OK, as a long-tern GF fan, I’m confused. In GF II , Michael wants to make the Corleone Family “legit”-so he plans to invest the family swag in a Las Vegas hotel/casino (now owned by Moe Green), and some kind of joint venture in Havana (with Hyman Roth). Johnny Olla (Roth’s “sicilian messenger boy”) comes to Lake Tahoe, and tells Mike that “everthing is solid”-Mike can trust Hyman Roth.
Then all hell breaks loose-Roth tries to have Michael killed (and the very dumb Fredo is a likely mole in the plan). My question: is Roth doing this because Michael had Green killed? Mike’s discussion with Senator Slime Geary made me think that the Corleones never acquired the Moe Green casino-otherwise, why would Michael have sought Sen. Geary’s help?
This Roth is a puzzling character-he’s dying of a bad heart, but he’s still trying to wipe out the Corleones-why? He has his trashy little box house in Miami-and eats tunafish dandwiches for lunch-what drives him?

The Green angle is curious. If that was the motivation for trying to take out Michael, then his early monologue about “not asking questions” doesn’t quite jibe. I know he could be lying to throw Mike off, but that explanation doesn’t satisfy.

First, what we know: Fredo is definitely a mole, motivated by the fact that he was passed up as Don in favor of Michael, even though he’s older (but really, really stupid). The Corleones took over Moe Greene’s operation, but want to expand further, hence they need another license. (If you go back over the conversation Michael has with Geary he explains that the licenses for the existing casinos were grandfathered in.)

Hyman Roth is a bit of a puzzle. Vito warned Michael not to trust Roth–a fact Frankie Pentangeli (who succeeds Clemenza as capo for the Corleone’s old turf) reminds him of when Michael visits him in New York. The (later) attempted hit on Frankie (which he thinks Michael was responsible for, driving him to turn state’s evidence) was also a setup by Roth via the Rosato Brothers. (The early assassination attempt on Michael was supposed to look like it was drawn by Pentangeli but was actually Roth’s doing.)

What is the dying Roth up to? He doesn’t seem interested in revenge for Moe Greene–as he explains, it’s just business, and Moe wouldn’t deal. He might be pissed over Michael exiting the partnership is father and Roth engaged in, but again, that doesn’t really get him anything. My best guess is that he wants to take over the Corleone’s turf in New York via intermediaries and is just trying to forment problems between Pentangeli and the Corleones so that Michael doesn’t use his influence, but frankly Pentangeli looks like he’s going to cave anyway; he’s just not authoritative enough to run a Family. Roth wants Michael to invest in Cuba, even though its obvious to both of them that Cuba is a very risky proposition at that point. Is he planning to scam Michael and run with the investment? It seems like a peculiar thing for a businessman to do. It’s also possible that he looks to take over the Corleone’s legitimate interests in Las Vegas (succeeding for his own pal Moe Greene) via Fredo, but frankly I don’t see that working, either; Fredo is too stupid, even as a puppet, and with the Corleone’s fallen and Michael’s influence lost I don’t think even the cunning Roth could make that work.

I would guess Roth is just playing both ends to the middle, a divide and conquer strategy to weaken his former partners who he no longer trusts. He doesn’t seem to have an heir apparent, so maybe he’s just tearing stuff down before he dies. In the end, he declares that he just wants to emmigrate to Israel in his retirement, and is shot in the airport as he’s brought back by the FBI, presumably to keep him from divulging information about the Corleone’s past criminal activity.

That’s my best guess, anyway. Ultimately, Roth exists as a foil for Michael, forcing him to get his hands bloody even as he tries to extract his family from its history and go “legit”. It’s a good plot device, but Roth himself is an enigma.


The plot convolutions in GF II (the 1950’s half) have always slightly diminished my appreciation of this fine film. In other words…I can never figure out what the hell is going on, because everything everyone says is a lie.

(And, btw, there is now a statue of Bugsy Siegel (aka “Moe Green”) in Vegas, behind the Flamingo.)

How apropos. :slight_smile:

…and the current Flamingo (not the original) is almost the biggest dump on the strip. Actually now that the Stardust is gone, it may BE the biggest dump.

Yea, I think Roth (Lansky) is just playing both ends against the middle. He knows that the Rosario brothers want New York, so he’s arranged it so that no matter who wins in the the fight for New York, he’ll be friends with the winner.

So just what sort of mafia Boss was Don Corleone? He seems to have been less addicted to violence than others (like Barzini). Judging from the fact that the poor undertaker’s services were never needed(much to Mr. Bonasera’s relief), can we conclude that the Corleone family was your basic olive oil importer, with some gambling, whoring, and loan sharking thrown in? The Don refuses to get into the heroin business (which leads to him taking 5 bullets)-presumably he is repelled by the effect that drug addiction would have on children. Plus, we don’t hear much about hits and murders (till the Corleone-Tattaglia war gets underway). So was the old man basically a non-violent criminal? I get the feeling that he preferred less bloody ways to get his way-murders were ‘bad for business”.

Michael at one point says something to the effect of, “Roth talks like I’m his successor, but he thinks he’s going to live forever.”

I think this is the key to Roth’s behavior. He is playing the game like he always has - to build his holdings. Even though a part of him knows that he doesn’t have long to go, he doesn’t know how to live any other way. He is a true shark. If he stops moving forward, he dies.

Vito didn’t care about the effect it would have on children. He cared about the effect it would have on his political and legal contacts. His main business was controlling the unions. The other stuff - gambling, prostitution, and loan sharking were extras.

He was definitely not non-violent, but he used violence judiciously. He saw it as just another tool to be used.

But, as shown in the “flashback” sections of the movie, the young Vito was certainly capable of murdering someone for his business interests - he laid in wait for Fanucci and wasted him rather than keep paying him tribute.

The Don uses Bonasera the undertaker for Sonny’s funeral, so “his mother won’t see him like this.” (I would imagine that any competent undertaker would’ve done the same thing, but whatever.)

In general, yeah…we’re given the impression that the Don specializes in victimless crimes. There’s a scene in the book where we’re told that Luca Brazzi took a chainsaw to some of Al Capone’s guys who tried to muscle in on the Don’s territory; but that was 20 years prior.

Re: Vito’s violence and bussiness sense

It’s clear that Vito longed for his family to be legit and saw his hope in Michael (" 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 string held by all those bigshots. I don’t apologize - that’s my life - but I thought that, that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the string. Senator Corleone; Governor Corleone. Well, it wasn’t enough time, Michael. It wasn’t enough time. "). The mob was a last resort (contrary to Hyman’s philosphy - “this is the business we chose”). He was orphaned by Don Ciccio, his job was stolen by Don Fannuci’s nephew. That’s why he was so upset when he found out Michael pulled the hit on Sollozo and McCluskey. He passed this desire for legitimacy on to Michael, who. for a while. bought into it (“In five years, the Corelone family will be completely legitimate”).

Vito was a business man and saw heroin as a bad business move (he was right - the shift to the drug trade was the beginnig of the end for the Italian mob). Unnecessary violence was bad business to.

Rosato (they’re Italian not Peurto Rican)

Fanucci deserved it. He wasn’t a boss, he was an extortionist trying to muscle in on the Corleone/Clemenza/Tessio racket, and he was a weak prick at that. Vito saw how easily he caved (from $600 to $100) and recognized an opening. The last (and totally uncessary) shot in the mouth was just brilliant.

I’ve never read the books, but in the movie version one thing sort of bugged me - they don’t really make Michael’s wife’s decision to leave him plausible. She seems to be saying that she finds him “evil” because he’s a gangster who kills people - that’s why she refuses to have more kids by him, and has an abortion. But how could she not know that before? After all, he left her for years in order to run off to Sicilly because he murdered a couple of people, and that was before she married him.

You know, the movie kind of glosses over this as a way of making the Corleones look more noble and sympathetic, but we have plenty of signs that it’s not true. The Don may have gotten a little soft in his old age–certainly, he thinks so of himself–but he didn’t get to be the head of a Family by running a few ‘blue’ businesses. In the GF, Clemenza mentions to Michael as he’s prepping him to assassinate Sollozzo the Turk that they’re overdue for a war, which generally occurs every ten years or so. (Mattresses on the floor, et cetera). Then there’s the story about Johnny Fontaine that Michael tells the story to Kay at the wedding: “Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured the bandleader, that either his signature or his brains would be on the contract.” (In the book, it is explained that the Don is relieved that Brasi gets killed, because he was such a pain in the ass psychotic, but he kept him around for years because he was so useful.)

In GFII, we see Vito kill not only the local bloodsucker, but go back to Sicily and brutally murder the capo who killed his mother and father. And the landlord who comes to him after initially refusing to rent to the woman with a dog seems terrified of Vito. Clearly, he’s not a man unaccustmed to violence. Sonny would have been a brutal, hotheaded Don (which Vito disapproved of–“Sonny was a bad Don,” he tells Michael in the garden) and even Michael is not above some pretty viscious stuff; witness how he sets up Geary to believe that he killed a prostitute during some kinky sex. (Tom Hagen mentions to him that the girl had no family, and that only his “friendship” with the Corleone family remained.) Later, as he plans to have Hyman Roth publically killed, Hagen ask of Michael why he needs to kill everyone. Michael responds, “I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies.” Of course, he does kill his enemies…including, ultimately, his brother, Fredo. In trying to save his family, put it on a legitimate foundation, he has destroyed it, which is really the essence of the Godfather saga; that Michael, as smart as he is, just isn’t the man is father was. He’s fatally flawed, the protagonast of a modern day Greek tragedy which is just incidentally set in a Mafia context.

Regarding drugs, the Don seeks to stay out of the drug business, not just because of its effects on children, but because it would alienate the judges and political figures with which he has influence. It would ultimately undermine his authority for a temporary flush of cash, and would make his family–who, it seems, he always hoped to bring into legitimacy (he tells Michael that he’d hoped he’d become a senator or governer)–untouchable and irredeemable. This is, in fact, analogous to what actually happened to organized crime; their involvement in the drug trade stimulated increased circumspection from federal law enforcement, and unlike the booze-running days of Prohibition, they did not enjoy popular support. A similar theme occurs in the otherwise very different Goodfellas, where Pauli Vario demands of Henry Hill that he stay away from the drug business, as the penalties for getting caught were much more severe. Drugs are bad for business; that’s the Don’s biggest concern about them. And as with everything else, he was disturbingly prescient about it.


I agree with much of this - but I felt that the point was that Michael was in fact very similar to what his father was; that was the problem. He was trying to ‘be strong for his family, like dad’ and he was good at it; but times changed on him, and the old loyalties and certainties just didn’t exist anymore.

Towards the end of GFII he asks his mom if he was losing his family - her reply was basically that it was impossible to lose your family. But in the modern world it is, because the old certain loyalties don’t apply.

So in acting to preserve his family, and the methods which made them rich and powerful, he destroyed it

I never got the impression Kay was aware of what Michael had done to cause his exile in Sicily, other than some vague notion that his life may be in danger. We learn in the beginning that she’s pretty naive as to what goes on in the mob, and Michael does tell her that he’s not involved in it.

When Michael asks to marry her, she obviously has her doubts but chooses to ignore them - she loves Michael, plus he assures her the family will be legitimate within five years. But she can no longer ignore those doubts as the years go by and it’s becoming obvious that his promise is never going to come true. I think the attempted hit in their Tahoe house is the last straw, because the violence is right there staring her in the face.

In the novel, Kay meets with Mrs. Corleone who tells her (Kay) to forget about Michael, “he’s not the man for you.” At the end of the meeting Kay muses to herself that she was told that Michael was a murderer from the most un-impeachable of sources - his own mother.