The Godfather’s two endings: Lighting a candle and the wrong side of the door

Now half a century old, Francis Ford Coppola’s revered New Hollywood masterpiece has one of the best-known final shots in film history—but it almost had a much more Catholic ending.

A still from the film "The Godfather" (1972) featuring Al Pacino (left) and Marlon Brando. (Images: Wikipedia)

The shattering final shot in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, while it is among the most celebrated closing shots in cinema history, was not the original ending envisioned by Coppola. Anyone who knows the film well can see the last image in their mind’s eye: a closing door eclipsing the stricken face of Diane Keaton’s Kay, cutting her off from her husband, Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, whom she now realizes has claimed the mantle of his late father, crime-family patriarch Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando).

But Coppola also shot an alternate ending, taken directly from Mario Puzo’s novel and similarly centered on Kay. The unused shot finds Kay in a Catholic church lighting votive candles as she prays for her husband’s soul and for her family. This alternate denouement would have ended the film on an arguably more hopeful note; certainly the effect would have been poignant continuity rather than ruthless rupture.

Puzo envisioned Kay taking her place alongside Michael’s mother, Vito’s widow Carmella (Morgana King), and other mob wives and mothers pleading with heaven on behalf of their corrupt menfolk. This would have been a more Italian and certainly a more Catholic denouement. For Coppola, whose idea of Catholic identity was entangled with hypocrisy and decadence (“to do one thing and think another,” Coppola once told Brian De Palma, “seemed very Catholic to me”), it would have underscored the contradictions at the heart of Sicilian crime-family culture. By implicitly contrasting lived Christian spirituality with mob life, it would also have made a more traditional Hollywood ending.

Jon Lewis, author of Whom God Wishes to Destroy: Francis Coppola and the New Hollywood, considers Coppola’s original ending superior to the ending that wound up in the film, which he says was preferred by Paramount production chief Robert Evans. The original ending, Lewis maintains, “returns us to the film’s thematic conflation of family and religion and Michael’s betrayal of both”; the actual ending “only accounts for Michael’s power and Kay’s growing irrelevance in his life.” (See Lewis’ essay “If History Has Taught Us Anything…” in editor Nick Browne’s Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy, page 30.)

This is a plausible case for the alternate ending…but it only underscores, for me, the brilliance of the actual ending. The door quietly closing between Kay and Michael—far from representing only an insuperable barrier in their marriage and their once-candid relationship—becomes a potent metaphor resolving multiple themes and ideas established as early as the opening scene and even the opening shot. In the process, the final image offers a damning last word (at least until the sequels) on Michael’s choices and their consequences.

The end in the beginning: family and Family

The Godfather opens and closes in the same darkened room, a home office or study used first by Vito and then by Michael. The muted abruptness of the final shot and the blotting out of Kay’s speechless face contrasts strikingly with the opening shot: a sustained, tight closeup on the face of an aggrieved Italian immigrant pouring out a tale of woe. An undertaker named Bonasera, he has come to petition Don Vito to avenge a brutal attack on his daughter. As Bonasera speaks, the shot pulls back until we are looking over Vito’s shoulder from behind his desk.

Outdoors, an extravagant wedding reception for Vito’s daughter Connie is underway, the conceit being that Sicilian tradition forbids a man to refuse any request on his daughter’s wedding day. During the grand half-hour opening sequence, both Vito and the camera move repeatedly between the shadowy, hushed world of the office and the boisterous outdoor festivities. Vito belongs to both settings, but the delineation between the two realms—inside and outside, shadow and light—is strictly maintained.

“Papa never talked business at the table, in front of the kids,” Connie will later say, meaning Family business. Vito is both a family man and a Family man; to men like him, both are important, but always separate. “It’s business, not personal” is a mantra of the crime-family world, but the personal is essential too. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” Vito says. When Michael eventually takes over the Family business, Vito wants to know if he’s happy with his own family, with Kay and their two children. Michael says he is, but one of The Godfather’s central ideas is that the seemingly successful compartmentalization that has defined the father’s life will elude the son.

The rules of the game

Bonasera’s opening dialogue with Don Vito, and even his monologue in the first shot, provide an elegantly efficient journey from the bright world outside the door into the shadow world within. From the start this is not an Italian story, but an American one: “I believe in America” are the film’s first words. Bonasera could be applying for citizenship. He is a productive member of society, hardworking and law-abiding, and he has been rewarded with success and happiness.

Despite family ties (Vito’s wife Carmella is godmother to Bonasera’s daughter), the undertaker has kept a cautious distance from the Corleones—a choice Vito doesn’t resent, though he points it out. “You were afraid to be in my debt…You found paradise in America, had a good trade, made a good living. The police protected you, and there were courts of law. And you didn’t need a friend like me.” Now, though, the police and the courts have failed Bonasera; the young men who hospitalized his daughter went free, and Bonasera, shamed and dishonored in his helplessness and his inability to avenge the insult to his daughter’s honor, turns to Don Vito for “justice.”

The inner world is criminal, but not lawless. As Bonasera’s clumsy attempts to buy Vito’s services reveal, it is governed by its own codes of honor, etiquette, and conduct. There are lines Vito won’t cross, or at least that he would prefer not to cross. “We’re not murderers,” he scoffs in response to Bonasera’s initial wish for ultimate vengeance. This is at best an equivocation; they are murderers. Vito means perhaps that they are not wanton killers; murder is a serious business, to be employed only when necessary. He is a prudent man, with a healthy sense of how violence begets violence, not to mention press and police pressure.

Don Vito takes offense at Bonasera’s offer of money. The currency of this world is not first of all currency, but “friendship”—or, at least, respect and loyalty, along with favors and debts. What he wants is to be invited over for a cup of coffee; to be called “Godfather”; to be Bonasera’s “friend”: all on the understanding that the day may or may not come when the godfather will call upon Bonasera for a “friendly” service in return.

Significantly, when the day does come, it’s a further delineation of the wall of separation between family and Family. Vito’s son Santino, or Sonny (James Caan), has been brutally murdered in a mob hit leaving his body riddled with machine-gun fire—and Vito can’t bear for his wife Carmella to see how her son ended. The debt Bonasera feared is paid simply by plying his trade to make Sonny’s corpse as presentable as possible to spare Carmella the full horror of her son’s Mafia death.

Catholic on the outside

The title “godfather” here implies, of course, a Catholic milieu. Explaining its importance, Vito’s adopted son, Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall), uses pious language (“a religious, sacred, close relationship”)—yet, significantly, he doesn’t say “to Catholics” or “to Christians,” but “to the Italian people.” As there is family and Family, so the term “godfather” has different meanings on opposite sides of the door. Vito and his family are at least semi-practicing Catholics, but inside the door the significance of the godfather/godchild relationship is purely cultural. The Church as such—like the police and the courts of law—is consigned strictly to the outer world.

This is not to say, of course, that these institutions are beyond corruption. On the contrary, a bent cop, Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden), is an important supporting character in The Godfather, and The Godfather Part III (also known in a recut version as The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone) is largely preoccupied with corruption in the Church. Rather, what these institutions represent has no significance for or bearing on the shadow world. The Church and the clergy serve a ceremonial role in family life, especially at critical junctures and rites of passage—weddings, funerals, baptisms, first communions, etc.—but the Church has no moral voice that resonates within the shadow world, at least in the first two Godfather films.

This represents a striking break from older mobster movies with a Catholic milieu, like On the Waterfront (1954) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938). In these films, priests are public voices of social conscience who directly take on organized crime; whether they heed them or not, the mob can’t simply ignore clerical voices. In The Godfather, the Church’s voice is barely a presence to be ignored. (Don Vito does have a passing line about how “most people nowadays” want things “like gambling…liquor—even women”—that are “forbidden to them by the pezzonovante [bigshots] of the Church.”)

Replacing Apollonia

From the start, when we first meet Michael and Kay at the opening wedding sequence, Michael disregards the compartmentalization represented by his father’s office door. Michael explains frankly to Kay about his father’s sometimes brutal business, adding, “That’s my family, Kay, not me.” Michael feels no need for the duality that defines his father’s life because he is on a different trajectory: a college student, a war hero, and, perhaps one day, his father fondly hopes, a bigshot in the outside world, a senator or governor.

When a surprise attempt on his life incapacitates Vito, family ties lead Michael—to the deep regret of Vito and others—to take a hand in Family business. After striking back at Vito’s attackers with a shockingly brazen double murder, Michael flees to Sicily. There he makes a tragically short-lived marriage to a Sicilian country girl named Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), who is killed by a car bomb meant for Michael.

The logic of this haunting episode ultimately leads straight to the closing door in the final shot. Apollonia’s violent death ripples through the rest of the film and beyond partly because she had the makings of a typical mob wife. She would have fulfilled traditional wifely and motherly duties, not asked questions about her husband’s business, and joined Carmella in lighting candles in church. After Apollonia’s death, Michael turns back to Kay, but the candidness of their past relationship is gone. “In five years,” Michael dissembles, “the Corleone family is going to be completely legitimate.”

This is Michael’s bid to recreate with Kay the kind of relationship that he might have had with Apollonia; to compartmentalize with Kay as his father did with Carmella. The alternate ending would have cast Kay as a functional replacement for Apollonia, as Michael wanted, thereby undermining the narrative weight of Michael’s marriage to Apollonia and her death. The Godfather is an American story. Kay is not a Sicilian mob wife. What seemed to work for Vito—who died a peaceful death playing in a sunlit garden with his grandson, and was given a lavish family funeral—will not work for Michael, and one part of the reason is that Kay is not Apollonia.

The wrong side of the door

Perhaps what seemed to work for Vito wasn’t really working as well as it appeared, especially toward the end. Michael’s line to Kay that “my father’s way of doing things is over…even he knows that” may have been a line, but it echoes critical remarks from other mobsters pushing back on Don Vito’s approach to business. “It’s not like the old days,” one says regarding Vito’s opposition to drug trafficking; another tells Michael that his father’s thinking was old-fashioned. Vito miscalculates badly in sending his enforcer Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) to infiltrate a rival family, and, whether or not he realized the role that Connie’s abusive husband Carlo (Gianni Russo) played in his son Santino’s murder, Vito wouldn’t have had the heart to make his daughter a widow.

From the outset Michael is more ruthless than his father. Vito preferred peaceful solutions to threats and threats to violence; Michael prefers to strike as fast and hard as he can and weather the consequences. More fundamentally, where Vito to the end of his days saw himself as a paterfamilias taking care of his family, Michael—perhaps like the senator or governor he might have been—becomes increasingly motivated only by his own power.

Not only does he make his sister a widow (which was, by the logic of the shadow world, necessary and inevitable), Michael also issues a chilling ultimatum to his older brother Fredo (John Cazale) foreshadowing Fredo’s execution in The Godfather Part II. His relationship with Kay is a sham—or, as Kay flings in his face in Part II, an “abortion”—and when Kay leaves him, Michael’s insistence on keeping custody of the children is a power move. (Tom, not Michael, buys the children presents that are ostensibly from their father. According to Part III, Michael ultimately returns custody of the children to Kay as part of his attempted arc of redemption.)

The Godfather Part II ends with Michael alone, with nothing but his wealth and power, but his trajectory is set by the end of the first film. Unlike Vito, who managed to belong to both worlds, Michael is a Family man, but not a family man—which means, by his father’s maxim, that he is not a “real man.” He does not compartmentalize, because he exists entirely in the shadows. This is the real significance of The Godfather’s final image: not that Kay is barred from the inner world of her husband’s business, but that Michael has barred himself from the world outside. Michael, not Kay, is the one on the wrong side of the door; it’s he who is shut in, not she who is shut out.

Coda: The Irishman and leaving the door open

The Godfather’s final shot is so closely connected to the terrible, masterful climax—the iconic Baptism/massacre sequence intercutting between coordinated assassinations of the heads of the other Families and Michael’s unflinching liturgical responses as godfather to Connie and Carlo’s baby, renouncing Satan and all his works and pomps—that it’s not hard to posit a theological gloss to the closing image of Michael shut in on the wrong side of the door. This case could be bolstered by analysis of The Godfather Part III, in which Michael’s quest for redemption finds him making an uneasy confession to a cardinal he recognizes as a “good man” and “a true priest.” For the last few years, though, the closed door at the end of The Godfather has become inseparable in my mind from the denouement of an unrelated gangster movie: Martin Scorsese’s sprawling 209-minute saga The Irishman, starring Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Robert De Niro (who played young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II) as the film’s protagonist, mob hitman Frank Sheeran.

The Irishman recalls The Godfather trilogy in a few ways. There are family baptisms that for Frank have a mob significance rather than a sacred significance (Frank’s growing importance in the mob is highlighted by the larger number of people in attendance at his second child’s baptism compared to the first). Like Michael, Frank makes decisions that alienate him from his family. The world of the film is the story that Frank tells himself about his life, so we spend the whole movie inside Frank’s head—and the inside of Frank’s head is revealed to be a lonely place. A place that could turn out to be hell.

Toward the end, in a nursing home, Frank makes stumbling attempts to confess to a priest, but he doesn’t feel remorse. Around the same time Frank reflects that, rather than being cremated or buried, he would rather be interred in a crypt. The idea of burial troubles him: “When they go into the ground,” he muses, “it’s so final.” Somehow he feels that interment in a crypt is “not that final.” The same fear of finality haunts the final scene, in which the priest promises to see Frank again after Christmas. “I ain’t going nowhere,” Frank replies. Then, as the priest leaves, Frank asks him not to close the door all the way. “I don’t like that. Leave it open a little.” Perhaps the closed door is too much like the lid of a casket. Frank knows his family will not come to visit him, and he doesn’t know how to invite God in. But he wants to leave the door open.

Michael, in the last shot of The Godfather, wants the door closed. It is a casket lid that he shuts on himself. “The doors of hell,” C.S. Lewis once wrote, “are locked from the inside.” Michael’s story may not end there, but it’s as damning a moment in a man’s life as I can think of in any film.


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About Steven D. Greydanus 27 Articles
Steven D. Greydanus is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, a permanent deacon in the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, and the founder of DecentFilms.com. He has degrees in media arts and religious studies. He and his wife Suzanne have seven children.

29 Comments

  1. I always found it ironic how the head of a New York crime family had a brother who was a Catholic priest and who feigned mental illness, was hospitalized at a NY Catholic psychiatric hospital, had a Catholic psychiatrist, was given psychological tests by a Catholic psychologist, and not infrequently was observed making the sign of the cross. The take-away: there will never be an acceptable substitute for speaking the truth to lies. Lies abound within this Catholic Church and the only antidote is radical truth-telling.

  2. In the book Kaye converts to Catholicism around the time she marries Michael and takes to going to Church every day with Mama Corleone. When she realizes that Michael has lied to her about the killings, specifically that of Carlo Rizzi, she goes to him and tells him that she is leaving him and taking the children to New Hampshire. Michael says he understands. A few days later Tom Hagen comes to New Hampshire and persuades her to come back.

    On the day when the whole family is scheduled to leave New York for Nevada, Kaye and Mama Corleone go to weekday (Latin) Mass as usual.

    When it comes time for Holy Communion: “Washed clean of sin, a favored supplicant, she bowed her head and folded her hands over the altar rail. She shifted her body to make her weight less punishing to her knees. She emptied her mind of all thoughts of herself, her children, of all anger, of all rebellion, of all questions. Then with a profound and deeply willed desire to believe, to be heard, as she had done every day since the murder of Carlo Rizzi, she said the necessary prayers for the soul of Michael Corleone.”

    This is what Coppola decided to leave out of the movie, although we are told that it had been filmed and could have been used. But it was NOT used. Combine that with the blatant anti-Catholicism of Godfather Pt.3 and it is fair to state that Coppola has some serious issues with the Catholic Church, which means, to me, that he uses his considerable artistic gifts to take a shot at it any time he can. In my opinion that should be kept in mind whenever the subject of this movie comes up.

    • Mario Puzo was not, of course, a believer, either in Catholicism or even in God. I said in my opening that the ending with Kay in church lighting candles for Michael’s soul “would have ended the film on an arguably more hopeful note”; I myself would argue the point because while it might leave some viewers feeling more hopeful, I don’t think it is more hopeful in Puzo’s and Coppola’s worldview.

      I think Puzo frames religion as the opiate of the women: something that allows them to live with the evil that their menfolk do. The devout phrases quoted above — “washed clean of sin, a favored supplicant” — Puzo intends to describe Kay’s point of view, but he does not agree with Kay’s point of view. I’m not saying we have to agree with Puzo (after all, I gave the closing door in the final shot a theological reading beyond what Puzo or Coppola would say about it), but for me the cynical subtext of the passage has to be reckoned with.

      I don’t think “blatant anti-Catholicism” accurately characterizes The Godfather Part III (nor, for what it’s worth, did Henry Herx, long-time director of the USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting and its predecessor organization, the CNS Media Review Office, successor to the Legion of Decency). It dramatizes corruption in the Church, certainly, and I’m not a fan of its depiction of the conspiracy theory about the secret murder of Pope John Paul I. But the Immobilare financial scandal is hardly over the top, given the Church’s real financial scandals.

      • I am not referring to the Immobiliare affair at all, rather I am referring to

        1) Michael’s award from the Church at the beginning of the film, which even Kaye recognizes as tawdry.
        2) Micheal’s giving $600,000,000 to the obviously corrupt Bishop (or Cardinal) who has mismanaged the Vatican’s finances.
        3) Hatching the plot to kill Joey Zaza while in a Church.
        4) The murder of Joey Zaza and others which disrupt a religious procession.
        5) The 2 murders committed in the Vatican itself in the film’s climactic scenes.

        I see these as evidence of blatant anti-Catholicism, you don’t.

        • I think Henry Herx, who for decades was the most trusted and influential American Catholic when it came to evaluating movies from a moral perspective, had it right when he said The Godfather Part III “is in no way anti-religious, though some may find it outrageously insensitive to the feelings of Catholic viewers.” The things you describe may be injurious to the feelings of Catholic viewers; they are not anti-Catholic, blatant or otherwise. (For one thing, except for the murders in the Vatican, none of the things you list is implausible or would even be surprising if it happened in real life.)

  3. Likw the author, I prefer the chosen ending to the sugary pious alternative. Scorcese showed in Goodfellas that mob wives were not always women who focused on prayers and candles for their erring hubbies, but ready and knowing partakers of criminal wealth.

    • Excellent point about Scorsese’s movies and the non-innocence of mob wives, Mark. To his credit, in The Godfather Part III Coppola makes Connie scarier than Michael, but the first two films are largely about ruthless men and innocent and/or victimized women. To an extent, Michael’s sexist rant about “things between men and women…that have been the same for thousands of years” is reflected in the films themselves.

  4. Wow. This article was sumthin’! I’m going to forward to a movie-buff friend whose favourite films may have been “The Godfather” series. So much thought and symbolism packed into this read. Wow.

  5. Great article. As a former Southern Baptist who converted to Catholicism I am reminded of my Baptist parents admonition when were kids that many Catholics don’t know what it means to be a Christian. And it haunts me still, especially with the election of “Catholic” Joe Biden as President. Many professed Catholics that I know and call friends use Mark 12:17 to rationalize their support of abortion and John 8:7 as their reason to be indifferent to the LGBTQ movement and every time they tell me that I hear Don Corleone say “…it’s only business.” As I tell my kids when they hear their peers regurgitate the same logic – Really? Do you think Jesus would be ok with that, or we he say confess your sin and sin no more?

  6. The question of Frank Sheeran closing the door is also referring to Jimmy Hoffa, because one of his most curious habits was to leave the door open in sleep. We can see this in the first scenes sheeran started working for Hoffa

    • Yes, Ibraim, that is also true! I suspect that the Hoffa connection may be the filmmakers’ way (Scorsese and/or screenwriter Steven Zaillian) of having the open door at the end work within the context of the film itself as well as paying homage to, and commenting on, the most famous gangster movie of all time.

      By the way, this was not the first time that Scorsese referenced The Godfather’s closing door. He also does it in the last shot of Goodfellas, with Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, in the Witness Protection Program, walking into his suburban home and closing the front door behind him. In that shot, the front door of his home is a metaphorical prison door.

  7. I am a HUGE Godfather fan. I have read a lot about the film and watched documentaries about it. This article is hands down the best analysis I have ever read. Well done!

    • That’s high praise, August! Thanks so much.

      I have to confess that for most of the 20-plus years of my career I’ve been intimidated by the thought of writing about this movie. When a film has been so revered, so extensively analyzed and written about, for so many years, it’s not easy to find a way to add to the conversation.

      Watching Scorsese’s The Irishman three years ago was the beginning of a breakthrough for me. I began thinking more about The Godfather’s last shot. Reading about The Godfather and learning about the alternate ending offered more fodder for thought, especially coming at it from a Catholic perspective, as I’m wont to do. And then seeing the film recently on the big screen, I felt like the movie was unlocked for me in a new way that helped me to put these thoughts together.

      • “Reading about The Godfather and learning about the alternate ending” – this statement tells me that you haven’t read the book – am I reading this correctly? If such is the case it casts a very different light on your article.

        I’ve read the book numerous times – it’s an entertaining read.

        • I meant learning about Coppola filming an alternate ending.

          I agree that the novel is an entertaining read. I tend toward the view of those who consider the movie superior. I know not everyone agrees, but I find this argument persuasive:

          The plot is more focused, the characters more crisply drawn, the dialogue sharper. When Puzo and movie director Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay, they cut away everything extraneous, paring the story to its essence: a majestic, timeless tale of an aging king with three sons.

  8. “Puzo envisioned Kay taking her place alongside Michael’s mother, Vito’s widow Carmella (Morgana King), and other mob wives and mothers pleading with heaven on behalf of their corrupt menfolk.” Also alongside Al Capone’s wife Mae (1897-1986), in a case of art imitating life.

  9. This is the first time I ever heard of Henry Herx and in my opinion he had it wrong. We must keep in mind that part 3 was entirely the doing of the Coppolas.

    “Outrageously insensitive to the feelings of Catholic viewers” – that’s a pretty good description of anti-Catholic. Hatching a murder plot in a Catholic Church – to you that’s not anti-Catholic, to me it is.

    • Coppola didn’t hatch a murder plot in a Catholic church. A morally depraved character of his did. Bad characters do bad things, and portrayal is not endorsement. This is criticism 101. By your standards, a factual report about the horrific actions of Cardinal McCarrick and the secrets of his success in getting away with what he did for so long, or about priests and bishops raping nuns or keeping them in sexual slavery while using religion to justify their actions, would be “anti-Catholic.” So would various things in the works of Catholic novelists like Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. If that’s your opinion, you’re welcome to it, and we will not find much common ground to talk about narrative art.

      • “By your standards, a factual report about the horrific actions of Cardinal McCarrick and the secrets of his success in getting away with what he did for so long, or about priests and bishops raping nuns or keeping them in sexual slavery while using religion to justify their actions would be “anti-Catholic.”

        We’re having a rather heated argument/discussion about a movie and you suddenly accuse me of having standards so low that I would not approve of a factual report about Cardinal McCarrick on the grounds that it is “anti-Catholic”.

        That is an absurd statement, leading me to agree with you that we will not find much common ground to talk about narrative art. And yes I have heard of the Legion of Decency, although I have not read it in decades.

        Let’s just end this – Let’s both say a prayer for the other, and I will try to find a theater near enough for me to see ‘Father Stu’ when it comes out Wednesday.

        • You misread me, and for that matter Herx. Far from saying that you wouldn’t approve of a factual report about McCarrick, on the contrary, I took for granted that you would! And Herx didn’t say the film is insensitive to the feelings of Catholics, only that some may find it so. My argument is that the premise that anything that some may find insensitive to the feelings of Catholics is ipso facto anti-Catholic is ridiculous. If I were to read aloud to a roomful of Catholics from a factual report about Cardinal McCarrick or other atrocities committed in the Church, it would not be hard to find many Catholics who would consider that insensitive to their feelings. I take it for granted that you agree that this would not make it anti-Catholic. None of the Godfather movies is for all viewers. The fact that some viewers may find these movies injurious to their feelings doesn’t make them bad movies. It simply means they should watch other movies.

          I am grateful for your prayer. I will certainly be praying for you.

    • P.S. You’ve heard of the Legion of Decency, I suppose? How about the Our Sunday Visitor’s Family Guide to Movies and Videos? If you aren’t aware of Herx’s crucial work on the Church’s behalf from 1962 to 1999, it’s no wonder we have such different perspectives on Catholic engagement with movies.

    • Terence, you obviously know the film well. Did you know that before 1969 when Mario penned the book, in 1963, a retired New York Irish cop called Raymond V Martin published a book titled Revolt in the Mafia. In the said book he recalls the exact scenes (he was privy to in his work) you will see in The Godfather. And in Godfather ll. Try and find a copy, you’ll be amazed. The book I refer to was actually penned in 1962. I read this in an article in a New York newspaper years ago. I also stumbled across the book, Revolt in the Mafia. I’d send you the book if I could, you obviously know the film so well. I enjoyed your posts.

  10. I love all 3 Godfather movies even they say the third on was not that good. The 3rd one was made over 20 years after the first two. I had a brush with fame when I was the English News Anchor, Reporter and Talk Show host with CHIN Multicultural Radio TV in Toronto in the early 1980’s. I was introduced to Francis Ford Coppola and his wife while having my daily espresso in the supermarket downstairs from the radio station in Toronto’s Little Italy. Only problem was it was Francis Ford Coppola Senior and his wife. That was my brush with fame story from the 1980’s.

  11. I usually find your reviews wise, SDG, but I think you have this one backwards. Vito is an evil, evil man. Roger Ebert observed that the reason he appears “saintly” (or as you put it, “healthy” and “prudent”) is that, as with his family, he keeps us at a distance from his life-destroying actions. The ending makes us complicit and co-dependent on Vito; we scapegoat Michael as a devil for assuming his father’s role with less charm.

    Vito attempted to play god (the central symbol is the hand holding the strings) but the opening scene shows he rules in hell. He orchestrates the physical or moral destruction of all of his children. As long as he’s there to gaslight everyone as the benevolent patriarch, we blame his children for their bad ends: Santino dies (we believe) not because of his father’s violent enemies but because he had a temper; Connie has a strange attraction to duplicitous violent men and we wonder where that comes from; Fredo is reluctant to assume the reins of a criminal empire and we regard him as “weak.”

    The movie doesn’t demand we be played by Vito like his children are. The closing of the door in the final shot is not a new, worse state of affairs but a return to the status quo. The only difference is that Kay is not going to be the dutiful mistress role.

    I know you hedge a bit, SDG, by saying Vito only “seems” to be successful, but you need to call it out like it is. Vito was an evil, manipulative man. There’s an eerie parallel to the sex abuse scandal in the Church here. If we can’t call out the failures of the people in power, the victims themselves get the blame.

    • I’m not sure I understand, Hunter. I called out Vito’s bogus claim that “We’re not murderers,” explicitly noting that “they are murderers,” didn’t I? Do I have to quote the Fifth Commandment? Can we not accept as a given, on a Catholic website, that murder is evil? I thought that could go without saying.

      It’s true that I said that Vito was “a prudent man” with a “healthy sense of how violence begets violence.” But the context makes it clear what I meant: Vito regards murder as “a serious business, to be employed only when [deemed] necessary.” Even my remark that “Vito preferred peaceful solutions to threats and threats to violence” is a tacit acknowledgement that Vito was quite willing to use threats and violence when he felt they were necessary. From this it should be clear that Vito’s “prudence” is simply rational cautiousness, non-rashness, non-recklessness: an ability to evaluate consequences and to act strategically, but obviously often by evil means, for immorally desired ends.

      The “success” I talked about was “success” as Vito defined it, i.e., success in what I explicitly called “compartmentalization.” For Vito, “being a real man” meant being an attentive, active family man while also carrying out brutal, criminal, abhorrent actions in private, and keeping the two “always separate.”

      Compartmentalization, for me, is one of the scariest, most damning patterns of behavior there is. It allows a person the illusion or facade of being a benevolent, kind person in some spheres of their life while becoming something completely different in other spheres. Predators like Cardinal McCarrick and Bill Cosby are, I believe, essentially compartmentalizers: collections of masks behind which, in the end, there may be no “real self” at all. Ultimately each of us either finds coherence and integrity in relationship with God or we succumb to incoherence and the disintegration of the self, a process culminating in damnation.

      Vito’s compartmentalization seemed to be successful on its own terms: He died what he would have considered an enviable death and was given a grand send-off by his family and the Church. It was about Vito’s belief that even this kind of success was feasible and practical that I said he may not have been as successful as he thought; that his seeming success may have been an illusion that he didn’t live long enough to see unmasked.

      • OK, it seems I was drawing too much from my own experience of abuse by “godfather” types in my life and read too much into your language. I apologize.

        • Hunter, I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences. I know something about how difficult that kind of trauma can be. Feel free to email or message me privately if you want. Grace and peace.

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  1. The Godfather’s two endings: Lighting a candle and the wrong side of the door – Via Nova Media

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