The Godfather is a series of three films about a fictional Mafia crime family, the Corleone Family. The first movie came out in 1972, and was based upon Mario Puzo's novel of the same name. It was followed by The Godfather Part II in 1974 and The Godfather Part III in 1990. Francis Ford Coppola directed the films and scripted them with Puzo. The first two films are widely considered to be among the greatest films of all time and the flagship of the New Hollywood, due to being the first film to portray gangsters seriously as dramatic figures of real complexity, with real depth of character, and tell the story from their perspective.The scale of achievement is such that it not only defined the image of gangster culture in the popular consciousness but also influenced real gangsters and mafiosos to imitate the film's characters in style and manner of speech. Francis Ford Coppola admitted that he did very little actual research into the gangster culture and that to him the film was a Myth Arc about the American immigration experience.The films received 9 Academy Awards and it's the only saga with more than one Best Picture award, with Part II being the first sequel to win Best Picture. Part III only received nominations.Without Coppola's involvement or approval, the first two films were loosely adapted by EA Games into two free-roaming action/adventure games that let you create your own mobster and rise through the ranks. Content related to the video games go here.
The Godfather saga provides examples of the following tropes:
Acrofatic: Clemenza is a great dancer, and Vito's surprising quickness for his size saves his life during Sollozzo's ambush.
Adaptation Distillation: The film drops a lot of the novel's subplots, though one major one (Don Vito's youth and rise to power) becomes about half of Part II.
Adaptation Expansion: Coppola added a few violent scenes to keep the studio happy. Part II mixes Vito's scenes left out of the original novel with a completely new plot with Michael during the 50s. Part III is entirely original.
Vito behaves like - and, in some ways, is - a family-oriented leader of his community, doing favors for the weak and punishing the wicked (so long as it doesn't interfere with business). In some ways this is an enforced Invoked Trope. People are expected to treat Don Vito the same way - like a treasured and respected friend. During his first scene, he chides the mortician for not being more sociable with him and only visiting when he needs a favor.
Michael toes a fine line in the first two movies, he's polite, icy and ruthless. He sweet-talks Kay to make her believe he's not going to be a criminal while his revenge plans are already in motion. He invokes a false veneer of amicability by keeping his friends close but his enemies closer.
Affectionate Nickname: One of the many connotations of the Godfather title. Discussed by Michael during the Senate commission in Part II
All Your Base Are Belong to Us: An inter-criminal example in Part II has several hitmen infiltrating Michael's compound at Lake Tahoe in an attempt to gun Michael down, who is uncharacteristically and justifiably inflamed by the attack.
Michael Corleone: IN MY HOME! IN MY BEDROOM WHERE MY WIFE SLEEPS! Where my children come and play with their toys. In my home.
American Dream: The first line of the first film is "I believe in America... " A crucial theme of the film is how the five families are essentially living the American dream with specific ideals that America at the time greatly treasured (capitalism, gender roles, family values, etc.). One could easily see this as a deconstruction or even an attack on the idea of the American Dream, or at least a very different look at it. For instance the meeting of the Five Families is held inside the Federal Reserve Bank, where Barzini remarks -to great hilarity- that Don Corleone is entitled to profit from sharing his network of political corruption, since they are not communists.
Amoral Attorney: Tom Hagen is a dignified mob lawyer. Vito makes a point in the novel about brains being better than brawns.
Vito: A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.
Tom actually considers being a mob lawyer to be the lesser of two evils. According to the novels, after graduation he got a job working for an auto company, where he was asked to do a cost-benefit analysis of a vehicle recall, weighing the cost of the recall against the cost of paying death benefits to the families of the projected casualties. He submitted his report along with his resignation and went to work for Vito the next day, where any screwing over he had to do would be on those who took their chances and had it coming.
Anyone Can Die: Just like in the real life mob world. Deaths, both major and minor, are swift and anti-climatic (yet remain powerful). By the end of the trilogy, very few main characters are left standing.
The Artifact: Fanucci shows up with an unexplained big scar under his chin. It originates from a deleted scene where Vito witnesses him being badly beaten by two thugs.
Artistic License - History: In Part III, the deaths of Pope Paul VI and John Paul I all take place in 1979, while in reality these events took place in 1978! However, the name of the actual Cardinal who becomes John Paul I appears to have been changed.
In the DVD commentary for Part II director Francis Ford Coppola notes that minor characters like Al Neri and Rocco Lampone "emerge as a presence in the first Godfather becoming more and more evident in each instalment of the story. As would be natural. As would be in life."
Connie is the least important of the Corleone siblings In-Universe (what with being a woman and all that), however, by part III with Fredo, Tom and Sonny out of the way she temporarily replaces Michael as family boss when he falls ill in the middle of a gang war.
Vito killing Fanucci and deposing the local authority marks the cornerstone of his rule.
Michael killing Sollozzo and McCluskey doubles as a rite of passage from naive newcomer to credible and de facto mafia leader, as he can no longer be a clean civilian and is now in Vito's world.
Ax-Crazy: Luca Brasi from the original movie, and Mosca from Part III had this characterization more than any other villain of the franchise. They enjoy killing and the methods they use are extremely brutal.
Badass Moustache: Vito Corleone sports a badass moustache, and he only begins wearing it after he gains power as a Mafia kingpin.
Bath Suicide: In Part II, Hagen visits Pentangeli in prison and talks about this practice in the Roman Empire, hinting that if Pentangeli does this his family will be spared. He does, and they are.. The camera shot depicting the outcome is a Shout-Out to the painting The Death of Marat
Being Evil Sucks: If you wish to be a mob chief after watching this, then you are crazy.
Berserk Button: The normally calm and cool Michael loses it when Kay tells him she aborted their child, a son. Also, don't mess with Sonny's sister. Carlo knows about the latter one, aware that he just has to push it so that he can set up the famous tollbooth ambush scene.
Many years pass until the Corleones exert their revenge in Part I.
Vito is an adult family man when he returns to Sicily to exact revenge on the man (a crippled old man by then) who killed his brother and his parents when he was a child.
A deleted scene from Part II, shows Fabrizio, Michael's traitorous bodyguard, getting into a car, turning the ignition, and having the car blow up, killing him exactly the way he killed Michael's first wife, years after it happened.
Big Bad Wannabe: Don Fanucci, the local kingpin in Part II. He is very feared and acts all ruthless, but he is a Paper Tiger: there are some paisans who don't pay him any tribute, he has no real muscle and resorts to police threats to enforce his demands. After Vito tests him by only paying half of his debt, he decides that he's no threat and kills him.
The Big Board: During the Senate investigation there is a big board with a diagram showing how the Corleone family is organized and branched.
Big Brother Instinct: Sonny Corleone has one of these toward his sister. It ultimately gets him killed.
Sonny, though it is less blatant in the film than in the book, where it is deconstructed as the size makes the sex extremely uncomfortable to his partners except to Lucy, who has an abnormally large vagina.
Johnny Fontane. Enough so that stories about its sheer girth are common on the Hollywood scene. One rumor (eventually confirmed) stated that he had to have his suits specially tailored in order to accommodate it.
Subverted "Superman" in the sex show in Part II, where it's implied that the sex will be very painful for the woman.
Birth-Death Juxtaposition: The Baptism / Execution sequence from the end of Part I where Michael becomes the Godfather in both senses of the term. Not an actual birth but a very close symbolic one, a very young child gains admission to a new life in Christ.
Black and Gray Morality: The Corleone family are the protagonists of the film trilogy, but only because everyone else - the other mobsters, the cops, politicians, even Vatican clergy - are worse. The very first person we meet in the original film - the mortician - has only come to Don Vito because the courts had let the would-be rapists of his daughter go free. In the Corleones' favor, both Vito and Michael conduct themselves as good decent men... except for Michael's obsessive need for control.
Board to Death: The meeting of Part III becomes a massacre when a helicopter shows up.
Vito is shot on the same day Paulie calls in sick. Sonny sees through the coincidence. In the novel and the recut he backs the suspicions with phone records.
In Sicily, Apollonia is driving the car for the first time as a surprise to Michael, who notices his bodyguard Fabrizio hurriedly walking away from his villa. Michael turns and screams to his wife, but it's too late, she starts the engine and the car explodes, killing her.
Sal Tessio plans one at the end of Part I, but he's thwarted.
Michael in Part II discusses the possibility, pointing out that his men are just business men and their loyalty is based on that.
Break the Cutie: Present in the book and in the recut. What Jack Woltz does to a very young, very beautiful actress during Tom Hagen's visit. Insiders say it's a description of something that happened to Elizabeth Taylor, probably at MGM. It was one of the factors that would ultimately lead to the horse-head incident, and is called an infamita by the Don himself.
Broken Ace: Michael in Part II, especially towards the end. He is the most powerful Mafia Don in the country, has secured the Corleone Family's power and prosperity, and eliminated all his enemies, but he has alienated those who love him and relinquished his own happiness in the process.
Bullet Proof Vest: Luca Brasi is Genre Savvy enough to wear one when going to speak to The Turk. It doesn't help, since he gets garroted instead and then sleeps with the fishes, but it's not like he could have discreetly worn a gorget.
Clemenza dies of a heart attack - although Cicci implies foul play- between the events of the first and second films and his position as capo of the Corleone family's New York branch passes to Frank Pentangeli, his Suspiciously Similar Substitute. This was not originally going to happen; the reason for this change was a disagreement between actor Richard Castellano and Coppola (Castellano wanted creative control over his character and Coppola would not allow it, so Castellano was dropped from the film).
The central story of Part III was going to be a full-on war between Michael and Tom, but Tom was dropped from the final film and his recent death is mentioned briefly in a scene with his son. Robert Duvall thought it was unfair for him to receive only a fifth of Al Pacino's salary and Coppola didn't have enough traction to amend it.
Cain and Abel: Michael and Fredo, mixed with Finding Judas, Fredo claims he thought his actions would unblock a deal and be good for the family too.
Call Back/Continuity Nod: A great deal of them, often used as a subtle device to portray the evolution of the family through the saga. Examples:
Part I starts with a traditional Sicilian wedding, Part II has a First Communion, in both parties the guests have business meetings with the Don, but there are meaningful differences; in Part I the politicians excuse their absence while in II a Senator is a prominent guest. The party in I has a tarantella, the more Americanized party in II lacks one, to Pentangeli's chagrin. In I the FBI is stalking outside, in II a local cop is seen inside the party having a snack and on very friendly terms with the family.
Vito's making his bones scene refers back to Michael's with similar camera and body positions, a first non-deadly shot, plus the overall implications. From the internal chronology POV it works as a Call Forward.
The meeting of the American entrepreneurs with Batista in Cuba is presented almost identically to the reunion of the five mafia families in Part I.
Both I and II end with a montage of murders juxtaposed with a prayer.
Part II ends with a flashback set in 1941 Part I, where Michael reveals he's enlisted (Part I starts with him returning home from the war), showcasing how much Michael has changed over the course of the two films.
The murdering of the prostitute in Part II has something of a visual link with the horse's head in Part I and both events showcase the willingness to take innocent lives for the sake of the family/business. Michael takes it to a new level.
Tom Hagen displaying a quiet sadness when he has to handle the dismissal of the old guard; Tessio in I and Pentangeli (Clemenza's stand-in) in II.
Part II shows Vito establishing early on his tradition of holding affable audiences with suppliants while sitting behind a desk.
Michael's death scene evokes Vito's one, in an antonymic way.
A deleted scene from Part II has Michael's treacherous bodyguard being tracked down and killed exactly the way he killed Michael's first wife, while a scene from Part III has him tearfully remembering their wedding day.
Enzo the Baker. In Part I his boss asks Vito's help in allowing him to stay in America and marry his daughter, and Enzo shows up at the hospital where Vito is being kept after his shooting. Enzo is mentioned in Part III as having baked the cake for Michael's birthday.
Don Vito himself, especially in the book where it is more obvious that Michael's purge of the five families was orchestrated by Vito years before, at his negotiations to bring Michael home from Sicily.
Michael in all three films.
The main antagonists of the movies— Barzini, Roth, and Altobello — are examples, albeit much less successful.
Chiaroscuro: Gordon Willis and Coppola loved this trope to the extent that in many cases it's so dark that parts of the film remain un-exposed. This was why it has been problematic to transfer or restore the film to DVD, as it's very hard for digital media to handle pitch black. note MPEG-2 handles completely flat black very well, but it tends to fall apart when there's a little noise in the black - which tends to happen with under-exposed film or video.
Cigarette of Anxiety: The baker Enzo tries to light a cigarette when he and Michael Corleone are guarding Vito Corleone; Enzo's hands are shaking too hard to light the cigarette, but Michael, a war vet, is completely calm and lights it for him.
Trope Codifier Tom Hagen in the first two. Close to a Unbuilt Trope in that Tom, though well-meaning, isn't a particularly good Consigliere during wartime. He admits it to himself in the book after Sonny dies. Michael replaces him with his father, although he still listens to him until he grows unhappy with Tom in Part II.
Genco Abbandando was Vito's longtime consigliere, seen in Part II, recuts and in the original novel. When reflecting upon his own failures, Tom remarks that his councillorship is a tough act to follow:
Tom: Genco would never have fallen for it, he would have smelled a rat, he would have smoked them out, tripled his precautions.
Michael has to support Apollonia by her arm when she almost trips over. The book makes clear the stumble is a deliberate misstep by Apollonia to invoke some mild physical contact before the wedding. It's as much as the chaperones would allow.
The operator at the toll booth drops the change. It's just a way to bend down out of sight and a signal to the armed gunmen to start firing.
Color Motif: The color orange is a symbol of impending death. Usually, it comes in the form of orange fruit, but even orange clothing and orange decorations are used as foreshadowing towards death.
Continuity Cameo: Johnny Fontane and Lucy Mancini. In the novel they both get big storylines nearly the equal of the main storyline with Michael. In the film Johnny has a very small part and Lucy just two shorts scenes confirming her as Sonny's mistress. They make a brief appearance again in Part III.
Convenient Miscarriage: Subverted. Kay Corleone apparently suffers this trope, only to be revealed later that she aborted the child out of hatred towards her catholic husband and because she can't stand the idea of another child being raised into his criminal family.
Cool Horse: Jack Woltz's prize horse Khartoum. Shame what happens to him due to the Don's offer getting refused.
Cop Killer: Michael Corleone has to hide out in Sicily for years to escape retribution for killing a corrupt police captain who was in the pocket of another family.
Michael Corleone starts as a principled war hero firmly detached from the family business, only to be gradually dragged into the criminal world and ending up as the new Don, cold and ruthless, alienated from his family. He tries to atone for some things in Part III.
In Part I Connie is (an informed) civilian who marries well before her husband treats her like crap and is murdered; in Part II she turns to leeching off Michael (while spiting him) but staying out of the business; in Part III she is an active player in family affairs.
Played with early in the film: Clemenza takes Paulie Gatto with him on the pretense of scouting for apartments in preparation to "go to the mattresses", but he also brings along Rocco Lampone; Rocco sits in the back while Paulie drives and Clemenza rides shotgun. Paulie knows something is a little off and you can see it in his expression when he asks Rocco to move over because he's blocking the rear-view mirror. It turns out Paulie was right to be nervous.
Dangerously Close Shave: Subverted; during the Baptism Scene it certainly looks like this is about to happen to someone, but it turns out that the man getting a shave is a hitman for the Corleone family who is making time before ambushing the target.
Dangerously Genre Savvy: Vito and Michael are aware of many of the trades and tropes of his profession, invoke some of them and make plans and gambits accordingly, hence their success. Many examples in this page: For instance Michael sends Vincent as a Fake Defector in Part III but -unlike Luca Brasi- with some dispositions to avoid being smelled as one.
Darker and Edgier: Coppola felt that the first movie had shown The Mafia in too warm and sentimental a light, so Part II was consciously made Darker and Edgier.
Deal with the Devil: Don Corleone's policy of doing favors for people in return for the person in question performing a service for him in the future has very strong undertones of this, but the Don does not make the people who call on him for help do anything evil. The mortician Bonasera, whose request for help opens the movie, is terrified of being indebted to Don Vito for such a favor and, in the book, fears that one day the Don will show up at his doorstep with a pile of corpses and a "request" that he bury them. In the end, Vito calls in the favor to beg Bonasera to clean up Sonny's bullet-riddled body, as well as reconstruct his face so that his mother will be able to look upon him. When Don Vito himself dies, Bonasera is spotted at the funeral. Apparently he is providing for the late Don and is openly weeping.
Death Wail: Michael Corleone's scream when Mary dies was supposedly so primal and intense that the audio had to be cut from the movie.
Decapitated Army: Invoked by Sollozzo. Without Vito at the helm the Corleone family would lose his political connections and half of his power.
Defector from Decadence: It's implied that Michael's apparent weakness and lack of resolution is the reason behind Tessio's betrayal. Factored in and hinted by the two main capos announcing their intention to spin-off from the Family because of Michael's incapacity to defend their own territories.
Department of Redundancy Department: "I'm honored that you have invited me to your daughter... 's wedding... on the day of your daughter's wedding." In reality, Lenny Montana was a professional wrestler and not a trained actor (he was brought in due to having actually worked as a mob enforcer). His verbal stumble came from being awed just to be in the presence of Marlon Brando. It was felt afterward to keep it in because it fit Luca's awe of Don Vito. They also added an extra scene, where Luca Brasi practices his speech, so that the stumble would make more sense.
McCluskey openly doubles as Sollozzo's bodyguard. Michael quickly realizes that his crooked side can be exploited. McCluskey also happens to bask in the comfort that comes with knowing he cannot be physically harmed due to the Mafia having a policy to never harm a cop. Which doesn't help save him when he can be eliminated as business requires.
In the novel every cop is either on the take, experts in Police Brutality (like ex-cop Al Neri) or both.
Disposable Sex Worker: In Part II, the Corleones get corrupt U.S. Senator Geary in their pocket when he wakes up in a room with a dead prostitute in a brothel run by Fredo. They had engaged in rough, possibly dangerous sex before the senator blacked out, but the exact circumstances of her death are never revealed, and it is awfully "convenient" for the Corleone interests that she died. Of course, there is a brief scene during that moment where Al Neri is idly washing his hands in a nearby bathroom, hinting he had set up the senator by drugging him unconscious and then killing the poor girl.
Disproportionate Retribution: Bonasera asks Don Vito to kill the guys who beat his daughter, but Vito replies he cannot do that, since—as his daughter is alive—that wouldn't be justice. Vito finally arranges to have Clemenza deal with them, with the stipulation that his people aren't to get "carried away". There's a scene in the book where Paulie does indeed deal with the guys, and while it's not exactly pretty what he does to them, no one could say it's more than they deserve.
Distaff Counterpart: Merle, Connie's boyfriend, and Deanna, Fredo's wife; two good-looking and obvious gold diggers. Mama Corleone offhandedly notes that the two look like a perfect match.
Part II, a 1941 flashback is followed by a slightly aged Michael sitting alone at Lake Tahoe, likely during the late 60s.
Part III has a similar final scene, now in 1997.
Door Closes Ending: Probably the most famous use of this trope. Done after Michael lies to Kay about not being responsible for killing his brother-in-law, we see the door shut on Kay as Michael is being proclaimed the new Don.
Domestic Abuse: Carlo beats Connie regularly. The trope is invoked to lure Sonny out of the Corleone fortress.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: As long as you don't look too closely, the mob life looks very attractive when you can live it like Michael and Fredo and the rest. Even all the shady stuff - killings, fights, wife abuse, prostitution, drugs, animal cruelty, and double parking - seem so appealing.
Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Politely implied by Vito when he refuses to accept the basket of food that a heartbroken Abbandando gives to Vito as severance and genuine gift in Part II, after Don Fanucci's nephew gets Vito's job. Vito is like family, but the handout does not sit well with his pride or his self-governing nature. Subsequently Vito finds his own ways to provide for his family and petty crime ensues.
Downer Ending: Mixed in the first film, Michael has been corrupted but the triumph of the Corleones is portrayed as a lesser evil, most of the wrongdoings are not irreversible in hindsight and Las Vegas may offer a cleaner new life. Coppola deemed this was a bit too happy for a Mafia movie and gave grimmer endings to the sequels.
Drugs Are Bad: Vito opposes entering into the drug trade. His stated reason is that he thinks that they will drive away his allies in politics and the police force, but it's implied to be more a matter of conscience. He is eventually forced to get the Corleones into the trade when the Five Families kill Sonny and he needs to negotiate a truce. All the other Dons agree that it needs to be run "as a business," kept out of the hands of children and preferably within the black community.
Sal Tessio, who appeals to Tom to be left off the hook for old times' sake, but it's not an option.
Connie begs Michael to forgive Fredo but then again this doesn't happen. They seem to reconcile, but Michael is not the forgiving type.
Borderline example with Kay in Part III. It's been 20 years after all but Michael has forgiven the abortion, which was meant as an injury against him, has given up children custody, is very friendly towards her and stoically takes many of the jabs she throws at him.
Vito is hearing the lamentations of a man who feels cheated by the legal justice system. He refuses the request for an assassination, deeming it out of proportion and then gives the man a long scolding for his lack of respect and proper manners. Yet Vito finally complies with a toned down request, affably but unenthusiastically, once the man's allegiance (in a very feudal kind of way) is assured. All in the middle of his daughter's wedding party.
In the same scene, Tom Hagen's role as The Handler is hinted with a few gestures and confirmed once Vito assigns to him the implementation - but not the execution - of the request. Sonny seems to be Vito's right hand, but he is distracted and more concerned with the outside party and later with chasing skirts than with the business.
Michael arrives late at the wedding, in a military uniform that differentiates him from the rest of the family, and his conversation with Kay makes it clear he wants to be a law-abiding and respectable citizen with no part in the family business. He is far from a stranger however, Vito refuses to take a picture without him.
Fredo is not present in Vito's inner circle and then drunkenly bumps into Michael and Kay. He's an idiot, but not that bad a guy. His spinelessness is later reinforced when Vito gets shot and his response is to sit down by the roadside and cry rather than try to get help.
Et Tu, Brute?: Michael discovers that Fredo was in cahoots with Johnny Ola, involved somehow in the plot to kill him, and thus a traitor.
Michael: I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart, you broke my heart.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Exhibited many times. One of Michael's generous acts, in his mind, is not to have Fredo killed until after their mother is no longer alive to know about it, and Vito spends years waiting for revenge on the man who killed his mother.
Vito believes that his political connections, which regard gambling as "a harmless vice", will abandon the Family if they learn that hard drugs like heroin are being sold. Even after they agree to the trade, the Dons refuse to allow the drugs into schools or sold to children.
Vito refuses the assassination requested by Bonasera because that wouldn't be justice, since Bonasera's daughter is alive. "We're not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker says"
Tom Hagen and Vito are disgusted about Jack Woltz's rape of the child actress in the book and a deleted scene from Part One.
According to Coppola & Puzo, The Godfather Part III was meant to be titled The Death of Michael Corleone to highlight the fact that it did not follow on directly from Part II, but rather was meant to be "an epilogue." They were overruled, with executives saying "You can't make a Godfather movie without 'The Godfather' in the title!" This after Coppola had to demand the second film be titled The Godfather Part II instead of something else.
This also occurred during the first film as well. Stanley R. Jaffe, who was then Paramount's executive vice president and chief operations officer, along with producer Robert Evans, frequently fought with Coppola over creative matters during the film, from his decision to cast Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in the main roles, to his editing of the final product. It got so bad, that Coppola had to have the film's on-set physician prescribe him sleeping pills in order to combat his stress related insomnia. "The Godfather Wars" gives a very thorough account of the whole odyssey.
In-universe cinema mogul Jack Woltz has actor wannabe Johnny Fontane blacklisted because he ruined a starlet (translation: seduced her away from Woltz). Woltz in turn gets overruled by the ultimate meddling in the form of a dead horse head.
Michael tells Carlo that his punishment is being exiled from the family. He is instead exiled from this life.
A young Vito makes America his new home out of of necessity when he has to flee from Corleone after Don Ciccio refuses to spare his life.
Expository Hairstyle Change: Michael's hair goes from loose and boyish in the beginning of the first movie to slicked back when he's older and more ruthless later in the film and in Part II.
Extreme Melee Revenge: Carlo physically abuses Sonny's sister. Sonny then tracks down Carlo and attacks him in broad daylight. He uses his fists, his feet, Carlo's shoes, and a nearby metal trashcan (which is brought down smack on Carlo's head). All of this happens in public, and a crowd watches while Sonny's goons keep them from interfering. Carlo is left barely alive in a nearby puddle.
Don Corleone sends Luca Brasi to infiltrate the gang of Sollozzo to garner information, but Sollozzo is wise to the plot and Luca ends up sleeping with the fishes.
Michael puts Vincent under the tutelage of Don Altobello in Part III . Michael is Dangerously Genre Savvy and takes some precautions to avoid an obvious identification of the trope.
False Reassurance: In making the peace treaty with the Five Families that will bring Michael home, Don Vito promises that "I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we've made here today." And indeed he doesn't. Instead, Michael takes revenge after Vito's death. In the novel and in the recut Vito says I Gave My Word, but Michael points out he didn't give his.
Fashions Never Change: Largely averted in the first two movies. Cars and clothing styles visibly change over the course of decades.
Fatal Flaw: The Corleone brothers all inherited a quality from their father (Sonny's charisma, Fredo's heart and Michael's cunning) which comes off as negative qualities. Had they worked together they would have been unstoppable. The one thing they have in common is ambition and this brings disaster.
Feudal Overlord: The resemblance with this is striking. As the Mafia is, in a way, an underground version of the pre-modern social system, it makes sense.
The Fifties: Michael's half of Part II. Also, the latter half of Part I, which spans from 1945 to 1955.
Five-Bad Band: The father and sons at the head of the Corleone Family form a neat model of this trope:
Big Bad: Vito; head of the family and; at his peak, implied to be the most powerful criminal in New York.
The Dragon: Tom Hagen. Serves as Consigliere (read: right-hand man) to three successive Dons of the Corleone Family.
Evil Genius: Michael proves himself to be this at least twice during Part I, and continuously throughout Part II, using devious and brutal schemes to keep the Corleone Family strong, despite their (numerous) ups and downs.
The Brute: Sonny. Despite doing his best to fill the roles of caporegime (read: general), and later acting Don, the only thing Sonny is ever really good at is violence (well, outside the bedroom that is...)
Dark Chick: Fredo. He may not be an actual chick, but he is only brother to be completely out of step with the rest of the family, and does have a troubling penchant for seeing things from the enemy's point of view...
Even if you go back to the start of the first movie, (in other words, prior to Michael getting involved in the family business) you still have a functional Five Bad lineup, albeit with some of the places switched around.
If you see an orange, somebody is about to have his day completely ruined.
Paulie utters some mildly disdainful and greedy comments during Connie's wedding.
"Exterminate? That's a bad word to use: exterminate! Get this guy. Watch out we don't exterminate you!"
As the Corleones prepare for the hit on Sollozzo and McCluskey, they face a problem because they don't know where the meeting between them and Michael will be held, and they won't know where to plant the gun. Sonny then suggests they "just blast whoever's in the car."
Vito refuses to get into the narcotics business after the war, not only because he knows his political friends would abandon him but because he believes in the future the drug business could kill the Mafia. In Real Life, the Mafia has been crippled since The Seventies mostly due to the war on drugs.
" Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever."
Fabrizio's pliability is hinted by his desire for a better life in America. Expanded and more clear in the recut.
Friendly Enemy: Invoked by Michael with Roth and with Don Altobello. A lesson learned from Vito: "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer"
Friendly Target: Apollonia, via car bomb. Michael, however, was the intended target..
From Nobody to Nightmare: Emphasis on "nobody" for Vito and on "nightmare" for Michael, as he is raised inside a powerful family and is Famed in Story for being a war hero at the start, only to develop a deadly callousness that his affable father never showed.
Genre Deconstruction: Prior to the release of the original 1972 film, movies about gangsters were mostly action-oriented pictures of the James Cagney/Edward G. Robinson/Paul Muni variety. The trilogy does a lot to strip some of the larger-than-life mythology of the American gangster and depicts its protagonists as human brings with flaws and frustrated ambitions.
Genre Savvy: Luca Brasi wears a bullet proof vest when he goes to meet with The Turk. It does not help against a knife through the hand and a garrote, but give a mook credit for trying.
Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: The Don pulls this on Johnny Fontane when Fontane is complaining about Woltz keeping him from getting a part in his movie.
A particularly effective one ends the second film. The Corleone children waiting for Vito and sitting around the dinner table, as Michael tells them he is joining the Marine Corps and going off to fight in World War II and thus bluntly detaching himself from the family business. There is a lot of character definition and foreshadowing and the moment represents the end of the happier, together times in the Corleone family's life. This is counterpointed by the final shot of Michael sitting alone in the Lake Tahoe compound.
The final scene of the saga is preceded by a montage reprising Michael's happy moments with the women of his life.
Heroic Sacrifice: Pentangeli. The Family wants him dead, but Tom Hagen tells him that if he kills himself the Corleones will provide for his surviving family from that point on.
Heel-Face Turn: Subverted, Pentangeli is put under Witness Protection and is going to testify against the Corleone family. Michael and Tom Hagen find a way to prevent him breaking the omertà; his brother shows up the day he has to testify. It's not stated if they stop Pentangeli by shaming him in front of his old school brother or there's some kind of Implied Death Threat going on. note Earlier drafts of the script had Michael explaining that said brother was the custodian of Pentangeli's illegitimate children back in Sicily, his showing up delivers an unambiguous message.
Historical Injoke: Part III RetCons the death of Pope John Paul I and the murder of the Vatican's chief banker into part of a Mafia vs. Vatican conspiracy. Assuming they weren't in the first place.
Hidden Weapons: The Corleones correctly assume Michael is going to be thoroughly frisked before a meeting and discuss a method to plant a gun in a restaurant.
Horrible Hollywood: Much more visible in the book than in the film. The studio labour unions are on the Mafia's payroll and will strike at a moment's notice if given a good reason (such as getting Johnny Fontane the lead role he and Woltz know will make him a star again). The writer of Fontane's comeback film was paid next to nothing for his hard work. Hookers and Blow abound; Tom Hagen tries to use a male lead's growing heroin addiction as leverage with Woltz and later sees a dishevelled 12-year-old starlet being ushered out of Woltz' house by her uncaring mother, while a preview screening turns into a massive orgy when the lights are dimmed. Actors place preserving their good looks over their health as they grow older, and their doctors are happy to oblige for the right price. Fontane's cousin Nino Valenti thinks to himself that if this is success, he wants none of it. (He later becomes a film actor anyway, but drinks himself to death just as his career is taking off.)
Vito [to Michael]: I worked my whole life. I don't apologize for taking care of my family. And I refused to be a fool, dancing on a string held by all those big shots. I don't apologize. That's my life, but I thought that when it was your time, you would be the one to hold the strings
Impaled Palm: Solozzo does this to Luca Brasi in the movie version to prevent him reaching for his gun. This is a scary deviation, in the book it takes two men to hold his arms while he's being strangled by Solozzo.
Impossible Task: Getting to the overprotected Pentangeli and Hyman Roth. Discussed in a clear reference to John F. Kennedy's assassination. The latter's outcome is a Shout-Out to Jack Ruby vs Oswald. The movie takes places years before the historical magnicide (around the time of the Cuban revolution.).
Tom : It would be like trying to kill the President! There's no way we can get to him!
Michael : If anything in this life is certain, if History has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.
Intermission: Part II has an intermission, though Part I lacks one.
In Universe Nickname: In the book, some of the other Sicilian families refer to the Corleones as "the Irish gang" behind their backs because Don Vito gave Tom Hagen, who is of Irish descent, a high position in the family.
Irony: The Mafia caused Vito to run away from Sicily to America and there he became its leader.
Informed Attribute: None of the brutality that Luca Brasi is supposedly capable of is seen onscreen, but everyone talks about it. The only story told about Brasi is fairly meek compared to the on-screen action: Michael tells Kay that Brasi once pointed a gun to a music director to extort him to sign Johnny Fontane away. When Don Vito gives Brasi the task of pretending to go work for Sollozzo, Brasi fails and gets killed before doing anything. The book is more explicit about Brasi's savagery although always as Offstage Villainy in the distant past.
Justified thematically in that Luca, like Vito, is getting older and his Glory Days (such as they were) are behind him.
Ivy League For Everyone: Michael goes to Dartmouth College (where he meets Kay). A possible justification is hinted when Hagen mentions that his father pulled many strings to provide a deferment for Michael.
Jerkass: McCluskey and Woltz are grouchy and racist, Carlo is an abuser who beats the mother of his unborn child, Ciccio is a callous sociopath and Zasa rarely tries to be polite and tends to be obnoxious. Luca Brassi is a bumbling thug in the film who is revealed to be a horrible human being in the novel.
Justified Criminal: Michael presents himself as a choiceless one when confronted by Kay in Part III; he starts as a detached from crime college student turned war hero who is dragged into the underground world first to protect his vulnerable father and then to protect his whole family.
Karma Houdini: Fabrizio. A Deleted Scene from the second movie (which actually appeared as part of the purge at the end of the original novel) shows Michael's revenge. The scene is included in the made-for-TV, chronological order The Godfather Saga.
Lawman Gone Bad: Al Neri, in the novel, is revealed to be an incorruptible but ferocious cop. When a Pay Evil unto Evil situation does not quite go as planned, he winds up convicted of manslaughter. Michael Corleone gets him off with a suspended sentence; in gratitude, he becomes Michael's most trusted bodyguard and Professional Killer.
Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: Genco Imports serves as the front organization for Don Corleone. While it's not explicitly portrayed as a paper thin disguise, the criminal activities in New York are referred to as 'the olive oil business' in the first and third films. The novels highlight that the Corleone's "olive oil business" is an honest-to-god olive oil business, apparently one that grows to be very successful.
Lolicon: Woltz likes little girls in entirely the wrong way, as is revealed in the novel and in the recut. See Break the Cutie above.
Make It Look Like an Accident: Don Vito specifically warns the other families against letting anything happen to Michael on the way back from Sicily, even going so far as to say that "If he should get struck by a bolt of lightning, then I'm going to blame some of the people in this room."
Malicious Misnaming: When Senator Geary addresses the party that opens Part II, he horribly botches the pronunciation of "Corleone". Later, when talking privately with Michael, he pronounces it correctly, revealing the insult. He's also publicly implying that he's not familiar with the Corleones.
A tactic used by the enemies of the Corleones in I and III.
The Mafia uses several hierarchical layers that work as functional safeguards. The orders of the Don pass from the Consigliere to the Capos and finally to button men; a plot point in Part II when the Senate committee is able to produce a witness with direct access to the Don.
Most of the gangsters are already Badasses In Nice Suits, but the nasty Bruno Tattaglia one-ups the lot by wearing a tux.
Inverted in the novel. The bosses of the Five Families are the worst-dressed of the bunch, wearing normal, no-nonsense business attire. Being the most powerful Mafia men in the nation, they don't have to play dress-up for anyone.
Massive Numbered Siblings: Kay considers the Corleone siblings massive-numbered, and is surprised that Vito and Ma Corleone were generous enough to add a fifth member to their brood with Tom. Michael, however, reflects that four children constitutes a small family by Italian standards, and that Vito and Ma accordingly would have been miserly not to adopt Tom.
The Match Maker: In a bit of irony it is revealed in the flashback at the end of "Part II" that Sonny was this for his sister Connie and Carlo.
Matron Chaperone: Apollonia and Michael are escorted by half a dozen old ladies when the couple walks around Corleone.
Fredo: Did you ever think about that, did you ever once think about that? Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo off to do that! Let Fredo to take care of some Mickey Mouse night club somewhere! Send Fredo to pick somebody up at the airport! I'm your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!
Michael: That's the way Pop wanted it.
Fredo(angry): It ain't the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says! Like dumb! I'm smart and I want respect!
The Mole: Most plot twists in the trilogy involve someone betraying the family from within:
In Part I, underlings like Paulie set up Don Vito for the street hit, and Fabrizio plants a bomb meant to kill Michael in Sicily, but kills Michael's wife Apollonia instead. Respected capo Sal Tessio is bought over by Barzini to set up Michael after Vito's death.
In Part II, Pentangeli is tricked by Hyman Roth into revealing the Corleone Family's inner workings to the Senate hearings. Ultimately, the deepest betrayal was pulled by poor Fredo.
Part III has Joey Zasa as a too-obvious opponent that Michael quickly discerns as a front for hidden and more dangerous enemies: it is really Don Altobello working in league with the European banking interests to get Michael's vast wealth put into the Vatican banks.
Money, Dear Boy: Coppola's reason for making all three films. He was head of a very unprofitable film company when he was offered the first one (offered purely on the grounds that he was Italian), and thought it was a stupid genre movie that he didn't want to waste his time on... but he really needed the money. Coppola wanted to now move away from the studio and focus on his personal film projects The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, which he could get finance for... Providing he made another Godfather film. Then many years later he was struggling with debts from failed projects... people went to see my Godfather movies, didn't they? Yeah, let's make another one of those. People sometimes cite this trope as a reason the third one sucked, but it was there the whole time.
Mook Promotion: Al Neri and Rocco Lampone are promoted from "Button Men" in the first movie to Michael's caporegimes in the second. Willie Cicci is a button in Part I and became Frank Pentangeli's capo in Part II. In Part III he was originally planned to be the one who took over Michael's New York operation after he became legitimate, but actor Joe Spinell died before filming began. He was replaced by a new character, Joey Zasa.
The death of Sonny in the first film, who is machine gunned from all angles until the bullets run out.
In the third movie, a meeting between prominent families is interrupted by a helicopter with a machinegun. It is a bloodbath.
Mugging the Monster / Bullying a Dragon: Senator Geary tries to extort and bully Michael for a gambling license. A nonchalant Michael bides his time and turns the tables with a cold frameup. It's worth pointing out that the Senator knows Michael is a powerful criminal but misevaluates him as harmless thinking that a political leader is out of his nefarious reach.
Subverted in the first film when Michael is laughed at for suggesting it regarding Sollozzo and McCluskey, but he makes his case and the others concede that he's right.
In the final act of Part II, Tom questions the decision to kill Roth because Michael has already won, the hit is impossible and Roth is a very ill man with a low life expectancy. Michael rebukes him and replies that "Roth has been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years and anybody can be killed"
Michael detached himself apart from the business and is laughed at by other members of the family when he proposes a hit against Sollozzo and McCluskey. They consider him ignorant and too trigger happy. Subverted. Michael deliberately continues to project this image.
Michael's (non-Italian) fiancee, Kay Adams, in the first movie. Zigzagged as she is aware of some of the nasty things but Michael plays with it trying to downplay the criminal side of his family.
Michael : My father is no different than any powerful man, any man who's responsible for a lot of people, like a senator or a president.
Kay Adams : Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed!
Michael : Oh? Who's being naive, Kay?
Michael : Kay, my father's way of doing things is over, it's finished. Even he knows that. I mean in five years, the Corleone Family is going to be completely legitimate. Trust me. That's all I can tell you about my business.
Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters: Compare The Corleone family to the Tattaglias. Or to any other gangster for that matter. Vito is a genuine pillar of his community who does retributed favours.
Nepotism: Literal. Vito is made redundant and loses his job because Abbandando has to accommodate Fanucci's nephew.
Neutral No Longer: Michael is pulled into the family business when his father is almost killed by a rival who will keep on trying. Ironically the United States abandoning its neutrality after the attack on Pearl Harbor is the event that makes Michael declare his own neutrality away from the path of his father; he joins the Marine Corps the day after.
Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Don Ciccio attempts to kill all of Antonio Andolini's male relatives, including his 9-year-old son Vito, knowing they would be honor bound to avenge Antonio's murder. This forces Vito to escape to America, where he becomes a Don himself, eventually giving him the ability to return and kill Don Ciccio.
Nice Guy: People outside the immediate Corleone family consider Fredo to be the most likable. While Sonny has a hair-trigger temper, and one always has to be on guard with Tom and Michael for subtle nuances and double meanings, Fredo has the distinction of being both friendly and harmless, the most easily approachable of the Corleones for a drink and casual conversation.
Nice Hat: Michael dons a Homburg hat (now also known as a Godfather hat) when he begins to work for his father. The effectiveness of the trope was a source of friction between Coppola and Robert Evans; the director argued it gives Michael a business-like demeanor while the producer protested it just makes him look like a rabbi.
The word "Mafia" was deliberately never spoken in the first film, nor is the "official" name of the organization, La Cosa Nostra ("This thing of ours" or, simply "Our Thing"). This was an Enforced Trope Coppola had to concede to a real life mafioso who was vetting the film. Word of God tells its intended usage was very minor anyway.
Mafia is a made up word, today used to mean any organized crime. The sicilian mafia is associated with the term cosa nostra (our thing), a circumscription ("This thing we do, you know?"), other mafias call that themselves too. The La in front of cosa nostra is a fabrication, too. Mafiosi are called friends, honorable men, wise guys and so on.
Each term is mentioned in just one scene in Part II. When Corleone faces the senate hearing, he alludes to them and immediately refutes any connection between himself and such organizations. Senator Geary refers to "these hearings on the Mafia"
As for the first movie: it was produced at a time when a Mafia Astroturf organization was attempting to convince people that there was, in fact, no such thing as the Mafia. Accordingly, the word was never used in that movie. By the time of Godfather II, people had figured out the con, so it was once more politically correct to use the term. (Though in the novel at least, it's made clear that, strictly speaking, Don Vito and his lieutenants are not members of the Cosa Nostra: the Corleone family are upstarts rather than "official" honorable men.)
The mortician relates how his daughter was savagely beaten when she defended her honour, to the point that "she will never be beautiful again." In return, Don Vito arranges for her attackers to get a beating of their own: he wants them hospitalized for at least a month, but "no blows on the top or back of the head, there was to be no accidental fatality. Other than that they could go as far as they liked." (Implied in the movie, depicted in the book.)
Paparazzi: Don Barcini destroys the film of a photographer after the man takes a picture of the mobster. Sonny smashes the camera of another scoop and then throws the man some dollars for his troubles.
Parental Favoritism: Played straight in the movie with Vito towards Michael, meant for a higher purpose. The original novel tries to explain why Sonny is the heir exempt from Evil Parents Want Good Kids because Sonny choose a criminal life after witnessing Vito killing Fanucci. (Part II disregards this)
Passing the Torch. Vito to Michael in Part I. Michael temporarily to Tom in Part II. Michael to Vincent in Part III.
Vito adopting Tom Hagen. In the novel Kay comments on the generosity of this action but Michael remarks it's no big deal, as their Sicilian family would be undersized by the traditional standards.
A literal example in the first scene, Vito tenderly plays with a cat during life-and-death business. A Throw It In by Brando not given much significance.
The love for their family and Vito's non-criminal favors towards people in need (Enzo the Baker, Signora Colombo, whose son gets to keep a literal dog) are key elements of the Sympathetic P.O.V. given to the Corleones. Part II has a Deleted Scene where Michael shows kindness giving his blessing to a niece, but Coppola removed it precisely to avoid this trope by not showing Michael's warmer side.
Pink Mist: When Michael shoots Sollozzo in the head.
Plausible Deniability: A mundane example. Tom refuses to convey a letter Kay meant to Michael because that would be proof of Tom's knowledge about Michael's whereabouts.
Plot Parallel: Part II juxtaposes the creation of Vito's family with the gradual dissolution of Michael's one.
Don Emilio Barzini wants to get blacks hooked on heroin. Another Don agrees: "They're animals anyway, let them lose their souls."
In the book Luca Brasi has his half Irish illegitimate baby killed because he believes "None of that race should live."
Senator Geary from Part II goes out of his way to insult Michael's Italian-American heritage while trying to extort him.
Jack Woltz shoots a hurricane of racial slurs to Tom Hagen. Woltz also has an unambiguous pederastic side in both the novel and the recut.
Woltz: You smooth son of a bitch, let me lay it on the line for you, and your boss. Johnny Fontane never gets that movie. I don't care how many Dago, Guinea, Wop Greaseball Goombahs come out of the woodwork! Hagen: I'm German-Irish. Woltz: (without missing a beat) Okay my Kraut-Mick friend, Johnny will never get that part because I hate that pinko punk and I'm going to run him out of the movies!
Poor Communication Kills: Sonny speaks out of turn during the Sollozzo's refusal meeting, contradicting his father and showing internal division to an outsider. He gets schooled later but his blunder makes Sollozzo realize that with Vito dead the Corleones would be weaker and more agreeable to his deal.
Rated M for Manly: Not just for its' excessive violence and mafia fashion style. The Godfather is viewed as symbolic of men's gender roles - as Father, Brother, Businessman, Community leader - of 20th Century America. Nicely illustrated in the film You Ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks' character explains to Meg Ryan's how The Godfather is the I-Ching of all wisdom and that every guy gets the movie. Meg's character promptly quizzes her mild-mannered boyfriend about the phrase "Going to the mattresses." He immediately and nonchalantly replies "Yeah, that's from The Godfather."
Read The Fine Print: Subverted, Johnny Fontane, doesn't look very happy about the sudden deal but signs the contract to perform in the family casinos at Las Vegas right away without reading or almost looking at it. He is a good godson after all.
Reality Is Unrealistic: A minor case, but the use of the word "Don" was so impacted by this film that most people are unaware of the proper form of address. In real life, the word "Don" is used in conjunction with a person's first name rather than their last. Thus, "Don Corleone" should be "Don Vito" or "Don Michael." This is of only minor importance in the movie itself, and there is occasional use of the proper form of address, but public perception of the Mafia in particular (And Sicilian/Italian culture in general) was so defined by this move that most people are unaware of the correct usage.
Re Cut: The Godfather Saga, a special presentation of the first two films on NBC television in 1977, reassembled them into a strict chronological narrative, adding more than an hour of previously-unseen footage while deleting other scenes that were deemed too intense or violent for network TV. In 1992 Coppola stitched all three films together for the home video presentation The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980. A detailed list of the additional footage can be read on The Other Wiki
Redemption Rejection: Michael in the third movie. As his priest puts it, while Michael can be forgiven for his sins, as long as Michael himself does not believe he can earn forgiveness, he will never truly change his ways.
Royal Blood: The Corleones are one of the Royal Families of the criminal underworld; Vito, the self made man founder of the dynasty ascends from Rags to Royalty and his successors are his direct descendants. Sonny, the heir and first regent has shades of The Caligula (he is shown more competent in the novel and the recut) and the third Don is his bastard son. The saga starts during the wedding of the Mafia Princess, Michael ends up as the Unexpected Successor and he finally abdicates
Say My Name: In Part III, when Vincent assassinates Joey Zaza.
Vincent: "How are you, Joe... [he shoots Zasa thrice] ZASA!"
Scars Are Forever: McCluskey's blow gives Michael a disfigured cheek. It gets repaired later; Fredo comments offhandedly that a surgeon did a very good job.
Shown Their Work: In the first movie, the spaghetti sauce instructions are actually usable and a new 1946 Cadillac can be seen with wooden planks as bumpers (due to steel shortages, bumpers on very early post-World War II cars were supplied some time later, to be installed by the dealer).
Sickbed Slaying: Planned against Vito but aborted because Michael steps in. Subverted with Hyman Roth, his would-be killer is killed at the last second, pillow in hand.
Slave to PR: Invoked by Michael. McCluskey's police captain status makes him an untouchable target, but this can be nullified if the media controlled by the family starts airing his crooked side.
After returning from Sicily and with Sonny gone, Michael embraces his fate and gradually becomes his father's son, hatching their revenge for years. He marries Kay in the middle of his transformation, the son of a criminal who claims to be struggling for legitimacy. In a natural, magnified but equal iteration of his first evil act, he becomes a full-fledged Don by killing all of his underworld rivals. The real descent comes in that he crosses lines that Vito never had to cross, alienates his family and becomes callous in his personal life, thereby leading to his Pyrrhic Villainy by the end of Part II.
Vito lives a honest life in America for years. Petty crime only ensues after he's fired, and he only becomes a killer when Fanucci threatens his livelihood once again. After that it gets downplayed almost to subversion levels in that Vito is not that evil by the standards of the story. He's a neighbourhood friendly gangster who for the most part is pitted against people who are more evil. All things considered his worst in-universe deeds during his donship boil down to having a horse killed and making An Offer You Can't Refuse to a band leader after a failed negotiation, and that loses some effect by being Offstage Villainy.
Some of My Best Friends Are X: Senator Geary says it word for word regarding Italian-Americans, just before excusing himself during Michael's hearing.
Speech Impediment: Vito's raspy voice is the result of a characterization decision by Brando, who felt Vito the gangster was shot in the throat. Part II RetCons this with a straight young Vito having already that voice, hinting it comes from his feeble health as a child. Word of God not addressed in the movies.
Spinning Paper: The "Mattress Sequence", a montage of crime scene photos and headlines about the war between the five families. Made by George Lucas
Straight Gay: Fredo, mainly discussed in the original book and the Mark Winegardner follow-ups:
Many of the personality conflicts he has with Michael and other Made Men are because of his issues dealing with his extremely repressed sexuality, occasionally leading to drunken one-night affairs, and his overcompensation by cultivating a reputation as a Vegas ladies' man. This gives him the impression of being inconsistent, flighty, and unreliable, all traits that attract the wrong kinds of attention and are liabilities for a man looking to make himself useful in the family business.
Subtly referenced in Part II. In Cuba, Michael gives Fredo the task of arranging entertainment for his visiting guests, all VIPs and politicians he hopes to win over and expedite his investment in the Cuban hotel industry. Fredo's choice of venue is a seedy club hosting a sex show, starring 'Superman'. While all the guests are laughing in good-natured disbelief at the size of Superman's more-powerful-than-a-locomotive, there is a two-second cut of Fredo staring, unblinking and almost trembling.
Subculture : The Mafia. Interestingly it is the cultural aspects that are one of the main attractions.
Invoked in Part I, Sollozzo leaves McCluskey out of the conversation by speaking in Italian/Sicilian, but Michael has a low command of the language and has to switch to English to give his retort. Michael's proficiency improves later in Sicily but relies on a translator for an important conversation.
The characters speak in Sicilian during the whole Vito's segment of Part II. Vito only starts to use English when he begins to deal with his community as the Godfather. His job is linked with his Americanization.
Michael switches to Italian in Part II in the middle of a cold conversation with Tom Hagen.
That Makes Me Feel Angry: Michael to Carlo—"Only don't tell me you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence. And makes me very angry." A rare effective use of this trope.
Thicker Than Water: For Vito nothing is more important than Family. Michael tries to follow his example, but blurs the lines between family and business and anyone who crosses him has to go.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Poor Sonny... After Vito's failed assassination, they probably wanted to be sure that he was dead. Also because he was hated for his extreme violence; hence the moment where he gets kicked in the face by one of the gunman after he's dead.
The actor playing Luca Brasi was so nervous about acting opposite Brando that he flubbed his line. Coppola liked it and kept it in, and later filmed the scene of Brasi rehearsing his line over and over to make the flub funnier.
Clemenza's famous "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli" was ad-libbed by Richard Castellano.
In the "You can act like a man!" scene, Vito suddenly jumping, shaking and slapping Johnny Fontane was an improvisation by Brando. Fontane's surprised face was unusable and is never shown, only his back.
Both Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando won Oscars for playing young and old Vito Corleone, thus making them only actors to ever win Oscars for playing the same character. Supporting and main role categories, respectively. A third actor plays Vito as a child.
Vito's grandson Anthony is played by three different actors, the children in Parts I and II are brothers in real life.
Vito, to Michael: "I knew Santino was going to have to go through all this and Fredo... well, Fredo was... But I never wanted this for you. I live my life, I don't apologize to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That's my life I don't apologize for that. But I always thought that when it was your time that you would be the one to hold the strings."
Took a Level in Jerkass: In Part II Michael grows a heart of stone (and far worse he has a completely innocent prostitute killed for the sake of the business) yet personality-wise he is not unprovokedly abrupt until the final part, when he offends Tom Hagen for no reason. This is somehow inverted during the two decades gap and by Part III Michael has mellowed out and is now The Atoner. Kay is the one who is abrasive towards him and on a high horse, despite that he voluntarily gave up child custody and she is not squeaky-clean either.
Villainous Breakdown: Many characters have subtle versions, but special mention goes to Michael in part II and III. In part II he broke down not once but twice, the first time when he found out that Kay had a miscarriage when he suddenly snapped at Tom for not getting a straight answer. The second time was around Kay herself when she revealed that said miscarriage was an abortion. In part III, when Mary gets shot, Michael screams with such primal fury that he induces a stroke.
Visual Pun / Stealth Pun: The mafioso American entrepreneurs divide among themselves a birthday cake with the map of Cuba on it. Additionally, in a non-literal sense Michael and Roth want to have the cake and eat it too.
Viva Las Vegas: Where Michael sends Fredo to get him out of his hair, and where the family attempts to become legitimate in II.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Michael's bodyguard Fabrizio turns traitor and kills Michael's wife Appollonia, then vanishes from the story and is never seen or mentioned again in the cinematic version. Averted in the novel and recut, in which Michael gets his revenge.
We Do Not Know Each Other: This is the fatal mistake Fredo makes in Part II. He pretends not to know Johnny Ola when they meet in Cuba, but later on babbles excitedly about the various places in Havana that Ola took him to, while Michael can be seen covering his face in despair.
The initial Michael doesn't seek to please his father and does the opposite when he joins the Marines.
Fredo bitterly comments that he wasn't able to live up to Vito's standards and be more like him for once. He also seeks Michael's approval and apologizes to him. Michael despite being his younger brother is the head of the family, the Godfather and comes close to a second father.
What Did I Do Last Night?: In Part 2, Senator Geary is given a room at a Mafia-run brothel and plied with booze and god knows what else. When he wakes up, there's a dead prostitute in his bed and blood everywhere......and that nice Tom Hagen is there to promise Geary that Michael Corleone will make his problems vanish, and they can be friends. And even more: if he should see fit to drop a federal investigation into the Corleone family, that'd make them even better friends.
What Is Evil?: Michael pulls it off with Kay after returning from Sicily.
Michael: I'm working for my father now. He's been sick, very sick. Kay: But you're not like him, Michael. I thought you weren't going to become a man like your father. That's what you told me. Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man who's responsible for a lot of people, like a senator or a president. Kay Adams: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed! Michael: Oh? Who's being naive, Kay?
Would Hurt a Child: In the book Luca Brasi forces a midwife at knife point to place his illegitimate newborn daughter in a furnace. Francis Ford Coppola allegedly refused to include this episode in the film version.
Writers Suck: The author of the novel which was being made into the movie that Johnny Fontane wants to star in. He was only briefly mentioned in the book, and not at all in the movie.
Xanatos Gambit: Barzini's plot had Tattaglia send Sollozzo to the Corleones to see about increasing the drug traffic. If Vito says yes then the drug trade can begin immediately and with the backing of the Corleone's extensive political contacts, but if he says no Sollozzo would sow discord within the Corleone ranks. If Sollozzo fails to sway the Corleone family and all out war broke out, which it did, the Corleone's would spend their time gunning for Sollozzo and Tattaglia. Any way it plays out, Barzini wins. It almost works except that Vito figures out "It was Barzini all along."
You Killed My Father: The beginning of Part II' tells or shows that Vito's father, mother (and brother) are murdered by a Sicilian mafia boss, Don Ciccio, when Vito is a child. He escapes to the U.S., becomes an influential crime boss there, and eventually returns to Sicily to meet Don Ciccio.
Don Ciccio: What was your father's name?
Vito: Antonio Andolini.
Don Ciccio: You'll have to speak up. I can't hear you
Vito: My father's name was Antonio Andolini... and this is for you! (stabs carves him)
You Owe Me: Vito's standard approach to business binding.
Vito : Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter's wedding day.