The series of Godfather is known as one of the best movies in the world and has become a world classic since it was first. The first movie was selected as the second best movie ever made by the votes of the members of Imdb.com (Internet Movie Database), largest and most popular website on the net and also won 3 Oscars. The movies were adopted from the namesake best-seller novel of Mario Puzo. All three movies were directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The first movie was made in 1972, the second one was in 1974 (third top rated movie in Imdb.com and it won 6 Oscars) and third one was in 1990. The Godfather trilogy helped to define how the world views organized crime in America, framing the aspects of violence that are natural in the underworld with an importance on family, respect and honor. The Godfather is a sample of all stories of immigrant families who are trying, over the course of generations, to fit into the American life. The story develops around the main character Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), who came to U.S from Corleone, Sicily and became a chief of an organized crime family in the 1940s. He is a man who rules with quiet persuasion, asking those who wish favors from him for their loyalty and dealing unkindly with those who cross him. When other criminals try to involve his organization to the drug trade, Corleone resists and the shield of power that he has built around his family is threatened. He must defend his family and pass control of his empire to one of his three sons. In the series of Godfather, there are a lot of characters who had important parts in the story.
Vito Corleone: First of all, he is from Sicily/Italy and he is the founder and the don (boss) of Corleone family. He was emigrated from Italy to New York in the early 20th century when he was a little child because of blood feud (vendetta) problems of his family in Sicily. In New York, he stepped into the world of mafia. When we look at the character of Vito Corleone, we can easily see a man who has some aims and ideals. His main objective is to make the Corleone family as the most powerful crime family in America. Don Vito is very kind to his family members and friends, but at the same time he is serious, cold-blooded and a tough person in business life. He organizes all businesses and family affairs himself and takes help from other family members. He can organize these things perfectly because of having good leadership qualities and high respect over the other members. In his early years in America, Corleone suffered a lot from poverty and decided to become an important man by using all means. Thus, he first killed the local mafia leader of Italian ghetto, Don Fanucci, and established his own crime family. He wanted his children to become important men too and had a special interest towards Michael, his intelligent but a bit headstrong youngest son. Although he grew in America, Vito Corleone saw himself as a Sicilian more than an American and represents the first generation of immigrants. Don Vito also believes in justice and he takes advantage of the lack of justice in the American system in establishing an empire of crime. In that sense, he believes in retribution and earns respect of others by seeking justice through other means.
Michael Corleone: He is the youngest son of Vito Corleone. Michael went to the Second World War and served his country contrary to the advices of his father. He fought bravely in the war for the US Army and gained medals from the military. Unlike his father and big brother Sonny, he saw himself as an American and thus, wanted to fight for the American Army. Because of war, he stayed away from his family and from family business for many years. But when his brother Sonny died and Vito Godfather was semi-retired after the assassination attempt towards him, he started to take control of the business of the family. His father also helped him to become the new don of the family. In the earlier period of his leadership, everybody thought that he is too young and he cannot control the business of the family properly. However, he surprised everyone by keeping his family together and making it as the most powerful crime family in New York again. He had a process of transformation from an independent, nationalist, romantic young man into a serious mafia leader and businessman leading his family. His transformation is perfectly portrayed in the movie by the great skills of Al Pacino. Michael is somehow the continuation of his father in a more American manner.
Santino (Sonny) Corleone: He is the first son of Vito Corleone. He is controlling and executing the businesses of Corleone family with his father. We can say that he is second man in the family. Unlike his father, he is very aggressive and hot blooded. He can act emotionally without thinking the consequences of his actions rationally. He is also serious, strong-minded and powerful. He is making preparations to take the businesses of Corleone family from his father. However, he was later killed by other crime families with the help of his sister Connie Corleone’s husband. So, he lost the chance of taking the businesses of the family. Vito Corleone also did not believe that he would be a good leader because he was not a rational man and he had some weaknesses such as being a womanizer and not being able to control his lust.
Tom Hagen: Vito Corleone adopted Tom Hagen when he was an orphan child having friendship with Sonny. In the early times, he was consultant (consigliere) of the family. He had law education and also become the lawyer of the family. He was a smart and hard-working man and also a good lawyer. He was the right hand of Vito Corleone, but during Michael’s leadership his role in the family decreased since Michael thought that was Tom Hagen was a good choice in the times of peace, not at the times of war. This was caused by Tom Hagen’s strong belief in the legitimate business at times of war.
Frederico “Fredo” Corleone: He is the second child of Vito Corleone. He does not have an active role in the family. Therefore, he is sent to a hotel in Las Vegas under the supervision of another crime family. He had an illness when he was a child that is why he is not very smart. Vito Corleone does not give him important roles in the family. He later made cooperation with enemies of Michael Corleone in order to become the leader of the family, but was sent to death by his younger brother because of his treason to the family.
Kay Adams Corleone: She is the first love but the second wife of Michael Corleone. She is against the illegal businesses that Corleone family runs. Every time, she advises Michael to quit these illegal businesses. She is a decisive person. Sometimes she rebels to Michael. Michael tries to escape from the illegal world gradually, but Kay insists him to escape immediately. That is why, they had many discussions, fights and they eventually divorced from each other.
Connie (Constanza) Corleone: She is the daughter of Vito Corleone. She is sometimes aggressive and she behaves unconsciously especially after killing of his husband. His husband Carlo Rizzi caused the death of Sonny Corleone and Michael ordered his death. However, Connie did not approve Michael’s behavior and rebelled to him. She later forgive Michael and helped him to replace his father.
Pete Clemenza: He executes the businesses of the family in the one part of New York under the name of Vito Corleone. He is one of the capos of the family. He deals with executions and all other illegal businesses.
Salvadore Tessio (Selly): His business is very similar to Pete Clemenza. He also executes the businesses of the family in the other part of New York.
Luca Brasi: He works independently but, he is Vito Corleone’s favorite hit man. Vito Corleone trusts him so much. However, he was killed by the other crime families. He is a cold-blooded killer, but he is very loyal to Vito Corleone.
Carlo Rizzi: He is the husband of Connie Corleone. He helps Barzini family to kill Sonny Corleone. After the death of Sonny, Michael learns that Carlo Rizzi helped Barzini to kill Sonny. So, he was killed by Michael.
Emilio Barzini: He is the head of Barzini family and his family is the one of the main enemies of Corleone family.
Phillip Tattaglia: He is the head of Tattaglia family and his family is the one of the main enemies of Corleone family.
Hyman Roth: He is a Jewish businessman. He behaves as a good friend to Michael Corleone, but he does not want the Corleone family be powerful.
Vincent Corleone: He is Sonny Corleone’s son from his mistress. He belongs to the third generation of the family. He first became the right hand of Michael Corleone and at the end of the third part; he became the new leader of the family.
The Corleone Family Organization
There is a hierarchical organization in the family. The most important thing for the family is loyalty. The head of the Corleone family is Vito Corleone who is the Godfather (don or boss). As we can understand from the name of “Godfather”, he is identified with God. He is the most powerful man in the family and treated like a mortal God and an undisputed chief. We can see him as the owner of a company. He makes the final decisions like a boss and he is responsible for the family. In a sense, like a boss, he owns the family. Corleone family is like a strongly hierarchical family firm. In hierarchical family firms, there is strong a hierarchy like in the Corleone family and the orders of the boss are not questioned. Workers, employers of the company see him like a God (maybe a similarity could be seen with Japanese firms too) and we can say the same thing for Vito Corleone. His leadership is strongly legitimate and he is widely respected. We can also think of Vito Corleone as the ceo of the Corleone crime firm because he actively engages in the family business and takes the important decisions. The final word is always belonged to him.
The second important role is the place of sottocapo or underboss, which refers to a man just under godfather and its equivalent, is Chief Organizational Officer (COO). COO helps the CEO in managing the company. In the Corleone family, Sonny Corleone is the COO of the family and he deals with important family issues. He helps his father in making decisions. The third one is Consigliere which is equivalent to a consultant (advisor) of a company. Consultants give advices to Sottocapo and Godfather. In Corleone family, the consigliere is Tom Hagen who is an expert in legal matters. Under these three positions, there are capos that have a responsibility for controlling the zones, which are given by the Godfather. They work like the department managers of the company. Capos deal with different things. For example, Pete Clemenza deals with executions, whereas the other capo Tessio is responsible for other businesses of the family including relations with other families and bootlegging. Like the department managers, capos are specialized in their jobs and rule their department under the supervision of the top three. Under top three and caporegimes, there are some assassins, mobsters, soldiers and associates working for the family. They do not have important positions and they mostly do the orders of their capos. Dirty jobs are often handled by them. Sometimes, they even take the blame of a crime for saving important names of the family. We can resemble them to workers of a company. There are also many other small workers having jobs in different investments of the family such as prostitutes etc.
The strategy of the family is to become the most powerful crime family in New York and in America. Like a business company, they have to compete with their rivals in order to achieve this goal. The only difference can be the way that they follow to reach their aims. Unlike competing companies, mafia families use violent methods to achieve their goals. They kill people and do illegal jobs like selling drugs and bootlegging. The organization of the family is highly hierarchical and not democratic at all. People who are in important positions are privileged and have the right to say the final word in family business. We can say that, in this respect mafia families resemble to companies because in many companies also there is no democracy. Workers or low level employees do not have right to take part in decisions and they can only contribute to their firms by finishing jobs that are assigned to them. In many companies, you must have good relations with the boss if you want to rise to be in administrative positions. A difference between crime families and companies is the criterion for success. If you want to rise in a mafia family, you must be the relatives of the Godfather and be successful in your job. However, in a company, success can be enough for rising. In the family, members must be careful for looking after themselves so we can see that there is cooperation between them. This is like the cooperation between the employees of a company. We can see the same thing between the mafia families too. Sometimes they make alliances against a common enemy and act together. This condition resembles us that there is cooperation between companies like merging or joint ventures. The family is well-connected; members are strongly tied to each other. When any member of the family betrays the family, the punishment will be death. Every mistake is punished severely by the family often by death. The companies in the real life will not accept any mistakes similarly. However, punishment methods are very different. An employee may get fired or his position can be lowered because of his mistake. Another similarity between companies and mafia families is that they both want to increase their shares and get bigger. Mafia families like companies make investments in different cities and countries. Both groups also try to have political power and influencing the decisions of politicians. Mafia families do this by money or by blackmail, whereas companies use civil society organizations to shape government’s decisions. Sometimes enemies of a crime family or a company can take initiative to weaken their rival. For instance, if a company becomes a monopoly, other firms seek to destroy this company by legal instruments to survive in economics. Similarly, if a family becomes the leader of all families, other families are disturbed and they try to destroy the leader family. So, rivals of Corleone family, Tattaglia and Barzini families come together to destroy Corleone family.
Economic, political and global forces affect organizations. Therefore, these forces should be under control. If we look at “The Godfather” trilogy, we can realize that the family wants to control these powers. Thus, the family does some attempts to take these powers under control. As we know, Corleone family deal with some illegal businesses. Corleone family donates high amounts of money to associations, benevolent institutions and charity houses because they do not want their illegal businesses to be followed by government. In order to take the support of Italian originated people in America, they make investments in areas where there are many Italian-American citizens. As a result of this, Corleone family seems to be legal and takes support of people in a democratic order. The family gives justice when the legal system seems not to work efficiently. For instance, when the daughter of Mr. Bonasera is beaten and raped by two toughs and the legal system does nothing about it, Vito Corleone provides justice by ordering the punishment of these guys.
The family also establishes good relations with Senators with the help of these devotes. So, the government does not investigate or follow the illegal businesses of the family and the family takes some political power. Some Senators like Pat Geary in The Godfather Part 2, even helps the family to make investments in other countries. In the movies, Senator Geary encourages crime families to invest in Cuba. Sometimes, the family uses blackmail in order to convince political figures. Political support is crucial for a crime family because if the government takes a clear decision to destroy the family, the family would not have a chance to survive. However, an important mafia boss like Vito Corleone creates connections with political leaders and strengthens the legal position of the family. Companies also create connections with the government. By establishing and engaging in civil society organizations they want to get political power. They also pay important amount of taxes to government and expect government to help them in making new investments. Political support is very important both for crime families and companies.
Corleone family has so much economic power. The family takes this economic power from selling big amounts of drugs, by collecting tributes from neighborhoods, by bootlegging and prostitution. The family also has many legal businesses. For instance, Corleone family owns an oil company. During Michael’s leadership, the family gets legalized day by day and invests more in legal businesses. Companies own only legal businesses and differ from mafia families. Also, when both mafia families and companies get bigger and increase their ties with political institutions, they become indestructible.
It is not coincidence that, in the movie, the downfall of Vito Corleone starts when he resists to change similar to a new type of business of technological progress in private sector. Don Vito, as a man of strict rules, does not want to engage in drug business and leaves this profitable area to other families. As a result, he was assassinated and had to leave his seat to his son Michael. Similar to this, when there is an unstoppable change in terms of technology or market, ceos or owners of companies had to adapt themselves to new situations. Otherwise, they might end up losing their seats.
For sure, mafia organizations do not restrict themselves with rules and laws whereas private firms and companies had to be loyal to the international and national law. In that sense, there is a strict difference between these two worlds. However, the profit and winning mentality does not change so much in both mafia world and private sector. In terms of organization, changes and challenges, both sides have similar issues and it can be interesting to watch the movie from this perspective.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ