What is it about The Godfather?

Article published on March 22, 2016.

Get three men of a certain age together and eventually conversation will contain a reference to The Godfather and may even turn into a full blown discussion. Put any of these sentences to such men and they will immediately smile and realize they are in the presence of another such as them:
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
“That’s my family Kay, that’s not me.”
“It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
“I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.”

Thanks to the internet you can pick and choose a quote to suit virtually every occasion but the one that sticks in my mind from the time I first saw the film back in 1972 was, like every young wannabe, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” It became an easy joke on TV and in everyday communication but look more closely and the whole film is redolent with powerful dialogue and even more powerful images. Even a single word can evoke a scene – try this: Tom Hagen is stood on the stairs outside a locked door and says, “Sonny . . . ?” Any red-blooded male – and female – could tell you what’s going on on the other side of that door.

So what exactly is it that makes this such an all-pervasive movie? Why did I want to be Michael Corleone in Sicily with a handkerchief and two bodyguards? Why did I want to be the young Vito Corleone, in apron, jacket and cap, shouldering a crate of vegetables as he walked with supreme confidence out into the busy early 20th century New York street? Because yes, not only was this film fantastically good but the sequel was its equal if not actually better. I’m hoping that my very good friends Reg and Mike will join in a discussion about the films and the book to see if we can identify what it is that touches a nerve with so many men.

I recently watched You’ve Got Mail where chain bookstore owner, Tom Hanks, is about to put local children’s bookseller, Meg Ryan, out of business. In a late evening conversation with her boyfriend, Greg Kinnear explains the phrase “Go to the mattresses. ” “Except to say, ‘Go to the matt–‘ ” What does that mean?” “It’s from The Godfather. It means you have to go to war.” At which point Ryan explodes “What is it about men and the Godfather?” This of course gives Hanks the chance to do his impression of Brando playing Vito Corleone and better still his explanation in their anonymous email love affair that, “The Godfather is the I-ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” What day of the week is it? “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.”

Perhaps Hanks – or more accurately, Nora Ephron – says it all – except I can’t just let it go. There has to be more to say. Just writing this has been an absolute delight and I’m dying to hear if Reg and Mike feel the same way. Also, I’m scheduling a Godfather re-viewing (number 50+ now I suspect) should Easter be a wet washout.

Guy Pringle
March 2016

To see what ensued go to The Godfather pt 2




The Ancient Greeks: Ten Ways they Shaped the Modern World by Edith Hall


Reg’s riposte (The Godfather pt 2)

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