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A Sentence about a Sentence I Love

“It’s the way Pop wanted it.”

– from The Godfather Part II, screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo

It’s the pivotal sentence, or piece of dialogue, in nearly seven hours of two films made within three years of each other, pivotal in that it is well-known what Don Vito Corleone wanted, yet even if we think we know what we’re dealing with (thank you Chinatown triumvirate John Huston/Robert Towne/Roman Polanski for delivering said line so well), as Fredo might have thought, we don’t, because even if Don Vito had freed himself of his Cronus-like behavior (who can be totally beneficent when their business is murder?) his sons would have grappled to be as big as the big man, and most of the time, what Don Vito wanted, Don Vito got–and because Don Vito wanted it a certain way, two brothers sat down and had this conversation where Fredo told Michael why he schemed behind his back, because Johnny Ola said…

FREDO: …it would be good for the family.

MICHAEL: You believed that story? You believed that?

FREDO: He said there was something in it for me, on my own.

MICHEAL: I’ve always taken care of you Fredo.

FREDO: Taken care of me? You’re my kid brother and you take care of me? Did you ever think about that, huh? Did you ever once think about that? Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo off to do that. Let Fredo take care of some Mickey Mouse nightclub somewhere. Send Fredo to pick somebody up at the airport. I’m your older brother Mike and I was stepped over.

MICHEAL: It’s the way Pop wanted it.

FREDO: It ain’t the way I wanted it. I can handle things, I’m smart. Not like everybody says, not dumb–I’m smart and I want respect…

…so saith Fredo, who earlier Michael described as having, “a good heart but he’s weak, and he’s stupid. And this is life and death,” rightly scripting the next few hours of the film, because it is Fredo’s weakness that kills him, but it is Micheal’s headlong bloodlust that wrecks him in the case of his brother and his wife who has an abortion without telling him, and though Michael can and will easily kill his brother off, drive his wife out of his home, he will not get over the way Pop wanted it because he believes he is carrying the banner for the family and he must fulfill the promise Don Vito had in him; but this is cinema and there are actors involved, so take it from their voices (and the baroque cinematography of Gordon Willis), watch Pacino stand by the windows and touch one to swallow his emotion, watch him slowly enter the scene saturated in darkness, as wintry waves from Lake Tahoe press against this house of death…

…till 0:52, the disowning of his brother being nothing but procedural, yet the real emotion remaining in that one line of defense, maybe the most true thing Micheal says in the entire saga, and poor Fredo struggling, shaking, wanting to explain why, telling his brother that he is jealous, he is angry, quaking (played by actor John Cazale who died at 42 of bone cancer and appeared in only five movies, arguably among the five best of the decade:The Godfather(s), The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter), but he can’t even get up, paralyzed on a ridiculous beach chair in the middle of winter and when he hears “It’s the way Pop wanted it,” he explodes and says he is smart (and he did jeopardize the life of his almost untouchable brother) and wants tribute to be paid and perhaps he is being paid the ultimate tribute because he has threatened Michael severely enough and wronged the family and now his brother must kill him.

4 thoughts on “A Sentence about a Sentence I Love

  1. Nice, though I have to say that my favorite line from the films comes from Don Corleone, who tells Johnny Fontane that it’s good to spend time with his own family “[b]ecause a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

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