme: crime is bad and it is up to law-abiding citizens, the police and the courts to make our cities safe once again. But within this public-service frame one finds the gangster himself, at once monstrous and fascinating, free to live his life independent of social norms and moral constraint. For Warshow, the gangster is doomed not because of the violence he perpetrates, the crimes he engineers or executes himself … after all, in capitalism ‘every attempt to succeed is an act of aggression’. The gangster dies so we can ‘acquiesce in our failure’.10 We resist the urge to be (like) him and his death justifies or rationalises our caution, our collective repression. The early sound-era gangster films focused squarely on the social problems in Depression-era America. In most of these early crime films, the gangster is a recent immigrant – the accent and lifestyle tell us that – and he takes a road to riches on the wrong side of the law because on the right side he has no chance. The gangster kills his business rivals in order to acquire expensive clothes, an entourage, a blonde. Whether such success is empty or just fleeting depends on how you assess the value of these acquisitions, but what is clear is that the gangster succeeds materially because he is willing to act on impulses civilised Americans repress. His downfall is as violent as his rise; he is dispatched in a manner as fast and dirty as the way he has lived his life. Little Caesar; The Public Enemy


That these first-generation immigrants were unlike most American moviegoers in the 1930s went beyond questions of ethnicity or more obviously criminality. In Scarface, Howard Hawks depicts Tony Comante as an immigrant peasant who all too simply believes in the American dream purported by a neon sign outside his apartment: ‘The world is yours.’ After assassinating a rival gangster, Big Louis (Harry J. Vegar), Tony unveils his business plan to realise this dream. There are three simple rules to follow to get ahead, he says: ‘Do it First. Do it yourself. And (miming the action of shooting his gun) keep on doing it.’ Tony follows these rules and rids himself of competition. His success is superficially enviable; his sense of entitlement, his ability to do and say whatever he wants, and perhaps best and most of all his money (and the things that that money can buy) no doubt spoke to an audience down on its collective luck. But filmgoer identification with Tony is complicated by character flaws too awful to ignore. The actor Paul Muni plays Tony as a subhuman, asocial monster. His arms dangle to his knees like an ape. And once he gets a taste of stuff only lots of money can buy, it is clear (from the garish suits he buys, for example) that he has such lowbrow taste that wealth is wasted on him. Tony has a big sexual hang-up. He acquires Poppy (Karen Morley), formerly his boss Johnny Lovo’s (Osgood Perkins) girl, as a trophy of sorts, but he can’t have the woman he really wants, Cesca (Ann Dvorak), his sister. Early in the film, Tony returns home for a huge plate of spaghetti (such ethnic clichés abound) and discovers that Cesca is out having fun. When she returns, he scares off her suitor and lectures her on proper deportment. Cesca asks what gives him the right to tell her what to do and he replies, simply ‘I’m your brother.’ The line is countered immediately, first by Cesca ‘You don’t act like it’, and then by their ever-suffering mother, who, in a thick accent, warns Cesca: ‘Tony don’t like you the way he makes you believe … to him you’re just a girl.’ In the early 1930s, gangster films accounted for almost 20 per cent of Hollywood’s studio output. But the genre’s popularity proved




brief, thanks to the PCA. The call for industry self-regulation became particularly strong after Scarface producer Howard Hughes shamelessly promoted his film with a publicity campaign that exploited gruesome real-life headlines. ‘There are certain things that simply do not belong on screen,’ opined Jack Alicoate, speaking for the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) in the influential trade paper Film Daily, ‘[Scarface] should never have been made.’11 Hughes cried conspiracy (against him … against his film) and remarked that it was the film’s ‘basic truths’ that made people uncomfortable. He may have been right (about the conspiracy and the ‘basic truths’), but for the MPPDA at stake was a larger problem with public relations. Hughes’s cause was taken up by the legendary advocate Clarence Darrow: This talk about glorifying or making heroes of crooks is silly piffle. Right always triumphs over wrong in the movies and that is more than we can say Tony and his sister Cesca in Scarface


about real life … gang pictures are action pictures. The screen has played them for years. It called them westerns when they stole horses instead of booze.12

But while Darrow’s commonsensical argument concerned a larger hypocrisy that lay at the heart of the industry’s use of censorship as public relations, it did little to stem the increasing public and filmindustry concern over Scarface in particular and the gangster genre in general.13 The genre made a bit of a comeback after World War II. By comparison to their 30s counterparts, the gangsters in 40s and 50s film noir were a far smoother lot. They were less obviously ethnic and travelled in headier, wealthier, WASPier circles. These were more modern crooks, many of whom were created by left-wing screenwriters who found themselves targets of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Though the blacklist was a singularly awful moment in American popular culture history, the inquisitors did seem to appreciate the message of the modern gangster film – its critique of American capitalism, its grotesque re-casting of the American dream. So they made a concerted effort to punish the messengers. In the 1947 noir gangster picture Body and Soul, for example, written by the soon-to-be blacklisted screenwriter Abraham Polonsky and directed by the unfriendly-then-friendly witness Robert Rossen, gangster capitalism prevails: ‘Everything [in life] is addition or subtraction,’ a gangster blithely explains, ‘all the rest is conversation.’ When interviewed for the 1995 blacklist film Red Hollywood, Polonsky reflected on his 1948 crime film Force of Evil: He [a mob lawyer, played by John Garfield] tries to make his brother happy [and] it kills him. He tries to make the young lady happy, he makes her unhappy. Whatever he tries to do is wrong. Because it has to be wrong. Because the situation is such that whatever he does is wrong. All movies about crime are about capitalism. Because capitalism is about crime. I mean




quote, unquote, morally speaking. At least that’s what I used to think. Now I’m convinced.

The noir gangsters for whom wealth provides access to urban political machines and crooked law enforcement seem a giant step closer to the more modern gangsters depicted in Coppola’s film. Take for example Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), the gangster in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947). Sterling lives in Lake Tahoe (like Michael in The Godfather: Part II, 1974) and runs his criminal empire by making phone calls to lawyers and accountants and holding meetings at his lakeside estate. Whit never worries about the cops; his biggest concern is one he shares with less conventionally crooked businessmen: the IRS. In the 1955 crime film The Big Combo, the gangster who runs ‘the organisation’ (played by Richard Conte, who was cast as Don Barzini in The Godfather) calls himself Mr Brown – a formal disavowal of his ethnicity. In Brown’s view, what distinguishes him

The Big Combo


from his nemesis, Lt Diamond, the cop who hounds him throughout the film, has nothing to do with the boring details of right versus wrong. In Diamond’s presence, Brown muses to his gunsel: ‘His salary is $96.50 a week. Busboys in my hotel make more than that.’ Later in the film Brown burns a ship’s log containing evidence of a murder, a log he has acquired by killing an antique dealer and then buying his store from the bank. The mobster describes such a disposal as a ‘liquidation of assets’, a remark that seems to refer to the log and the log’s author. Brown’s motto, ‘First is first and second is nobody’, echoes Tony Comante’s mantra to ‘Do it first. Do it yourself. And keep on doing it.’ The presentation may be different, but the goals are the same: material success, prestige, assimilation. The Big Combo bears some obvious thematic similarities to The Godfather: the complex drama of assimilation as the gangster pursues a version of the American dream, the parallels between legitimate capitalist business and the methods of ‘the combination’. But thanks in large part to the strictures of the Code and its enforcement by the ever-vigilant PCA, the critique of American capitalism posed by The Big Combo is muted. The film’s ending makes clear that Brown is posing as something he’s not; he’s not a businessman at all, he’s a ruthless criminal. And in the end the real tragedy for him is that he fails to pull off the masquerade. Per PCA requirements, Brown is finally captured by Diamond, who ushers the gangster to jail with the simple payoff line: ‘Let’s go, hoodlum.’ Coppola’s film was released four years after the industry adopted the ‘voluntary’ Motion Picture Ratings System. As a result, he had a lot more freedom to explore in a less sentimental way the modern American gangster. Absent the reformist frame and/or the political message that crime finally doesn’t pay, Coppola offers a capitalist parable expansive enough to chronicle a transition from the 30s-era entrepreneurial gangster to a more refined version of the post-war corporate capitalist, from Vito, who is essentially a shakedown artist (making offers one dare not refuse) to his son Michael,




who is a takeover artist, a corporate raider who offers to buy out his rivals before he reaches for the heavy artillery. The transition from father to son parallels the transition from entrepreneurial to post-industrial American capitalism. Vito’s employees are loyal because they are (or are made to feel like) family; like his right-hand man Clemenza, many have been there from the beginning when the Corleone crime business was run out of a dingy storefront in the neighbourhood. Loyalty to Michael is more a matter of the bottom line. And thus his control over the business is at once more conventional and more tenuous. When Tessio betrays Michael to Barzini at Vito’s funeral, Michael knows not to take it personally: ‘It’s the smart move,’ he tells Tom, ‘Tessio was always smarter.’ Later, when Michael orders Tessio’s execution, the old gangster asks Tom to relay a message to the new don: ‘Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked ’im.’ Tom answers for his boss: ‘He understands that.’ And so do we. With the new business model in place, family ties are far less important than they used to be. In the twenty-four years between the publication of Warshow’s essay ‘The Gangster as Tragic Hero’, and the release of The Godfather, the critic’s canny admonition that, ‘At bottom the gangster is doomed because he is under the obligation to succeed, not because the methods he employs are unlawful’ is fully turned on its head, its meaning lost to a society that had come to view success as an end well worth cheating, stealing, even killing for. Film audiences for The Godfather were less sentimental, I suppose – was it Vietnam? Nixon? – and more likely to embrace a social commentary that persisted without disclaimers, tacked-on narrative excuses, the very sort of lies the PCA insisted upon in concert with its notion of ‘compensating values’, that evil can’t be seen to triumph even though in real life it often does. The popular reception of the ending of The Godfather revised Warshow’s argument just as 70s popular American culture took a broader view of the relationship between gangsterism and capitalist enterprise. For Warshow, the 30s gangster’s rags-to-riches storyline


was a sure road to ruin: ‘At bottom the gangster is doomed because he is under the obligation to succeed.’ The gangster’s violent end embodies for the filmgoer the genre’s ‘intolerable dilemma’ … per Warshow: ‘that failure is a kind of death and success is evil and dangerous’. If, as Warshow contends, the gangster ‘is what we want to be and what we are afraid we may become,’ the 30s gangster film resolves this dilemma simply, as the film marks ‘his death, not ours’.14 The contemporary gangster film complicates such a reading because the price the gangster pays is spiritual not physical. In his essay, ‘The Godfather and the Mythology of the Mafia’, Alessandro Camon updates Warshow’s gangster as tragic hero as he reads Coppola’s film: The Godfather gives us a man that we want to be, or that we can’t help being. As much as we enjoyed his affirmations of power (carefully set up in the film as righteous revenges, almost supernatural in their efficiency), we empathize with his suffering the consequences.15

Here we see not the potential of being (like) the gangster, but a resignation that there is a part of him in us and a part of us in him. To that end, we would not necessarily feel freed by the consequences he suffers, which was the basic formula of pre-rating system gangster pictures. Rather we empathise with what the pursuit of wealth has done to him because it has done much the same to us.




2 I Believe in Hollywood

None of those other guys – Lucas, Spielberg, all of them – could have existed without Francis’ help. And his was a much more interesting influence than theirs. Francis was going to become the emperor of a new order, but it wasn’t going to be like the old order. It was going to be rule of the artist.16 John Milius, writer/director

Francis Coppola’s ‘overnight success’ with The Godfather was a while in the making. First there was the inevitable stint working for Roger Corman. The B-movie impresario didn’t pay well, and the genre pictures he assigned to young film-makers were often awful and ridiculous, but he offered what the studios at the time did not, an opportunity to direct. Though Corman made exploitation pictures – films that exploited genre, (financially) exploited talent and systematically exploited filmgoers’ taste for cheap thrills – he spoiled his young directors. Within the production model employed at American International Pictures (AIP), a young film-maker could expect a degree of creative autonomy unthinkable in big-studio production. Young would-be directors found with Corman a low-rent version of the auteur catechism so ardently taught in American film schools in the 1960s. Apropos the industry maxim ‘you take the money, you lose control’, the reverse held with Corman: when so little money is at stake, no one has the time or interest to interfere. Three years after the release of Dementia 13 (1963) by AIP, Coppola’s UCLA thesis film, You’re a Big Boy Now was picked up by Seven Arts (an independent studio run by the veteran Hollywood producer Ray Stark). Though it did little at the box office it received nominations for an Academy Award (Geraldine Page for Best Actress in a Supporting Role), the Golden Palm at


The lurid poster for Coppola’s first film, the axploitation picture Dementia 13, made for Roger Corman and AIP in 1963

Cannes and three Golden Globes (including Best Picture, Musical or Comedy). In 1967 Seven Arts purchased Jack Warner’s controlling interest in Warner Bros. and Coppola was suddenly a film-maker with ties to a major studio. That same year The Graduate (Mike Nichols) had a hugely successful run at the box office and executives at Seven Arts/Warner Bros. couldn’t miss how Nichols’s film echoed the ironic rite-of-passage plotline of and made stylistic nods to the French and British New Waves so evident in You’re a Big Boy Now. Hoping to




cash in on a young talent with whom they already had a professional relationship, Warners offered Coppola, then barely thirty years’ old, $600,000 seed money to develop new film projects. The young auteur took the money and promptly got out of town, establishing American Zoetrope in San Francisco. The production company sported a ‘who’s who’ from America’s top film schools: George Lucas (Coppola’s right-hand man and the Vice President of the production company), John Milius, Jim McBride, Carroll Ballard, Robert Dalva, Hal Barwood, Matt Robbins, Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck and Walter Murch.17 Warners had a series of low-budget youth films in mind, but Coppola had loftier plans. He dumped most of the money into stateof-the-art equipment: KEM editing tables before the studios had them, a custom-built Keller mixing console and a 35mm screening room. It was a film student’s dream studio: all the best gear, smart people hanging out sharing ideas and expertise and lots of screenings. ‘I feel like someone starting the first air-mail run from Kansas to Omaha’, Coppola told San Francisco’s Show Magazine in 1970. As to his own role in such a history, Coppola mused ‘Just say Francis Coppola is up in San Francisco in an old warehouse making films.’18 Coppola developed four film projects at American Zoetrope: an expanded and more polished version of Lucas’s USC thesis film, the dystopian futurist picture THX 1138 (released in 1971); a film about an audio-surveillance expert modelled after Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-up (that became The Conversation, Coppola, 1974); a documentary-style feature to be written by Milius and directed by Lucas about American GIs surfing in Vietnam (that provided the foundation for Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now) and a movie about a handful of Modesto, California teenagers on the last night of high school pondering a future that might well include getting drafted to fight in Vietnam (which became Lucas’s American Graffiti, 1973, time-shifted from post-Tet 1969 to pre-JFK assassination 1963). When Coppola brought the four proposed projects to the executives at Warner Bros., the studio rejected all of


them and demanded their money back … money Coppola no longer had. Warners’ rejection of the American Zoetrope projects ranks among the dumbest decisions in the history of Hollywood. For its $600,000 – a modest investment for a studio in 1969 – Warners could have controlled the copyright on two eventual Cannes Grand Prix winners, three films nominated for Best Picture Oscars, one of the first films to gross over $100 million and a film that in 1973 became the highest-grossing independent film of all time.19 In concert with the industrial changes that prompted the Seven Arts/Warner Bros. deal, in 1966 the mining conglomerate Gulf and Western took control of Paramount Studios, the eventual distributor of The Godfather. At the time, Paramount ranked ninth in boxoffice revenue, behind the other six major studios and two independents, National General and Cinerama, both of which would soon go out of business. In a move that initially baffled industry journalists and fellow industry executives, the parent company’s famously irascible CEO, Charles Bluhdorn turned the studio over to three largely untested young men: Stanley Jaffe (then just twentyeight years’ old), Frank Yablans (thirty-three) and Robert Evans (thirty-eight). The film industry trade magazines eviscerated Bluhdorn and many in the know suggested that the executive hires spelt the end of the studio.20 To be fair, the hiring of Yablans made sense. He had earned a reputation as something of a corporate hatchet-man at Disney and then at Filmways and Paramount. Jaffe was a surprise because he was so young, but at least he was in the film business. But Bluhdorn’s selection of Evans as Production Chief seemed simply crazy. Evans was a washed-up actor with minimal executive experience. After leaving Hollywood, Evans took a position in the family business, the Evan-Picone company, but besides dating models, it was unclear exactly what he did there. The New York Times bluntly regarded the hiring of Evans as ‘Bluhdorn’s folly’. The tabloid Hollywood CloseUp put it more bluntly: ‘Bluhdorn’s Blow Job.’21




In the spring of 1970 Bluhdorn made the move many in the industry had anticipated; he announced his decision to liquidate the company and profit from the sale of its sole asset, the parcel of West Hollywood real estate on which the famous Melrose Avenue studio lot had been built.22 Bluhdorn quickly found a buyer and he made the deal. But at the eleventh hour the deal fell through; Gulf and Western failed to get an adjacent property, a cemetery, rezoned and the developers pulled out. While Bluhdorn continued to try to sell the studio, Evans persevered as Production Chief, implementing a fairly simple but nonetheless inspired plan to turn things around at Paramount. He had his first modest success with the film adaptation of Ira Levin’s bestselling novel, Rosemary’s Baby, which earned roughly five times its production budget in 1968. Then, in 1970, Evans supervised the adaptation of another bestseller, Love Story. The novel, penned by the Yale University professor Erich Segal, was initially seen by its publisher, Harper and Row, as a fairly minor title. Evans advanced $25,000 to the book publisher to support a 25,000-copy first press run. In exchange for the cash, which significantly increased the book’s visibility and helped fuel its eventual success, Evans received an option to adapt the novel before it became a bestseller. By the time the book reached the height of its popularity Evans had in production what in contemporary industry argot is called a ‘pre-sold property’, a film project with such significant name recognition it virtually sells itself. In time for the holiday season of 1970, and barely nine months after the novel hit bookstores (and roughly eight months after the failed sale of the studio lot), Paramount released the film version of Love Story starring Evans’s wife, the former model Ali MacGraw. The picture grossed over $50 million in North America alone, earning nearly three times as much as the number two film for the year, Little Big Man (Arthur Penn) and accounting for roughly a third of Paramount’s total box office for the year. Evans first purchased an option on Mario Puzo’s The Godfather before he secured the option on Love Story. As Evans tells


the story, in 1968 Puzo came to him with ‘fifty or sixty rumpled pages’ of a book titled Mafia. Puzo, again according to Evans, owed some scary characters $10,000 he didn’t have. So Evans made Puzo a deal he couldn’t (afford to) refuse. Evans paid just $12,500 for the option on Puzo’s novel, later retitled The Godfather. The master plan at Paramount was to turn over the film adaptation to an established A-list director. Evans’s first choice was Richard Brooks, best known for his adaptation of Truman Capote’s true-crime novel In Cold Blood (1967) and the message movie about the perils of juvenile delinquency, Blackboard Jungle (1955). Brooks turned down the offer because he thought the book glorified organised crime and that it exploited the public image of the ItalianAmerican gangster. After Brooks, Evans offered the film to Constantin Costa-Gavras, Elia Kazan, Arthur Penn, Franklin Schaffner, Fred Zinnemann, Lewis Gilbert and Peter Yates, all of whom said no thanks. No doubt Evans felt increasing pressure with every offer refused, a situation made worse by a behind-the-scenes drama at Love Story (Arthur Hiller), developed by Robert Evans for Paramount in 1970




Robert Evans, Paramount executive, 1971

Paramount involving the movie star Burt Lancaster. Lancaster wanted to play Vito Corleone; he was the right age for the role (Lancaster was fifty-eight; Brando was forty-seven) and he was willing to participate in the financing of the film. But Evans was opposed to the movie star’s offer. He lobbied Studio President Frank Yablans, pointing out that Lancaster’s participation would make the film more expensive to produce, that it would diminish the studio’s ability to control the project, and that it would dilute the studio’s stake in the film’s profits. It was Evans’s right-hand man, Peter Bart, who first suggested Francis Coppola. Evans initially rejected the recommendation, but Bart persisted; in a Hollywood growing increasingly sensitive to identity politics, he argued, the Italian-American Coppola might deflect the inevitable public flap that awaited yet another film about the Mafia. Evans was swayed by Bart’s enthusiasm for Coppola and he was certainly under pressure to sign someone, anyone, in order to keep Lancaster out of the project. So he made an offer. But to Evans’s astonishment, the young director turned him down claiming that he did not want to make a big studio film. Coppola soon changed his mind, thanks to a conversation with George Lucas, who told Coppola that if he directed The Godfather


he would never have to make another commercial film again. Lucas may have overstated his case, but he appreciated that a big commercial film was the one sure route to creative independence in the system. Coppola came relatively cheap: $125,000 plus 6 per cent of the gross. After all, he was a relative newcomer, lucky (so far as Evans was concerned) to have landed such a big studio film. No doubt Evans believed at the time that his young director would be easier to control than any of the A-listers to whom he had previously offered the film. But he underestimated – he probably hadn’t bothered to think about – how deeply Coppola had bought into the idea (and the ideal) of the Hollywood auteur and thus how much would be at stake for the young director in the making of the film. For those who follow the industry trade magazines, the news of struggles on the set between Evans and Coppola followed a familiar industry storyline: an ambitious executive trying to control a property for his studio versus a young artist bent on realising a degree of creative autonomy. The stage for their confrontation was set, so to speak, a few months earlier when, in a page one article in Variety, under the title: ‘Cut Directors down to Size’, Evans announced his (and Paramount’s) intention to ‘become [more] involved in the

Francis Coppola, auteur, 1971




product on a creative basis’, to ‘be close[r] to the script development, the casting, and the final cuts’. If writers and directors didn’t like Paramount’s way of doing business, Evans bristled, ‘they should stay away’.23 The context for ‘Cut Directors down to Size’ was a confrontation between Evans and writer-director Elaine May over the release-cut of A New Leaf (1971). Evans and May battled throughout the production and by all accounts the version the studio prepared for release included a number of changes made over May’s objections. May was so upset by Evans’s interference that she filed suit in federal court to enjoin the release of the studio version of the film. May’s suit was largely symbolic; it was Paramount’s film, not hers, and Evans didn’t need coverage in Variety or a court appearance to prove that. In Evans’s defence, the director’s cut of A New Leaf, co-starring May as a homely heiress and Walter Matthau as an ageing ‘gentleman’ who has squandered his inheritance, ran close to three hours, an un-releasable length for a comedy. Evans supervised the release-cut which ran a more exhibitor-friendly 100 minutes. Lost in translation was May’s darker-edged comedy; but Evans’s decision to pare the film down wasn’t personal, it was just business. Evans’s bluster in Variety held up with regard to May and A New Leaf, but it proved empty with regard to the production and post-production of The Godfather. A quick look at the well-trodden details of the Evans–Coppola feud reveals a basic truth about Hollywood in 1972, that studio authority was weak and as a consequence autonomy for the auteur was there for the taking. Evans boasted publicly, but behind the scenes he managed the production carefully; he was for the most part smart enough to capitulate to Coppola on the set and he resisted displays of authority that might derail his ‘can’t miss’ film. For example, after the crew had wrapped the restaurant scene during which Michael guns down the crooked police captain McClusky and the drug-lord Sollozzo, Aram Avakian, the film’s


Coppola (left), Gordon Willis (far right) and Al Pacino shooting the restaurant scene

editor at the outset, sought out Evans and told him that the film ‘wouldn’t cut’, that Coppola had ‘no idea about continuity’. Though this seemed a perfect opportunity to fire the young director, Evans decided to first check out Avakian’s story. He asked another editor, Peter Zinner (In Cold Blood; and The Professionals, 1967; both for Richard Brooks), to take a look at the dailies. Zinner examined the footage and told Evans that Coppola’s work was terrific. So Evans fired Avakian and hired Zinner (a Coppola supporter) to take Avakian’s place. Throughout the film’s development, production, postproduction, promotion and release, Evans for the most part put his ego aside and kept his eyes on the prize: he objected to but ultimately secured the casting of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, first discouraged and then encouraged Coppola to push the film from a little over two to nearly three hours in length and supported a delay in the release of the film in order to allow his director more time to complete post-production, even though that delay cost the studio a holiday-season playoff. Once the film came out, the thorny issue of who did what on the set and in the editing room became a subject of contention and to date neither man has been willing to let it go. In a 1975 Playboy




interview Coppola complained about Evans’s interference on The Godfather set and as late as 1994 (over twenty years after the release of the film) Evans resumed the feud in his memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture.24 An exchange of cables in 1983 during the ill-fated production of The Cotton Club (and reprinted in The Kid Stays in the Picture) reveals a resentment that will probably never abate: Dear Bob Evans, I’ve been a real gentleman regarding your claims of involvement in The Godfather. I’ve never talked about your throwing out the Nino Rota music, your barring the casting of Pacino and Brando, etc. Your stupid babbling about cutting The Godfather comes back to me and angers me for its ridiculous pomposity. Francis Coppola, a telegram sent to Robert Evans, 1983 Thank you for your charming cable. I cannot imagine what prompted this venomous diatribe. I am both annoyed and exasperated by your fallacious accusations … I am affronted by your gall in daring to send this Machiavellian epistle. The content of which is not only ludicrous, but totally misrepresents the truth.25 Robert Evans’s reply, 1983

Judging by the memoir, Evans was irked when Coppola got all the credit in the popular press and failed to acknowledge him in his Oscar acceptance speech. But fellow studio executives knew that Evans’s achievement as the film’s producer was considerable. Evans ably managed a difficult director and cast (there were good reasons why the studio brass did not want to hire Brando) and the proof of his success was, as they say in Hollywood, ‘up there on the screen’. He had produced the film for a relatively modest $6 million and it earned over fifteen times that amount in its first domestic theatrical run. For his colleagues at Paramount and for his boss Charles Bluhdorn, Evans’s most significant accomplishment was that, when The Godfather became the highest-grossing film to that date, the studio owned a whopping 84 per cent of the picture.


When we talk about the extraordinary performance of The Godfather in an otherwise dead US box office, it is important that we acknowledge the work of the Paramount marketing team. When the studio first mapped out a release schedule for The Godfather, they had the 1971 holiday season in mind. Several scenes in the film are set at Christmas: for example, after Vito is shot, Sollozzo kidnaps Tom (who is out Christmas shopping) and holds him in a trailer at a street-side Christmas-tree stand. In a parallel sequence, Michael discovers the news about his father after exiting Radio City Music Hall and a screening of Leo McCarey’s holiday classic The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). In the self-promotion that passes for Hollywood history, Evans touted his decision to push the release of The Godfather to the early spring of 1972 as at once an expression of confidence in the film and faith in his director. But the gamble was only as good as the marketing team’s strategy to promote the film for a rescheduled 15 March 1972 playoff. Mid-spring is traditionally a dead season on studio release slates. And the fifteenth fell on a Wednesday – unusual for an opening. But the odd opening day was hardly the most surprising aspect of the studio’s release strategy. For the film’s first week in New

The Bells of St. Mary’s at Radio City




York City, Paramount arranged to show the film on just six screens. The LA opening came a week later, also on a Wednesday, followed two days later, 24 March 1972, by a full national playoff in a still modest 323 theatres. It was neither a saturation release, in which a film opens on several thousand screens to reach as many people in the opening week as possible, nor a showcase release, in which a film opens only at reserved-seat theatres in select cities and then builds from there. In 1972, saturation releases were not the norm (as they are today). At the time, a saturation release would have appeared to those in the business – and appearances in Hollywood are always important – as a hedge, the sort of strategy designed to take the money and run when the studio knows it’s got a bad movie. The last thing Paramount wanted anyone to think was that they had botched their sure thing. The decision not to release the film in a reserved-seat showcase engagement virtually guaranteed long lines at the box office. The long lines, the Paramount marketers believed, would suggest an overwhelming demand to see the film. This impression was in part accurate; lots of Americans wanted to see the picture. But the plan was to use a studio-imposed limit on supply to exaggerate this demand. The lines, the marketers gambled, would become part of the event, in effect staging the appearance of a blockbuster. The gamble paid off. Paramount’s first-come, first-serve limited run broke box-office records set some thirty-three years earlier by Gone with the Wind (1939). By the time its first domestic run was complete, The Godfather had grossed roughly twice the box office earned by Love Story, Evans’s and Paramount’s number one film for 1971, and four times the box office recorded by the number one film for 1970, Airport. The LA Times was just one of many American newspapers to comment on the lines outside theatres, observing that after so many bad years at the box office it was refreshing to see people interested enough in a Hollywood movie to wait on the street for tickets. That


the lines were to a large extent created by the release strategy employed by Paramount was beside the point. ‘Remember when moviegoing used to be simple and fun?’, joked the LA newspaper, Well it seems like all that has changed with the cataclysmic opening of The Godfather, the only film in memory that you have to audition to stand in line for. The lines are enormous. On a Saturday night, they’re so long they could conceivably cross zip codes.26

The Godfather turned out to be the very event film Paramount and the struggling industry needed it to be. Worldwide box office after the first run totalled over $150 million. The subsequent network ‘sale’ for a single showing of the picture in 1974 (which Paramount timed to promote the sequel) was a staggering $10 million for a twonight miniseries event. NBC sold ad time for $250,000 per minute, the highest price ever to that date, breaking records set by the previous year’s Super Bowl.27 In Hollywood, they talk about marketability and playability; the former refers to a film with some sort of promotional hook, the latter a quality that audiences come to appreciate and/or admire. Studios hope that a movie has one or the other and the assumption is that marketability and playability are to a large extent mutually exclusive. The Godfather proved to be one of the rare films that had both. It quickly gathered up the box-office momentum of a film with marketability; the simple tagline ‘The Godfather is now a movie’ (an inspired marketing slogan) proved to be enough to pique initial interest. When the film took off, the distribution and marketing team at Paramount made reference to the phenomenal success of the film – the lines, the box-office records – and in doing so offered a model for future blockbuster promotion. Commercial success in and of itself became the hallmark of the advertising campaign. The release strategy employed by Paramount depended on playability as well; bad reviews or negative word of mouth would




‘The Godfather is now a movie’

have cooled interest by the time the film opened in theatres in smaller American cities. The New York Times weighed in first: ‘[The Godfather is] the year’s first really satisfying, big commercial American film’ and then came the Time Magazine review: ‘[The Godfather] is a movie that seems to have everything.’28 Writing for the New Yorker after the initial reviews were already in, Pauline Kael confirmed The Godfather’s historical importance: ‘If there was ever a great example of how the best popular movies come out as a merger of commerce and art, The Godfather is it.’29 The Godfather netted eleven Oscar nominations and won three: Best Picture, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Coppola and Puzo); and Best Actor (Brando). Within a month of the première, Gulf and Western stock traded at $44.75 per share, to that date an all-time high. During the week of 3–10 April, a few weeks after the Oscar ceremony, trading in Gulf and Western stock was suspended twice and a 100 per cent margin requirement


Francis Coppola at the 1973 Oscar ceremony

was invoked, two rare Stock Exchange moves designed to stabilise a volatile stock, in this case a stock on the rise. By year’s end, the Paramount Pictures Leisure Division of Gulf and Western posted pretax operating profits of $31.2 million, with revenues up 55 per cent from the previous year. For a studio on the brink of collapse just three years earlier, these were numbers well worth savouring.




3 I Believe in the Mafia

The horse’s head thing was strictly from Sicilian folklore, only they nailed the head of your favorite dog to your door as the first warning if you didn’t pay the money. Mario Puzo, in an interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s ‘Fresh Air’ I left [The Godfather] stunned, I mean, I floated out of the theater. Maybe it was fiction, but for me, then, that was our life … . And not only the mob end, not just the mobsters and the killing and all that bullshit, but that wedding in the beginning, the music and dancing, it was us, the Italian people.30 Salvatore ‘Sammy the Bull’ Gravano, Gambino family underboss

On 28 June 1971, six months before the scheduled holiday première of The Godfather, mob boss Joe Colombo was shot by an AfricanAmerican hit man named Jerome Johnson as he approached the podium at an Italian Unity Day rally in New York. Colombo fell into a coma and never recovered, eventually dying in 1978. The hit was (allegedly) ordered by ‘Crazy Joe’ Gallo, a gangster emboldened by a recent alliance with the so-called boss of bosses, Carlo Gambino. The choice of an African-American hit man – which was, for the mob, an unusual move – seemed a kind of oddball signature for Crazy Joe, since it was Gallo’s willingness to do business with Harlem gangsters in the drug trade that initiated the feud between the two men. On 7 April 1972, less than a month after The Godfather première, Gallo was assassinated while celebrating his forty-third birthday in a restaurant on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. That this Mafia revenge killing was set in a restaurant and that its execution roughly matched the scene in the movie in which Michael assassinates McClusky and Sollozzo seemed only to assure viewers


Mario Puzo

that Coppola and Puzo had the inside scoop, so much so that real mobsters had turned to the film for their own set pieces. Exactly how well Puzo knew the gangsters he wrote about is subject to debate. We have on the one hand Evans’s story that Puzo used the option money from Paramount to pay off his mobster bookies. But Puzo always insisted that he had never met a real gangster before writing The Godfather. The book was his agent’s idea. Well after The Godfather had made him a millionaire, Puzo dismissed the sprawling and sensational novel as nothing more than a calculated attempt to write a bestseller … a calculation that succeeded, of course. Whether Puzo hung out with wiseguys or not, he knew firsthand from his upbringing by the rail yards on the west side of Manhattan the hardscrabble Italian-American working class from which Vito Corleone emerged. Puzo also understood the importance of family in the Italian-American experience; the author was deeply devoted to his mother, especially after his father abandoned the family when Mario was just twelve. In his second novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, published in 1965, Puzo modelled the matriarch Lucia Santa after his mother.31 Four years later in The Godfather, the focus on family remained central to the depiction of the Italian-American




experience as the benevolent matriarch Lucia Santa became the benevolent patriarch Vito Corleone. The verbal contracts that pervade The Godfather involve the exchange of a piece of business (a favour, a consideration) for a sort of filial piety. These contracts are predicated on a version of the family bond – loyalty to one’s godfather, loyalty to a father figure and benefactor that transcends and exceeds the more conventional legal or financial obligations of the modern city and workplace. When Bonasera affirms his love for America at the start of the film, he does so to make clear his mistake in putting his faith in a government that could set his daughter’s assailants free. He has come to understand that he should have put his faith in Don Corleone. He kisses Vito’s hand and proclaims his loyalty with a simple exit line: ‘Grazie, Godfather.’ The introduction of Vito in the novel also establishes the importance of family to business, the personal to the professional: Don Vito Corleone was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself. It was not necessary that he be your friend, it was not even important that you had no means with which to repay him. Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart. And he would let nothing stand in the way to a solution of that man’s woe. His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of ‘Don’, and sometimes the more affectionate salutation of ‘Godfather’.32

The conflation of the family business/the business of family is central to the peculiar form of capitalism performed by the Corleones. They reject the ‘every man for himself’ credo of modern American capitalism and instead hold to Old-World values regarding family and community (overseen by the benevolent father figure, the Godfather). The tragedy in the film is not that the Corleones fail to fully achieve legitimacy. Instead it is in the realisation that the family-


and community-based loyalties that are crucial to gangster capitalism are the very obstacles the Corleones must and finally can’t surrender to achieve that goal. In the novel, when Michael proposes killing Sollozzo and McClusky to avenge the attempt on his father’s life, Sonny laughs, but not because he finds Michael’s suggestion silly and unrealistic (which is why he laughs in the film). ‘I know you can do it,’ Sonny remarks in the novel, ‘I wasn’t laughing at what you said. I was just laughing at how funny things turn out. I always said you were the toughest one in the family, tougher than the Don himself.’33 Sonny acknowledges in the novel that Michael may be up to the task, but he nonetheless rejects his brother’s plan. Michael presses the case: It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal.34 He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal. Like God.35 Sonny initially dismisses Michael’s plan to assassinate McClusky and Sollozzo




In the film Michael convinces Sonny to go ahead with the restaurant murders when he explains how the Corleones might use the press to quell the inevitable outcry over the murder of a New York City policeman. The gist of his argument is that the personal and the professional overlap … that, per Michael’s speech (above) in the novel, the key to success is to take everything personally. Here Michael confirms the value of the Old-School Mafia vendetta because it solves both the family and business problems set in motion by the assassination attempt on his father. Despite his remarks to the contrary at the wedding, Michael spends most of the film’s second and third acts proving that he is indeed his father’s son. He comes to appreciate his father’s faith in an Old-World chivalry, what in Sicily they call: la via vecchia.36 By adhering to these Old-World ways, Vito is ‘un uomo di pazienza’ (a man of patience). His ties to the Old World distinguish him not only from other more assimilated Americans but also from his fellow gangsters who seem to act more impulsively and whose family lives we never see (thus we imagine that family somehow means less to them). The family melodrama in The Godfather regards the difficulty of continuing to embrace la via vecchia in modern America. As Coppola promised in his first press conference when he signed on to direct the film, organised crime in The Godfather was just the context. Far more important was the Corleones’ drama of immigration and assimilation … the stuff of family melodrama. That family melodrama concerns a father and his three sons. The eldest is just as his father describes him: ‘poor Fredo’; he is never taken seriously in the film. Sonny is tough and loyal and devoted to his father, but despite physical strength, he can never be un uomo di pazienza. Vito recognises this weakness, and at several points in the film openly wonders if his boy will ever grow up and grow into his legacy. When Vito admonishes Johnny Fontane for being weak in his dealings in Hollywood, he makes reference to Sonny’s dalliance with Lucy: ‘a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a


real man’. Later, in the meeting with Sollozzo, Sonny speaks out of turn; he remarks at the absurdity of a rival family (the Tattaglias) offering to guarantee the Corleones’ proposed investment in the drug trade. He is quickly silenced by his father, who, unlike Sonny, appreciates the value of keeping his cards close to his chest. Vito apologises to Sollozzo for Sonny’s outburst, but the subject and object of the commentary is his impetuous son: ‘I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I’ve spoiled them, as you can see.’ After Sollozzo exits, Vito speaks sharply to Sonny: ‘I think your brain is goin’ soft from all that comedy you’re playin’ with that young girl.’ Vito and Sonny disagree about the ‘whole Sollozzo business’. Sonny thinks the move into the drug trade is a good idea, because in the short term ‘there’s lots of money in that white powder’. Vito rejects Sollozzo’s offer because the drug business is immoral, a paradoxical position perhaps for a gangster to take, but it fits with the larger demands of la via vecchia. When Sonny dies in a hail of bullets after being lured into a silly act of revenge against Carlo, we are not surprised; we know he has the wrong temperament to be the next godfather. Of the three boys only Michael learns to appreciate the Old World. After his father is shot, Michael goes to the hospital only to ‘Poor Fredo’




Preparing James Caan for the toll-booth scene

discover that another hit is imminent. He stands astride his father’s hospital bed and whispers: ‘Just lie here, Pop. I’ll take care of you now. I’m with you.’ It’s not exactly what Vito wants to hear, but it nonetheless marks Michael’s acceptance of his position in the line of succession. It is important to note that while Michael accepts his fate in New York, it is in Sicily during the traditional courtship of his first wife, Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), that he learns a thing or two about la via vecchia. When Michael returns to New York he is fully prepared to accept his future as the head of the family (and family business) thanks to what he has learned during his sojourn in the Old World. By the time Vito finally addresses the issue of succession he is old and semi-retired. Sonny is dead. And Fredo, well, Fredo is a conspicuous absence. Michael is poised to become the new Godfather and he has begun to look and act the part. Still, Vito dwells on the tenets of la via vecchia. Vito’s succession speech reveals a continued rootedness in OldWorld, working-class values (‘I work my whole life, I don’t apologize’) and macho pride (‘I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all those big shots’). In other words, it elaborates for Michael and inscribes into the film the tenets of la via vecchia.


The ties to the Old World supersede commitments to modern America. The Corleones operate in secret; their ties to the Old World are not readily understood by more assimilated Americans and thus for the most part they behave as if they are unaccountable to social or political or economic regulation. The adherence to la via vecchia is what separates Vito and Michael from other such powerful men, more assimilated Americans who appear in contrast rootless and unethical. The irony, then, is that Michael aspires to be at once like his father and these other more modern businessmen and in the end he succeeds at neither. Michael acknowledges the lure of assimilation when he proposes to Kay. Perhaps he is just telling her what she wants to hear – he after all wants her to say ‘yes’ – but more likely there’s a part of him that is invested in taking the family and the family business more fully out of the past and into post-war America. The proposal prompts a disagreement that speaks as much to the couple’s conflicting aspirations as it does to the audience’s reading of the distinctions between gangster and legitimate capitalism. Michael insists to Kay that his father ‘is no different from any other powerful man’, a line that offers a deft social commentary on La via vecchia: a proper wedding in Sicily




Michael’s America (circa 1946), the Vietnam-era America in which US filmgoers lived in 1972, and for contemporary audiences, the post-Enron, AIG, Bernie Madoff, credit-swap America of the present day. For contemporary filmgoers, Michael’s success as a modern businessman may appear less conflicted than it did in 1972. Indeed, Michael’s spiritual sacrifice may well be lost on a contemporary culture that looks out only for number one. As we ponder Michael’s soul as he stands godfather to Connie and Carlo’s son, what we may well decide is that salvation is beside the point. What matters is what we do with what we have right now. Michael wins. Game over. Michael’s ascendance is inevitable; it is after all prefigured (dramatically at least) in his denial at the start of the film. His success serves to modernise and in doing so undermine the tenets of la via vecchia. When he says ‘That’s my family, Kay; it’s not me’, at Connie and Carlo’s wedding he affirms a modern rootlessness, a loss of ethnicity that is for him and the family the price of assimilation. But he also dismisses the old way of doing business, of insisting upon a band-leader’s brains on a contract. Michael proposes to Kay: ‘In five years the Corleone family business will be completely legitimate’


La via vecchia becomes for Michael less a possible way of life than some lost link to an imagined and idealised past. Nostalgia becomes the mode in play (a post-modern condition for a postindustrial hero); it is the last refuge for the man who, because of his success, because of the sacrifices he makes, simply isn’t (like) us. If there is a tragic dimension here, and Vito seems to appreciate this tragedy in the garden as he laments getting older, it is in the family’s failure to more fully assimilate. But for the viewer, fully seduced by the secret life of the Mafia family man, there is a revelation: assimilation breeds conformity. Not being like everyone else is what makes Vito and Michael so damn interesting. We come to appreciate and value the mythology of the Old World because Coppola so successfully adapted to the screen the authenticity of Puzo’s fiction. In an annotated copy of the novel he kept on the set, Coppola highlighted Puzo’s exposition on the inner workings of organised crime. ‘In a sense, this is an educational film,’

Coppola’s copy of Puzo’s novel replete with cues for shooting the ‘empty hospital scene’




Coppola mused, ‘After seeing it, one should come out “knowing” lots of things about the Mafia: terms, procedures, rationales, secrets. Not unlike Airport in the sense that you are given some “real workings” of something exotic.’37 Still, it is fair to wonder just how much of the Corleones’ talk about ‘the old country’ and ‘the old days’ refers not to any real gangster history but instead to a fiction fabricated by Puzo. According to the New York Times crime reporter Selwyn Raab in his tome on organised crime, Five Families: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires, after The Godfather, real mobsters began to emulate what were in many ways idealised versions of themselves. For these gangsters, then, la via vecchia was not something they learned from their parents in the family business but from the gangsters they so identified with on screen: ‘Many wiseguys rejoiced in viewing the [The Godfather] multiple times,’ Raab writes, Federal and local investigators on surveillance duty saw and heard made men and wannabes imitating the mannerisms and language of the screen gangsters. They endlessly played the movie’s captivating musical score, as if it were their private national anthem, at parties and weddings.38

Contrary to the affectionate treatment the Corleones get from Puzo and Coppola, Raab makes clear that despite the attention to detail, The Godfather perpetuates a fiction that runs counter to the reality of gangster life on the streets. As Raab points out, just as Vito manifests his moral superiority to Sollozzo by refusing to get involved in the drug business, the very mobsters under surveillance in the 1970s, the very Mafiosi who memorised dialogue from the movie, were financing and profiting from the heroin trade in New York. In ‘The Gangster as Tragic Hero’, Warshow focused on this distinction between real and screen gangsters:


Those European moviegoers who see a gangster on every corner in New York are certainly deceived, but defenders of the ‘positive’ side of American culture are equally deceived if they think it relevant to point out that most Americans have never seen a gangster.

The gangster is ‘an experience of art’, Warshow reminds us, ‘universal to Americans’.39 We must not confuse what the gangster is with what he means (on screen, at least). But such a confusion persists. Hollywood publicity attending the gangster film from its inception in the silent era to the present day has endeavoured to blur the distinction between the real and movie gangster, insisting instead that each film has been culled from the day’s sordid headlines, that contrary to the legal jargon in the film’s inevitable disclaimer, the similarity between the gangsters on screen and persons living or dead is, not only not incidental, it is purposeful and real. For his seminal gangster film The Musketeers of Pig Alley, released in 1912, some sixty years before The Godfather, D. W. Griffith shot on location in real mob neighbourhoods in New York City. There he found local ‘talent’, including, legend has it, a fifteenyear-old extra, the eventual Mafia kingpin Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano.

D. W. Griffith’s 1912 gangster film The Musketeers of Pig Alley




The Hollywood gangster films of the 1930s were heavily stylised but profoundly topical. The films exploited a burgeoning popular audience mired in the Great Depression and all too willing to view real gangsters as celebrities. Tony Comante in Scarface seemed a mere stand-in for the real Scarface, Al Capone. And viewers recognised the Irish thug Tom Powers in The Public Enemy as the screen surrogate of Capone’s rival, the Irish gangster Dion O’Banion. Gangster capitalism as practised by real mobsters was at the time less a veiled critique of an economic system that had in the parlance of the day ‘crashed’, than a stylised mode of doling out revenge (against that very system). Robbing the banks that foreclosed upon farmers and home owners, running booze and thus defying the ill-regarded Volstead Act (which initiated Prohibition in 1919), seemed vaguely justifiable acts that targeted institutions that had made life intolerable for the ‘great unwashed’ in the 1930s. Al Capone made the cover of Time magazine in 1930. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, all ruthless criminals, hold-up artists and killers, were at once among America’s most wanted and most fascinating. Real gangsters and movie stars in the classical Hollywood era had a lot in common. They had plenty of disposable income and lots of time on their hands. And everything they did seemed to make headlines. When their paths crossed, it made for bad but nonetheless fascinating publicity. The actor George Raft, who played Tony’s illfated sidekick Guino in Scarface, grew up in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York (like Puzo) and hob-nobbed with reallife gangsters like Owney Madden (the mobster owner of the Cotton Club) and Bugsy Siegel (who, with Mickey Cohen operated clandestine Hollywood gambling establishments frequented by movie stars). Apropos the intersections of the real and movie gangster, in his treatise on organised crime, Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life, Robert Lacey writes: ‘It was the gangsters who spent their time studying Raft, trying to find out the name of his tailor.’40


Siegel found Hollywood irresistible. He had a torrid affair with an actress, Virginia Hill, a story told in the Oscar-nominated film Bugsy (Barry Levinson, 1991). When Luciano and Lansky suspected that Siegel had embezzled money during his supervision of the building of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, money that they suspected was used to support Siegel’s lavish Hollywood lifestyle with Hill, they had the colourful gangster killed. Much as Siegel’s murder seemed a reminder of the deadly serious business of organised gangsters, it was the movie star Lana Turner’s ill-fated relationship with the gangster Johnny Stompanato that seemed to capture the public’s interest. Stompanato was a bodyguard and bagman for Cohen, a lower-level hood who had a history of living off the generosity of older, wealthy women. Turner

Bugsy Siegel (© Bettmann/Corbis)




met him between husbands four and five (out of seven) and while he made for an attractive escort, she discovered the hard way that Stompanato was not some Hollywood cream-puff playing a toughguy part in a movie. Indeed, at bottom, Stompanato was a terrifying guy whose physical abuse of the actress got so bad one night in 1958 that Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane, ostensibly to protect her mother, stabbed him to death. It was a scandal the industry had to play carefully in the press, because lots of Hollywood stars hob-nobbed with gangsters. Moreover Turner’s wild personal life was already widely known and closely followed by movie fans who seemed to enjoy, vicariously, her tumultuous life off screen. The advent of Las Vegas as a post-war American playground, replete with celebrities gambling and putting on shows at the hotels on the strip, forged inevitable business relationships between the gangsters who owned the casinos and hotels and the celebrities who Lana Turner, live-in boyfriend Johnny Stompanato and Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane (© Bettmann/Corbis)


lost and earned money there. When 1950s Hollywood-based celebrities consorted with mobsters or when they moonlighted (or just liked to gamble) in Las Vegas, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and PCA had little power to stop them. For some stars, Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack for example, connections to Vegas hotel and casino owners like the mobster Sam Giancana only enhanced their ‘street cred’. Such guilt by association seemed to increase the glamour of the movie stars and their gangster friends.

Crane’s murder of Stompanato is headline news in Los Angeles




The Godfather was the highest-profile Hollywood gangster film since the 30s. And it highlighted in a number of ways the inevitable intersections between the real and movie gangster subcultures. What follows is a long look at several Godfather/real-life gangster backstories: the casting of Al Pacino, the development by Marlon Brando of his character, the gangster Don Vito Corleone; the negotiations between Paramount Pictures and the Italian-American Civil Rights League; the hiring of Gianni Russo to play Carlo Rizzi; singer Vic Damone’s eleventh-hour decision to quit the production; and Michele Sindona’s shady deal with Charles Bluhdorn that helped finance The Godfather. Looking back at the casting of Pacino, Coppola recalled in 1997: When I read The Godfather, I saw Al [Pacino] in the part of Michael. I remember when the shepherds are walking across Sicily I saw his face, and when that happens it’s very hard to get it out of your head. So right at the front I said ‘Al Pacino’ – and of course that was not viewed [by Paramount] as a possibility.41

In 1971 Pacino was a little-known New York actor with only one significant film role to his credit, the lead in Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park (1971), a gritty realist film about heroin addicts that played to critical praise at the Cannes Film Festival but little box office in the United States. Evans thought that Pacino was

Al Pacino’s screen test with eventual co-star Diane Keaton; James Caan with Keaton testing for the role of Michael Corleone


too short (his press agent listed him at an optimistic 5970) and inexperienced and pointed out that his three Godfather screen tests were awful (and they were; Pacino comes off more like Woody Allen than Michael Corleone). The executive instead wanted to cast Ryan O’Neal, the Irish-American star of Love Story. While Coppola continued to push for Pacino, the studio screen tested a number of young actors including James Caan, whom Coppola wanted to play Sonny, and Martin Sheen. The studio also screen tested Robert De Niro for the role of Sonny in case Caan was cast as Michael.42 Coppola eventually convinced Evans to contact Pacino’s agent who declined the offer because his client had a scheduling conflict; the actor had already signed to appear in the MGM adaptation of Jimmy Breslin’s comic novel about organised crime, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971). At the time, MGM was owned by a new Hollywood player with alleged ties to organised crime, the corporate raider and Las Vegas hotel magnate Kirk Kerkorian, and run by James Aubrey, a notoriously foul-mouthed executive with a reputation for not playing well with others. As Evans tells the story, he asked his friend, the reputed Mafia lawyer Sidney Korshak, to help negotiate a deal that might free Pacino from his obligation to MGM. The negotiation took all of twenty minutes, after which Aubrey called Evans on the telephone: ‘You no-good motherfucker, Martin Sheen’s Michael Corleone screen test; Robert De Niro testing for the role of Sonny Corleone




cocksucker. I’ll get you for this … the midget’s [Pacino’s] yours.’ Evans later asked Korshak what he had said that so quickly convinced Kerkorian to release Pacino. Korshak replied: ‘I asked him if he wanted to finish building his hotel.’43 In The Godfather, the attorney Tom Hagen flies to Hollywood to meet with the film producer Jack Woltz. He offers to make Woltz’s pending labour problems go away in exchange for casting Johnny in a ‘war picture’. Kerkorian had a lot more experience doing business with the mob than Woltz, so to get him to make the deal with Korshak and Evans, no horse’s head was necessary. Evans also opposed casting Marlon Brando, who was Coppola and Puzo’s first choice to play Vito Corleone. As Coppola told the New Yorker’s Michael Sragow: You have to remember that they were [at this time during the film’s development] very seriously considering if they had the right director, and I Sidney Korshak: the Mafia lawyer who gave MGM an offer they couldn’t refuse (© Bettmann/Corbis)


brought up Marlon Brando … I was told by one of the executives – I shouldn’t say which one [probably the Studio President Stanley Jaffe] – ‘Francis, Marlon Brando will never appear in this picture, and I instruct you never to bring him up again.’ At which point I fainted onto the floor … My ‘epileptic fit’ was obviously a gag and they got the point. Finally, they recanted and told me that they would consider Brando if I could meet three criteria: one was that he would do the film for ‘nothing’, one was that he would personally post a bond to insure them against any of his shenanigans causing overages, and the third was that he would agree to a screen test. And I agreed, even though I didn’t even know Brando.44

Asking an actor of Brando’s stature to test for a role was out of the question so when Coppola called the actor he lied; he asked Brando to stop by for ‘make-up tests’ hoping to get some footage that would look enough like a screen test to satisfy the studio brass. Perhaps the veteran actor knew better, or perhaps he was just having fun as the cameras rolled, but his ‘screen test’ is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Coppola set the scene with a spread of Italian cheeses and expensive cigars, period clothes and props. The actor got into the spirit right away. Brando was just forty-seven when production on the film commenced and he was still quite fit. To play Vito Corleone he blackened his hair with shoe polish and stuffed his

Marlon Brando transformed himself into Vito Corleone for Coppola’s screen test




cheeks with tissues to create the image of, as Brando described him, ‘a bulldog’. Through rehearsals Brando built on his characterisation of the ageing mobster. He kept the stuffed cheeks and padded suit from the screen test and added a raspy voice that, for those in the know, offered a spot-on impression of the legendary New York gangster Frank Costello. When Evans finally agreed to cast Brando, he made a low-ball offer: $50,000 plus incentives at the distant back-end, incentives that kicked in only if the film broke the $50 million mark. It is fair to guess that Evans expected the actor to turn him down. But Brando signed the contract.45 Coppola cast Pacino because he looked right and he cast Brando because he needed a larger-than-life actor to play Vito Corleone. But he probably spent little time thinking about how the two men might get on together. In 1972, the two actors were at very different points in their careers. And they approached their roles in very different ways. Pacino, then a relative unknown, underplays Michael, in part because he was so intimidated by Brando, in part because he appreciated Michael’s peculiarly chilly version of charisma. Brando’s larger-than-life performance on the other hand is so mannered that for many contemporary viewers it verges on parody or camp. Such a reading misses completely the impact of the performance in 1972 – it won for Brando a second Best Actor Oscar – and confuses the original with subsequent imitations and parodies. Brando himself provides one of the best of these parodies in the 1990 film The Freshman (Andrew Bergman). And then there’s the Animaniacs’ brilliant Goodfeathers series which features a character called the ‘Godpidgeon’, drawn to look quite like Brando’s Vito Corleone. The Godpidgeon mumbles incoherently, as Brando often does in service of a role, and is voiced to sound quite like the actor’s impersonation of Frank Costello.46 That Brando’s performance strikes many contemporary viewers as ‘over the top’ speaks to fundamental changes in American screen acting since the release of the film, changes that have had a significant


impact on the portrayal of and our relationship as viewers to American screen characters. In a 2009 article for the Wall Street Journal, the film critic and historian David Thomson laments ‘the death of Method acting’ (that Brando so ardently embraced) and in doing so affirms its triumphant ‘last stand’ in The Godfather. The Method, Thomson reminds us, required of its practitioners the discovery of their character in their own personal experience. The goal was a greater sincerity and truth in performance. Today, Thomson contends, screen acting is arch and self-aware, a comment upon as opposed to an exploration of the character in question.47 Instead of naked emotion, we get glib role-playing. This perhaps explains the contemporary viewer’s easy attraction to James Gandolfini’s fine but far-less-mannered performance of the contemporary gangster Tony Soprano and by comparison their difficulty with Brando’s Method portrayal of Vito Corleone. When, for example, Vito discovers that Michael pulled the trigger in the assassination of Sollozzo and McClusky, he cries. Brando seems to find some terrible moment in his life’s experience to draw on here because like witnessing real crying, the scene is difficult to watch. When in a Sopranos episode the psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) tries to get Tony to feel bad for something he’s done, he can’t quite drum up the emotion. Instead, he mockingly chortles ‘Boo hoo’, because he’s not really sad; in fact he doesn’t feel much of anything. We come to understand Tony in part through the difficulty he has in connecting with his feelings. The hook of the show from the start was that it explored the life of a gangster in therapy, so Gandolfini’s ironic distance suits the character and the narrative.48 Whatever we make of Brando’s performance, and it is just that, a performance, The Godfather production team learned early on that impersonating gangsters is one thing, dealing with them quite another. When The Godfather production team arrived in New York’s Little Italy in 1971, they discovered that before a single frame could be shot, they would have to strike a deal with the ItalianAmerican Civil Rights League. The Civil Rights League sported two




high-profile figureheads: Frank Sinatra (who harboured a grudge against the production; he recognised the similarities between Puzo’s Johnny Fontane and himself)49 and Joe Colombo, a real-life New York City crime boss. The spring 1971 meetings convened by Godfather producer Al Ruddy with the Civil Rights League injected a dose of reality to the notion of deals one cannot (afford to) refuse. At stake for The Godfather production team was access to key New York City locations and Teamster transportation of equipment. In exchange for its help with regard to location and transportation issues, the League wanted a say in how the film portrayed Italian Americans. The Civil Rights League had a distinct advantage in the negotiations. Every day it held up production cost the studio money. So Ruddy made the best deal he could. In the 20 March 1971 edition of the New York Times, Ruddy announced that the League had granted its permission for Paramount to shoot on its turf, so to speak, and to use what were in reality its trucks, as long as Ruddy agreed to eliminate all references to Mafia and Cosa Nostra from the screenplay.50 When the accord was signed, Puzo was sequestered at the Duke University weight-loss clinic, and remained unavailable for comment. So Grace Lichtenstein of the New York Times spoke for him, pointing out that with more than 700,000 hardcover plus 3 million paperback copies of The Godfather in circulation, pretty much everyone in America knew what the Corleone family did for a living. Lichtenstein further noted that the word ‘Mafia’ appears a number of times in the novel, and then, for emphasis, she referred to a 1967 interview with Puzo in which the author remarked: ‘Most of the operators in organized crime in this country will bleed Italian blood. That fact must be accepted … such bodies as the Italian-American pressure groups … do everyone concerned a great disservice.’51 Because it provided ample free publicity in the news as well as the entertainment section of the papers, Evans at first supported Ruddy’s deal. There is no such thing as bad publicity and negotiating


with pressure groups had for the studios become standard operating procedure. For example, in 1969, Paramount negotiated with the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to forestall potential problems during the production of Goodbye, Columbus (Larry Peerce), a film adapted from the notorious Philip Roth novel.52 The press paid little attention to the studio negotiations over Goodbye, Columbus; a Jewish industry making a film that was subtly anti-Semitic wasn’t exactly news but they could not resist commenting on the absurdity of Ruddy’s deal with the Civil Rights League. Three days after the deal was made public, a New York Times editorial quoted New York State Senator John Marchi (from predominantly Italian-American Staten Island), characterising the accord as ‘a monstrous insult to millions upon millions of loyal Americans of Italian extraction’. Arguing that the film-makers might perform a real public service if for a change they actually condemned gangsters in their film, Marchi glibly remarked: ‘Yes, Mr. Ruddy, there just might be a Mafia.’53 When the press turned on Ruddy, Paramount’s executive team predictably ran for cover. After a New York Times story revealed that the Civil Rights League’s negotiating team was headed by Anthony Colombo, Joe’s son, a Paramount executive told a Variety reporter that the negotiations between Ruddy and the League were ‘completely unauthorized’. (Variety’s source at Paramount neglected to mention that when the League had first contacted Evans, he dispatched Ruddy to negotiate in his place.) Under the Variety headline: ‘Par[amount] Repudiates Italo-Am. Group vs. Godfather’, Evans reluctantly affirmed that while the studio planned to honour the deal Ruddy had made, a good idea given that Ruddy had made the deal with gangsters, he was not happy about the concessions.54 Exactly what the mob has gotten for its money over the years in Hollywood has varied from studio to studio, production to production, but with The Godfather it is hard to resist wondering. Among the most interesting rumours following the accord with the Italian-American Civil Rights League was that in exchange for




Teamster co-operation, Ruddy had given the mob final script approval. This seems a bit fantastic, but if the mob indeed had a script doctor on call, it is unlikely that he would have found much to complain about in the film; indeed, it is hard to imagine that the mob could have scripted a more positive Mafia role model than the film’s patriarch Vito Corleone. Following the guidelines of the accord, the gangsters in The Godfather were recast as members of some secret, unnamed order. But such superficial alterations to the script did not diminish the press’s insistence on a mob subtext to every media story about the film. For example, when the Las Vegas emcee Gianni Russo was, over objections from the production team, cast in the role of Michael’s brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi, people connected the dots: Russo had no feature-film acting experience, but he was close friends with Anthony Colombo. Less than a month after the deal with the Civil Rights League was signed, on 5 April 1971, Vic Damone, the Italian-American singer cast as Johnny Fontane, announced his decision to drop out of the film. No one in the press or the reading public seemed inclined to believe Damone when he told the New York Times that he had come

When Vic Damone quit, Paramount replaced him with another Italian-American crooner, Al Martino


to this decision on his own, that he ‘could not in good conscience continue in the role [because the movie] was not in the best interests of Italian Americans’.55 The widely held assumption was that Damone backed out of the film due to pressure from the mob (and/or pressure from Sinatra). Though there was no hard evidence, wisely no one at the studio stepped forward to quell the rumours as the Damone/mob/Sinatra story kept the movie in the news. The last and best Godfather/Mafia tale did not surface until January 1991, approximately two weeks after the première of The Godfather: Part III (1990), when the former Paramount executive Peter Bart introduced in a page one article in Variety a fascinating, never-before-told gangland backstory to the production saga of The Godfather. Under the clever title ‘How Par[amount] Wised up to Wiseguys on the Backlot’, Bart discussed how, in 1972, ‘interests closely linked to the mob had managed to establish a secret beachhead at Paramount’. The Mafia presence on the lot resulted from a complex deal between Bluhdorn and a mysterious Sicilian financier named Michele ‘The Shark’ Sindona. Bluhdorn fronted for Sindona’s purchase of a 20 per cent share in a Vatican-held company, the Societa General Immobiliare. As consideration for Bluhdorn’s help, Sindona purchased stock in Paramount Pictures.56 In 1972, Bluhdorn no doubt knew that Sindona had mob connections and that the banks he owned and/or controlled were used to launder Mafia drug and gambling money. Sindona’s nefarious dealings became far more widely known several years later when news stories broke chronicling his mismanagement of the Long Island-based Franklin Bank, shady dealings that led to the financial institution’s insolvency. In 1980, Sindona was convicted on sixty-five counts of bank fraud and perjury, stemming from the Franklin Bank fiasco. Four years later, Sindona was extradited to Italy to stand trial for ordering the murder of Giorgio Ambrosoli, an attorney hired in 1974 to sort through Sindona’s financial records, which included evidence of, in addition to the Franklin Bank misdeeds, extensive complicity on the part of the Vatican bank in




Sindona’s financial shenanigans.57 On 24 March 1986, Sindona was found guilty of murder. Two years later, in what was widely assumed to be a Mafia hit, Sindona died in prison, the victim of cyanide poisoning. According to Bart, Bluhdorn shared with Coppola what he knew about Sindona … about the gangster’s deal with the corrupt Vatican bank and how that may have played a part in the rumoured murder of the so-called ‘Smiling Pope’, John Paul I. The story Bluhdorn told Coppola foregrounds a storyline in The Godfather: Part III in which Michael Corleone attempts to buy a controlling interest in a shadowy Vatican-based conglomerate and then loses his insider’s advantage when a pope he has befriended is assassinated after little more than a month in office. The story Coppola did not tell regards the relationship between ill-gotten mob money and the 1970s Hollywood box-office recovery, an economic turnaround that is inevitably traced to the release of the first Godfather film. Looking back, it is hard to miss the irony here; ultimately, it was a secret investment by a reputed Sicilian gangster Michele ‘The Shark’ Sindona, 1974 (© David Lees/Corbis)


that made the production of The Godfather possible. That the film played such a large part in the industry turnaround in the early 70s seems to suggest that Sindona’s investment – millions of dollars of mob money – not only dramatically changed the fortunes of Paramount Studios, but the rest of Hollywood as well.




Notes 1 Attributed to Honoré de Balzac (and most likely a paraphrase from his 1835 novel Le Père Goriot). Puzo opens Book 1 of The Godfather (New York: New American Library, 2002), p. 5, with this line. 2 The exterior of the building shown in Coppola’s establishing shot is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, not Grand Central Station. The script sets the scene as follows: EXT DAY: BANK BUILDING. 3 Harlan Lebo, The Godfather Legacy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), pp. 164–5. 4 The infant, Michael Francis Rizzi, is played by Coppola’s then infant daughter, Sofia. 5 I rely here on Bruce Kawin’s stopwatch. See Bruce Kawin, How Movies Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 277. 6 A final update comes from David Thomson who asserts, tongue firmly in cheek, that after 1972 Michael Corleone became a role model for ambitious studio executives, who self-consciously put on ‘the insolent affectlessness of Al Pacino as Michael’. Like Michael, Thomson quips, they are ‘sexless, tidy, deft, economical, heartless’. See David Thomson, ‘Michael Corleone, Role Model’, Esquire, March 1997, pp. 60–2. 7 Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture (New York: Hyperion, 1994), p. 220. 8 See, for example, John Hess, ‘Godfather II: A Deal Coppola Couldn’t Refuse’, JumpCut no. 7, 1975. 9 Robert Warshow, ‘The Gangster as Tragic Hero’, in The Immediate Experience (New York: Atheneum, 1970), pp. 130–2. 10 Ibid., p. 133.

11 Jack Alicoate, ‘Scarface – A Mistake’, Film Daily, 14 April 1932, p. 1. 12 ‘Darrow Eclipses John Summer in Debate on Films’, Motion Picture Herald, 31 January 1931, p. 65. 13 For more on pre-code gangster films, see Thomas Doherty’s Pre-Code Hollywood (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999). 14 Warshow, ‘The Gangster as Tragic Hero’, pp. 131, 133. 15 Alessandro Camon, ‘The Godfather and the Mythology of the Mafia’, in Nick Browne (ed.), Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Trilogy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 70. 16 John Milius as cited by Michael Sragow in ‘Godfatherhood’, New Yorker, 24 March 1997, p. 43. 17 The founding members of American Zoetrope all went on to interesting and in some cases very big careers. Lucas is of course the director of American Graffiti and the producer of all six Star Wars films (1977, 1980, 1983, 1999, 2002 and 2005) and all four Indiana Jones films (1981, 1984, 1989, 2008); Milius wrote the original screenplay for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and was writer-director for Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Red Dawn (1984); McBride remade Godard’s Breathless in 1983 and directed The Big Easy in 1987; Ballard directed The Black Stallion for Coppola’s brief Zoetrope Studios project in 1979; Dalva edited The Black Stallion and Jurassic Park III (Joe Johnston, 2001); Barwood wrote and produced Corvette Summer (1978) and Dragonslayer (1981); Robbins directed Corvette Summer and Dragonslayer and wrote Guillermo del


Toro’s Mimic (1997); Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck co-wrote American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984); and Murch, widely regarded as the best soundman in contemporary Hollywood worked on all three Godfather films (1972, 1974, 1990) and won Oscars for Apocalypse Now and The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, 1996). 18 Louise Sweeney, ‘The Movie Business Is Alive and Well and Living in San Francisco’, Show, April 1970, pp. 34, 82. 19 Apocalypse Now and The Conversation both won at Cannes. American Graffiti, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now all received Best Picture nominations. Calculating box-office grosses against initial investment, in 1973 American Graffiti became the highest-grossing negative pick-up/independently produced film in Hollywood history. Though it’s a long story – too long to tell here – Coppola’s Apocalypse Now grossed over $100 million in its domestic theatrical run. Of the four films, only THX 1138, the one film that was neither a box-office or critical success, ended up with Warner Bros. 20 Michael Eisner, who cut his teeth at Gulf and Western’s Paramount before enjoying an astonishing run at Disney in the 1980s and 1990s, recalls Bluhdorn in his memoir Works in Progress: Risking Failure, Surviving Success (written with Tony Schwartz, New York: Hyperion, 1999). A particularly amusing and indicative story concerns a conversation between the two men as they shared a hot tub. The scene reveals Bluhdorn’s eccentric take on the film business: ‘During one afternoon of hot-

tub schmooze at Bluhdorn’s home in the Dominican Republic, Bluhdorn proposed a film in which Sitting Bull meets Hitler. [Starring] Dustin Hoffman … he suggested a Bad News Bears sequel set in Cuba, in which Castro hits the winning home run.’ 21 The phrase ‘Bluhdorn’s blow job’ was coined by Jack Rosenstein, the publisher and editor of the gossip tabloid Hollywood Close-Up. See Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture, p. 123. 22 ‘Paramount Studio Buy Talks, But No Deal Yet into Focus; Realty Value Runs $29–32 Mil’, Variety, 8 April 1970, p. 5. 23 Gene Arneel, ‘Cut Directors down to Size: Bob Evans: “We Keep Control”’, Variety, 3 February 1971, pp. 1, 22. 24 William Murray, ‘Playboy Interview: Francis Ford Coppola’, Playboy 22, 1975. 25 Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture, pp. 343–4. 26 Lebo, The Godfather Legacy, p. 206. 27 The Godfather Saga, AKA The Godfather: A Novel for Television, AKA The Godfather: The Complete Novel for Television, was edited by Barry Malkin to retell chronologically the stories told in the first two Godfather films. It aired to similarly impressive numbers in November 1977, approximately ten months after the groundbreaking ABC miniseries Roots. 28 Vincent Canby, ‘The Godfather’ (review), New York Times, 16 March 1972, . 29 Pauline Kael, ‘The Current Cinema’ (review of The Godfather), New Yorker, 18 March 1972, p. 132.




30 Selwyn Raab quoting Gravano, Five Families: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2006), p. 196. 31 The name Lucia Santa certainly refers to Santa Lucia, Saint Lucy, a Christian martyr born in the third century. 32 Puzo, The Godfather, p. 11. 33 Puzo, The Godfather, p. 126. 34 This line appears in the script, only it isn’t Michael who says it. At the end of his speech making peace with Barzini and Tattaglia, Vito announces Michael’s return and delivers a threat to anyone who might make an attempt on his son’s life: ‘… if he should get shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he’s struck by a bolt of lightning, then I am going to blame some of the people in this room. And that I do not forgive.’ 35 Puzo, The Godfather, pp. 137–8. 36 See Vera Dika, ‘The Representation of Ethnicity in The Godfather’, in Browne, Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Trilogy, p. 88. 37 Coppola cited by Jenny Jones, The Annotated Godfather (New York: Black Dog and Leventhal, 2007), p. 91. 38 Raab, Five Families, p. 196. 39 Warshow, ‘The Gangster as Tragic Hero’, p. 130. 40 Robert Lacey, Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life (Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1991), p. 148. 41 Francis Coppola, quoted in Sragow, ‘Godfatherhood’, p. 48. 42 Had Caan been cast as Michael, Robert De Niro, whose screen test is riveting, would have been cast to play

Sonny. Though Coppola finally decided to stick with Caan for the role of Sonny, two years later he cast De Niro as the young Vito Corleone in the Godfather, Part II, a role for which the actor won an Academy Award. And though he cast Pacino as Michael, when Harvey Keitel didn’t work out for the lead role in Apocalypse Now, Coppola turned to Sheen. 43 Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture, pp. 223–4. As I put the finishing touches on this book, The Devil and Sidney Korshak, a film to be produced by Robert Evans was ‘in development’. 44 Francis Coppola, quoted in Sragow, ‘Godfatherhood’, p. 48. 45 To placate the studio, Coppola interviewed other actors for the part of Vito Corleone: Ernest Borgnine, Richard Conte, who would later be cast as Don Barzini, Anthony Quinn and Raf Vallone. But he never seriously considered casting anyone except Brando. 46 See Goodfeathers: The Beginning, The Boids, Ta da dump, Ta da dump, Ta da dump dump dump; Dough Dough Boys; all 1993; Girlfeathers; Miami Mama Mia; We’re No Pidgeons, 1994; and Birds on a Wire, 1998. To see selected Animaniacs episodes, go to: . 47 David Thomson, ‘The Death of Method Acting’, Wall Street Journal, 8 December 2009. 48 A more elaborate comparison between The Godfather and The Sopranos is a project too large to undertake here. For the moment, I’d recommend a long look at Dana Polan’s excellent study,


The Sopranos (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), especially pp. 20–3 and 166–7. 49 Sinatra’s career was buoyed in 1953 by a starring role in Fred Zinnemann’s World War II picture, From Here to Eternity. 50 ‘Yes Mr. Ruddy, There Is a …’, (editorial), New York Times, 23 March 1971, p. 36. While Marchi cynically dismissed the studio deal with the Italian-American Civil Rights League, United States Attorney General (and later Watergate conspirator) John Mitchell surprisingly announced his intention to follow Ruddy’s lead. He ordered the Justice Department to stop using the terms Mafia and Cosa Nostra as well. As with the complex deals made between organised crime figures and politicians depicted in The Godfather: Part II, it is fair to wonder why a person in Mitchell’s position would want to support mob public relations. For years, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had contended that the mob was a media concoction, that the Mafia didn’t really exist. Rumour has it that he made such a ridiculous claim because the mob had proof (pictures!) revealing Hoover’s secret indulgence for wearing women’s clothes. Might we wonder what the mob had on Mitchell? 51 Grace Lichtenstein, ‘ “Godfather” Film Won’t Mention Mafia’, New York Times, 20 March 1971, pp. 1, 34. 52 Though tangential here, it is nonetheless interesting that Colombo

fashioned the Italian-American Civil Rights League not after the Jewish AntiDefamation League, but instead, after the far more radical Jewish Defense League, or JDL, for which Colombo is said to have fronted bail money and supplied arms. 53 ‘Yes Mr. Ruddy, There Is a …’, p. 36. 54 ‘Par Repudiates Italo-Am. Group vs. Godfather’, Variety, 24 March 1971. Evans made reference to John Mitchell’s decision, on behalf of the Justice Department, to stop using the terms Mafia and Cosa Nostra as justification for the Paramount deal with the ItalianAmerican Civil Rights League. 55 ‘Damone Drops Role in “Godfather” Film’, New York Times, 5 April 1971, p. 31. 56 Peter Bart, ‘How Par[amount] Wised up to Wiseguys on the Backlot’, Variety, 7 January 1991, pp. 1, 110. 57 For those who enjoy a good conspiracy: though Ambrosoli was assassinated at Sindona’s behest by a Mafia hit man, William Arico, Ambrosoli’s neighbours identified a man ‘taking notes’ at Ambrosoli’s residence a few days before as Kazimierz Przyadek, a ‘papal espionage agent’. For more on the Sindona/Vatican bank story, see Eric Frattini, The Entity: Five Centuries of Secret Vatican Espionage, translated by Dick Cluster (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2008), pp. 320–1.




Credits Mario Puzo’s The Godfather 1972/USA Directed by Francis Ford Coppola Produced by Albert S. Ruddy Screenplay by Mario Puzo Francis Ford Coppola Director of Photography Gordon Willis Production Designer Dean Tavoularis Edited by William Reynolds Peter Zinner Music Composed by Nino Rota Conducted by Carlo Savina © Paramount Pictures Corporation Production Companies Paramount Pictures presents an Albert S. Ruddy production Produced by Alfran Productions, Inc. Associate Producer Gray Frederickson Unit Production Manager Oaktree Productions: Fred Caruso

Production Manager Sicilian Unit: Valerio De Paolis Location Co-ordinators Michael Briggs Tony Bowers Location Service Oaktree Productions: Cinemobile Systems, Inc. Unit Co-ordinator Oaktree Productions: Robert Barth Assistant to Producer Gary Chazan Executive Assistant Robert S. Mendelsohn Post-production Consultant Walter Murch Foreign Post-production Peter Zinner Assistant Directors Oaktree Productions: Fred Gallo Sicilian Unit: Tony Brandt Script Continuity Nancy Tonery Casting Fred Roos Andrea Eastman Louis DiGiaimo Camera Operator Michael Chapman Special Effects Oaktree Productions: A. D. Flowers Joe Lombardi Sass Bedig Art Director Warren Clymer

Assistant Art Director Sicilian Unit: Samuel Verts Set Decorator Philip Smith Costume Designer Anna Hill Johnstone Wardrobe Supervisor George Newman Women’s Wardrobe Marilyn Putnam Make-up Dick Smith Philip Rhodes Hair Stylist Phil Leto Additional Music Mall Wedding Sequence: Carmine Coppola Soundtrack ‘I Have But One Heart’ Johnny Farrow, Marty Symes; ‘Luna mezz’ ‘o mare’ Paolo Citarella; ‘Manhattan Serenade’ Louis Alter; ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane; ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ Haven Gillespie, J. Fred Coots; ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’ A. E. Adams, Douglas Furber; ‘All of My Life’ Irving Berlin; ‘Mona Lisa’ Jay Livingston, Ray Evans; ‘Baptism sequence’ J. S. Bach Production Recording Christopher Newman


Re-recording Bud Grenzbach Richard Portman uncredited 2nd Assistant Director Steven P. Skloot 1st Assistant Camera Tibor Sands 2nd Assistant Camera Peter Salim Camera Loader Anthony R. Palmieri Gaffer Dusty Wallace Key Grip Robert Ward Dolly Grip Robert M. Volpe 2nd Unit Director of Photography Bill Butler Stills Photographer Jack Stager Construction Co-ordinator Robert Scaife Music Editor John C. Hammell Stunt Co-ordinator Paul Baxley Technical Advisers Sonny Grosso Randy Jurgensen Unit Publicist Howard Newman

CAST Marlon Brando Don Vito Corleone Al Pacino Michael Corleone James Caan Santino ‘Sonny’ Corleone Richard Castellano Peter Clemenza Robert Duvall Tom Hagen Sterling Hayden Captain McClusky John Marley Jack Woltz Richard Conte Don Emilio Barzini Al Lettieri Virgil ‘The Turk’ Sollozzo Diane Keaton Kay Adams Abe Vigoda Sal Tessio Talia Shire Connie Corleone Rizzi Gianni Russo Carlo Rizzi John Cazale Fredo Corleone Rudy Bond Don Carmine Cuneo from the Bronx Al Martino Johnny Fontane Morgana King Mama Corleone Lenny Montana Luca Brasi John Martino Paulie Gatto

Salvatore Corsitto Amerigo Bonasera Richard Bright Al Neri Alex Rocco Moe Greene Tony Giorgio Bruno Tattaglia Vito Scotti Nazorine Tere Livrano Theresa Hagen Victor Rendina Don Philip Tattaglia from Brooklyn Jeannie Linero Lucy Mancini Julie Gregg Sandra Corleone Ardell Sheridan Mrs Clemenza Sicilian sequence Simonetta Stefanelli Apollonia Vitelli Corleone Angelo Infanti Fabrizio, bodyguard Corrado Gaipa Don Tommasino Franco Citti Calò, bodyguard Saro Urzì Vitelli, Apollonia’s father uncredited Joe Spinell Willi Cicci Sonny Grosso Detective Phillips




Randy Jurgensen Sonny’s killer 1 Roman Coppola boy on street Sofia Coppola Michael Francis Rizzi Carmine Coppola piano player (montage)

Filmed from 29 March 1971 to 2 July 1971 on location in New York City (New York, USA) and Las Vegas (Nevada, USA) followed by shooting in Sicily (Italy) ending 6 August 1971.

Colour by Technicolor MPAA 23101 [1.85:1] Mono

US theatrical release by Paramount Pictures Corp. on 24 March 1972. Running time: 175 minutes, rated R. US theatrical re-release by Paramount Pictures Corp. on 21 March 1997. Running time: 177 minutes

UK theatrical release by Paramount Film Service in September 1972. Running time: 175 minutes 3 seconds/ 15,754 feet, certificate X (passed 21 July 1972 with cuts). UK theatrical re-release by Artificial Eye Film Co. in circa August 1996. Running time: 177 minutes 29 seconds/ 15,973 feet + 5 frames (passed 31 May 1996 with no cuts). Credits compiled by Julian Grainger