Lessons Learned From The Godfather

The Godfather - I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse

By Judy Berman

Sometimes, life hands us a lesson when we’re least expecting it. That often happens to me when I’m reading a book or watching a movie.

Who knew that a mobster movie like “The Godfather” would have me carefully weighing words and watching my back?

In the opening scene, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) listens as an undertaker seeks vengeance against the men who assaulted his daughter. The Godfather hesitates to grant his request until the undertaker declares his friendship and heartily kisses the Don’s ring.

* Lesson learned? Gifts can come with strings attached:

“Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service. Until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”

Before the Mafia Don can join his daughter’s wedding party, his godson, singer Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) asks the Godfather to convince movie producer Jack Woltz (John Marley) to give him a role he craves.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” (Brando) says.

Woltz learns his lesson too late. He loses something valuable – his favorite horse – before he gives Johnny Fontane the part.

* It’s better to pick your battles.

The-Godfather-Michael Corleone at restaurant

Carlo and Connie’s marriage is disintegrating. Carlo (Gianni Russo) beats up his pregnant wife (Talia Shire). Sonny Corleone (James Caan) is furious when he sees the bruises on his sister’s face. Sonny tracks Carlo down and assaults him.

Angered by the public beating, Carlo plots with the Corleones’ chief rivals to have Sonny killed.

Paulie (John Martino), who was supposed to be Sonny’s body guard, is the first to pay for betraying The Family.

* Violence begets violence.

Paulie unwittingly goes on a last ride with Clemenza and a henchman. After Paulie is shot, Clemenza says: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

The Godfather - take the cannollis

* Always remember what’s most important.

The gang rivalry escalates. Clemenza’s advice to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) rings true for warring gangs and world rivalries:

“You know, you gotta stop them at the beginning. Like they shoulda stopped Hitler at Munich. They shoulda never let him get away with that.”

* When there’s a dispute, it’s better to nip it in the bud.

Former friends form new alliances. Tessio (Abe Vigoda) turns against the Corleones to gain a better advantage in the perks of crime. Before he is killed, Tessio tries to minimize his deception.

“Tell Mike it was only business.”

The Godfather - It was only business

* Lesson learned? Choose your friends wisely.

The contradiction between Michael Corleone’s words and actions are clearly defined in the baptism scene toward the end of the film.

Michael is taking vows to be the godfather of Connie and Carlo’s baby. He swears that he will renounce Satan and his evil ways at the same time that carnage is being carried out on his orders.

The Godfather - Al Pacino at baptism

But Michael has one more score to settle. He meets with Carlo after the ceremony and tells Carlo that the heads of five crime families are now dead.

Carlo quakes in his shoes. But Michael assures Carlo that no harm will come to him if he tells the truth about his role in betraying The Family.

Michael shows Carlo airline tickets to Las Vegas and tells Carlo that his ‘punishment’ will be that he’s out of the family business. Carlo fesses up.

Carlo’s short ride to the airport ends – as does his life – in the driveway.

* Be skeptical of empty promises.

What messages have you taken away from a book or movie?

Shakti Ghosal’s thoughtful post, “Air to the Bird, Water to the Fish, was the inspiration for my post. His was about the choices we have when we’re confronted with situations that sometimes bring out the worst in us. It got me to thinking of the baptism scene in “The Godfather” movie where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is making vows to reject evil at the same time that evil is being carried out by his orders.  http://esgeemusings.com/2015/09/01/air-to-the-bird-water-to-the-fish/

Main Photo: The Godfather – Marlon Brando and opening scene  http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/the-godfather-trilogy/images/423734/title/godfather-photo

Photo: The Godfather – Michael Corleone at restaurant, killing Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and a crooked cop. http://images.fanpop.com/images/image_uploads/The-Godfather-the-godfather-trilogy-423736_462_370.jpg

Photo: The Godfather – Clemente after shooting Paulie: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” (screen shot)

Photo: The Godfather – Tessio before being killed for betraying Michael Corleone: “Tell Mike it was only business.” (screenshot)

Photo: The Godfather – Michael Corleone vows to renounce evil at the baptism of his godchild at the same time that the heads of five crime famlies are being murdered on his orders. (screenshot)

Video: The Godfather – the baptism scene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfbYp9oaIT8  https://www.youtube.com/embed/EfbYp9oaIT8” target=”_blank”>

  1. Mario Puzo’s FORTUNATE PILGRIM grabbed my attention and never let go, Judy. The GODFATHER’s final segment reminded me that although family was first in The Family, a man’s family could be lost and never recovered.
    My favorite lesson is part gun control and anti-Weight Watchers: Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. 😉
    Excellent post.

    1. Marilyn … I loved your favorite lesson. I haven’t read “Fortunate Pilgrim.” Sounds like I need to check it out.

      That “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” was a message I used to have on our answering machine. “So that we know what’s important … “

  2. I wish I learned more lessons this way Judy. But it seems that most times I have to learn them personally, rather than through the actions and consequences of others. ❤
    Diana xo

  3. Kindred spirits here again, Judy. I dog-ear books (sometimes even books I do not own) so I can later write down quotable lines. From Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage: “Sometimes you don’t realize what’s lacking in life until you find it.”

    And from the movie The Second Best Marigold Hotel: “There is no such thing as an ending, just some place where you leave the story” quoted by the Maggie Smith character. It struck me then as a line that could be used in a eulogy to illustrate the power of a life well lived.

    Thank you for taking the time to pull out so many messages from The Godfather, Judy. I imagine this could be an assignment in a film course adapted to any movie.

    1. Marian … Your message to me on FB to “Watch your back” came at a time I was writing this post. It unnerved me at first until I realized it was connected to me carrying too many bags to work. Then, I laughed. 😉

  4. I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve never seen The Godfather, Judy. I love mob movies and I’ve seen Good Fellas more times than I can count.
    One of my all time favorite movies is “Rudy.” The message of perseverance has stayed with me, since the first time I saw the movie.

  5. I can mention two movies that offered me lessons . . . but I will leave it to the readers to seek them out and get their own lessons from them . . .

    Local Hero
    Joe Versus The Volcano

    There are other lessons from the Godfather, but perhaps they are not held in as high regard as the ones you mention.

    . . . still good lessons, though . . .

  6. I often find if not exactly life lessons, then things I want to ponder about when I watch a movie or read a book.
    I haven’t seen “The Godfather” in ages, but thank you for the fun post!

  7. I have never seen The Godfather , it really doesn’t appeal and yet I remember when my son was in his teens watching every film with relish and constantly on to me to watch it . ‘You would like it mum ‘, he’d say ,’ it’s not just violence there is a lot of morals to be learnt from it ‘. I would shake my head and say ‘what is it about you and violence ‘ . He was going through a stage when the bloodier the better . Looking back maybe by today’s standards it was tame , maybe I should stop being blinkered . I perhaps give it a go some time .☺️

    1. Cherry … I do hope you give it a try. Yes, many people die in “The Godfather,” and some horribly. But your son is right. There are many lessons to be learned from this film.

      I have avoided a few films of this genre because of the violence. “Goodfellas” comes to mind. Yet, I’m curious about it and might check it out.

  8. I’ll be really honest Judy….this movie has never sat right with me! 😐 I don’t know if it’s the violence (not usually interested in gangster or violent stories) although I’m sure it’s tame by today’s movie standards. It was of great interest to my dad and my brother. I remember whenever it was on television, I knew my mum and I would be knitting in another room – or something like that! 😉

    I guess there are lessons to be learned from most stories, fiction or not. I’m more inclined to be attracted to movies like The Graduate!! 😀 Although recently I saw another of Dustin Hoffman’s movies that I’ve never got round to watching called ‘Lenny’ all about the stand up comic Lenny Bruce. I found it fascinating, maddening at the stupidity of people being upset over a few lousy words, and also sad at the way the man’s life ended so young. Just wondering, do you remember Lenny Bruce?

    1. The violence is off putting, but I do like the film. I liked Mario Puzo’s book as well.

      I’ve heard of Lenny Bruce, but I am not familiar with his comedy. My taste was more along the lines of George Carlin, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, John Candy, Peter Sellers, Lucille Ball, Tim Conway and Carol Burnet.

      The one thing I took away from “The Graduate” was the look on Dustin Hoffman’s face after he got his girlfriend, Elaine, away from her wedding. It appeared to be: “Oh, my gosh! What have I done?” 😉

  9. I think Judy I learn many lessons when I read real life stories. I was blown away by Nelson Mandala’s story. I must admit I have never seen the Godfather I shrink when I see too much violence. But I know this ones a classic, maybe one day. Although because there are so many quotes used from this movie I feel like I have seen it.

    1. If you’re like me, Kath, you’ve probably heard all the quotes from The Godfather. The guys I used to work with at one radio station used to quote from this movie all the time. I do love movie quotes and this one had many great lines. 😉

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