THE GODFATHER (1972, Director Francis Ford Coppola)

The Godfather was rated the third greatest American film of all time in an American Film Institute poll of 1998 (behind only Citizen Kane and Casablanca), then rose to second (behind only Citizen Kane) in the AFI poll of 2007. As a whole, The Godfather and its two sequelscomprise one of the most respected, admired, and beloved sequences in American film history. The original won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, while star Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor. The film combines an engaging narrative, impressive acting performances, and visual and thematic richness to produce a work that is both compelling and thought-provoking. Its story of the operations of the Corleone family adds to an already rich tradition of American gangster films, while making especially clear that this organized crime family of Italian immigrants is a quintessentially American phenomenon, pursuing the American dream in ways that are paradigmatic of modern capitalist society.

The relation of The Godfather to the American dream is established in the opening scene of the film, which begins as an Italian immigrant by the name of Bonasera[1] (Salvatore Corsitto) announces, “I believe in America. America has made my fortune, and I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonor her family.” Bonasera then goes on to relate the story of how this daughter was badly beaten by two young men in an attempted rape. It then becomes clear that he is relating this story to the film’s title character, to whom he has come seeking justice after a judge let the two perpetrators off with a suspended sentence.  Now he wants the two men killed and knows Don Corleone has the resources to make that happen. The Don, affectionately petting a cat that lounges in his lap (thus presumably adding a sympathetic element to his character[2]), refuses the request, noting that Bonasera’s daughter was not killed. He then, at first, refuses a modified request to have the two men badly beaten, on the grounds that Bonasera is asking for the favor not out of friendship, but as a commercial transaction, for which he expects to pay. Corleone also notes that the legitimate businessman Bonasera has preferred to avoid associations with the Corleones in the past. Bonasera then makes the request again, asking that it be done out of friendship, calling Corleone “Godfather” and kissing his hand. This time, Corleone agrees, suggesting that it will be done as a gift in honor of his daughter’s wedding, which turns out to be underway at this moment—though he also warns Bonasera that he might someday ask him “to do a service” in return[3].

This opening scene, like so much of The Godfather, is packed with significance. Set just after the end of World War II, it establishes that Don Corleone is both respected and feared in the local Italian community, while at the same time suggesting that honest local businessmen like Bonasera prefer to keep their distance from him where possible. Corleone has power and prestige, but it is power and prestige of an Old-World kind, problematic in the American setting in which he now finds himself. Among other things, this scene thus sets up what is perhaps Corleone’s most central desire: that the next generation of Corleones, led by his youngest son, the golden boy Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), will be able to be true Americans, respected and admired on American terms and able to have successful careers in legitimate business and politics. The family even hopes to keep Michael free of their criminal operations so that he can spearhead their future plans to move into legitimate businesses, suggesting the Americanization of the entire clan enterprise. The film is thus crucially driven by the American narrative of assimilation, though it will not be clear until The Godfather: Part II just how tainted this dream might be. In his drive to be a respectable American, Michael becomes more corrupt than ever, while losing the respect for tradition and loyalty to family and friends that had been the true strengths of his father.

The Godfather itself immediately cuts to the huge party celebrating the wedding of Corleone’s daughter Connie (Talia Shire) to one Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo). It’s an elaborate event, attended by many illustrious personages, demonstrating the power and influence of the Corleone family. It is also a traditional Sicilian-style affair that (to an extent) helps to establish the film’s desire to depict family and tradition as loci of utopian energies.Rizzi, as it turns out, is little more than a small-time hood and is only half Sicilian, and Papa Vito disapproves of him on both of these scores. He has, however, grudgingly agreed to sanction the marriage on the condition that the wedding itself be a traditional Sicilian one. This grand communal festival speaks volumes about the traditional Sicilian family values represented by the Corleone syndicate under the leadership of the aging and old-fashioned Vito. But it also announces the beginning of the deterioration of family traditions. Many of the attendees are show business personalities and others who represent a more modern era in American society. One of these is Michael, himself an Ivy League graduate and recent war hero (in a war that was aged against Italy), who arrives still wearing his military uniform, indicating his complete absorption into American society. Michael, meanwhile, is accompanied to the wedding by his WASP girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), a further sign of his assimilation, while the fact that he and Kay arrive late to the party is a sign of Michael’s less than total devotion to family connection and tradition.

The wedding party is an elaborately-staged set piece that serves as one of the key examples of how carefully choreographed and richly populated this film is. The party is heavily attended by mob luminaries, suggesting just how important Don Corleone is in that world. Meanwhile, FBI agents mill through the parking lot, taking down license-plate numbers, indicating that the government is also aware of Corleone’s mob connections and that they are already conducting investigations into his activities. There is much singing, much dancing, much food, and much drinking. Many gifts are received, including tens of thousands of dollars in cash. For his part, Vito alternates between taking part in the revels and fielding more requests for favors behind the scenes, such requests being a part of Sicilian wedding tradition. The granting of one of these requests will require Congressional connections, thus introducing the notion that Corleone has considerable political connections. Many of these connections (such as a senator and several judges) have sent wedding gifts but have declined to attend the wedding, not wanting their association with the Corleones to be public knowledge. Thus, the film neatly establishes the power and influence of the family, but it also suggests that they are not entirely accepted within the inner circles of American prestige, both because of their Sicilian ethnicity and because of the kind of illegal enterprises in which they are engaged.

Meanwhile, as Vito listens to these requests, he is attended by Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), who seems to be a key associate. We will eventually learn that Hagen, though of German-Irish descent, is treated as a member of the Corleone family, regarded by Vito as a sort of informal son. In fact, he has grown up with Vito’s other sons, who regard him as a brother. He was taken in by the Corleones when he was found wandering homeless in the streets as a small boy; Vito subsequently raised him with his own three boys. Hagen is now a qualified attorney who eventually serves as the consigliere[4] of the Corleone crime family. He is a positive figure, very loyal to the family, and he has even learned to speak Sicilian. Still, his very presence is another sign of the erosion of the purity of Sicilian tradition in the Corleone family as they try to make their way in America.

The two elder Corleone brothers are also introduced via the wedding scene. The eldest brother is Santino “Sonny” Corleone, who is established as something of a hothead when he reacts angrily to the FBI presence at the wedding. He seems to have self-control issues in other ways as well, as he is shown having illicit sex with a young woman while the wedding party goes on around them. We also meet Fredo (John Cazale), the middle brother, who staggers drunkenly about the wedding party. Apparently because of a bout of pneumonia from which he suffered in his infancy, Fredo is both mentally slow and physically weak. He is also something of a coward, all of which makes him a liability to the family, but they try their best to take care of him as one of their own.

As the wedding scene goes on, we also get a quick view of the way the Corleones do business. Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), a well-known singer and long-time family friend, shows up at the party and begins to perform a song.[5] As he does so, Michael relates to a shocked Kay that Fontaine is Vito’s godson and that he owes much of his career success to Don Corleone, who got him out of a contract to perform with a prominent bandleader that was limiting his opportunities for stardom. The bandleader had at first refused to release Fontane, until Vito, as Michael puts it (in the first of several uses in the film of one of its most famous and often-quoted phrases), “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Michael makes graphically clear to Kay that this offer involved a death threat: the Corleones might have a strong sense of honor when it comes to dealing with their own, but they can also be quite ruthless when someone gets in their way.[6] Michael assures Kay that he is not like his father, but he will, in fact, eventually become the most ruthless of all the Corleones. It is, of course, part of the secret of the popular success of the film (which, at one point, had grossed more than any other film in history to that time) that it gradually shifts its focus to Michael, the individualist American, and away from Vito, the communalist Italian.

Meanwhile, Fontane is among those who have come to ask favors of the Don on this day. With his singing career failing, Fontane hopes to rely more on his acting career, but a recalcitrant studio executive (with a personal grudge) has denied him the chance to play a crucial role in an upcoming war film that might kickstart his acting career. He asks Vito to help, after which the Don reacts angrily to what he sees as Fontane’s whining weakness, hurling a homophobic slur at him and slapping him. Nevertheless, Fontane is like family, so (in one of the film’s most memorable moments) Vito will eventually again make an unrefusable offer on Fontane’s behalf—this time involving the head of a horse.[7]

This extended wedding scene serves a number of crucial purposes in setting up the rest of the film, including the introduction of the major members of the family and the establishment of their positions within it. More than anything, though, this wedding party simply emphasizes the general importance of family in the lives of the Corleones, something that will be repeatedly emphasized in the remainder of the film. Fredric Jameson focuses on this emphasis on family and on the strong sense of nostalgia and longing for better, simpler times in his now classic reading of the original Godfather film. Set during the decade immediately after World War II (that pivotal decade for all sort of American nostalgic visions) The Godfather, from one point of view,presents the Corleone crime family as a literal family unit, held together by deep-seated traditions and loyalties built on generations of relationships dating back to the old times in Sicily. For Jameson, The Godfather, like much of the gangster-film genre,is thus centered on a utopian fantasy of collectivity via the notion of traditional family-like connections. In particular, Jameson sees the family-based fantasies of gangster films such as The Godfather as providing images of utopian fulfillment that play a cultural role similar to the one once (but no longer, by 1972, when the first Godfather film appeared) played by idyllic small towns. He thus argues that The Godfather “offers a contemporary pretext for a Utopian fantasy which can no longer express itself through such outmoded paradigms and stereotypes as the image of the now extinct American small town” (Signatures 33).[8]

Of course, the family-based utopian fantasies of The Godfather are already ironized by the fact that the family connections in The Godfather are linked directly to murderous criminal activity.[9] Granted, this activity is depicted as being carried out with a certain sense of honor and respect, and Vito Corleone (as his “Godfather” title suggests) often plays the role of a father-like protector of the innocent and dispenser of justice for those who would otherwise be disenfranchised by the American system. By the time of The Godfather: Part II (1974), which begins at the end of the 1950s, Vito has been replaced by his son Michael as the Godfather of the Corleone family. The family has moved the center of its operations to Las Vegas, hardly a bastion of tradition, and Michael’s coldly-calculated corporate management style makes it clear that the business of the Corleones, like that of America, is now business. This narrative of loss of tradition amid the historical movement of capitalist modernization verifies the observation by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto that capitalism, with its drive to increase profits through insistent and never-ending innovation destroys traditional relationships of all kinds. Meanwhile, this narrative of modernization is interwoven in the film with flashback sequences that involve the childhood of Vito Corleone in Sicily, his immigration to America after the murder of his father by a Sicilian crime lord, and his initial rise to success in organized crime on the streets of New York. Crucial to these sequences is the trip that Vito makes as a still-young man back to Italy to avenge his father’s death, while the Sicilian sequences in both of the first two films as a whole unmask the nostalgic vision of Sicily as a birthplace of tradition and family loyalties by showing that the culture there is rooted in violence, backwardness, and the regressive social practices of an essentially still-feudal world.

Immediately after the wedding, Hagen flies to Los Angeles to meet with movie mogul Jack Woltz (John Marley) in an attempt to get that crucial film part for Fontane. Woltz turns out to be an extremely vulgar man who hurls racist epithets like confetti, though (in fairness) he seems equally prejudiced against almost all ethnic groups. Woltz is also a powerful man who is not easily intimidated, and he assures Hagen that he is barking up the wrong tree in seeking the part for Fontane. The singer, as it turns out, once stole the affections of a young actress with whom Woltz himself had been having an affair, and Woltz has never forgiven him. This leads to that famous horse head scene, in a bloody reminder that the Corleones are not to be refused when they make requests. That this, the first violence of the film, is carried out against an animal also works to negate the earlier scene with Vito’s cat, suggesting that the Corleones are not the soft-hearted animal lovers that this earlier scene might have implied them to be.

Soon after this reminder of who the Corleones really are, the traditional operations of the Corleone clan face a specific threat when drug dealer Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), backed by the rival Tattaglia family, attempts to enlist the support of the Corleones in a major expansion of his drug operations. Vito, feeling that drugs are a dirty business, declines the offer, suggesting that the Corleones prefer to deal in less unsavory operations, such as gambling. However, Vito makes it quite clear that his decision is purely a matter of what he sees as good business: involvement in the drug trade might jeopardize the important political contacts Vito has cultivated for years, so that his motives in avoiding involvement in this business are not really a matter of being too honorable to deal drugs. As a result of Vito’s reluctance, Sollozzo and the Tattaglias decide it is best to remove the Corleones from the scene altogether, launching a gang war in which Vito is seriously wounded in an assassination attempt and never retakes the reigns of the family, dying of a heart attack in 1955. Michael, incensed by the attack on his father (and by his own abuse at the hands of a New York police captain who is in league with the Tattaglias), takes the lead in seeking revenge, personally killing both Sollozzo and the police captain (Sterling Hayden) in a carefully orchestrated execution-style hit. He is then forced to flee to Sicily until things cool down, leaving Sonny in charge of the family business while Vito continues to recuperate.

These killings have moved Michael into a life of crime after all, but it should be noted that he had apparently already killed people in the war, in another instance in which The Godfather blurs the boundary between the legal and the illegal. In any case, with Michael away in Sicily (and Fredo hiding out in Las Vegas), the gang war goes on. Sonny is killed in an ambush that Carlo Rizzi helps to set up, knowing that Sonny is probably about to kill him for his abuse of Connie. An assassination attempt is even made on Michael in Sicily. He escapes, but the young bride he has taken there is killed. Michael returns to America with vengeance in his heart, taking over the management of the family when Vito retires. But Michael is no Sonny, and he coldly bides his time, meanwhile marrying Kay, starting a family, and gradually preparing to move the family business to the more lucrative setting of Las Vegas, where huge amounts of money can be made in relatively legal ways. Finally, on the eve of the move, the time is right, and Michael, in one of the trilogy’s many overt examples of fantasy fulfillment, arranges a carefully coordinated bloodbath in which all of the family’s major enemies are killed virtually simultaneously, while Michael himself attends the baptism of Carlo and Connie’s baby, acting as the child’s godfather.

Sonny Corleone lies dead, ambushed at a toll booth.

The scene is brilliantly conceived. Michael’s power move against his enemies makes him a true godfather in the organized-crime sense, even as he becomes a godfather in the Catholic sense at the baptism. The links between domestic family life and crime family life, established so elegantly in the opening wedding sequence are thus again established, though it is clear that the balance in emphasis has shifted away from private life and toward business life with the transition from Vito to Michael. This scene also cements our awareness of Michael’s ruthlessness. Even as he coolly attends the ceremony, he already knows that he is going to have Carlo killed for his participation in the killing of Sonny, an order that he coldly denies having given when Kay, now his wife, asks point blank about it at the end of the film.

This sequence thus reveals another secret to the success of The Godfather: the Corleones have wealth and power that everyone wishes they had. They have a tremendous amount of influence and resources, usually allowing them to get things done in a business-like fashion; but they also have the power and the will to eliminate their enemies through brutal, but efficient violence if the need arises. As Jon Lewis puts it, in this synchronized-murder sequence, “Michael has succeeded as we never will 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” (33–34). Lewis goes on to note that, in interweaving these killings with Michael’s participation in the baptism, “Coppola had hoped to depict Michael as a monster,” only to have audiences root for and take pleasure in Michael’s cold-blooded success (34).

After this sweeping massacre of their enemies, the family then prepares to head for Las Vegas and to begin their new era of more efficient and businesslike management. Again, though, this development should not be seen as a radical reversal in direction as the leadership of the family passes from Vito to Michael. Michael is now carrying out a plan set in motion by Vito, and his move toward less overtly criminal enterprises, more than anything, provides a reminder that legal capitalist enterprises are not the polar opposite of illegal criminal enterprises, but are in fact often quite similar. In fact, The Godfather seeks in numerous ways to suggest parallels between the operations of organized crime and of capitalist business in general. For example, its gangsters continually refer to themselves as businessmen, holding meetings in very corporate-looking boardrooms and even pointing out that their goal is pure profit, because “after all, we’re not communists.”

Indeed, The Godfather may indicate the parallels between capitalism and crime more effectively than any other American film, though the link between the two has long been understood by many: witness Bertolt Brecht’s play The Threepenny Opera (1928), written even before the rise of the gangster films of the early 1930s. As Freedman puts it, The Godfather

“makes sufficiently clear that what is essentially at stake in the workings of organized crime is nothing more or less than capitalism itself. Indeed, Mafia capitalism, precisely because of its illegality and its corresponding relative autonomy from the ordinary systems of government regulation, might be considered to be capitalism at its freest and thus capitalism as most strongly and thoroughly—and violently—itself” (27).

Both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II include crucial segments that are set back in a Sicily that still has one foot firmly planted in the Middle Ages. These segments thus provide a particularly strong, visual contrast between the tradition that rules in Sicily and the modernity that rules in America, thus providing important support for one of the central structural underpinnings that ties together the entire Godfather trilogy, especially the first two films, which (thanks to the retroactive effect of the second film) constitute a single, continuous narrative[10]. Some have seen this opposition as one between Vito in the first film and Michael in the second, but the fact is that it is already built into Vito, who has already come a long way down the road of modernization before we first meet him during his daughter’s wedding. Michael is not the antithesis of Vito; he is the completion of the project that Vito began.

One common way of understanding the contrast between Vito and Michael is to see them as allegorical figures who represent the immigrant experience in America as a whole. And the first two Godfather films seem to go out of their way to encourage this kind of reading, which strikes me as appropriate, but also obvious. But the film can be read allegorically on a much wider level as telling the story of capitalist modernization as a whole (of which the immigrant experience in America is but a part). I think Jameson’s well-known contrast between modernism and postmodernism as artistic phenomena provides a helpful optic through which to look at The Godfather in this way, because Jameson’s narrative of the transition from modernism to postmodernism is, in fact, strongly rooted in his vision of the historical process of capitalist modernization.

The two godfathers.

For Jameson, modernist art arises at a time when capitalist modernization is kicking into high gear, causing a transformation in Western societies so dramatic that it leads to widespread anxiety and concern. Modernist art, for him, is largely a form of aesthetic resistance to capitalism, a sort of last-ditch effort against the growing hegemony of the newly emergent consumer capitalism that was sweeping Western societies at this time. Informed by strong energies derived from alternative forms of social organization either remembered from the Western past or still existing outside the capitalist West, modernist art seeks to preserve elements from those forms while also seeking new modes of expression that can properly respond to a changing world. By the time of postmodernism (which, for Jameson becomes hegemonic in the West in the 1970s and then begins to spread elsewhere), the process of capitalist modernization is essentially complete, leaving alternative forms of social organization behind and producing a world that is entirely modern, with art (and everything else) having been conscripted in the service of the capitalist system.

Jameson follows Marxist thinkers such as Ernest Mandel in believing that, in the wake of the collapse of the great European colonial empires after World War II, capitalism has entered a new “late” era of globalization and transnationalism, informed by a

new international division of labor, a vertiginous new dynamic in international banking and the stock exchanges (including the enormous Second and Third World debt), new forms of media interrelationship (very much including transportation systems such as containerization), computers and automation, the flight of production to advanced Third World areas, along with all the more familiar social consequences, including the crisis of traditional labor, the emergence of yuppies, and gentrification on a now-global scale. (Postmodernism xix)

Meanwhile, Jameson argues that postmodernism serves as the “cultural logic” of this late capitalism, that is, as the cultural dominant that appears when capitalist modernization is complete, leading to the incorporation of culture as simply another commodity within the capitalist economic system.

One could see the difference between Vito and Michael in the first two Godfather films as being very much analogous to the difference between modernism and postmodernism as described by Jameson. Vito, like modernism, is seeking new ways of coping with a changing world, but his attitudes (and his strategies) remain strongly informed by what he learned in an Old World that is now being swept away. While he cannot be seen as a foe of capitalism per se, he is still a proponent of a capitalism that retains a respect for some of the old ways. Michael, on the other hand, is focused entirely on the bottom line and refuses to let anything—including respect for the old ways or for old loyalties—get in the way of increasing his power (which is merely a pathway toward increasing his profits). Where capitalism is concerned, he’s all in.

The transition from Vito to Michael thus becomes the story of the completion of the centuries-long process of capitalist modernization, a process that involved the collapse of the old Catholic-dominated feudal order of the Middle Ages and the rise to hegemony of a capitalism that itself went through several different phases along the way. Indeed, The Godfather employs a number of strategies to encourage such “big” readings, from its epic three-hour runtime, to the grandeur of its haunting musical score, to the geographical sweep of its action, which takes us from Italy (power center of medieval Europe) to Las Vegas and Los Angeles (iconic cities of modern capitalism).

I would argue that the overall rhythm of the film’s pacing also re-enacts the historical process of capitalist modernization. Thus, that first scene of Connie’s wedding proceeds at a very leisurely pace, taking roughly twenty minutes of run-time. Every one of those minutes is packed with significance, but the overall narrative movement is quite slow, as befits the traditional basis of the celebration. Then, as the film proceeds, with the Corleones moving into the faster-paced era of modern capitalism with the ascension of Michael to the head of the family, the pace gradually quickens, reaching its most frenetic pitch during the scene of multiple murders, announcing the solidification of Michael’s power as the new corporate-style Don Corleone.

Michael Corleone assumes full power.

What is also important about this allegorical reading of The Godfather is that the triumph of capitalism is presented as not only inevitable but as not entirely regrettable. Vito might be a figure from a more genteel world, but there are clear moments in the film in which Michael’s cold efficiency, though horrifying on one level, is on another level as admirable, as impressive, even as thrilling as Vito’s dignity and respect for tradition could ever be. Granted, Michael becomes more inhuman, more monstrous in the second film, which is much more openly anti-capitalist than the first—to the extent of including in its material the historical collusion between the CIA and the Mafia to exploit and dominate the island of Cuba, until that island was liberated by Castro’s socialist revolution, which sent American businessmen and American gangsters packing on the same flights back home. It is certainly the case that, in Godfather II the nostalgic/utopian vision of family that is so crucial to the first Godfather film collapses altogether, but this collapse was already well underway in the first film. Much has been lost to the Corleones between the first film and the second, but much of what was lost was highly questionable to begin with. Indeed, almost every utopian image introduced within The Godfather already contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Finally, I would argue that, while the gangsters of The Godfather are most assuredly “not communists,” the critique of capitalism that is carried out in the film and its first sequel is remarkably similar to the one that appeared in The Communist Manifesto all the way back in 1848. This remarkable document is anything but a one-sided, unremitting denunciation of capitalism as an unmitigated evil. Indeed, it is a masterpiece of dialectical thinking in which Marx and Engels express a great deal of admiration for the power and efficiency of capitalism. Granted, they express a certain regret at the destruction of all forms of tradition at the hands of a capitalism that is ever committed to innovation and expansion, resulting in a dizzying and unstable environment in which “all that is solid melts into air.” But they also make clear that capitalism is, on balance, far preferable to the feudal system that came before it, if only because it prepares the historical stage for its own downfall and the eventual rise of socialism.

Whether one simply reads The Godfather as the story of one family or whether one sees it as an allegorization of the most important historical process in the history of the world, it is clear that this film has a monumental quality to it. It seems to have been self-consciously conceived to be a monumental work, perhaps, all in all, the most important single film (or films, if one regards Godfather II as part of the same work) of the entire New Hollywood era. It is a film, in fact, that helped to solidify the New Hollywood era, proving to studios that aesthetic merit and box-office success need not be mutually exclusive and that they could make massive profits by giving more leeway to the generation of brilliant young directors who had recently arrived in Hollywood.


Booker, M. Keith, and Isra Daraiseh. Tony Soprano’s America: Gangsters, Guns, and Money. Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.

Freedman, Carl. Versions of Hollywood Crime Cinema: Studies in Ford, Wilder, Coppola, Scorsese, and Others. Intellect, 2013.

Jameson, Fredric. Signatures of the Visible. Routledge, 1992.

Lewis, Jon. The Godfather. Bloomsbury (for the British Film Institute), 2019.


[1] Bonasera’s first name is not mentioned in the film, but in the Mario Puzo novel on which the film is based, that name is, tellingly, given as “Amerigo.”

[2] On the other hand, by this time, the supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld had already appeared in several James Bond films. Blofeld is also often shown stroking a cat, which possibly gives this motif a negative intonation for some viewers.

[3] He does eventually ask for that service, charging Bonasera with making the bullet-riddled corpse of his eldest son look presentable for the funeral.

[4] Consigliere (“counselor”) is a traditional Mafia position of great responsibility and respect. The consigliere essentially serves as a trusted advisor to a mob boss, often representing the boss at important meetings.

[5] There have been many prominent Italian American entertainers, of course, but one of the models for Fontane was no doubt the actor/singer Frank Sinatra, whose illustrious career was long rumored to have been boosted by mob connections. However, Sinatra was a far more talented and successful figure than Fontane appears to be.

[6] Several newspapers published reports in 1942 that Sinatra’s sudden release from an unfavorable contract with bandleader Tommy Dorsey had been precipitated when Sinatra’s godfather, Willie Moretti, a well-known mob figure, held a gun to Dorsey’s head, demanding the release. In the film, when Tom Hagen’s plane lands in Los Angeles to take care of the casting of Fontane in an upcoming film, the music that plays on the soundtrack is “Manhattan Serenade” by the Tommy Dorsey band.

[7] Hollywood legend, probably apocryphal, has long had it that Sinatra, whose singing career was flagging, was cast in the 1953 war film From Here to Eternity thanks to his mob connections. In any case, his performance in that film, for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, did in fact resurrect his career.

[8] Booker and Daraiseh emphasize the important role played by The Godfather in the nostalgic visions of the 1950s often expressed in the greatest of all gangster-related television series, HBO’s The Sopranos (1999–2007).

[9] It should also be noted that, of Vito’s four children, three seem entirely unsuited to perform as the head of the Corleone crime organization, suggesting that family ties might not be the best way to run a modern criminal organization. Sonny is too rash and performs poorly during his short term as Don; Fredo is a complete disaster; and Connie, based on her choice of Carlo, seems to have poor judgment (and would never be allowed to be Don in any case. Meanwhile, Tom Hagen, not a blood member of the family, is the only one other than Michael who is an efficient operative for the family (though he is probably insufficiently ruthless to be a good Don).

[10] For example, the Sicilian segments of Part II involve the experiences of the young Vito back in Sicilian and then as a young man in America (now played by Robert De Niro) and thus take place before the events of the first film, making Part II both a prequel and a sequel to the original.