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The Godfather

The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola – Movie Outline

Movie Analysis - The Godfather
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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Media and genre

Feature-length film of 176 minutes (2h56), released in 1972, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather mixes a variety of different genres: gangster story, drama, family epic, tragedy, with elements of period drama, action movie, and romance.

The script written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo adapts the eponymous novel by Mario Puzo that quickly became a best-seller after its release in 1969. This script is 120 pages (so, less than one page of script for one minute of movie).

Production and reception

Produced by Paramount, mainly shot in New York and Sicily from the 29th of March 1971 to the 6th of August 1971.

Despite many production problems, the movie became one of the most critical and commercial successes of all time. Produced for an amount of 6 millions dollars, it made 268 million dollars during the next 40 years (statistics: 2012)… It won an Oscar for the best film, best adaptation and best actor (Brando) and was nominated 7 additional times.

The Godfather has remained one ot the most critically-acclaimed movies in cinema. According to audiences: on IMDB, the film is ranked n°2 of all the movies of all times, with a mark of 9.2/10, amongst a survey of more than 560,000 votes. Where The Godfather II is ranked 3rd with a mark of 9/10.

Actors

Apart from Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, the movie showcases talents such as James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton.

Coppola gave supporting roles to his own sister Talia Shire (Connie Corleone, Vito’s daughter), to his mother Italia Coppola (Vito’s wife, Sonny-Fredo-Michael’s mother) and even to his daughter Sofia Coppola who, as a baby, plays Michael’s nephew in the final baptism. The film really is a true family story.

The story

The Godfather showcases the dynastic transition from around 1945 to around 1955 amongst a family of Italian gangsters (interestingly enough, the term “Mafia” is never mentioned). The family is part of a cartel of five families who oversee a series of illegal business activities in New York City.

The story opens with the reign of the aging patriarch Vito Corleone, also known as “The Don”, who will soon face the opposition of rival families for refusing to support their traffic of heroin. The story then tells the fight of the Corleone clan against the alliance Sollozzo/Tattaglia/Barzini. It focuses in on the reign of Vito’s younger son Michael who sits at the periphery but finds himself thrust to the head of the family business when his father is shot.

Other side plots detail the secondary aspects of the Corleone family’s life, particularly those of Michael.

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The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola – The Characters

Movie Analysis - The Godfather
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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Counting of the actantial roles

The number of actantial roles in The Godfather depends on interpretation. Another story analyst might find a different numbers of plots, characters and roles.

It is sometimes difficult to ascertain the specific role of a character (for example, let us think back to Tessio and Carlo, who do not know their Mentor Barzini has been killed by Michael. So, is Barzini a Mentor or not a Mentor?) Sometimes, a character plays a role but we don‘t even know his name and the role appears to be a very small one: Does this anonymous and seemingly unnecessary role count as much as one of the main characters? For example, the driver of Sollozzo in Michael vs. Sollozzo/McCluskey plays an actantial role for no more than 5 seconds.

Fredo is another special case. We will eventually have enough elements to understand that he was for sure allied with Barzini in The Godfather II.

Furthermore, as clear as we are on Barzini‘s status as an Antagonist, is he still considered an Antagonist when everyone around him fails to identify him as such? This is subject to interpretation. If your interpretation differs from ours, it is normal. Storytelling is a subjective science.

That said, we can nevertheless evaluate the number of actantial roles used in the 27 plots of The Godfather, to around 100.

(We count 1 role when the character acts as a collective, for example „the Five Families“ or „the killers of Sollozzo sent to the hospital guarded by Michael“, but we count 2 roles for some plural roles, like for example when Tattaglia and Barzini are both implicitly Mentors.)

Those 100 actantial roles are attributed to a much more restricted number of characters, among which some of them cumulate roles:

  • Michael, 15 roles. 10 times Hero, 5 times Mentor.
  • Vito, 10 roles. 2 times Hero, 5 times Mentor, 3 times Helper.
  • Barzini, 9 roles. 8 times Mentor, 1 time Antagonist.
  • Tattaglia, 8 roles. 7 times Mentor, 1 time Antagonist.
  • Sollozzo, 5 roles. 4 times Hero, 1 time Mentor of the Antagonist.
  • Tom Hagen, 5 roles. 2 times Hero, 1 time Helper, 2 times Skeptic of the Hero.
  • Clemenza, 5 roles. 1 time Hero, 3 times Helper, 1 time Skeptic of the Hero.
  • Sonny, 4 roles. 3 times Hero, 1 time Skeptic.
  • Woltz, 2 roles. 2 times Antagonist.
  • Moe Greene, 2 roles. 2 times Antagonist.
  • Kay, 2 roles. 2 times Antagonist.
  • Carlo, 2 roles. 2 times Antagonist.
  • Connie, 2 roles. 2 times Skeptic of the Hero.
  • Fredo, 2 roles. 1 time Skeptic 1 time Helper of the Antagonist
  • McCluskey, 2 roles. 1 time Antagonist, 1 time Helper of the Antagonist.

Finally, there are several characters who play only 1 unique role, and characters without any actantial role: passers-by, mute witnesses, anonymous and inactive guards in various scenes. Only think about the marriage segments (Carlo‘s marriage to Connie and Michael‘s to Apollonia), these segments no doubt represent more than one hundred people, who play no actantial roles in any of the plots. The scene action needs them to look natural, yet the characters need no detailed dramatic work.

Analysis of the actantial roles

This counting of the roles clearly shows the domination of the character of Michael in terms of action, followed closely by his father Vito, then by their 3 successive Antagonists.

Not only does Michael accumulate many roles, but his roles are always major roles: Hero or Mentor, master of the action.

This is a lesson for writers in all genres: by giving a character a dominant, central position, we can allocate him/her some essential roles, and automatically this character will look special and more important than all of the others.

On their own, the 8 most important characters (Michael, Vito, Barzini, Tattaglia, Sollozzo, Hagen, Clemenza and Sonny) cumulate 61 roles, that is more than half of all the actantial roles!

On the contrary, the 24 less important characters gather only around 40 roles.

Here too we can learn something: a good story creates a strong hierarchy among its characters, the attribution of many roles to a fistful of characters guarantees the density and the coherence of the action and prevents the attention to scatter, whereas the allocation of roles to many secondary characters, ensures the realism, diversity and richness of the artistic work.

Let‘s come closer to some of our sometimes surprising results:

  • With only 4 roles, Sonny appears like a rather secondary character, thematically major (he is one of the 3 Godfathers!) he is still actantially minor. So is his incompetence as Godfather made obvious: he would be in position to take an actantial importance that will actually be assumed by Michael.
  • The same can be said for Kay. There is a similar gap between her important thematic role as „wife of the main Hero“ and her minor actantial role.
  • It is far worse with Apollonia who is given only a very minor role as a Helper of Michael. A simple object of desire, she nearly does not participate, dramatically speaking, in the plot that marries her off and then kills her…
  • Among the Corleone clan, Connie, Carlo and Fredo appear as the most neglected ones. All the three of them together cumulate only 6 roles, all negative: Carlo 2 times Antagonist (against Sonny then against Michael), Connie 2 times Skeptic (against the sames Heroes), and Fredo 1 time Skeptic 1 time Helper of the Antagonist. Here, their actantial roles come to perfectly confirm their thematic roles of traitors, of enemies within.

On the side of the Antagonists, we can observe several remarkable effects:

  • It‘s a good idea to make an Antagonist – Sollozzo – pass from the first plan to the second plan, by injecting some new and more powerful Antagonists – Tattaglia and above all Barzini. It‘s like an actantial crescendo, raising the threat, thus raising tension and suspense.
  • The nearly permanent withdrawal of the main Antagonists stands as a genius feature that allows to generate a deep, thrilling tension since those Antagonists stay hidden and invisible and act nearly always only through other characters. The same technique is a classic pattern in horror movies to make us fear something we can not see.
  • Indeed, neither Tattaglia nor Barzini play any positive role of Hero or Helper, and we never see them act, give commands, receive information, debate a plan, or prepare an attack. We are confronted to them directly only when Michael has sent his killers to eliminate them. And yet, they were there constantly, as invisible as they were powerful, involved in at least 8 of the 27 plots of the movie. It‘s Barzini, Vito says after the fact, who necessarily validated the murder attempt on him, and who covered the murder of Sonny. It‘s Barzini again, and/or Tattaglia, who tried to assassinate Michael and killed Apollonia instead. Here, hiding the strongest Antagonist allowed the story to maintain its tension, whereas a contrary strategy that would have shown him acting, would have killed the mystery and the suspense, by giving us too much information.

Conclusion for us authors: it‘s really better to employ a technique similar to that of Michael and Barzini: hide your game for a long time, then suddenly strike.

Examining the relationship between thematic roles and actantial roles, here, The Godfather offers few surprises.

  • The main characters, the duo Vito/Michael and the trio Sollozzo/Tattaglia/Barzini, have roles of Hero, Antagonists, and Mentors, that perfectly match their identity of mafia bosses, deciding and acting.
  • Their men and their allied co-conspirators naturally receive roles of Hero, Helpers, and Antagonists.
  • Apart from them, very few characters are other than killers.
  • Only 4 minor characters justify their presence by taking roles in love affairs: the mistress of Sonny, Connie, Apollonia, and Kay.

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The Godfather – Coppola – Genres, registers, tones

Movie Analysis - The Godfather
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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Genres, registers, tones

The question of genres within The Godfather does not appear very complex. The movie stands as the story of a dynastic transition amongst a mafia family opposed to other rival families. We are dealing with a family drama, and with a story of gangsters.

The family drama side is illustrated by the thematics of:

  • the rival brothers, Sonny the heir, Fredo the useless traitor, Michael the unsuspected Hero, and Tom Hagen the adoptive and a bit unloved son.
  • the relationship father/sons (Vito/Sonny: partly made of conflicts, with Sonny who doesn‘t rise to Vito‘s expectations and own value; Vito/Fredo, a quasi non-existent relationship; Vito/Michael, a privileged and close relationship, made of mutual protection and care).

The story of gangsters runs on the opposition between the Corleone clan and Sollozzo then the Five Families.

The alliance of the two genres evokes a very old genre in the background: the medieval chanson de geste. Indeed, this genre would often tell the story of kings and princes, going at war against other lineages: The Godfather seems like a modern transposition of this, which Coppola confirmed in an interview about the movie by saying he intended to tell the story of a king whose 3 sons inherited his various character attributes and weaknesses.

With the theme of the happy and unhappy love stories – Connie/Carlo, Michael/Apollonia, Michael/Kay – the movie also stands as a sentimental drama, one pole, the domestic violence between Connie and Carlo, getting strongly opposed to another pole, the romance Michael/Kay, then Michael/Apollonia.

The use of those genres allowed the authors to build different types of scenes on various registers:

  • Scenes of action, full of suspense and of a tension whose risk is death.
  • Directly linked to them, the scenes of discussion, of preparation of the action. They take place in a rather dark and tense atmosphere.
  • Love or couple scenes
    • either in harmony and tenderness
      • initial scenes Michael/Kay in harmony at Connie‘s marriage,
      • then shopping for Christmas
      • scenes Michael/Apollonia, during their meeting,
      • then during their marriage,
      • then happy together
    • or in violence and conflict
      • scenes Carlo/Connie at fight
      • final scenes Kay/Michael when he lies to her.

Most of the action is treated on a very serious register/tone: very few humor or comedy, just a bit of charm… The only emotionally positive moments are the sequence of Connie‘s marriage, festive and happy (but balanced with the dark and solemn scenes in which Vito receives his „clients“), and the romance between Michael and Apollonia. Everywhere else, one oscillates between gravity, solemnity, tension, uncertainty, diffuse threats, violence, crisis, sadness, mourning… In brief, a wide range of negative atmospheres – and yet very pleasant to follow! – that impregnate the main characters, who carry these deep and dark feelings: the serious and quiet charisma of Vito, the impassibility of Michael, who rarely smiles.

Let‘s remember it: over thousands of movies produced by humanity, this one stays one of the most appreciated ever. This shows that good fiction isn‘t necessarily based on good feelings, rather the contrary. Our analysis of Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, also a worldwide success, will also reveal much perversion, multiple forms of violence, but in a rather funny and joyful atmosphere, contrarily to The Godfather.

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The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola – Movie Analysis – Sequence 15

Movie Analysis - The Godfather
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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Sequence 15. Moving + Michael vs. Kay. 162-166

Cut to: a moving truck with men busy moving pieces of furniture.

The men are in the process of conducting the move to Las Vegas that Michael spoke about.

Connie gets out of a car, panicked, in tears, and enters Michael‘s office. She insults him: „Michael, you lousy bastard, you killed my husband!“

Kay joins them and tries to calm Connie down. Connie continues: „All the time he knew he was gonna kill‘im… Wanna know how many men he had killed with Carlo? Read the papers… that‘s your husband!“

Act I and catalyst of a new plot: Michael vs. Kay. Hero: Michael, goal: convince Kay that he didn‘t kill Carlo (that he‘s not a monster), Antagonist: Kay, goal of the Antagonist: get to know the truth, Helper of the Antagonist: Connie.

Side-note: Connie just informed us that Kay and Michael are now married, a fact not disclosed before. This important fact has been considered implicit since Michael had been trying to convince Kay to marry him.

Michael takes Connie into his arms, but she is still furious. He asks her to leave.

Beginning of the Act II.

Kay stays. She is still clearly in doubt. Michael turns away, but Kay seems upset, she needs to know,and so she asks him: „Is it true?“ Michael refuses to answer her. He becomes angry and tries to stop her interrogation. He succeeds. A long, tense silence follows.

This dramatic moment leads us to remember the promise Michael made to Kay after they met again about the murders „being over“. Since then, we have witnessed the murders of: Barzini (and his bodyguard and driver), Tattaglia (and his unfortunate female companion), Strachi, Don Cuneo, Moe Greene, Tessio (implicit) and Carlo. Thus far there have already been 10 murders which Michael has initiated…

Characterization. Michael‘s reaction is an angry one. This is one of the first times he loses composure.

Kay continues to insist. Michael finally tells her: „Alright, this time…this one time I‘ll let you ask me about my affairs“.

This line allows us to consider the arch of Michael‘s character. He has completely changed his personal position. At the beginning of the story it pleased him to be different from his family, to remain separate from them. Now that he is has assumed power, it is the contrary. His character undergoes a complete transformation.

When Kay asks again whether the murder accusations are true or not, he confidently answers: „No.“ For once, she seems to accept his answer. The two embrace.

Act III, crisis and climax.

We know with certainty that Michael is not telling the truth in an effort to save his marriage. In a way, we admire his ability to quickly regain his composure after his moment of anger. Thematically, we remember the self-control that was one of the sources of his father‘s charisma, a self-control that Sonny lacked.

Information effect, and very strong dramatic irony, that isolates Kay from our point of view: we know more than her.

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The Godfather – Coppola – Film Analysis – Sequence 13

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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Sequence 13. The revenge of Michael. 150-155

Here, to underscore the spectacular plot structure effect, we will give each mini-plot a different color.

Cut to: A church inside, a priest speaks in Latin. Michael and the family prepare to baptize the baby.

Rocco prepares his machine-gun.

Clemenza carries a packet to his car.

OK, we understand very quickly that we are following an interlaced plot structure with very strong thematic contrast between the sacred nature of the baptism, and the preparation for the murders.

Michael looks serious. The priest anoints the baby‘s forehead.

A barber fills his hand with shaving cream, then starts shaving the face of Cicci, one of the Five Families bosses.

Neri, a killer, prepares a fake policeman‘s uniform.

In just a few seconds, already 5 different plots were shown!

The priest dips his finger in sacred oil and makes the sign of the cross over the baby.

Neri empties a bag that contains a police badge and a gun.

Clemenza walks up a stairway with his package.

The priest makes the cross sign again. He asks Michael if he believes in God.

Barzini walks in a court house.

The dialogue between the priest and Michael continues: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Yes. Do you believe in the Catholic church? Yes.

Notice: the effect of continuity though the soundtrack despite of the discontinuity in the actions jumping from plot to plot.

Neri now dressed as a policeman, in front of the court house stairs, tells a driver to move his car. The driver doesn‘t obey.

Clemenza climbs a stairway.

Rocco walks down a stairway.

Cicci goes out.

The ritual continues in the church.

Barzini goes down the stairway of the court house with his bodyguard.

Cici climbs a stairway while smoking, then stops.

Clemenza reaches a floor and presses the button for the elevator.

Moe Greene is lying on his belly in a massage salon.

The priest asks: Michael, do you renounce Satan?

The elevator opens on Strachi, one of the Five Families bosses. Clemenza shoots him two times.

1 murder.

Michael answers the priest: Yes, I do renounce him.

A killer enters the massage salon, Moe Greene puts on his glasses, and takes a bullet in the eye.

2 murders.

Priest: In all his works?

Cicci climbs a stairway again, follows Don Cuneo, blocks him into a revolving door and shoots him four times.

3 murders.

Michael: Yes, I do renounce it.

Rocco opens a door of an hotel room and in conjunction with another killer, shoots Tattaglia and a woman he lies in bed with.

4 murders. (5 if we count Tattaglia‘s female companion).

Priest: And all his pomps? Michael: Yes, I do renounce it.

Neri shoots the bodyguard, then the driver. Barzini tries to escape but in vain. A getaway driver arrives. Neri climbs in the car. They drive off.

5 murders. (Or 8 if we count the „collateral casualties“).

Priest: Michael, do you want to be baptized? Michael: Yes I do. Priest: In nomine Patris, et Filii…

Corpse of Tattaglia in the hotel room.

Corpse of Don Cuneo in the revolving doors.

Priest: and Spiritus Sancti…

Corpse of Barzini on the court house steps.

Priest: Michael, go in peace, and may the Lord be with you…

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The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola – Movie Analysis – Sequence 11

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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Sequence 11. Death of Apollonia. 118-121

In Sicily, Michael teaches Apollonia how to drive a car. They laugh, joke in Italian that it would be easier for her to learn English than drive.

Transition by huge thematic contrast: joy after mourning, a sunny day after a dark room, the lightness of love after the heaviness of death.

Strong dramatic irony by difference of information, from the fact Michael, busy with his pleasures, is unaware of his brother‘s death (as he still ignores, and us with him, that his own assassination is also on the way.)

Don Tommasino arrives by car.

Beginning of the real crisis.

After a polite greeting, Don Tommasino tells Michael he has to leave immediately for another location in Sicily, because his security isn‘t guaranteed here any more. Why? Because his brother Sonny was just murdered.

Information distribution between characters.

Michael, from the house, asks Fabrizio to get the car prepared. Fabrizio asks whether Apollonia is coming with them, Michael says that she will go and stay with father.

Michael enters a room where Calo is taking his meal. Michael inquires about Apollonia‘s whereabouts. Calo says she wants to practice driving.

This sets up the rest.

Michael walks down the stairs, sees Fabrizio who looks like he‘s running away, while Apollonia, at the wheel of the car, blows the horn impatiently.

Information distribution between the action and us, and setup: the flight of Fabrizio doesn‘t get explained yet, it‘s taking us by surprise.

Fabrizio starts running, and Michael just has the time to shout „No, No!“ – but too late: the car explodes, killing Apollonia, the of the explosion throws Michael in the bushes.

Climax. Here‘s the brutal conclusion to the romance. A betrayal again, unsuspected – a wrong track again, because no hint was sent about the disloyalty of Fabrizio. A victim again, the most innocent of all.

This tragic event forces us, contradicting all of our expectations and killing our emotional pleasure, to rewrite our plot schema. In a few seconds:

  • This marriage that appeared as an Act III, becomes the end of the Act II, and another Act III closes the plot in a totally contrary direction.
  • The happy end proves we have been on a wrong track, and the story gets converted into a tragic ending.
  • The very favorable prognosis is converted into a despair-filled conclusion: from that point, love isn‘t possible any more. From perfect love to nothingness…

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The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola – Movie Analysis – Sequence 9

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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Sequence 9. Michael falls in love with Apollonia – the romance goes on. 105-108

Michael and Apollonia, dressed for this solemn occasion, get married in Sicily. The priest blesses them in Latin, then the procession accompanies them along the village.

Between this sequence and the previous one, huge emotional contrast between the two brothers as violence juxtaposed against love.

The bride and groom are dancing together among the villagers, to traditional Southern Italian music.

As previously, nothing appears to stand in opposition to their love and we totally empathize with them.

The couple, alone in their nuptial bedroom. Apollonia in nightie, looking innocent and solemn. Michael gets kisses her, removes her nightgown and embraces her…

One step further in their union, a touch of eroticism for the first time in the movie – bits of eroticism which contrasts thematically to the wild sexuality of Sonny, the total absence of love and tenderness amidst Connie and Carlo and also the absence of sexuality with Fredo, as we have never seen him with a woman. This brief scene has no other function but to lead us to identify with both the lovers and the dream.

Technically, this marriage and the love scene look like the conclusion of the love story, the Act III: crisis (Hero gets to the Goal) + climax. Actually, we‘ll soon have to mentally update the plot schema: the true crisis, the true climax, are still to come. The characters‘ schema doesn‘t change: no Antagonist, no source of obstacle. It‘s actually a structural wrong track aimed at weakening our vigilance: in fact the danger is imminent, but we are not aware of it. (And of course, the scriptwriters know precisely what they‘re preparing us!)

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Francis Ford Coppola The Godfather – Movie Analysis – Sequence 7

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Sequence 7. Michael falls in love in Sicily. 93-102

Cross-fade on the bright, sunny scene. Three men walk across the countryside in Sicily as the Godfather theme plays. The men, are Michael escorted by two bodyguards – Fabrizio and Calo – each of whom carry rifles. They‘re all dressed in a Sicilian way.

Progressive exposition of the new situation of Michael.

A man drives up alongside them, stops, and warns them not to go too far. He‘s Don Tommasino. He tells Michael that it‘s dangerous. According to Sonny your enemies know you‘re here, you should go back home, he says.

This information will come back in our mind during the conclusion of this plot. Then, we‘ll know we had been warned from the very beginning!

Michael asks whether Sonny knows when he might return to New York, but Tommasino answers it‘s too early. Before leaving, Tommasino asks Michael about where he plans to go. Michael answers: To Corleone.

Return to the sources! And it‘s the set up of the murder of his grand-father‘s assassin, Vito‘s father, whose story will be told in The Godfather II. Thus this sequence takes a multiple function: to hide Michael, make him find love, but also, put him in the line of the personal story of this father to who he is going to succeed like a king succeeds to another king.

Michael and his two guards continue their walk in the countryside. Fabrizio wants Michael to tell him about New York. He heard Michael was a „big shot“, Michael modestly answers he is simply the son of a big shot.

For the second time, we receive information of ill omen for Michael: at least one man knows who he is and where he is, whereas he‘s supposed to be hiding…

Further, Michael, Fabrizio and Calo, meet a group of maids, and one of them – is Apollonia – stops and stares at Michael. The two stand transfixed: love at first sight.

Catalyst of their love story. Goal: obviously, get closer to that woman.

Love at first sight: a very old cliché… that still works. Due to the universal phenomenon of identification, a major part of the audience feels at this moment the charm of passion.

Calo comments: In Sicily, women are more dangerous than guns.

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The Godfather – Movie Analysis – Movie Analysis – Sequence 5

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Here is an abstract of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Sequence 5. Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey. 69-88

Michael and Clemenza return home. The house is now being protected by many men carrying weapons. Tessio tells to Clemenza that Bruno Tattaglia was“hit“ that afternoon at four.

Act I of a new plot, which will tell the counter-attack of the Corleone against Sollozzo/Tattaglia and McCluskey.

Ellipsis of the murder of Bruno Tattaglia: evoked, but not shown.

Sonny is proud to announce to Tom, Michael and Clemenza, that Sollozzo wants to meet Michael to negotiate.

Exposition.

Sonny and Tom have a major disagreement: Sonny – in a spirit of revenge – wants to kill Sollozzo, whereas Hagen – who is more pragmatic – wants to negotiate. Hagen confirms that the Captain works for Sollozzo who pays him well, and that the allied Five Families will not want to declare war on the police of New York.

The information about McCluskey allows us to complete a missing element: his motivation is simply money.

Michael gives his opinion: either Vito or Sollozzo must die. He exposes his plan: accept the meeting with Sollozzo and McCluskey in a public place, hide a weapon there and kill them both.

It‘s the first time Michael can give his opinion so frankly, getting involved with an actantial role and being validated by the other characters.

Clemenza, Tessio, then Sonny, start to laugh. They find Michael‘s plan ridiculous.

This contradicts what we just stated but not for long. Their reaction just underlines the fact they are not used to dealing with Michael in an actantial role.

Tom Hagen seems to hesitate. but Michael holds on and argues again: the journalists that they pay can denounce this corrupt cop involved in drug trafficking.

Cut: Clemenza helps Michael in his efforts to shoot a gun.

Here, the story evaded the discussion and went directly to the consequences: the plan of Michael will be realized. This is a significant victory. It demonstrates his new role of leadership within the Corleone clan.

It also makes clear we entered the Act II – development – of this plot.

Together, Michael and Clemenza rehearse the attack plan.

This helps setting up our expectations… so as to contradict them better later on!…

Sonny, Clemenza, Tessio and Rocco eat in silence. Michael smokes a cigarette. Tom reveals he wasn‘t able to discover where the meeting with Sollozzo and McCluskey was supposed to take place. They think about canceling the plan.

Wrong track!

Sonny suggests shooting at the car that will take Michael, but Clemenza and Tom oppose this idea.

Uncertainties, so suspense!

The phone rings, Sonny answers. An informer who works for McCluskey gave him the address of the restaurant where the meeting will take place.

Theater strike! To be noticed: the authors could have avoided a discussion of these obstacles, but it is much more dramatic with the discussion than without it.

As a result, they take immediate action: Sonny sends Tessio and Clemenza to hide the gun. Michael asks Sonny: „When will I be able to come back, after?“ Sonny: „Not before a year“… Sonny says he will give a goodbye from Michael to their mother and to Kay… Michael embraces Sonny and Tom, and leaves.

This scene makes tension grow. The last information about the absence duration of Michael, sets up the part that will follow about Michael’s Sicilian exile.

Michael is waiting in front of a restaurant, a car stops and he climbs in the front. In the back, Sollozzo and McCluskey. Sollozzo and Michael show each other their good will. McCluskey evens says, somewhat hypocritically, that he‘s sorry for the punch that still marks Michael‘s swollen cheek, before frisking Michael meticulously. Michael notices that their car does not go toward New Jersey. But suddenly the driver makes a half-turn on the road and they are headed back to New York.

Not much information in this scene that simply aims at growing the tension. Another wrong track due to an obstacle that is set up and immediately paid off.

The three characters in an almost deserted Italian restaurant. Sollozzo and Michael begin speaking in Italian then in English. Sollozzo reproaches Vito for having been old-fashioned. Michael asks him not to make another attempt on his father‘s life. Michael excuses himself to go to the bathroom.

Information effect and connivance: we know precisely why Michael wants to go out, and we also know that the two others ignore it, which will soon lead them to be shot dead.

We can see Sollozzo looking worried, then frisking Michael again, fearing some trick, but McCluskey confirms: he‘s OK, I checked him. Michael goes to the bathroom. Sollozzo: Don‘t stay long in there. The dramatic music, the one of the scenes showing the punishment of Woltz, and Vito in danger at the hospital, plays again.

Act III, beginning of the Crisis.

Huge dramatic irony, due to the difference of information between us, spectators, and them, Antagonists. The confidence McCluskey displays towards Michael appears to be a fatal mistake, an element that is frequent in tragedies. The music, plays the role of an emblem, underlining the dramatic aspect of the scene, also confirmed by its systematic repetition: each time we hear it, we know that something dramatic will happen.

In the bathroom, Michael looks for the gun…but can not find it!!.

Wrong track! The prognosis becomes doubtful.

McCluskey watches in direction of the bathroom, vaguely worried, while continuing continues to eat, while Sollozzo smokes.

The assembly in parallel contributes to grow the tension. The plot splits into two parts, so that now each side ignores what the other is doing, which results in the uncertainty and the anxiety raising.

Michael finds the gun.

The tension mounts. The prognosis becomes favorable to Michael.

McCluskey watches again in direction of the toilets.

Repetition, that underlines tension.

Michael is about to go out, whereas a train is passing by, with its rumbling growing in a crescendo and then a decrescendo.

Then Michael comes out, and hesitates. All the while, McCluskey and Sollozzo watch him. Michael walks towards them, and sits back. Sollozzo asks: Do you feel better?

Information effect: Michael and us, we know he just didn‘t execute the plan as it was prepared (he was supposed to shoot as soon he would have left the bathroom, but his enemies are very careful). This generates a new uncertainty, and modifies the prognosis again.

The question of Sollozzo sounds with much dramatic irony: no, Michael certainly does NOT feel very good right now…

Sollozzo talks to Michael in Italian. The camera focuses on Michael while a strong train noise invades the soundtrack and covers Sollozzo‘s voice.

Media effect: the plot prepared us to expect visual action, and the director disturbs our attention with sound. The train‘s rumbling stands as a metaphor of Michael‘s inner tension.

Without listening to Sollozzo, Michael stands up, shoots a bullet in Sollozzo‘s forehead, another bullet in McCluskey‘s throat, then a third one in his forehead.

Climax and answer to the dramatic question: YES, he killed them.

He walks a few steps in the direction of the exit, drops the gun, and leaves.

Here again we can state some minor differences with the plan they prepared.

At the exit, Tessio takes Michael in his car and they leave. A triumphant musical score ensues, as the picture shows a last shot of the double murder scene.

Final result: it‘s a full success, the two Antagonists of the Corleone in general, and of Michael in particular, are dead. This result concludes a period, and automatically opens a new one.

Cut on press articles, then on a series of quickly interlaced pictures showing bloodshed and the killers. As the Corleone had foreseen, the double murder leads to a war, while the journalists who work for the Corleone were able to reveal Captain McCluskey‘s corruption. The press begins to publish anti-Barzini articles. At the conclusion, Don Vito Corleone returns home to rest and heal.

This purely contemplative sequence abstains from any dramatic mechanics: it mixes banal moments of life with shocking pictures and press headlines. It plays the role of a transition, summing up a long series of actions without telling them. Despite of the thematic intensity of the evoked events, we nearly get the impression that we are taking a break, resting for a moment…

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The Godfather

The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola – Film Analysis – Sequence 3

Movie Analysis - The Godfather
PDF, 89 pages

Here is the beginning of our story analysis of The Godfather, one of the most appreciated movies ever and a masterwork of scriptwriting

Sequence 3. Sollozzo/Tattaglia move into the attack. 33-56

In continuity in space and time with the previous sequence, but in a dramatic break (same place, same characters, different plot):

Tom Hagen presents the profile of Sollozzo a.k.a. „The Turk“, a drug lord who grows poppies in Turkey, converts them to heroin in Sicily, and imports the heroin to New York. Allied with the Tattaglia family who belong to the „Five Families“ mafia of New York, he asks Corleone for protection against the police, and also for money.

This exposition from Hagen to Vito about Sollozzo, is obviously made to inform us about Sollozzo‘s identity. He provides us the elements of the characters‘ schema that is going to be built up: Sollozzo, Antagonist, and Tattaglia, Mentor of the Antagonist.

In an interlaced plots structure, we can see Sollozzo arriving, and Sonny welcoming him.

Here the interlaced plots structure generates some suspense: just after, we can understand that the shots showing Sollozzo took place just before the scene we‘re going to follow. A strictly chronological montage would have produced a less dynamic effect.

Vito asks Sonny, then Tom Hagen, about what they think about Sollozzo‘s proposition.

Vito is here in the position of the Hero asking his Mentors for advice, an attitude that is rare for him.

Sonny favors the deal. Tom Hagen thinks the same and argues that drug money, is the „future“, and allows one to buy influence: If they, the Corleone family, don‘t take it, someone else will. Sonny asks his father what he will do. Vito doesn‘t answer.

It confirms again that Sonny, the elder, the heir, only comes third in the hierarchy and only has an advisory role. Vito decides, and Hagen argues. The absence of Vito‘s answer intensifies the suspense.

Cut to: Sollozzo speaks about a deal: he asks for one million dollars, political influence, protection against the police, and in exchange, he offers 30% of his benefits.

Sollozzo, at first a Hero of his own plot, asks the Corleone to become his Helper, and clearly reveals his Goal.

Vito answers in two steps. Firstly, he shows some respect to Sollozzo. He obviously doesn‘t want any trouble with him. The camera reveals the presence of several other people in the room, especially Fredo, Clemenza, and Tessio.

We know them already, since they were all briefly introduced during the marriage sequence. The camera move helps making a progressive revelation.

Then Vito explains he refuses the proposition, because he believes drugs are „dirty“ and „dangerous“. Sollozzo tries to negotiate but in vain. Sonny tries to express his point of view but Vito orders him to shut up with authority.

Conflict between the Hero Vito and his MentorHelper Sonny.

Vito concludes: his refusal is firm, he wishes good luck to Sollozzo, and sends him out.

Did you enjoy it? Want to know more? Then read the full script analysis of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and improve your scriptwriting skills

Movie Analysis - The Godfather
PDF, 89 pages
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