Stereotypical Gangster Life Imagery: The Godfather

Published: 2021-06-23
2008 words
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University of Richmond
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Movie review
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The Mafia for a long time on the history of Hollywood has been a compelling band of stock villains that have been repeatedly used in movies to an extent their portrayal is adapted in popular culture. The Mafia has been a group that characterized the suave organized crime system that is present in many countries in the world. As gangsters, they have been made in films to represent a particular image that suits their portrayal in popular culture. The Italian Mafia has many variations around the world with the Triads in China, Mafiya in Russia, and Yakuza of Japan. Portrayal of these organized crime groups has adopted a structure that has turned into a stereotype as can be seen in films such as Francis Ford Coppolas The Godfather. In The Godfather, the main characters are Italian-Americans who perpetuate the stereotypical gangster of the time in their culture, mannerisms, dressing, and talk. Francis Ford Coppolas The Godfather is a perpetuation of the stereotypical gangster with their culture, mannerisms, dressing, and talk depicted as vengeful, follow a strict code of honor that places family first, does not cooperate with the police, obedient to the Don and assist each other in addition to a contradictory sense of morality.

The picture of stereotypical organized crime in the United States that people are most familiar with is the Sicilian or the American-Italian mafia (Roman 37). The members of the Mafia live according to a strict code of honor that does not cooperate with the police. In The Godfather, the members of the mafia do not cooperate with the police and informers are known as rats. Marty 'Monk' Malone informs Trapani of an informer in the family. Trapani orders the death of the informer. However, Marty kills the supposed informer first only to emerge he was the informer. Marty 'Monk' Malone is then executed for being an informer. The gangster stereotype dictates that people who tell on authorities about the gangsters are condemned to be punished. In The Godfather, the stereotype is perpetuated by the treatment of informers in the film.

Stereotypically, the Don is a clever, merciless and gentlemanly mob boss or head of a crime syndicate or family. In The Godfather, the Don Corleone shows his shrewdness in his business dealings and his mercilessness in the manner he treats dissenters. The Don is clever in the way he treats people to get things done for him and his associates. He uses fear to intimidate the undertaker and treats Luca Bracci respectfully to earn his trust. In the now famous line in popular culture where he makes an offer the Hollywood producer cannot refuse. Johnny Fontane goes to the Don whimpering about how he lost a movie part but the Don hears nothing of it and reprimands Johnny harshly to snap out of it. The Don in doing Amerigo Bonasera, orders an assault on the men who attacked his daughter.

The gangster stereotype also dictates that they put family first above everything else. When big shot producer Woltz refuses to allow Johnny take the lead role in a film, Vito sends Tom Hagen to convince Woltz to give Johnny the role. However, Woltz is adamant but Vito argues that he would make Woltz an offer he could not refuse. The Don does all these actions because Johnny is family and the Don is happy when his family is happy. When Paulies disloyalty is discovered, Sonny is quick to call one of his best men Pete Clemenza to take him out. The swift call for elimination of Paulie is due to the fact that Paulie did not appreciate the role of family, people who stick by your side through thick and thin. The film has a long shot of Paulie being shot in his car while the Statue of Liberty is in the upper left hand section of the screen. By being disloyal, Paulie breaks family ties and warrants his death. Michael Corleone also shows the importance of family especially sticking together.

Fredo, youre my older brother, and I love you. But dont ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever. Michael Corleone

Michale warns Fredo against being disloyal because their code of ethics is very strict in its obligations towards family.

The perceptions that the public bears of Italian-Americans and the mafia to a large extent are influenced by the mass media. Italians are viewed by many people as mobsters and gangsters (Roman 37). While this is not true considering that Italians are only a small percentage of the American population and only a small percentage have been convicted of crime, the media perpetuates the point of view of Italians as mobsters and gangsters (Bovenkerk, Dina and Damian 23). Individuals may not have met Italians or Italian mobsters for that matter. However, films such as The Godfather perpetuate these stereotypes. The Godfather carries images of wealth and violence that have a major influence on the perceptions of the Italians in the public eye. The Godfather bears many stereotypes among them the dressing of the characters. The dark pin striped suit is a mark of influence coupled with expensive jewelry and an exotic accent.

The Godfather works to perpetuate mannerisms of the stereotypical gangster in its portrayal of mannerisms of the characters in particular how they carry themselves. The characters on the screen are always touching themselves. It is common to see individuals with thumbs stuck into their belts. In addition, touching or rubbing the jaw is common so is a slight tilting of the head when talking especially to make emphasis. In the scene where Michael is talking to Fredo when he suspects the former of trying to collude with their enemies, Michael tilts his head a little to the side in a close up shot to tell Fredo that even though he is family, collaborating with enemies is punishable nonetheless. In addition, it is also common to see characters adjusting their shirt regularly even though the shirt has no observable flaw. The characters also grip the crotch area of their pants severally as they move or stand.

Vengeance is an important aspect of gangsters in The Godfather. When the film opens, Bonasera, the undertaker, has gone to the Don asking for help to get revenge against men who beat his daughter badly for refusing to participate in sexual acts with them. The undertaker went through the legal process first but feels he was shortchanged when the men are released by the court on a suspended sentence and turns to the Don for a better solution. Bonasera wants the men killed. However, the Don in a show of twisted morality only asks the men to be beaten up as opposed to being killed. The scene where the undertaker asks the Don for help is also a show of the importance of family. The Don is unhappy that Bonasera, who is considered family because Don Corleone's wife is a godmother to Bonasera's daughter, did not come to him first for help but went to the police. The Don believes that Bonasera was afraid of being indebted to him and considers this as an insult. The scene stresses the importance of family looking out for each other and the importance of vengeance among gangsters.

At times however, gangsters have to make a compromise to avoid purist of vengeance as a strategy because they see the bigger picture. This is evident in The Godfather when Don Corleone bans any act of vengeance following the murder of his son.

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.

The Don even though he feels angry that he cannot get revenge for the killing of his son, orders that no acts of vengeance be carried out. He is humiliated in calling for what seems a contravention of their code. However, the bigger picture is that the killing is bad for business. In addition, they are even because Sonny also orders the killing of Tattaglia's son earlier in the movie. The Don accepts the loss compared to vengeance because he judges a war will cost him more than the son he has lost.

The morality of the gangster life is also complicated because it contradicts itself. Basically, in The Godfather, the main argument is that they are good to family but ruthless to outsiders. This means that they can harm family members of other people but their families should remain untouched. The code juxtaposes legal and moral justice. Legal justice dictates that grievances are settled in court according to the precincts of the law. Legal justice is also not emotional and does not have room for revenge. Moral justice on the other hand calls for restitution if not retribution. Any harm caused according to moral justice is paid back in a fair and equal manner so that the victim is compensated. The legal system was not fair for Bonasera since he sought moral justice. Bonasera therefore went to ask the Don to kill the men that had assaulted his daughter. The Godafther does not agree to kill the men but rather beat them as they beat Bonaseras daughter.

The Godfather has several other instances of moral justice. Connie Corleone is beaten by her husband, Carlo Rizzi. When her brother, Sonny Corleone sees the injuries that were caused by the beating from Carlo, he wants the latter killed. Sonny wants to take justice for his sister. However, Sonny does not kill Carlo because of the understanding that an eye for an eye. Sonny tracks down Carlo and assaults him which is considered a suitable punishment according to the gangster moral justice system. Violence in The Godfather is a common occurrence as portrayed by the incident (Graham 2). The moral code is complicated because it offers its brand of justice that at times is lopsided.

Gangsters are known as a violent lot if not having a propensity towards violence. In The Godfather, violence is used almost as a way of life. Bonasera seeks a violent solution to his grievance with the men that assaulted his daughter. One of the most violent scenes is when Michael shoots Sollozo and McCluskey. Another rviolent scene is when Sonny is killed on his way to his sisters house. The editing of the film captures the violence in fast paced shots that show the intensity of the film. There is also an attempt on the Dons life when he is shot while shopping for fruit. Woltz after turning down Johnny for a role in his film gets a decapitated horses head in his bed as a sign from the Don that he should obey his commands or he might get the same fate that befell the horse. Luca Brasi is stabbed and garroted in the film. After Vitos death, Michael orders the murder of the heads of all the rival families.


While stereotypes are generalizations made from unverified information, to some extent they may or may not be true. However, when they are repeatedly perpetuated, to some parties they may seem like the reality. Gangsters and especially Italian Americans have been portrayed as vengeful, follow a strict code of honor that places family first, do not cooperate with the police, obedient to the Don and assist each other in addition to a contradictory sense of morality. In The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola continues to deliver the stereotypical image of gangster life and in particular Italian-Americans who are portrayed as loyal to family, violent, vengeful, contradictory in their sense of morality and have unique culture and mannerisms.

Works Cited

The Godfather. Directed by Francis F. Coppola, Perf. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Richard S. Castellano. 1973. Paramount, 2004.

Bovenkerk, Frank, Dina Siegel, and Damian Zaitch. "Organized crime and ethnic reputation

manipulation." Crime, Law and Social Change 39.1 (2003): 23-38.

Graham, Paul. "Revisiting Violence in The Godfather: The Ambiguous Space of the Victimage

Model." Journal of Religion & Film 9.2 (2016): 2.

Roman, Ediberto. "Who exactly is living la vida loca: The legal and political conseq...

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