A Godfather Revelation
I’ve lost count of just how many times I’ve watched The Godfather/The Godfather Part II.
Nonetheless, I realized something last night, presumably the umpteenth viewing over four decades. It was airing on one of the cable networks, and of course, I had to watch (again).
I thought I’d share this thought as it reveals something as to the nature of what it means to be an epic — which is to gain something new with each exposure.
The succession of murders/assassinations ordered by Michael Corleone in taking out his enemies isn’t random. Each murder, in fact, represents a succedent fall from moral and spiritual grace.
I don’t know why I never realized this before. When Michael Corleone announces his intent to “settle all family business” what follows is seemingly a random aggregate of killings. But they’re not.
Note: I’m assuming there’s no such thing as a spoiler with a 45-year-old movie, so here it goes:
With each murder, Michael Corleone kills someone who’s closer and closer to the family’s inner circle. Finally, in the ultimate act of vindictiveness and isolation, he orders the murder of his own brother (Fredo).
1. In Part 1, Michael Corleone begins by killing two scumbags — a rival from another crime family and a corrupt policeman (in the Brooklyn restaurant).
2. Towards the end of the film (Part 1), he orders the killings of other crime family leaders and the stubborn holdout Moe Greene, who refuses to sell his Las Vegas casinos to Coleone.
3. Also in Part 1, after his business rivals are killed, next is Tessio (Abe Vigoda). This is the first casualty inside the Corleone Family circle.
4. The first movie ends with Carlo Rizzi murdered (who is brother-in-law), another member of the inner circle, but who is not blood-related.
5. The Godfather: Part II includes two excommunications from family affairs before the ultimate act of blood betrayal. Corleone’s wife (Diane Keaton) is banished from having all contact with Michael. Then, perhaps the lengthiest family relationship is severed when Vito’s old business associate (Frank Pentangeli) is essentially given a death sentence and commits suicide in prison. Note the Pentangeli role was supposed to actually be Clemenza, paralleling the early Godfather sequences with De Niro and Bruno Kirby. But the actor who played Clemenza opted not to reprise his role in the sequel and the scripting was changed with a final rewrite.
6. Finally, Michael Corleone orders the murder of his own brother out on the lake (played perfectly by John Cazale), while fishing. Thus ends the Godfather saga, with Michael Corleone at his most powerful, but realizing he’s lost his soul as he stares off into the forest pondering the responsibilities of his position and the price he and so many paid for that lofty status.
Just thought I’d share this revelation, which other Godfather aficionados might find interesting. One can never peel away all the layers on a masterpiece.