Study Guide

The Godfather Summary

The Godfather Summary

It's the day of Don Vito Corelone's daughter's wedding. And like any good mob boss, he's spending his time receiving guests who are requesting favors from him.


Outside, the wedding is in full swing, and we meet a bunch of different characters, including the Don's sons, Michael and Sonny.

Don helps his lounge-singer godson, Johnny Fontane, intimidate a movie producer into giving him a part. How, you ask? Oh, no big deal. Don just has the severed head of the producer's prized racing horse placed in his bed. 

That seems to do the trick.

A gangster named Sollozzo tries to rope Don and his political connections into a dope-dealing scheme with the rival Tattaglia family. But the Don refuses. (Like ya do.) And since we're in a mob movie, this leads to a near-fatal assassination attempt on Don Corleone and the murder of his trusted hit man, Luca Brasi. So Sonny becomes the acting Don, while Michael defends the Godfather from a second assassination attempt. 

It's hard out there for a mob boss, eh?

Next up, Michael murders Sollozzo and a corrupt cop, Captain McCluskey, at an Italian restaurant. Mmmm...spaghetti and blood balls. 

Since he just, you know, murdered two guys in cold blood, Michael flees to Sicily, where he marries a young Sicilian woman named Apollonia. Back in New York, all five of the major mafia families (Corleones included) go to war. But tragedy strikes on both continents: a car bomb intended for Michael ends up killing Apollonia, and Sonny is assassinated at a toll-booth (partly thanks to the conniving, wife-beating Carlo, his sister's husband).

So far so bad.

The Don is forced to sign a truce with the Tattaglias and agree to their drug scheme, while Michael is able to return to America. Don Corleone realizes that another Don, Barzini, was the real mastermind behind the assassination attempts against him.

Nothing like a little Don vs. Don scheming.

With the Don getting too old to handle family business, he slips into an adviser role. Michael becomes the new acting-Don, marries Kay Adams (his old girlfriend from the beginning of the movie), and begins the hard work of reassembling the Corleone family's shattered reputation. He puts pressure on the family's casino associate, Moe Greene, who risks making a deal with Barzini, and he tries to identify the traitor who's attempting to help Barzini.

Wanna guess who it is? Turns out to be Tessio, one of their main partners. 


Speaking of his sister's child's baptism, Michael becomes the baby's literal godfather. And in one of the most famous cinematic scenes ever, we flash between the baptism (aww!) and a massacre that Michael ordered (...not aww).

Michael's hit-men kill the rival Dons, including Tattaglia and Barzini, Tessio, and Moe Greene. Michael exposes Carlo as a traitor and has him killed, too.


In the end, Michael denies killing Carlo to a distraught Connie and swears the same to Kay. Kay watches as Michael's capos (under-bosses) assemble in his office, paying their respects to the new Godfather. 

The door to his office closes, and the movie ends.

Make way for sequels.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • The movie begins with Bonasera, a man seeking a favor, visiting Don Corleone in the Godfather's home office. He explains that he always believed in America, and it treated him well—until his daughter was beat up by her boyfriend and another man after she refused to have sex with them.
    • He explains that the American justice system failed to punish the men, and he realized he needed to go to the Don.
    • Don Corleone wants to know why Bonasera went to the cops first, and Bonasera says he'll do whatever the Don wants. He whispers, telling the Don he wants him to kill the men who attacked his daughter.
    • The Don understands that Bonasera never visited him to ask for a favor because he didn't want to be in debt to a criminal—but he's not asking for justice, since his daughter's still alive.
    • Bonasera finally kisses the Godfather's hand and begs to be his friend. The Godfather agrees to make the attackers suffer as Bonasera's daughter suffered (not murder them though), in exchange for a future favor.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • Outside, people are enjoying the Don's daughter's wedding. The guests dance and laugh at the tables, as FBI agents show up and start photographing license plates.
    • Vito Corleone greets another rival Don, Don Barzini.
    • Sonny, the Godfather's eldest son, tells the FBI agents who are writing down license plate numbers to scram, and smashes a photographer's camera.
    • Vito Corleone handles another favor, one to help a baker stay in the US, and Michael, the Don's son, arrives at the wedding with his girlfriend, Kay. Tom Hagen greets them, and Michael explains that Tom is his adopted brother and a lawyer and adviser to the Godfather.
    • The Don meets with his henchman, Luca Brasi, in his office, and the guests have fun outside, while Sonny sneaks away to commit adultery.
    • Johnny Fontane, a Frank Sinatra-style singer and the Godfather's godson, arrives at the party and makes the guests freak out (in a positive way).
    • Michael tells Kay about how the Godfather helped Johnny out. His henchman, Luca Brasi, held a gun to a bandleader's head and forced him to release Johnny from a contract. Kay is shocked, but Michael claims that this represents his family, not him.
    • Johnny goes to talk to the Godfather in private. He complains that a producer won't give him a role, leading the Godfather to slap him and tell him to act like a man. But he agrees to help, too.
    • Tom Hagen and the Don discuss the looming problem they're going to need to deal with: the drug-dealer Sollozzo and his business offer.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • The scene shifts to Hollywood, where Tom Hagen has been dispatched to convince Jack Woltz, a producer, to hire Johnny Fontane for a role.
    • Hagen makes Woltz an offer of help in exchange for the role, but Woltz takes it as a threat and flips out on Hagen, attacking his presumed Italian ethnicity (Hagen isn't Italian, though).
    • Hagen arranges another meeting, telling Woltz to call his number.
    • Later, outside Woltz's house, he shows Tom around and says he didn't know he worked for the extremely important Vito Corleone, which changes things.
    • Woltz shows Tom his beautiful and expensive prize racing horse, Khartoum, before they head back into the house and eat dinner.
    • Again, things go badly. Woltz says that he'll do any favor except give Fontane the part in the movie, even though it would be perfect for him. He's mad that Johnny stole a young starlet protégé from Woltz (whom Woltz was sleeping with).
    • Woltz angrily tells Tom to leave, and he exits politely.
    • The next morning, Woltz wakes up in a pool of blood. He's not injured, but Khartoum's severed head is in bed next to him. He screams in horror.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • In New York City, Vito, Tom, and Sonny are meeting with a drug-dealing gangster named Sollozzo. He's into the hard stuff: narcotics, heroin.
    • Vito asks Tom and Sonny what they think about Sollozo's offer. Sollozzo wants them to go into business with him, using their political connections to help him spread his drug business, partnering with the Tattaglia family.
    • Sonny and Tom both think it's lucrative and a good idea. But Vito disagrees. He politely refuses Sollozzo's offer, saying that he can't afford to alienate his political allies in government and that he considers drugs to be a dirty business.
    • They get some flowers from Johnny before the scene ends, thanking Vito for getting him the role. The horse head worked.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • Vito sends his henchman, Luca Brasi, to go visit with the Tattaglias and Sollozzo, pretending like he wants to switch sides. He wants to know what they're up to.
    • Meanwhile, Mike and Kay go Christmas shopping and talk together in bed in a hotel.
    • Back with Vito, he and Fredo (another son) are going to drive into the city. Vito's bodyguard has called in sick.
    • The action switches to Luca, who approaches Bruno Tattaglia (the Tattaglia Don's son) and Sollozzo at a bar. They act like they're making a deal with him, but Sollozzo stabs Luca in the hand, and an assassin strangles him from behind with wire.
    • A little later, Sollozzo pulls up next to Tom Hagen on the street and makes him get in his car.
    • Elsewhere, Don Corleone and Fredo stop to buy some fruit in the city. Hit-men attack the Don, shooting him multiple times. He collapses in the street next to his car, as Fredo weeps over him.
    • Outside Radio City Music Hall, Michael and Kay are walking together. He sees a newspaper saying that his father may have been murdered, and rushes away to call Sonny. Sonny isn't sure whether the Don is still alive or not.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • At Sonny's house, he meets with Clemenza, one of his father's associates. They suspect Paulie, the bodyguard who called in sick, of being involved in the assassination plot.
    • Sollozzo phones Sonny and tells him he's kidnapped Tom Hagen. He'll release Tom with a new business proposition.
    • Sollozzo tells Tom that he's assassinated the Godfather (he thinks) and that there's no point in starting some big fight. He needs to talk Sonny into accepting the drug deal to avoid bloodshed. Tom agrees to try, but says that it'll be tough.
    • Yet, Sollozzo and Tom receive word that Don Corleone is actually still alive. A little later, at the family's compound, Michael hears that his father is still alive from Clemenza.
    • Michael, Clemenza, Sonny, and Tom sit around, discussing what to do (though Sonny tells Michael to stay out of it). Sonny wants to attack the Tattaglias in revenge, but Tom says its only necessary to kill Sollozzo.
    • He also says that, if Don Corleone dies, they should make the deal. Sonny squabbles with him.
    • Paulie arrives and tells them someone has a package at the gates. In private, Sonny orders Clemenza to have Paulie killed for betraying the Don.
    • It turns out that the package is a fish wrapped in Luca Brasi's bulletproof vest—meaning that he "sleeps with the fishes." (His body is at the bottom of a river.)
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • The next day, Clemenza goes out, promising to get his wife some cannoli. He drives in a car with Paulie and another gangster.
    • When Clemenza stops to pee (by design), the other gangster shoots Paulie. Clemenza remembers to take the cannoli back for his wife.
    • Back in the family home, Michael sits around, while Clemenza cooks Italian food, explaining how it's done. Michael gets a call from Kay and discovers he can't tell her he loves her.
    • He gets ready to go to see his father at the hospital. Sonny wants him to take a bodyguard, but he doesn't.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • Michael gets dinner with Kay first, and tells her she can't come to the hospital. He doesn't want her involved.
    • When he arrives, he discovers that the cops have forced out the Don's guards. He's lying there alone and unprotected, except for a nurse who keeps telling Michael he shouldn't be there.
    • Michael tells Sonny to send someone, and gets the nurse to help him move his father into another room after explaining that men are coming to kill him.
    • Enzo, the baker whom Don Corleone helped stay in America, arrives with flowers to thank the Don. Michael gets him to stand on the stairs with him. They act like armed guards, and the would-be assassins end up just driving away, scared off.
    • The cops arrive, and Michael encounters the corrupt Captain McCluskey. McCluskey decks Michael in the face, after Michael accuses him of being in cahoots with Sollozzo to help kill his father (which he is).
    • Tom arrives with private detectives, paid to guard Don Corleone. He tells the police they can't legally prevent this.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • Back at the Corleone compound, Clemenza and Michael arrive. They discover that Sonny had the Tattaglia Don's son, Bruno, killed, in retaliation for the near-assassination at the hospital.
    • Sonny and Tom argue. Sonny doesn't want to deal with Sollozzo—who wants to try to make a deal with Michael as the Corleone representative—but Tom thinks they should talk to him.
    • They've discovered that McCluskey is guarding Sollozzo, making him invulnerable. If they take him down, they need to take down both.
    • Michael and Clemenza are both in favor of killing Sollozzo and McCluskey, even though he's a cop. Michael personally offers to do it, since Sollozzo and McCluskey want to meet with him.
    • Sonny mocks the idea, but Tom starts to warm up to it, as Michael explains the plan and how they can get the newspapers against McCluskey for being so corrupt, after Michael kills him.
    • Clemenza shows Michael how to commit the murder, giving him shooting lessons. He says that it'll start a war between the five families, but it needs to happen.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • Later, on the night of Michael's mission, Tom, Clemenza, Michael, Tessio (the other capo along with Clemenza), and Sonny sit around, waiting to here where the meeting with Sollozzo will be held so they can plant a gun. It turns out that it's at Louis's restaurant in the Bronx.
    • As Michael prepares to leave, Sonny says he'll tell their mother and Kay that Michael sends his love. He'll be fleeing the country once he succeeds.
    • Sollozzo and McCluskey apologize to Mike for what happened to his father and for hitting him, and said they wanted things to go differently. McCluskey frisks him.
    • They act like they're going to drive to Jersey, before doubling back on the bridge and heading to the Bronx (to Michael's relief).
    • At the restaurant, after acting like he's going to make a deal with Sollozzo, Michael goes to the bathroom. He finds the planted gun and comes back out.
    • After a moment at the table, he shoots Sollozzo in the head, and then shoots McCluskey in the throat and in the head. He drops the gun and walks out, where he gets picked up.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • Next, there's a montage of newspapers with headlines and gangsters sitting around doing things. The papers report on the cop-killing, the fact that McCluskey was corrupt, the gang war that's now breaking out, and Vito's return home.
    • We see Vito leave the hospital and return to the family compound. Family members visit.
    • The Don is disturbed to learn from Sonny that Michael had to flee the country, as Sonny reports news on the mob war to him. They're also sending Fredo to Las Vegas to learn the casino biz and protect him.
    • Later, Sonny argues with Tom. Sonny wants to kill the Tattaglia Don, but Tom says that the war is starting to calm down and it would be a bad idea to make any rash moves. Sonny accuses Tom of not being a real Sicilian wartime adviser, but then apologizes.
    • At dinner, he and Carlo have a discussion, and argue with Connie when she tells Sonny not to talk business. Sonny ends up yelling at Carlo when he scolds Connie.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • In Sicily, Michael walks down a country road with two bodyguards. They meet the Don who's protecting Michael, Don Tommasino, who's worried Michael was wandering too far from the house.
    • He walks around with his bodyguards, Fabrizio and Calo, telling them about New York. They see a village where all the men have been killed due to different vendettas, and witness a procession of American G.I.s still occupying the country.
    • Michael sees a girl picking flowers and seems to fall in love at first sight. Later, at a café, they encounter a man named Vitelli, and tell him about the woman Michael saw. He gradually realizes it's his daughter and becomes angry.
    • Michael speaks to him and convinces him that he wants to court his daughter in the old-fashioned Sicilian way, with family supervision.
    • Michael presents gifts to Apollonia and spends time with her, attended by her family.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    • Back in New York, Sonny goes from visiting his mistress to his sister's place. He discovers that Connie's face is bruised. Her husband Carlo has beaten her.
    • Sonny is extremely angry, and goes out to find Carlo.
    • Carlo is sitting on a stoop near the street. Sonny pulls up in a car and goes to town, punching and kicking Carlo, before smashing him repeatedly with a garbage can's lid.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    • In Sicily, Michael and Apollonia get married, followed by a topless scene on their wedding night.
    • Back in New York, we see Kay talk to Tom Hagen and try to give him a letter. He says that he (needs to act like he) doesn't know where Michael is and can't give him Kay's letter for that reason. She's upset because she hasn't been able to make contact with him.
    • Next, we shift to Connie and Carlo's apartment. A girlfriend apparently calls Carlo, but Connie picks up the phone. This leads to an argument, and Carlo savagely beats Connie with a belt.
    • Connie calls Sonny to ask him to come help her. Sonny speeds out of the family compound in a car, though Tom tries to stop him, since he knows Sonny's life is at risk if he leaves the compound.
    • Assassins ambush Sonny at a toll-booth and murder him, riddling his corpse with bullets. Tom arrives moments later and then leaves.
    • Somberly, at home, Tom tells Vito what happened. Vito says he wants no vengeance—they're going to end this mob war.
    • They bring Sonny's corpse to Bonasera, the undertaker from the beginning of the film, and Vito asks Bonasera to make Sonny's corpse presentable so his mother won't see how many times he's been shot. The Don weeps.
  • Scene 15

    Scene 15

    • In Sicily, Michael is teaching his wife how to drive, when Don Tommasino arrives bringing the bad news about Sonny's death. He thinks things have gotten dangerous and wants Michael to move to a safer village.
    • But before Michael can do this, Fabrizio turns traitor and plants a bomb in his car. However, when it goes off, it doesn't kill Michael—it murders his wife.
    • Injured in bed, Michael asks for them to find Fabrizio—but he's escaped.
  • Scene 16

    Scene 16

    • In New York, Don Corleone is sitting down with the other Dons in a big meeting to end the war.
    • Don Corleone explains that he's still opposed to drugs, and only refused to give them political help on that one issue. But Don Barzini says that it's not fair that they shouldn't receive the aid. Another Don, Zaluchi, argues for trying to control the drug trade and says they should only sell it to African-Americans (he's quite racist).
    • Don Corleone agrees to forgo the vengeance of his son. But he says that if anyone tries to kill Michael, he will seek vengeance. In the end, he has to cave to the drug deal and make peace, embracing Tattaglia.
    • Outside in the car, he tells Tom that he didn't know Barzini was the mastermind until after this meeting just now.
    • Michael's home, and still wants to avenge the deaths of Sonny and his wife. He tells Vito about this in the family's vegetable garden, and Vito doesn't disagree, but says that Michael has a lot of time to think about it.
    • Michael goes to see Kay and tells her that he's going to try to turn his father's business into a legal and legitimate enterprise.
    • At first Kay refuses to marry him, but he says that he loves her and wants to have children with her. They get in a car together.
  • Scene 17

    Scene 17

    • With Vito present, Michael, now the head of the family, argues with Tessio and Clemenza abut how to approach dealing with Barzini. He wants them to bide their time.
    • He says they can form their own families once he transfers the family's base of operations to Nevada.
    • Michael says Tom is going to be their lawyer in Las Vegas, and Carlo will help him out there too. Vito will be his chief adviser. Tom is irritated that he's lost his top adviser status at first, but accepts it when they tell him they're going into war-like territory.
  • Scene 18

    Scene 18

    • In Las Vegas, Michael and Tom meet with Fredo, Johnny Fontane, and others, dismissing the girls and band Fredo has brought for the occasion.
    • Moe Greene, one of their main casino business associates, enters, and ends up arguing with Michael. Michael wants to buy him out, since he's losing money, but Moe refuses. Michael is also irritated that Moe slapped Fredo around one time. Irritated, Moe says he can switch his allegiance to Barzini if he wants, and leaves.
    • Fredo tries to defend Moe, but Michael tells him not to go against the family.
  • Scene 19

    Scene 19

    • In a car back in New York, Michael rides with Kay and his infant son. He explains he has business to go over later in the day, and Kay tells him that Connie wants him to be godfather to her newborn son. Michael says he'll think about it.
    • In a garden, he discusses Barzini with his father. Vito says that Barzini will use a traitor in the family to set up a meeting with him, and then kill him at the meeting.
    • Don Corleone admits that, while he doesn't regret being a gangster, he never wanted this life for Michael. He wanted him to be a governor or a senator or something. Michael says there's still time to get there.
    • We see the Don, later, messing around with Anthony in the garden, showing him how to use a spray gun. He puts a piece of orange in his mouth and inadvertently scares Anthony, before convincing him it's all right. He chases Anthony around the garden… and dies from a heart attack.
  • Scene 20

    Scene 20

    • The family members all gather at Don Corleone's funeral. Barzini is there and he uses Tessio to arrange a meeting with Michael. Michael realizes that Tessio is the traitor and tells Tom. He intimates to Tom that he'll have all the traitors and rival dons killed.
    • Next, the scene switches between the baptism of Connie's child, where Michael is becoming godfather to her baby, and the assassins who are getting ready to kill his enemies.
    • As Michael goes through the ritual, the assassins take out one rival after another: Moe Greene is shot in the eye while receiving a massage, Tattaglia gets murdered while in bed with a woman (she dies too), Barzini is gunned down on the steps of New York's Supreme Court. One Don gets shot in an elevator and another is shot after being trapped in a revolving door.
    • Outside, Michael arranges a meeting with Carlo, while telling Kay he'll be gone on business in Vegas for a few days.
  • Scene 21

    Scene 21

    • Back at the family compound, Tessio realizes his scheme has fallen apart when Tom tells him Michael won't be coming. Gangsters escort Tessio to the car where they'll later murder him, presumably.
    • At Carlo's house, Michael confronts him about Sonny's death. He gets Carlo to admit that he intentionally beat Connie in order to lure Sonny out of the compound so he'd be assassinated. Carlo confesses that Barzini was the one who put him up to it.
    • Michael says that he'll let Carlo live as long as he departs for Nevada and leaves the family for good. But, actually, he has Carlo murdered in the car as soon as Carlo gets in.
  • Scene 22

    Scene 22

    • As Michael prepares to move out of the Corleone compound, his sister runs inside and confronts him in his office. She accuses him of killing her husband and turns to Kay, saying that she should read the papers and see how many men Michael's ordered dead.
    • Connie leaves after Michael tries to hug her.
    • Kay asks Michael if what Connie said is true. At first, Michael tells her not to ask him about his business, but then he agrees to answer one time. He lies, saying that it's not true. They hug and Kay goes to get him a drink.
    • From the other room, she sees Clemenza and other gangsters meeting with Michael in his office. One of them closes the door, and the movie ends.