Study Guide

The Godfather Quotes

  • Family

    MICHAEL: My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
    KAY: What was that?
    MICHAEL: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract.
    KAY: ...
    MICHAEL: That's a true story.
    (cut to Johnny singing, then back to Michael)
    MICHAEL: That's my family, Kay. That's not me.

    Michael tries to assure Kay that he's not into the kind of violent activity that characterizes his mobster family… but, as it turns out, he actually is. In fact, his calmness and coolness make him even more effectively ruthless.

    LUCA BRASI: Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home on the wedding day of your daughter. And may their first child be a masculine child.

    Brasi is expressing an Old World preference for sons over daughters. It's quite sexist, obviously. This is a definite part of The Godfather's world: the men of the family exclusively call the shots.

    TOM HAGEN: Mr. Corleone is Johnny Fontane's godfather. Now Italians regard that as a very close, a very sacred religious relationship.

    This illustrates the importance of family to the Corleones—but their family ties are cemented through loyalty and by repaying favors. Johnny Fontane and Don Corleone use their relationship as an occasion to help each other out in a way that is both familial and businesslike.

    CLEMENZA: Don Corleone, you once said the day would come when me and Tessio could form our own families. Until today I would never think of such a thing but now I must ask your permission.

    Clemenza asks him for permission since the Corleones seem to be on the decline. It shows that the gangsters' bonds aren't really as unbreakable as unconditional family bonds. They're much more business-oriented and transactional.

    FREDO: Mike! You do not come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!
    MICHAEL: Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.

    Fredo makes the mistake of going against the family. Even if Moe deserves more respect and isn't such a bad dude, family takes priority: it's above right and wrong, and all conventions.

    MICHAEL: […] Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry. Now, who approached you first? Barzini or Tattaglia?
    CARLO: It was Barzini.
    MICHAEL: Good. There's a car outside that will take you to the airport. I'll call your wife and tell her what flight you're on.

    Of course, Michael has Carlo killed a moment later. He committed the ultimate sin: he went against the family, betraying his own brother-in-law. There could never be any forgiveness for that.

    CONNIE: You killed my husband! You waited until our father died so nobody could stop you and you killed him! You killed him! You blamed him for Sonny, you always did, everybody did. But you never thought about me. You never gave a damn about me. What am I going to do now?

    Carlo was actually a vicious wife-beater, abusing Connie constantly, so maybe this is actually a positive development for her. There was never any alternative for Michael, after all. Carlo helped murder Sonny, and there could be no way for him to escape in the end.

  • Criminality

    DON CORLEONE: I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.

    Here it is—the classic line. Part of its inherent irony is that while an "offer you can't refuse" sounds like it might be so amazing you'd be silly to refuse it, in this case, it probably means holding a gun to your head and forcing you to do something.

    MICHAEL: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
    KAY: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed.
    MICHAEL: Oh. Who's being naive, Kay?

    Michael takes a pretty cynical view of politics. In his view, a politician who starts a war or causes the loss of life for personal gain or impure motives is no different than a mafia boss… Maybe he has a point? Sounds kind of like House of Cards.

    TOM HAGEN: The Senator called, he apologized for not coming but said that you would understand; also some of the judges. They've all sent gifts.

    Highlighting Michael's point from Quote #2, Don Corleone has friends who are politicians and are in cahoots with his criminal enterprise. Success seems to correlate with dishonesty and treachery.

    CLEMENZA: Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.

    Not exactly a profound quote, but maybe intelligent advice: In this case, the gun, presumably free of fingerprints, is left behind after killing someone, while the delicious cannoli is taken along. Just because you're a vicious murderer doesn't mean you need to abandon your appetite, apparently.

    SOLLOZZO: I don't like violence, Tom. I'm a businessman; blood is a big expense.

    Sollozzo highlights the fact that there's nothing actively malicious in the violence he commits, so you shouldn't take it personally. It's just a means he uses to get his job done, and a messy means at that.

    MICHAEL: Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?

    Michael is, to cite a cliché, "thinking outside the box." He wants to wipe out the corrupt cop Captain McCluskey because the Corleones are just too far down in the count. Yet directly attacking an authority figure is more dangerous than killing other gangsters because it poses a greater threat to society.

    MICHAEL: It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.

    Sonny accuses Michael of taking things personally, but, in reality, he is the hothead. Michael is actually the cool and collected one who can think ahead and strategize.

    SOLLOZZO (in Italian): I am sorry. What happened to your father was business. I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned. You must understand why I had to do that. Now let's work through where we go from here.

    Sollozzo is trying to explain that he doesn't hate Vito Corleone, so Michael shouldn't overreact to the assassination attempt. It was just business, just a way of getting something that he couldn't get through negotiations. But it's too late for that excuse—Sollozzo's simply gone way too far.

    CONNIE: Papa never talked about business in front of the kids.

    Connie believes that family life and mob business are two separate spheres. If you're a mob boss, you need to live a kind of contradiction: playing with your kids in one world, ordering people's deaths in the other.

    MICHAEL: Don't ask me about my business, Kay.

    At the end of the movie, Michael refuses to answer Kay's question at first (as to whether he had Carlo killed or not). But she insists, so he lies and says he's not responsible. He's trying to live the contradiction mentioned in Quote #9: family man in one world, ruthless killer in the other.

  • Lies and Deceit

    DON CORLEONE: So, Barzini will move against you first. He'll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting, you'll be assassinated.

    Don Corleone is relying on pure criminal intuition here. He's going with his gut, and he's completely right. He's been around lies and deceit for so long that he can always sense the pattern. Without this advice, Michael could well have been assassinated.

    DON CORLEONE: Listen, whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he's the traitor. Don't forget that.

    This is more evidence of Don Corleone's great nose for lies. Maybe it's true that only a great liar would himself be able to recognize another?

    MICHAEL: […] Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry. Now, who approached you first? Barzini or Tattaglia?
    CARLO: It was Barzini.
    MICHAEL: Good. There's a car outside that will take you to the airport. I'll call your wife and tell her what flight you're on.

    Michael is deceiving Carlo, after the violent deception Carlo helped Barzini play. But there's a practical reason for this too: It makes it much easier to kill Carlo. If he thinks he's going to survive, he won't put up much of a fight. They'll be able to murder him more efficiently.

    TESSIO: Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.

    Michael observes that Tessio turned traitor because it seemed like the smart thing to do. He doesn't really blame him for it, and Tessio doesn't really blame Michael for killing him. From both of their perspectives, it really is "just business."

    CONNIE: Why do you think he kept Carlo at the mall? All the time he knew he was going to kill him. And then he stood Godfather to our baby. You think you know your husband? You know how many men he had killed! Read the papers. Read the papers! That's your husband!

    Of course, Connie's husband also helped murder her own brother, in addition to beating her. So, Michael, by his code anyway, needed to kill him. (There might be better reasons for thinking Michael is a monster than this one, though.)

  • Revenge

    DON CORLEONE: I understand. You found paradise in America. You had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. So you didn't need a friend like me. Now you come and say "Don Corleone, give me justice." But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me "Godfather." You come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married and you ask me to do murder—for money.
    BONASERA: I ask you for justice.
    DON CORLEONE: That is not justice. Your daughter is alive.
    BONASERA: Let them suffer then as she suffers.

    This is a good example of Don Corleone's code. He won't perform revenge that is out of proportion to the deed. Even though he's a criminal, he, paradoxically, wants to be just.

    SONNY: No, no, no! No more! Not this time, Consigliere! No more meetin's! No more discussions! No more Sollozzo tricks! You give 'em one message—I want Solozzo. If not, it's all-out war, we go to the mattresses.
    […]
    TOM HAGEN: This is business, not personal.
    SONNY: They shot my father? It's business, your ass.
    TOM HAGEN: Even the shooting of your father was business, not personal, Sonny!

    Sonny is unable to understand that it's all really business, and none of it is personal. This is what makes him an ineffective Don and what leads to his demise, in a way. Michael, on the other hand, grasps this truth and sticks to it.

    DON CORLEONE: I want no inquiries made. I want no acts of vengeance. I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families. This war stops now.

    Don Corleone can't pursue vengeance for the murder of his own son. This is humiliating for him, but Sonny ordered Tattaglia's son killed earlier in the movie, so they're relatively even on that count. He's accepting the loss as a better business decision than continuing to fight would be.

    DON CORLEONE: You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you? Or my boy to me? I forgo the vengeance of my son.

    Don Corleone, despite being a gangster, sees that vengeance in this case would be pointlessly destructive. He's accepting that the death of his son was business, even if it grieves him.

    DON CORLEONE: […] But I'm a superstitious man, and if some unlucky accident should befall him... if he should be shot in the head by a police officer, or if he should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he's struck by a bolt of lightning, then I'm going to blame some of the people in this room, and that I do not forgive. But, that aside, let me say that I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we have made here today.

    Don Corleone is making this decision partly out of defeat, and partly out of wisdom. It shows that he has great self-control—but he'll lose it if Michael dies.

  • Society and Class

    BONASERA: I believe in America.

    Bonasera says he believes in America. But he believes in it up to a point—when the court system fails to punish the men who attacked his daughter, then he turns to an older, counter-democratic system—the Mafia—for help.

    SONNY: Hey, whaddya gonna do, nice college boy, eh? Didn't want to get mixed up in the Family business, huh? Now you wanna gun down a police captain. Why? Because he slapped ya in the face a little bit? Hah? What do you think this is the Army, where you shoot 'em a mile away? You've gotta get up close like this and—bada-bing!—you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. C'mere... You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.

    Sonny is discouraging Michael, who seems set for a more legitimate career, from taking revenge. He'd be blowing his chances to have a political life were he to murder his father's would-be assassins. But Sonny's wrong about Michael taking things personally—in reality, he's just more tenacious about defending the family's interests.

    DON CORLEONE: I knew Santino was going to have to go through all this and Fredo... well, Fredo was... But I, I never wanted this for you. I work my whole 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. Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone, something.
    MICHAEL: Another pezzonovante.
    DON CORLEONE: Well, there wasn't enough time, Michael. There just wasn't enough time.
    MICHAEL: We'll get there, pop. We'll get there.

    A pezzonovante is an Italian word meaning, roughly, "big shot." Michael darkly suggests that, far from fleeing the path to political legitimacy, he can actually use crime to reach it. Basically, Vito Corleone is saying that he was a mobster in order to fight "The Man," but he hoped that someday Michael would actually become "The Man." Michael realizes he still has a shot at this, thanks to the power of crime.

    DON ZALUCHI: I don't want it near schools! I don't want it sold to children! That's an infamia. In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloreds. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.

    This grotesquely racist speech shows that, even though the Mafiosi are criminals, they still try to perceive themselves as being better than other classes of people—in this case, African Americans.

    MOE GREENE: The Corleone Family wants to buy me out? No, I buy you out, you don't buy me out […] Sonofab****! Do you know who I am? I'm Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!

    Moe Greene is a gangster who sees himself as a self-made man, more American than these Corleones who use their family connections to advance themselves and get an edge.

  • Tradition and Customs

    TOM HAGEN: No Sicilian can ever refuse a request on his daughter's wedding day.

    Don Corleone grants the requests people make to him—but they're not totally "free." He wants loyalty and future favors in return.

    DON CORLEONE: You can act like a man!
    [Slaps Johnny Fontane]
    DON CORLEONE: What's the matter with you? Is this what you've become, a Hollywood finocchio who cries like a woman? "Oh, what do I do? What do I do?" What is that nonsense? Ridiculous!

    "Finocchio" (not to be mistaken for "Pinocchio") is a negative and offensive Italian term for a gay person. Don Corleone is accusing Johnny of having gone soft—it's not the traditional Sicilian way of handling your problems.

    TOM HAGEN: […] Right now we have the unions and we have the gambling and those are the best things to have. But narcotics is a thing of the future. If we don't get a piece of that action we risk everything we have. Not now, but ten years from now.

    Tom sees that the criminal wave of the future is drugs. But it runs against the Don's sense of code and tradition and would risk his political connections. It's too modern, not traditional enough.

    DON CORLEONE: I said that I would see you because I had heard that you were a serious man, to be treated with respect. But I must say no to you and let me give you my reasons. It's true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn't be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that's a dirty business.

    Don Corleone doesn't like drugs because they're overtly harmful. (Of course, people get addicted to gambling too, but he sees that as being less negative.) Even though he's a criminal, he surprisingly has things that he is and isn't willing to do. Drugs don't jibe with his sense of tradition or mission. He views himself as being fundamentally just, if technically subverting the law.