Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"I'm Gonna Make Him an Offer He Can't Refuse.": Godfather Analysis Part III

Go to Part II: "No Sicilian can refuse any request on his daughter's wedding day."

The family portrait now includes Michael and Kay.
Now Johnny Fontane arrives to the great joy and surprise of Vito, who proclaims that he came “all the way from California.” Tom, being realistic and perhaps a little jealous, points out, “it’s been two years. He’s probably in trouble again.” Of course, Tom turns out to be right as he’s come to ask a favor of the Don.

Outside Kay is surprised to learn that Michael knows Johnny Fontane. Michael reveals that his father helped Johnny with his career. Of course, Kay wants to know how, but Michael tries to avoid the topic. Kay is insistent and so Michael tells her:

MICHAEL: Well, when Johnny was first starting out he was signed to this personal service contract with a big bandleader. And as his career got better and better he wanted to get out of it. Now, Johnny is my father’s godson and my father went to see this bandleader and he offered him $10,000 to let Johnny go. But the bandleader said no. So the next day my father went to see him only this time with Luca Brasi. And within an hour he signed a release for a certified check of $1,000
KAY: How’d he do that?
MICHAEL: My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
KAY: What was that?
MICHAEL: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract. That’s a true story. That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.

Here Michael reveals his candor at this point in time with Kay. He’s letting her know what his family is about. This gives her the option of knowing from the beginning what she’s getting involved with, but he assures her of a distance between him and his family with that last line. At this stage Michael really believes he will have no part of the ‘family business.’ We already know he went away to fight in the war, that he arrived late to the wedding and that he brought his WASP girlfriend with him. Those details put a distance between him and the rest of his family, a distance he will shake off at a key moment in the film.

Additionally, that story gives us an account of the power of Don Corleone. We got one sense of it in the first scene when he talks to Bonasera. Here is a second-hand account of it. Later we will see first-hand what happens when you cross him.

After Johnny finishes singing his song to Connie he is approached and greeted by Vito. They walk away together and Johnny whispers something in the Don’s ear. He tells Johnny, “I’ll take care of it,” and then tells Tom to find Santino and have him come to the office.

Finally we meet Michael’s other older brother, Fredo, as he comes over to him and Kay at the table. Fredo is obviously a little drunk. He’s not been involved in the office meetings of the Don that Sonny and Tom attend which indicates that he’s perhaps not an integral part of the business. That he is drunk tells us something about his nature – he is not a very serious man. Also, the fact that we aren’t introduced to him until 21 minutes into the film (after every other character) positions him as an inconsequential member of the family.

Coppola takes us inside one last time for the meeting with Johnny who describes his dismay at not getting a part in a big film that will give his career a much-needed boost. Tom, searching for Sonny, finds him in the upstairs bathroom having sex with Lucy. Here is an insight into who Sonny is – not only does he have a quick temper, but he’s obviously impulsive, with reckless disregard for his family. Back in the Don’s office, Tom joins Vito and Johnny as Johnny breaks down sobbing and Vito shouts at him and slaps his face, telling him to “act like a man.” Tom, who earlier sounded a note of jealousy or resentment about Johnny, now smiles at this. Finally Sonny enters the office and Vito continues talking to Johnny:

DON CORLEONE: You spend time with your family?
JOHNNY: Sure I do.
DON CORLEONE: Good. Because the man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

This line is certainly directed at Sonny, whom Vito turns toward as he speaks it. Clearly Vito knows of his son’s extra-marital affairs. Later in the film Vito will refer to Sonny as a “bad Don,” not only because he is impulsive, but because he was not a real family man. Vito lets Johnny know that he will take care of his Hollywood problems for him. This sets up the next sequence when Tom goes to California. As Vito opens the door to show Johnny out we see some women and children gathered in a room in the background. Here again is the separation of certain family members from what goes on in darkened rooms behind closed doors. While dirty business is being discussed in one room, just outside the wives, sisters, mothers and children of the men are going about their business.

Always in the background, not part of 'family business,' we see women and children kept outside.

Tom asks Vito about his new son-in-law. He wants to know if they should “give him something important.” Vito sternly says, “Never. Give him a living, but never discuss the family business with him.” He may be married to Vito’s daughter, but he is still an outsider and will never be a Corleone. This plot point sets up Carlo’s turn against the family later. Then the final plot point of this opening sequence is revealed as Tom says they have to give Virgil Sollozzo a meeting next week. Sollozzo is someone we haven’t seen yet, but that meeting is what gets the plot of the film moving. The importance of that character is introduced in this scene. In keeping with the nature of this opening 26 minutes, it is another in a long series of revealing moments. Before going outside to join the party, Vito tells Tom he wants him to go to California that night to deal with Johnny’s problem.

Finally, we go outside one last time for the family portrait. Michael grabs Kay and brings her into the photo. He wants her to be part of his family. He is making clear to her his intentions of being with her and also to his family that he is not afraid to distance himself from the family. For him, Kay is a complete outsider and that is perhaps what he is attracted to.


  1. Many fans of the film see Kay Adams as a traitor to the Corleones (primarily because of her decision in Part II to abort Michael's and her would-be son). This misses her significance to the story. Kay is our conduit into the alien world of the Corleones. We, the audience, see that unorthodox world through the lens of Kay's very conventional eyes. If the Corleones are "them," then Kay is "us." If the Corleones symbolize corporate America, then Kay symbolizes decent Americans who try to live under the constraints that corporate America imposes on them.

  2. good insight about Kay, but I wouldn't quite say the Corleones are Corporate America. They're the American Dream made manifest and brought to light much more in the book and in "The Godfather Part II." In that sense we don't really need a conduit because we are all in love with the American Dream and we are virtually all (I'm speaking of Americans) immigrants or children of immigrants. So the Corleone story is our own story. That's what makes it so compelling.

  3. I believe Brando said that he took on the role because he saw the story as social commentary and the Corleone empire as a symbol for corporate America. It is possible that Kay fell in love not only with Michael but with the idea of being part of a very wealthy and powerful family, albeit one that is very foreign to her experience. The look on Kay's (Diane Keaton's) face when Michael tells her the bandleader story is priceless. One can only imagine what's going on in her head. By the time Kay decides to abort her pregnancy (Part II), she has had quite enough of Michael's bloodthirst, enough to do something drastic, something that she herself regards as "unholy," in order to refuse to participate, in order to separate herself from the world of the Corleones. This represents the point of view of traditional, middle America, which rightly rejecs violence as a means to an end. Throughout the entire epic--the original and the two sequels--Kay is us.