Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Never Tell Anybody Outside the Family What You're Thinking Again": Godfather Analysis Part V


Now that we’ve been introduced to all the major characters in the film, gotten a sense of their personality traits and seen the power of Don Corleone’s persuasion, it’s time (only 33 minutes into the film) to put the plot in motion and meet the villain. This section opens with Corleone sitting down with Tom and Sonny to begin discussing the possibility of becoming partners with Virgil Sollozzo. Vito asks Tom if he’s too tired and Tom remarks that it’s okay because he slept on the plane. This seemingly banal piece of dialogue does a few things: gives us a time reference so we know this is immediately after Tom’s trip to California; indicates Tom’s professionalism in his loyalty and service to the Don; and shows that the Don wants to get things moving quickly and be well-prepared.


Tom explains what he has learned about Sollozzo: he’s into narcotics, growing the poppy in Turkey, processing it into heroin in Sicily and that he is backed by the Tattaglia family in New York; he’s good with a knife, “but only in matters of business with some sort of reasonable complaint.” This indicates that Sollozzo is probably a sensible business man first. At the moment when Corleone asks about Sollozzo’s prison record, Nino Rota’s original score comes in and plays until the end of the segment – it’s an ominous sounding piece of music, adding to the build-up of tension. While Tom goes on explaining, Coppola inter-cuts with Sollozzo’s arrival at Genco Olive Oil Company and meeting Tom, Sonny, Clemenza, Tessio, Fredo and Vito at the office. This is Coppola’s way of economizing. Rather than leave the camera on Tom as he recites a monologue that is mostly explication, he shows us the beginning of the meeting with Solozzo, setting up where the meeting is held and who is in attendance. Notice also the group of children playing outside Genco. On a city street in broad daylight, children play normally while behind closed doors nearby there are shady business dealings taking place. This is not unlike the opening wedding sequence that contrasts the dark interior office of Don Corleone with the bright, sunny wedding celebration of his daughter outside. Sonny and Tom both voice their approval for this business enterprise. Sonny says, “There’s a lot of money in that white powder,” while Tom, pragmatic as usual, believes that if they don’t get involved someone else will. Any other families involved in narcotics will earn a lot of money to buy more political influence and then they’ll go after the Corleones. Tom believes that if they don’t get into it they risk everything they have sometime in the future. Sonny asks Vito what his answer will be, but Coppola doesn’t provide the audience with the answer right away. We are kept in suspense until the next scene – the meeting with Sollozzo.
Children play on the street: life continues as normal as dark deeds are discussed in the dimly lit interiors.
The music cuts out as we cut to a medium close up of Sollozzo in Corleone’s office. He lays the deal on the line:

VIRGIL SOLLOZZO:     Don Corleone, I need a man who has powerful friends. I need a million dollars in cash. I need, Don Corleone, those politicians that you carry in your pocket like so many nickels and dimes.

Sollozzo learns some very important information about the Corleone family in this scene – information that will aid in his strategy to overthrow Vito’s power later. When Vito asks what the interest for the Tattaglia family is Sollozzo shoots a glance to Tom saying, “My compliments,” indicating his recognition of how thorough Tom is. Later in the scene when Sonny speaks out of turn Sollozzo learns that Sonny is impetuous, anxious and possibly excited about the deal he’s offering.

The scene goes on for 12 shots lasting 1 minute 8 seconds before we know that anyone other than Vito, Tom and Sollozzo are in the room. Granted, we saw Sollozzo greeting all the others before this scene started, but we aren’t made explicitly aware that Sonny, Fredo, Tessio and Clemenza are in the room until more than a minute in. Why doesn’t Coppola start the scene with an establishing shot showing all the men in the room? Before answering that we should ask why Corleone has so many men sitting with him while Sollozzo is alone. Of course Tom and Sonny, as Consigliere and heir apparent, would be there. Fredo will also one day be involved in the family business, explaining his presence, but what about the Capo Regimes – Tessio and Clemenza? I offer this as a possible explanation: Don Corleone’s having all those men present asserts his position of power over Virgil Sollozzo and the Tattaglia family. It is designed to make Sollozzo feel intimidated upon coming to this meeting. I think it only natural that Sollozzo would be alone. He is entering someone else’s territory to propose a business arrangement. He has no reason to feel threatened and so would not have protection with him. But why the absence of an establishing shot? It comes at the moment Corleone has heard the deal and stands up to change his seat and tell Sollozzo his answer is ‘no.’ It clues the audience in to his power play at the moment he’s about to assert his power by denying access to ‘his’ politicians.
The first shot that shows everyone in the room has Corleone rising to move closer to Sollozzo.
Another moment of effective editing comes in this scene when Sonny makes his outspoken blunder. Corleone interrupts Sonny as he speaks out of turn. He turns to his son with a disapproving look. An audience that is paying close attention will know that something is wrong. Coppola doesn’t stop there – he cuts across to a medium close up of Clemenza shifting his eyes knowingly, then to Tom with an expression of understanding, then finally to Sollozzo who is smirking just slightly. All three characters understand what Sonny’s mistake was. This pause in the dialogue, a silence that lasts 8 seconds, creates tension and then ends with Don Corleone apologizing for his son’s behavior. After everyone has exited the room, Vito calls his son back to say,

DON CORLEONE: What’s the matter with you? I think your brain’s going soft from all that comedy you’re playing with that young girl. Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again.

With that Vito states quite clearly what was only implied earlier in the film – that he is aware of his son’s extra-marital affair with Lucy. He clearly disapproves, but more importantly, he disapproves of Sonny revealing his thoughts to a potential enemy.
First Vito looks disapprovingly at Sonny for his foolish outburst. Then cut to... 
...Clemenza, with his eyes averted. Cut to...

...Tom clearly knowing that Sonny was out of line. Cut to...

...Sollozzo smirking. He has found something he can bite at.
Next there is a small aside thrown in to wrap up the Johnny Fontane subplot. Some flowers have been brought in and Tom glowingly informs the Don that they’re from Johnny, who is “starring in that new film.” Finally, Vito asks for Luca Brasi to come in. He sits down before the Don. Vito asks him, as more ominous music comes in, to go to the Tattaglia family to spy and get more information about Virgil Sollozzo.


Go to Part VI: "If I wanted to kill, you'd be dead already."

1 comment:

  1. Tom makes the plausible argument that because of the money potential in narcotics, any of the crime families that invests in the drug trade will be able to buy more political influence. This argument (perhaps by contrast with Sonny's) isn't about greed for money as an end in itself; it's about power. It will later emerge that the Don isn't persuaded by Tom's reasoned argument. Quite the contrary, the Don is convinced that any crime family that makes a move into drugs will LOSE political influence, and thereby lose power, so that a move into drugs would be self-destructive. It will emerge that the other families insist the one and all make the move into drugs and that the Corleones provide political influence and legal protection to safeguard the investment. It appears at this point that the Don is being asked to provide an accommodation. The ostensible request in fact a demand. Ironically, it is an "offer" he can't refuse.

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