Mr. Bob Gates
2 Mar. 2014
On The Godfather, Italian-Americans, and the Mafia
The Godfather, released in 1972 by Paramount Pictures, set a course for the comeback of the gangster genre after its decline in the 1960’s. With its main characters as Sicilian-Americans, Hollywood continued to use them to portray criminals, particularly members of the mafia. The film is set in New York City between 1945 and 1955, and is centered around the fictional Corleone crime family.
With The Godfather, Hollywood managed to bring light to Italian-American culture. The trilogy as a whole was a breakthrough for such actors as Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and Robert De Niro, and the first entry revamped the failing career of Marlon Brando. Although director Francis Ford Coppola thought Mario Puzo’s Godfather novel was poorly written, it was his intention, as an Italian American himself, to create the film about an Italian-American crime family and have the audience identify with them.
The Godfather franchise follows the Corleone family, particularly Michael Corleone and his rise to the patriarch of the family business. Initially, Michael had no interest in the business, but as his father—Vito Corleone, then-current Don of the family—was badly wounded following an assassination attempt by a rivaling mob, he felt the need to protect his father and represent his family. Though he took refuge in Sicily as the five most powerful of New York’s crime families—of which the Corleones were part—fought amongst each other, he became fully involved in the business upon his return to the U.S., planning with his father to avenge the death of his brother Sonny.
The Corleone family didn’t come from wealth and privilege. They started with nothing, and rose to prominence as the most powerful crime family in New York City. Vito Corleone came to America a poor young man, initially making an honest living in his adoptive family’s grocery store, until he was fired in favor of a blackhander’s nephew. Vito first became involved with crime by befriending two criminals who taught him to prosper through petty crime. However, as a young man, Vito started an olive oil importing business, and used it as a legal front for his growing organized crime syndicate.
Don Corleone viewed himself as a defender of the little man against the ineptitude and corruption of the American legal system. Years after his olive oil trade took off, Vito, now the Don of the family, was offered an opportunity to get involved in and capitalize on the drug trade. The Don turned down this offer, as he did not want the kind of attention that the drug trade would bring.
In this way (and I highly agree with this view), The Godfather can be viewed as a portrait of corporate America, an anti-ideology for the American dream. With its opening line, “I believe in America,” the movie shows that in corporate America, crime does pay. If our only option for justice is to pay a mafia hood, and our legal...