The Godfather

I just saw The Godfather again. I finally understand the reputation of Marlon Brando. God, he’s good. He absolutely disappears into Vito Corleone.

You almost have to pity Al Pacino, whose performance probably would have gotten him the Best Actor Oscar, if not for Brando’s astounding performance, not only in the same year, but in the same film! I think what makes it more impressive to me now is that I understand that Brando was already a star, was already MARLON BRANDO!!! when this movie came out. Given that, it must have been hard, or so one would think, to make himself disappear into a role. (When I’ve seen this before, I just thought of Brando as that guy who played the godfather (and Jor-El in Superman), so seeing him as the godfather didn’t seem especially noteworthy.) But making 65-year-old mob boss exist is even more impressive when it also requires making FAMOUS MOVIE STAR go away.

This is what people mean when they talk about an iconic performance.

It was also fun watching it with my son, who has never seen it before, and who suddenly started to get certain pop culture references – e.g., Mr. Big in Zootopia – that had never registered before. And “This movie,” I told him, “is why whenever there’s a mob movie now, at least one of the characters has to talk in a rasp.” It’s unavoidable somehow; Brando just permanently changed the way that that kind of character is done. A mob boss that doesn’t speak with a wheeze!? Impossible! He can’t really be a mob boss! THAT’S how iconic this performance was: It changed the territory.

Let’s not forget that Pacino is awesome as Michael Corleone. He sells it perfectly; it’s as if the script was written for him. The film opens in the second half of 1945. Michael is a veteran of World War II who has just returned from the fighting. We are told that he is regarded as a war hero. At first Michael intends to stay out of the mob stuff. Early in the movie his girlfriend asks him about a business deal his father conducted. When Michael’s attempt to dodge the question fails, he tells her: “Luca Brazi held a gun to the man’s head and my father told him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.” (This is the first time we hear the phrase, “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”) She is appalled, of course, but he tells her, “That’s my family, Kay, not me.”

That resolve doesn’t last. After another mafia family makes an attempt on his father’s life, Michael is switched on.

Visiting his father at the hospital one night after his father is shot, he realizes that the bodyguards have all mysteriously vanished. He calls for backup and conscripts the lone nurse on duty to help him move the bed in which his father is lying to another room. When a well-wisher shows up, Michael presses him into service to stand at the hospital’s front door with Michael. “Put your hand in your pocket,” he instructs the man, “as if you have a gun.” Soon a car full of what are obviously assassins slowly rolls up to the entrance, sees Michael and the other man standing alertly, watching them, apparently armed, and rolls past.

When it’s over the well-wisher tries to light a cigarette. He can’t; his hands are shaking too much. Michael helps him light it. His hands are rock steady.

This is the first time we see Michael handling a stressful, high-stakes situation with calm and competence. It is perfectly believable because his father’s life is at stake, pressing him to rise to the occasion. The extra detail of his backstory as a veteran isn’t necessary, but makes it even more plausible.

During this episode Michael learns that a Police Captain is cooperating with the rival mafia family to kill Vito Corleone.

Later Michael confers with other Corleone family members and urges killing the cop and the head of the other family, Sollozzo. “If we can get a weapon into a meeting with them,” he says, “I’ll kill them both.”

They laugh.

“Where does it say you can’t kill a cop?” Michael asks.

“Come on, Mikey,” says consigliere Tom Hagan.

“No, seriously,” Michael responds. “A corrupt cop. ‘A cop who got mixed up with the mob and got what he deserved.’ That’s a good story. We have newspapers on our payroll, right?”

And suddenly everyone realizes that Michael has seen an aspect of the situation that they missed. This is another key moment. We’ve just seen Michael be cool and courageous under pressure. Now we see him out-thinking everyone else, and people who are more experienced with this sort of thing than him. And though it’s not obvious, since they’re not present, Michael is also out-thinking Sollozzo and the cop, who plainly think they’re untouchable due to the cop’s involvement. They find out otherwise.

A meeting is arranged, a weapon smuggled in, and Michael kills the cop and Sollozzo.

This precipitates a gang war. Meanwhile Michael flees to Italy to escape retaliation and possible arrest. In Italy not much important happens, for the purposes of this review. But there is one subtle little stiletto of a line of dialogue that will slip right by you if you’re not careful. In Italy, Michael has two bodyguards. As they walk through one sparsely-populated Italian town, Michael asks them where all the men are. The casual reply is,

“They’re all dead from vendettas.”

Given what is going on back home in the US, this is an ominous sentence.

Years later, Michael has returned to the US and gotten involved in the family business. While this review is not one of my “red pill in fiction” posts, I have to note that the writers show some intriguing red-pill awareness in these scenes. In particular, they show an alpha male crashing through everyone else’s frame and forcing them to respond to his frame.

Here are a couple of examples:

Michael wants to take the Corleone Family legit within five years. Part of this plan involves moving the family from New York to Nevada. He assigns Tom Hagan to head to Nevada first to start moving on the business arrangements. Tom wants to stay with the rest of the family in New York, but the tail effects of the gang war are still occurring, and Michael tells him, “You’re not a war time consigliere.”

Hagan: “Maybe I could help here.”
Michael: “You’re out, Tom.”

Boom! This is how it is. Michael doesn’t try to convince, persuade, argue, or debate. He just uses his authority. Hagan doesn’t argue. He can’t, really.

Later Michael himself travels to Nevada. He meets with Moe Greene, an old long-distance business partner of the Corleones. Greene owns a casino that was originally bankrolled by the Corleones. Michael tells Greene he’s going to buy the casino from him.

Greene can’t freakin’ believe it: “You don’t buy me out; I buy you out! I know you got chased out of New York by the other families and that’s why you’re here in Vegas.”

This is not true, as we later see very vividly, but Michael doesn’t argue. His response:

“We’ll meet again tomorrow. Think about a price.”

And he leaves.

That’s alpha frame. NB: don’t try to use this in your own life unless you actually have the ability to have people killed if they oppose you. In order to act that alpha and get away with it, you actually have to have that kind of power.

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