Dissertation-Romanticisation of Organised Crime in the Godfather

The Corleones: Family Men, Mafia Gangsters or Romantic Masculine Heroes:

A study of the Gangster figure as the Romantic Hero of the 20th century


            My dissertation will focus on how the Corleone family, and the Mafia gangsters they represent, have been portrayed as romantic masculine heroes in Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather and their subsequent adaptations.  They were not portrayed as criminals, but rather Robin Hood vigilantes who protected the poor from the rich.  Critically examining the conditions that led to the rise of Sicilian and American Gangsterism, I will be arguing that the Mafia was borne out of widespread alienation and emasculation, for which the Corleones provided a cure.  Vito Corleone gave purpose to men who were unable to provide for their families.  He became emblematic of American masculinity by uniting his Old-World identity with a New-World mobility.  He is loyal to his homeland, but is progressive in his ideals.  Furthermore, the Corleones became a mobile unit of masculinity, as they remained united despite their internal and external conflicts.  They became the proto-family to emulate.

Secondly, I will be arguing that Hollywood has fetishsised the extreme masculinity and violence present within The Godfather.  Hollywood appropriated this masculinity and used it to inject hope into an emasculated and disenfranchised American population.  The Mafia, which began as a Robin-Hood movement, was appropriated and Americanised to become the ultimate symbol of masculinity.  The gangster figure was celebrated to make him an acceptable role model to emulate.

Lastly, I will be considering two counter-arguments.  I will be examining how The Godfather‘s misogynistic portrayal of women bolstered the mafioso’s masculinity by adding to his natural charisma and seductive lifestyle.  The second counter-argument focuses on Michael Corleone’s decision to execute his brother Fredo.  This decision demonstrates Michael’s masculinity, because he has the resolve to make the necessary sacrifices for what he believes to be the greater good.


            As much as the Corleone family have been romanticised as honourable, ultra-masculine men who protected and provided for their families, they were actually nothing more than parasitical murderers who killed members of their own people.  However, due to Mario Puzo’s (1969) The Godfather, mafiosi have become romanticised as heroes, motivated by their love for their families who only turned to crime because they felt betrayed by the system that they were working for.  In this essay, I will argue that the Corleones have contributed to the perception of Mafia gangsters as romantic masculine heroes.  James D. Wilson argued that “Romantic heroes [have] reject[ed] established laws, norms and conventions.”[1] This enabled the romantic hero to “choose what values he sees fit for the role he has assumed, since his total rejection of the social order creates a new relationship of self and outer world, new boundaries, and thus new standards of value.”[2] Frederick Garber argued that “outside of the self is the other, which for the romantic hero means society and social values.”[3] Mafia gangsters have come out of this mould.  They have rejected societal norms and values, instead establishing their own norms and values to adhere to.  In doing so they have constructed themselves as “antisocial being[s] who work under a compulsion to affirm the validity of their own rules.”[4] Having established a new set of social values and norms, mafiosi felt compelled to validate them.  They constructed their own moral codes to live by and this, amongst other reasons, is what I will argue has led to the portrayal of the Corleone family as romantic masculine heroes.

Within the first chapter of my dissertation, I will exclusively discuss Mario Puzo’s (1969) The Godfather and the second chapter will solely focus on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy (1972, 1974 and 1990.)  The first chapter will contain the historical background that gave rise to Sicilian and American gangsterism.  Sicily’s constant cultural appropriation laid the ground for the Mafia to rise up.  The emasculation caused by this cultural appropriation is comparable to the wide-spread unemployment caused by the American Great Depression.  Whilst America’s pride might have been restored through their victory in the Second World War, this was quickly undone by their stalemate in Korea and defeat in Vietnam. This international defeat coupled with the internal turmoil of the African-American Civil Rights Movement led to a disenfranchised and emasculated population.  Alienated workforces of men turned to figures like the Corleones for guidance and strength.  The Corleones became the family to emulate.  My second chapter will focus on Hollywood’s fetishsation of the mob narrative.  Beginning with a brief look at how the Mafia has always had a role in show-business, I will argue that Hollywood appropriated the masculinity that was already present within the Corleone characters to create a role model for the everyday man to aspire to.  Hollywood changed the perception of the Mafia gangster from a violent, parasitical criminal to a Robin-Hood figure, who was sometimes forced to do bad things for what he believed to be the greater good.  In its celebration of the gangster figure, Hollywood posited a form of masculinity that it thought would appeal to the working man.  The masculinity present within the Corleone characters is slowly teased out and then magnified to show men the correct way to act and dress.  Hollywood accentuated the natural charisma and seductiveness of the gangster figure to make their masculinity attractive to men.  Finally, I will consider two counter-arguments that assert that the Corleones are criminals and not heroes.  The first counter-argument revolves around the film’s misogny and the second upon Michael Corleone’s decision to execute his brother Fredo.

Chapter 1: Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Masculinity and Family Values

Sicily and nineteenth and twentieth century America were the perfect breeding grounds for generating sympathetic attitudes towards mafiosi.  Throughout history, Sicily has been invaded and occupied.  From the Carthaginians to the Romans and Aragonese, Sicily, as a country, has rarely been in control of its own destiny.  Book III of The Godfather focuses on Vito Corleone’s destiny to become the Godfather.  He is firstly identified as a “real man at the age of twelve.”[5] Even at a young age, his masculinity is apparent.  After his father is executed, Vito is sent to New York where he begins a family and starts “hijacking trucks of silk dresses” (TG, p. 260) and selling them on.  Soon into the operation, he is confronted by the local mafioso Don Fanucci who wants some of his profits.  Vito knows that Fanucci once survived an assassination attempt and quickly identifies the man’s weakness.  He was:

sure that Fanucci had no great connections, could not possibly have.  Not a man who        informed to the police.  Not a man who allowed his vengeance to be bought off.  A real            mafioso chief would have had the other two men killed also.  No.  Fanucci had got lucky        and killed one man but had known he could not kill the other two after they were alerted.            And so he had allowed himself to be paid. (TG, pp. 264-265)

Corleone is attacking Fanucci’s masculinity by claiming him to be sloppy and careless.  If he were a true man, then he would have never suffered three men, who disrespected him, to live.  Furthermore, Don Fanucci is portrayed as a weak leader.  He does not have full control over his neighbourhood as there was “at least one gambling game that had never paid Fanucci tributes and nothing had ever happened to the man running it.” (TG, p. 265) In Corleone’s choice to murder Fanucci and take over his business, his own masculinity is affirmed.  It was:

from this experience came [Vito Corleone’s] oft-repeated belief that every man has but one             destiny.  On that night he could have paid Fanucci the tribute and have become again a     grocery clerk […]  But destiny had decided that he was to become a Don and had brought          Fanucci to him to set him on his destined path.  (TG, p.265)

In executing Fanucci, Corleone does what other men cannot.  He seizes control of his destiny.  Unlike his Sicilian ancestors, he is able to escape the rule of foreign occupiers and progress beyond his humble beginnings.  His is the ultimate rags to riches story going from a peasant boy to becoming the head of one of the Five Families of New York.

Vito Corleone as the proto-typical father figure represents the hopes and dreams of Italian men who travelled to America in search of a better life.  His portrayal as a romantic masculine hero, romanticises the actions of mafiosi, as it demonstrates how illegitimate, immoral acts can lead to success. Compared to the aristocracy who inherited their wealth, Vito Corleone functions as an allegory of the achievements that meritocracy can bring.  He himself comes from a poor background.  His father was killed by the Mafia who had “decided that [Vito] was too close to manhood, that he might try to avenge the death of his father.  [Thus] the twelve year-old Vito was hidden by relatives and shipped to America.” (TG, p. 255) It was from here that “young Vito went to work in the Abbandando grocery store.” (TG, p. 256) However, Vito soon loses this job, which is where he turns to crime to support his family.  Instead of giving up, Vito takes matters into his own hands.  He represents the gangster figure succeeding through the strength of his back.  This would appeal to the peasantry who felt alienated in stagnant Sicily.  Gaia Servadio expands on this idea of stagnation.  She identifies that the Aragonese presence in Sicily led it to “miss the tide of the Italian renaissance, with all that it might have offered in political as well as artistic and scientific development.  Instead the island was to become a backwater,”[6] thus leading to economic inertia and alienation.  When Michael Corleone seeks sanctuary in Sicily, he learns:

about the roots from which his father grew.  That the word “Mafia” had originally meant place of refuge.  Then it became the name for the secret organisation that sprang up to fight            against the rulers that had crushed the country and its people for centuries.  Sicily was a        land     that had been more cruelly raped than any other in history.  The Inquisition had tortured           rich      and poor alike.  The landowning barons and the princes of the Catholic Church exercised       absolute power over the shepherds and farmers. (TG, pp. 433-434)

In this passage, Mafia gangsters are portrayed as vigilantes who protected the poor from the savageries of the rich.  At first the Mafia was a place of sanctuary, but then it became a resistance force fighting against the aristocracy who had ravaged the land and oppressed the people.  The artistocracy held total control over the peasantry who rather than turning to the police instead turned to the “Robin Hood Mafia [and their] local capo-mafioso for help in every emergency.  He was their social worker, their district captain ready with a basket of food and a job, their protector.” (TG, p.434) The nobility who were either unwilling or unable to manage their estates outsourced the responsibility to the gabellotto:

the gabellotto [who were] mafioso who for a certain sum of money protected the real estate          of the rich from all claims made on it by the poor, legal or illegal.  When any poor peasant      tried to implement the law which permitted him to buy uncultivated land, the gabellotto          frightened him off with threats of bodily harm or death.  (TG, p.432)

Gangster figures rose up as defenders of the peasantry.  In appearing to act in the best interests of their community, they are portrayed as romantic masculine heroes.  They were motivated by skewed feelings of honour, in stark contrast to the rich who were motivated by material profit.  By turning to crime, these men were able to regain some of their lost masculinity and identity.  In having whole communities depend and look up to men like Vito Corleone,  to “whom everybody came for help,” (TG, p. 9) gangster figures warranted the respect of their peers.  They became romantic masculine heroes, as the Sicilian peasantry required somebody to rise up and fight for them.

The alienation experienced from their cultural appropriation led to Sicilians emigrating en masse to America to escape the “overpopulated territory, unemployment and poverty.”[7] In 1913, many Sicilians made the crossing, with “emigration reach[ing] its peak of 146,061.”[8] Sicilians braved the voyage as “the poverty and fear and degradation were too awful to be acceptable to any man of spirit.  And in America some emigrating Sicilians had assumed there would be an equally cruel authority.” (TG p.435) Vito Corleone experiences this cruel authority.  When working in the railroad, he was degraded and mistreated by his foremen who “abused the workmen in the foulest language, which Vito always bore stone stone-faced as if he did not comprehend.” (TG, p. 258) As an act of defiance, Vito ignores this verbal abuse.  He demonstrates his stoic masculinity by persevering in his duty and not protesting in a dramatic, emotional outburst.  Other Sicilians were similarly discriminated against.  Servadio notes that:

nineteen members of the Matranga gang were brought to trial, [and] the best criminal        lawyers were hired and won acquittals for all but three of the defendants.  But after the verdict a furious crowd murdered eleven of the mafiosi.  […] When, during the following        days,    several ships brought some four thousand new Italian immigrants […] the crowds         would not let them disembark.[9]

The vast majority of hard-working, honest Italians were being discriminated against because of the actions of the criminal minority.  Despite this ethnic discrimination, mafiosi like Vito Corleone stuck to their roots, thus demonstrating their masculinity.  The Godfather is full of Sicilian terminology.  Tom Hagen is the family’s Consigliori or counsellor, Jack Woltz is described as a “real .90 calibre pezzonovante,” (TG, p. 49) or big-shot, and all mafiosi promise to uphold the code of omertà: the Sicilian law of silence.  Although Vito Corleone was originally born Vito Andolini, upon arriving in America “he changed his name to Corleone to preserve some tie with his native village.” (TG, p. 255) This loyalty to his home country presents the gangster figure as a romantic masculine hero, as it is a defiant act towards the American system.  Sicilians who were unfairly discriminated against because of their race, were able to take comfort in how mafiosi showed a loyalty to their homeland, by refusing to become assimilated by American culture.  They became a symbol of national pride and identity.  Not only were they defying America’s attempts to indoctrinate them but they were also rebelling against the centuries of cultural oppression and occupation, that they had previously experienced.  By staying true to their cultural identities, the Corleones were able to keep a firm grasp on their masculinity.

In 1862 the Homestead Act was introduced, where the American government gave out 160 acres of land for free to anyone willing to occupy and improve it for five years.  Sicilians who had been displaced by the effects of the Industrial Revolution leapt at the chance of being able to own their own lands.  With Sicily’s economy being agrarian based, the shift to an industrial economy, led to the alienation and unemployment of farmworkers.  Unable to provide for their families and function in their primary responsibility of’ ‘bread-winner,’ fathers and husbands travelled to America to make their fortunes and return home.  Vito Corleone, thus functions as a template for what a man should be like.  Even when he is made unemployed, he uses his initiative to provide for his family.  He is described as: “a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed.  He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself.” (TG, p.9) Vito Corleone demonstrates responsibility and accountability.  Like any good father, he commands the respect of his family and community by providing for them.  The men displaced by unemployment were able to look up to Don Corleone as a role model.  Even in the horrors of the Great Depression, he was still able to provide for his family:

the Great Depression increased the power of Vito Corleone. […] Everywhere in the city, honest men begged for honest work in vain.  […] But the men of Don Corleone walked           the       streets with their heads held high, their pockets stuffed with silver and paper money.  With no real fear of losing their jobs.  And even Don Corleone […] could not help feeling a sense         of pride.  He was taking care of his world, his people.  He      had not failed those who        depended on him and gave him the sweat of their brows, risked their freedom and their lives   in his service. (TG, p. 283)

In this passage, Vito Corleone is elevated to god-like status.  He has created his own world where he has cared for his subjects.  They have paid their respects and thus he has restored their lost pride.  These were men who had become emasculated by losing their livelihoods in Sicily and their masculinity was further stripped when the Great Depression prevented them from finding work.  Vito Corleone provided them with a chance to restore their masculinity.  He, and the gangster figure he represents, has become a romantic masculine hero, because of how he enabled whole workforces of men to regain control of their lives and find renewed purpose and meaning.

Not only were these workforces of men given a purpose, but also a code to live by: the code of omertà or the law of silence.  The code of omertà forbade not just mafiosi, but all Sicilians from talking to the police.  This was an unforgivable crime: a deadly betrayal of trust in your capo-mafioso and community.  After Amerigo Bonasera’s daughter is raped and beaten, he first turns to the courts and then Vito Corleone.  Corleone is gravely insulted by this:

why do you fear to give your first allegiance to me? […]  You spend money on lawyers who        know full well you are to be made a fool of.  You accept judgement from a judge who sells        himself like the worst whore in the street.  […] But if you had come to me, my purse would           have been yours.  If you had come to me for justice those scum who ruined your daughter          would be weeping bitter tears this day.  (TG, pp. 33-34)

The rebuke is how Bonsaera first turned to the courts before Corleone.  He is afraid of being in Corleone’s debt and as such does not turn to him.  Corleone punishes Bonsasera by initially spurring his offer for help.  Bonasera, as head of his family, is thus emasculated, as he is rendered helpless in protecting his family and avenging his daughter’s honour.  Bonasera has betrayed the stoic, self-contained nature of Sicilians who refused to talk to the police.  Servadio connects omertà and masculinity.  She identifies that it is:

founded partly on fear, partly on idealism, omertà, literally ‘being a man’ […] is an extreme           form of loyalty and solidarity in the face of authority.  […] A traditional proverb runs:   ‘L’omu ch’e omu non rivela mai mancu si avi corpa di cortella’- the man who is really a man      reveals nothing, not even with a dagger through him.[10]

Masculinity was founded in maintaining a silence.  It is more masculine to keep your problems contained within your family, rather than turning to an outside force for help.  This is especially true if this outside force is part of an oppressive system.  Men used the code of omertà to affirm their own sense of masculinity.  Having become effeminised by centuries of cultural oppression and occupation, staunchly refusing to talk to the police became an act of rebellion.  It helped men to regain their lost masculinity.  In book VI of The Godfather, Michael Corleone learns about the code of omertà:

            [Sicilians] learned that society was their enemy and so when they sought redress for          their wrongs they went to the rebel underground, the Mafia.  And the Mafia cemented its          power by originating the law of silence, the omertà.  […] The greatest crime any   member of the Mafia could commit would be to tell the police the name of the man who had just shot him. (TG, p. 434)

The code of omertà served as a rallying point for entire communities.  By refusing to talk to the police, they refused to help the society that they saw as their enemy.  It served as the first step to regaining control of their own lives.  Thus adhering to the code of omertà attached a collective masculinity to Sicilians.  Diego Gambetta also connects masculinity and omertà.  He identifies that whilst omertà is “related to manliness and strength, [it] has come to signify specifically the capacity for maintaining silence under adverse conditions, presumably because this quality is held by those who value it to be one of the manly virtues.”[11] For a man to refuse to betray his community under pressure or pain signifies his masculinity.  He has stayed loyal to his community.  By enforcing omertà, Corleone helped men, who felt alienated by the system that they were working for to control their lives.  In finding them employment he gives them purpose, but by providing them with omertà, he gives their lives structure.  This commitment to this ancient code demonstrates their dedication and loyalty to their community.  Omertà functions to enhance a man’s masculinity.  It gives men a moral code to live by and thus further enables them to regain control of their masculinity.  The code of omertà provided isolated, emasculated men with a collective masculinity.  By staying loyal to omertà, a man maintained his masculinity. However, in betraying it, these men would relinquish their masculinity.  The code of omertà contributed to the Mafia gangster’s portrayal as a romantic masculine hero, because it demonstrated his motivations as seemingly selfless.  They refused to talk to the police, as they thought they were protecting their communities and families.  However, they were more conscious of losing their masculinity, which contributed so much to their own identities.

When The Godfather was published in 1969, it was released at the end of a decade of social conflict and civil unrest.  Families had been torn apart by the Vietnam War and the African-American Civil Rights Movement.  However, the Corleone family managed to stay united in spite of their differences.  Chris Messenger expanded on this idea by arguing that “the Corleones, the violent, immoral, misogynist Corleones, were a proto-typical family for our time, the tightly knit unit, the family that murdered together stayed together.”[12] Messenger identifies that the Corleones despite all of their negative qualities have remained the ideal family to emulate.  For the tens of thousands of families who had lost sons, fathers and husbands in the Vietnam war, the Corleone family served as a beacon of hope.  They withstood external and internal conflicts and became stronger for the experience.  In a time where America was becoming effeminised, the Corleones epitomised the stoic masculinity that was once associated with America.  America had been humiliated by its failure to defeat the Communist controlled North Vietnam, especially only twenty years after their stalemate in the Korean War.  Not only did America’s failure in Vietnam leave 58,212[13] men dead, but it also tarnished its reputation as a world superpower.  In just thirty years, America had gone from winning the Second World War to failing to defeat two, arguably, weaker opponents.  America’s international emasculation was only accentuated by the African American Civil Rights Movement.  These protests signified that America could not keep control over its own people in its own country.  America had become effeminised by its international and domestic defeats.  The Corleone family served to restore some of this lost pride and masculinity.  Through Vito Corleone’s strong leadership, he is able to keep his family together despite their differences.  During the Second World War:

Michael Corleone volunteered for the Marine Corps.  He defied his father’s express           command when he did so.  Don Corleone had no desire, no intention, of letting his youngest             son be killed in the service of a power foreign to himself.  Doctors had been bribed, secret        arrangements had been made.  […] But Michael was twenty-one years of age and nothing         could be done against his own wilfulness.  […] When Michael Corleone was discharged        […] he had no idea that his father had arranged his release. (TG, p.13)

Vito Corleone, unhappy that Michael was offering his loyalty to an external power, worked hard to bring him home.  He arranged for bribes to be made, but ultimately could not stop his son from enlisting.  Vito felt betrayed by Michael’s decision to serve the state that had abused and mistreated men like the Corleones.  It was only by virtue of Michael receiving “a disabling wound” (TG, p.13) that Vito was able to arrange for his discharge.  Michael’s rebellion heavily threatened his father’s leadership, but Vito’s ability to control the problem preserved his masculinity.  He functioned not only as a beacon of hope for families who had fathers, husbands and sons fighting in the Vietnam War, but also as an insult to America’s own failure to control its internal problems.  Vito Corleone embodies the masculinity that America had lost.  In his dedication and loyalty to his family, Corleone has become a romantic masculine hero.  He has maintained his masculinity by embracing his family rather than rejecting them.  Families alienated by the conflicts of the Vietnam War were able to take solace in how the Corleone family were able to remain united despite their differences.

The Corleone family remained united not only through internal conflicts, but also external ones.  In revenge for Virgil Sollozzo’s attempted assassination of Vito Corleone, Michael volunteers to kill  him, much to his older brother’s amusement:

Sonny, his heavy Cupid’s face twitching with mirth, suddenly broke out in loud roars of   laughter. […] “You, the high-class, college kid, you never wanted to get mixed up in the             Family business.  Now you wanta kill a police captain and the Turk.” (TG, pp.171-172)


Hitherto, Michael was reluctant to become involved with “the Family business,” (TG, p. 172) yet the assassination attempt on his father propelled him into action.  This external conflict united, rather than divided the Corleones.  Vito Corleone’s assassination attempt and the subsequent revenge killings sparked a deadly war between the Five Families of New York.  However, unlike America, the Corleones were successful in their war.  Vito Corleone was able to broker a peace between the other families.  Again, this is an insult to America.  As a country that championed freedom and democracy, it was unable to defeat a handful of Communist rebels.  Yet the “violent, immoral, misogynist, Corleones”[14] were able to bring a peaceful end to a violent, bloody war.  The illegitimate Corleone family holds more masculinity than a huge country like America.  America’s defeat in Vietnam led to its effeminsation, similarly to how Michael is initially effeminised.  Yet unlike Michael, America never fully progresses out of its effeminacy.  Despite how Sonny initially mocks Michael’s suggestion that he assassinate Sollozzo, he later agrees that “it has to be Mike.  For a million different reasons.  Most important they got him down as faggy.” (TG, p. 175) Sonny and Michael both trust that their enemies will not suspect Michael, as they think he is a homosexual and thus supposedly less of a man.  In contrast to how the Corleone’s enemies under-estimate Michael’s masculinity, America over-estimated its masculinity, leading to its defeat in Vietnam.  The Corleone family have become romantic masculine heroes by functioning as units of America’s squandered masculinity.  After America drew one war and lost another, the Corleones assumed its lost masculinity.  In doing so they became a bedrock of strength, resilience and stoicism.  They portrayed a family image for other families to believe in, especially ones who had become disenchanted with America’s growing emasculation.

The Corleone family have further become the proto-family to emulate, due to their social progressiveness.  Their forward-thinking values allowed them to progress when other families had been torn apart by war.  Christian Messenger identifies that “The Godfather posited a truly complete American fantasy that of New-World mobility and power within an Old-World identity.”[15] The Corleone family achieved a fantasy state that other families could only dream of.  They have reached success by celebrating Old-World identity, but also by breaking with tradition and becoming socially progressive.  Nowhere is this progressiveness more apparent than in the character of Tom Hagen.  After he is left orphaned and homeless:

Sonny Corleone […] brought [Hagen] home and demanded that he be taken in.  […] In the           most natural way without a word being spoken or the matter discussed in any fashion, Don       Corleone had permitted the boy to stay in his household.  (TG, p. 59)

Despite Tom Hagen being an outsider, (he is German-Irish and not Sicilian) he is still warmly welcomed into the Corleone family.  Vito Corleone further demonstrates his progressiveness, when he breaks a “long-standing tradition,” (TG, p.56) in appointing the German-Irish Tom Hagen as his new Consigliori:

the Consigliori was always a full-blooded Sicilian, and the fact that Hagen had been         brought up as a member of the Don’s family, made no difference to that tradition.   It was a    question of blood.  Only a Sicilian born to the ways of omertá, the law of silence, could be     trusted in the key post of Consigliori.  (TG, p. 56)

As Tom Hagen is German-Irish, he is not expected to be as knowledgeable or as effective in his post as a Sicilian would be.  Corleone’s decision earned him abuse from the “other powerful Sicilian Families [who] referred contemptuously to the Corleone Family as the “Irish Gang.” (TG, p.62) Despite this, Vito Corleone proceeded with the appointment, as he knew that he had to be progressive to succeed.  He has broken a fundamental principle of the Mafia, but he has also kept his family moving forward through the adoption of New-World Values.  Furthermore, the Corleone’s warm acceptance of Tom Hagen offered comfort to fathers and sons who felt alienated after returning home from their defeat in Vietnam.  These soldiers lost their faith in the country that they were fighting for.   Some were even ostracised from their own families and communities.  Vito Corleone’s defiant break in tradition became a role-model for men who felt isolated within their own country.  He became a romantic masculine hero who embodied the values of freedom, masculinity and acceptance, which soldiers in Vietnam had fought and died for.  He is successful in his goals, as he has the strength to push his ideas through.  He demonstrates his masculinity by sticking to his own values and refusing to submit to other’s ideas.  For the 82% of veterans and 75% of the general public[16] who thought that the Vietnam War was lost because of a lack of political will, Vito Corleone remains a bedrock of the stoic masculinity that they fought to protect, thus he has become emblematic of Mafia gangsters.  My following chapter will examine how Hollywood capitalised on this masculinity to reinvigorate an effeminised and dispirited workforce of men.

Chapter Two: Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy, Hollywood and show-business

Just like their source material, Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy of The Godfather films (1972, 1974 and 1990) have left a lasting mark on popular culture.  Famous scenes such as the horse’s head in Jack Woltz’s bed have become widely parodied and imitated.  Diego Gambetta found that “in May 1991 three building contractors from the province of Palermo found the severed head of a horse in the company car.”[17] The Godfather trilogy also sparked a renewed interest in the gangster genre.  The following decades saw mob narratives like Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, (1984) Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) and David Chase’s The Sopranos. (1999-2007) Looking exclusively at Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptations, I will be arguing three points.  Firstly, how Hollywood fetishsised the extreme violence and masculinity present within The Godfather to restore confidence in an emasculated America.  They celebrated the gangster figure to make him an acceptable role model for populations of disenfranchised men to emulate.  Secondly, I will argue that by turning to films like The Godfather, Hollywood posited its own vision of how men should dress, act and behave to be perceived as masculine.  Lastly, I will be examining how The Godfather‘s misogynistic portrayal of women, rather than undermining, has actually bolstered the masculinity of mafiosi.

Long before Coppola’s adaptations, Hollywood was already fetishising the gangster genre and appropriating the mob narrative.  This fetishation began in the thirties with the gangster films Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface (1932) and continued into the forties and fifties with White Heat (1949) and the Enforcer (1951.) Alan Wright identified that as well as producing gangster films, Hollywood was also vastly influenced by real-life gangster figures Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Benny ‘Bugsy’ Seigel.  Wright identified that:

Luciano’s involvement in Hollywood began with supplying drugs to celebrities and           developed into wider financial depredations.  His henchman the notorious Benny ‘Bugsy’ Seigel ran the film extras union during the 1930’s, drawing protection money from studios amounting to millions of dollars a year.[18]

As Wright deduced, mafiosi had firmly inserted themselves behind the scenes of Hollywood.  Hollywood fetishsised two important parts of The Godfather: masculinity and mob violence.  It did this partly through Vito Corleone’s godson Johnny Fontane: a famous singer and actor.  When the studio executive Jack Woltz refuses to give Fontane the lead role in his latest film, he turns to Don Corleone in despair.  Corleone responds to his whining by shouting  “act like a man,” before slapping Fontane and calling him a “Hollywood finocchio.” Corleone castrates Fontane’s masculinity in this scene.  He emasculates him by striking him and calling him a finocchio, an Italian homosexual slur, in full view of Tom Hagen.  Don Corleone embodies the masculinity, which Hollywood fetishsised.  He is strong, stoic and despises emotional outbursts.  After this scene, Hagen visits Jack Woltz to persuade him to cast Fontane.  Their confrontation presents two versions of masculinity, one that Hollywood endorsed and the other which Hollywood wanted to encourage men to escape from.  Woltz is vilified through how the scene is shot, lit and acted.  Hagen is brightly lit, whilst Woltz is standing in shadow.  Furthermore, Woltz is shorter than Hagen and insults him with racial slurs.  When Woltz initially thinks that Hagen is Italian, he calls him a “Dago-Guinea grease-ball.” After Hagen corrects him by saying that he is actually “German-Irish,” Woltz responds by calling him “my Kraut-Mick friend.” Hagen wins this confrontation, as he embodies the cool, stoic masculinity that America had lost and was aiming to regain.  When Woltz refuses to relent, Don Corleone beheads his favourite horse and puts the head in Woltz’s bed.  This is revealed in a slow tracking shot, as the camera moves downwards from the horse’s blood on Woltz’s golden pillow to the mutilated head at the end of the bed.  The graphic portrayal of this violence, with a bloody red being the dominant colour of the scene, is evidence of the fetishistic manner that Hollywood took to mob violence.  (See Figure 1) Hollywood’s fetishsation of the mob narrative also romanticises the stoic masculinity associated with mafiosi.  Hollywood appropriated this masculinity to inspire a nation that had become emasculated by international and domestic failures.  Two years after the film’s release, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency following the Watergate Scandal.  As leader of a super-nation, Nixon was supposed to embody America’s values of freedom and democracy, as well as its stoic masculinity.  However, when he was forced to resign, this added to America’s continued international emasculation.  Hollywood thus fetishsised the stoic masculinity present in mob narratives like The Godfather to prove to itself and the world that America had not yet undergone a full emasculation.

Figure 1: Corresponding shot from The Godfather

Hollywood’s appropriation of the Mafia genre continued with the character of Moe Greene.  John Dickie expands on this idea of appropriation:

As most American Mafia films do, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather received a poor             critical reception when it was released in Italy in 1972.  […] That may owe something to a             certain Italian resentment at the way that, through Hollywood, the US has claimed the Mafia       as its own[19].

There was a bitterness towards Americans who had stolen a symbol of Sicilian resistance and were holding it hostage for their own goals.  For Sicilians, this would be painfully similar to how Sicily was culturally appropriated throughout history.  Hollywood portrayed the Mafia as a family oriented, Robin-Hood group, as well as accentuating the masculinity that emanated from the Corleone characters.  Hollywood also portrayed the Corleone family as a mobile unit of masculinity.  They have enough power to influence top studio executives and enough money to buy out hotel and casino owners.  In hopes of legitimising his family, Michael Corleone visits Moe Greene in Las Vegas to buy out his share in his casino and hotel.  From the moment that Michael arrives in Las Vegas, he demonstrates the stoic masculinity that is associated with gangster figures.  Upon arriving there, his older brother Fredo has laid on a party complete with a band and prostitutes.  Michael dismisses them stating that he is solely there on business.  Two sorts of masculinity come to blows when Michael meets Moe Greene.  Whilst Michael retains his father’s composure, Moe Greene resorts to racial slurs and shouting.  When Fredo defends Moe Greene, Michael evenly tells him to never “take sides with anyone against the family again.” He is in full control of the scene in spite of the way that the camera is looking down on him in a manner that seems to portray him as the victim.  (See Figure 2.) As the Corleones are attempting to appropriate Moe Greene’s hotel for their own goals, so is Hollywood similarly appropriating the mob narrative.  Las Vegas, with its Moe Greenes and enormous casinos, embodies the excess of Capitalist wealth that is associated with America.  For example, “as Calvin Coolidge puts it, “the business of America is business,” whatever that business might be.”[20] The Corleones’ attempt to control this encapsulates America’s lost strength and masculinity.  Hollywood recognised the masculinity that was already present in The Godfather and exploited it to improve America’s image.  They appropriated the mob narrative to turn mafiosi like the Corleones away from being the romantic masculine heroes of the Sicilian peasantry.  Instead, they were portrayed as the romantic masculine heroes of the disenfranchised, emasculated America.

Figure 2: Corresponding  shot from The Godfather

Hollywood’s fetishsation of the mob narrative has had two consequences.  Firstly, it has constructed masculinity as a performance that has to be acted out.  Secondly, it has led to the celebration of the gangster figure who became a role model for men to emulate.  However, this was owing to the necessity of having the public perception of the gangster figure change from being parasitical criminals to emblems of masculinity.  Hollywood fuelled this change by portraying them as celebrities performing in an act of show-business.  Alan Wright also argues that “there is evidence that some high-profile gangsters regarded their real-life activities as a form of show-business.”[21] The Godfather trilogy does this as well by reducing the Corleones’ violent acts to a stageshow.  Their actions are celebrated thus affirming their masculinity.  The films are full of visual metaphors.  Everything is grandiose and exaggerated.  The news of Luca Brasi’s death is not delivered in a simple message, but rather two fish wrapped in Brasi’s bulletproof vest.  Sonny Corleone is massacred in a bloody shoot-out.  However, the most telling evidence is how within the first fifteen minutes of each film, there is a huge celebration.  Connie’s wedding opens the first, Michael’s son’s first communion party the second and the third is begun with a celebration following Michael receiving the Highest Order of Saint Sebastian.  In his on-going efforts to legitimise his family, Michael creates the Vito Corleone foundation, which “helps the impoverished in every country, gives grants to artists, funds medical research and is particularly dedicated to the resurrection of Sicily.” Michael celebrates his commendation with an ostentatious party complete with dancing, an orchestra and a performance by Johnny Fontane.  The party is reduced to a stage-show designed to entertain and impress.  Even though, Michael’s actions are charitable, they are obscured by the gross spectacle of the party.  This resulted in a performative aspect being attached to masculinity.  It was not just enough to be masculine, it had to be flaunted as well.  The party scene is Michael’s demonstration of his masculinity.  It is a gross exhibition of his wealth, power and status.  Most importantly, Michael gives this performance in front of a crowd.  His masculinity is a facade that has to be maintained for appearances’ sake.  He becomes an actor performing a role.  He has to act a certain way to achieve validation from his audience.  If he fails to do so, then he runs the risk of becoming effeminised.  Thus his masculinity is celebrated as something to reach and emulate.  For it to be emulated, it has to be openly exhibited.  The ultra-masculine Sonny Corleone and his illegitimate son Vincenzo Mancini are the best examples of this.  Their masculinities are defined by their tempers and their natural leadership skills.  At Connie’s wedding, Sonny petulantly breaks the camera of a photo-journalist, but becomes the Corleone family’s acting boss after the failed assassination attempt on his father.  Vincenzo has a similarly violent temper.  When confronting Joey Zasa, he bites off part of Zasa’s ear.  However, despite Vincenzo’s temper he still becomes Michael’s successor.  This performative masculinity would have appealed to a new audience of men.  As well as being attractive to working-class men, it would also have been exciting for office workers in dead-end jobs: men who had been given chances to fulfill their roles but had ultimately stagnated, thus forfeiting their masculinity.  For example, Alan Wright argues that “although most Americans do not become actual gangsters, they can at least have a vicarious share of the supposed heroism that the entertainment industry provides.”[22] The Godfather trilogy provided men with a chance to vicariously live in through the extreme masculinity that the Corleones portray.  These men did not instantaneously become gangsters upon watching these films, but rather they became attracted to the seductive masculinity of the mafioso who had the power to take exactly what he wanted in life.  After America was no longer able to rely on these men to restore its floundering masculinity, it turned to the gangster figure.  Hollywood turned the Corleones into romantic masculine heroes to inspire emasculated white collar workers to emulate their behaviour.  Through portraying them as business-men or celebrities, they were perceived as far more acceptable role models than a group of criminals.  As business-men themselves, they became attractive to real life business-men.  John Dickie capitalises on this:

nothing could be better calculated to make middle-aged, middle-American, middle-          managers feel dangerous and clever than the suggestion that they and mafiosi are pretty  much alike.  […] Conversely, nothing could be better calculated to flatter a hoodlum’s […] than the suggestion that he is the incarnation of some sleek, lawless ideal-type of the   business-man.[23]

Dickie argues that office-workers and mafiosi are mirror-images of each other.  They both covet the lifestyles of the other.  The machismo lifestyle of mafiosi who could take anything they wanted proved seductive to “middle-aged, middle-American, middle-managers.”[24] They were able to see a part of themselves within the Corleones.  Thus the mafiosi’s romanticisation as romantic masculine heroes was partially enabled by Hollywood.  The Corleones were celebrated to make them acceptable role models to emulate.  The gangster figure had to be romanticised to inspire an alienated population to begin taking control of their own masculinity.

            In the second and third films, Don Fanucci and Joey Zasa also openly exhibit their masculinity.  Both characters are comparable through their portrayal as active members of their communities.  Their dress codes and methods of death are also similar.  During a street festival, Don Fanucci openly walks the streets where he talks with the people and is presented offerings.  Despite how he is supposed to be shown as one of the people, his clothing sets him apart.  His smartly-tailored white suit contrasts starkly with the dully-coloured clothes that Vito Corleone and the other townspeople are wearing.  (See Figure 3) Corleone takes advantage of Fanucci’s over-confidence by executing him.  When Fanucci is busy joining in with the celebrations, Vito Corleone stalks him and eventually shoots him when he reaches his apartment.  Joey Zasa is Don Fanucci’s equivalent.  He is power-hungry and seeks fame.  Michael Corleone chides that he is on the “cover of Time magazine” and has received “the Esquire Magazine Award for the best-dressed gangster.” Michael Corleone is bitter about how much publicity and attention Joey Zasa is drawing towards the illegitimate actions of his criminal family.  Joey Zasa is usually dressed in a suit and is executed when he is walking amongst his community during a street festival.  Both Don Fanucci and Joey Zasa die as the result of over-confidence.  They feel too comfortable within their neighbourhoods and are thus executed.  The gangster figures that they represent are romanticised, as they are portrayed as active members of their community.  They flaunt their masculinity, through how they engage and participate with their people.  In their exhibition of their masculinity, they portray it as something attainable.  It is not just a pipe dream, but an actually reachable concept.  The gangster figure has become a romantic masculine hero, through his inclusivity in his community.  Despite his celebrity status, he is humble enough to walk amongst his followers.  He becomes a man that whole communities can identify with.  He has to maintain this role to retain the respect of his community who view him not as a villain, but as a hero.

Figure 3: Corresponding shot from The Godfather Part II

Michael Corleone, as a gangster figure, is heavily celebrated in the second and third films.  The sheer size of Michael Corleone’s Senate Hearing is comparable to the huge party scenes that begin each film.  The scene cross-cuts from shots of the Senate Hearing to photo-journalists taking pictures.  The entire Senate Hearing scene is punctuated with the sound of camera shutters clicking.  The press lavish as much attention on Michael Corleone, as they would on other celebrities of the time.  The Senate Hearing evidences how Hollywood felt it necessary to celebrate the extreme masculinity associated with mafiosi.  Rather than hiding behind the fifth amendment, Michael Corleone stands up to the court’s interrogation, which was designed to break his resolve.  Instead of submitting, he calmly denies every accusation that is thrown at him.  Like his father before him, he embodies the stoic masculinity that America was hoping to regain.  When caporegime Frank Pentangeli is about to betray Michael Corleone, he hesitates upon seeing his brother in the audience.  His brother having been a veteran mafioso in Sicily would have never forgiven such a betrayal of the code of omertá and silently intimidates his brother into changing his mind.  The court case falls apart due to the presence of an old Sicilian man who is more powerful than the entire strength of the Senate Hearing.  The gangster figure is similarly publicised in the third film.  After Michael Corleone decides to purchase Immobiliare, there is a montage of newspaper headlines that report on the incident.  At the press conference centring on the event, Michael Corleone once again stands up to tough questioning.  This stoic masculinity is exactly what Hollywood wanted to capture and convey to audiences of emasculated men.  By directing this media attention onto the Senate Hearing and the press conference, they are saying that it is something worth paying attention, emulating and aspiring to.

            Hollywood’s celebration of the gangster figure produced a life imitating art scenario.  If ordinary men adopted the mentality and costume of The Godfather characters, they would start embodying their masculinity.  Not just Don Fanucci and Joey Zasa, but the majority of the characters wear suits.  The suit, having long associations with culture and sophistication, has long been a symbol of making money.  It is an emblem of status and empowers the wearer.  For example, when Michael Corleone returns to Sicily in The Godfather Part III, he is wearing a smart suit and dark glasses, which adds to his masculine image.  It is necessary for Michael to preserve his masculinity by wearing dark glasses when his son sings a song especially for him.  (See Figure 4) Diego Gambetta also makes the connection between masculinity and dark glasses:

in the United States […] dark glasses mean tough guys.  […] A generalised connection with             toughness seem[ed] to emerge during the war; a photograph taken in 1944 shows the film             director John Ford, with a cigar stuck between his lips, wearing a pilot’s uniform and dark             glasses.  Uncharacteristically he looks cool and tough.[25]

Hollywood effectively created a template for what masculine men should look like.  Mafiosi modelled themselves on this specific template.  Roberto Saviano explains why they may have done so.  He asserts that Mafia films became a form of escapism for Mafia bosses who needed:

to create an image of power and glamour that, in reality, they don’t have- they often live   hidden in underground burrows like rats- and cinema makes this possible.  The Hollywood    image of the crime boss, violent but charismatic and always surrounded by women, aligns     them with an instantly recognisable stereotype.[26]

Figure 4: Corresponding shot from The Godfather Part III

Hollywood has influenced the Mafia gangster as much as it has influenced the working man.  It posited a form of masculinity that not only appealed to the working man, but also to mafiosi of all ages and statuses.  Saviano identifies that:

in Naples, where I grew up, during the Mafia War of 2004, the upcoming Camorra members             modelled themselves on gangsters from film and TV […] Cinema introduces a new           vocabulary to the mafiosi‘s self-expression.  The term “godfather” was never used by Italian Mafia before Francis Ford Coppola’s film.  […] It was only after the film came in 1972, Italian-American Mafia families started using “godfather.” They also started wearing pin-stripe suits and dark glasses.  […] Luciano Liggio, boss of the Sicilian Nostra […] was photographed sticking out his lower jaw like Don Vito [Corleone].[27]

Saviano’s argument of Hollywood influencing mafiosi partially explains why they have started to be portrayed as romantic masculine heroes.  It posits the interesting idea that they are not unlike the working-class men they claim to protect.  Instead of having already achieved the fortune and fame of the Corleone family, mafiosi, just like regular men, were still striving to find excitement and purpose in their lives.

It can be easily argued that the Corleone characters, and the mafiosi that they represent, are criminals and not romantic masculine heroes.  The most compelling evidence for this is the misogyny present in The Godfather trilogy.  Women have little agency or control in The Godfather trilogy with the exceptions of Kay Adams and Connie Corleone in The Godfather Part III.  The roles of the female characters can be largely broken down to three models: the damsel-in-distress, the sex object and the sacrificial lamb.  Connie Corleone fills the role of damsel-in-distress, as she is beaten by her husband Carlo Rizzi.  On the day of her wedding, Sonny cheats on his wife with Connie’s maid of honour, Lucy Mancini, who is the sex object.  After Michael takes refuge in Sicily, he cheats on his girlfriend Kay Adams with the village girl Appolina.  She becomes the sacrificial lamb when she dies in an assassination attempt meant for Michael.  Whilst this misogynistic behaviour would not be expected from romantic masculine heroes, it is essential to the masculinity of Mafia gangsters.  Their masculinity is defined by their sexual exploits and success with women.  For example, at Connie’s wedding, Sonny’s wife makes a suggestive gesture about the length of his penis.  Even his wife defines him by his sexual prowess.  The masculinity that the Corleones have gained has come at the cost of their own morality.  Their perception of viewing things as right or wrong has become skewed.  Despite how Sonny cheats on his wife, he has no qualms of beating up Carlo for doing exactly the same thing.  Morality has become something to be discarded in order to succeed.  Being surrounded by women adds to the seductiveness and charisma of the gangster figure.  It is a signifier of the control that they exert over their lives.  They have the power to not only do what they want, but to be with any woman that they desire.  It shows the power of these men to be dominant in both their working and family lives.  They became the romantic masculine heroes of the men who lack the freedom to so effortlessly walk from their family lives to their working lives.

Interestingly, Connie Corleone is the only female character who is able to walk this line.  From being a domestic abuse victim, she becomes a major character in The Godfather Part III.  She becomes one of the few characters who is brave enough to stand up to Michael Corleone.  After Vincenzo Mancini tortures and kills assassins, Connie defends him to Michael arguing that Vincenzo did “the right thing” by making the assassins confess that it was Joey Zasa who sent them.  She then tells Michael that “now they’ll fear you.” Michael, beginning to recognise her growing power and agency, corrects her saying that “maybe they should fear you.” Connie Corleone is also a regular confidante of Michael Corleone and is present during his meetings.  Finally, she sanctions Joey Zasa’s assassination.  When Michael Corleone is hospitalised, Connie, Vincenzo and Al Neri discuss what they should do about Joey Zasa.  Even though Vincenzo is desperate to kill him, Al Neri insists that it is a bad idea and involves too much risk.  However, it is Connie Corleone who has the final word, emphatically ordering Vincenzo to “do it!” (See Figure 5) She dispenses with any feminine characteristics and instead adopts the stoic masculinity and ruthless pragmatism that is so associated with her brothers and father.  She embraces this masculinity, as it allows her to progress out of her status as a damsel-in-distress and into a position of control.  As her brothers and father are the romantic masculine heroes of working-class men, Connie becomes a romantic heroine to women who have been domestically abused, as she is a character to emulate.  After surviving an abusive relationship, she finds the strength to continue by adopting the firm, icy exterior of her father and brothers.  Like Michael, Connie also goes through a startling transformation.  She starts off isolated and excluded from her family, but ends in a position of control.

Figure 5: Corresponding shot from The Godfather Part III

            Both The Godfather Part II and Part III end with the camera resting on Michael Corleone who is sitting alone in silence.  These two scenes are preceded by the death of a close family member: Michael’s brother Fredo in Part II and Michael’s daughter Mary in Part III.  Fredo Corleone embodies the men who felt alienated from their own lives.  Tired of being constantly disrespected and downtrodden, he betrays Michael to Hyman Roth.  Michael and Fredo’s confrontation is as follows:

Michael: I’ve always taken care of you, Fredo.

Fredo: Taken care of me?! You’re my kid brother! You take care of me? Did you ever think          about that? 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.  […] I’m    your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!

Michael: It’s the way Pop wanted it.

Fredo: It aint the way I wanted it! I can handle things, I’m smart! Not like everybody says.           Like dumb.  I’m smart and I want respect!

From this scene, it is obvious that Michael Corleone with his stoic masculinity is in control over Fredo’s wavering masculinity and impassioned wailings.  He is standing tall, whilst Fredo is slumped defeated in a chair.  There are low-angle shots showing Michael as the one in control, with high-angle shots that victimise Fredo.  Fredo, sick of being emasculated by his “kid brother,” Michael, decides to take matters into his own hands.  He hates how he is under-valued by his own family.  Instead of being constantly berated, he wants the respect that he thinks he deserves.  Like the emasculated working-class men he represents, he is completely alienated from his own identity.  He has no sense of purpose and is undermined by his family, which as the next eldest son, it is his responsibility to protect.  Michael responds to Fredo’s betrayal by having him executed.  Whilst this might seem an inherent contradiction for a Mafia gangster who legitimises his actions by claiming that he is protecting his family, it is actually further evidence of the terrible cost of his masculinity.  It is a marker of what men have to sacrifice to protect and preserve their masculinity and as a man, it is his responsibility to live with the decisions that he has made.  The same can be said for the end of the third film where Mary is killed in an assassination attempt meant for Michael.  The final image of Michael Corleone dying alone is pathetic and pitiful.  However, just before he dies, he puts his dark glasses on showing that his masculinity has remained intact.  (See Figure 6) He is a man who has made mistakes and has had to live with these mistakes.  In this sense, he is the ultimate romantic masculine hero of the working man.  Even if his decisions might be wrong, he has still had the resolve to make the necessary sacrifices to protect everything that matters to him.

Figure 6: Corresponding shot from The Godfather Part III


It is evident from The Godfather novel and The Godfather trilogy, that the Corleone family and the Mafia gangsters that they represent have been portrayed as romantic masculine heroes.  They are the ultra-masculine men whom working-class manual labourers and middle-class office workers can identify with.  For men who felt alienated from their own lives, The Godfather posited a form of masculinity for them to strive for.  This masculinity was appealing as it meant that these men no longer had to answer to anyone.  They could become their own bosses and their behaviour would not have to be checked or regulated, thus enabling them to break out of their emasculation and alienation.  By adhering to the masculinity that The Godfather laid out, men could stop being victims and start feeling like they were in control.  They were given a code to live by and, most importantly, their lives were given purpose and meaning.  The Godfather posited a form of masculinity, where it was seen as masculine to stay loyal to your homeland and thus resist any attempts of cultural appropriation or indoctrination.  Hollywood fetishsised the extreme masculinity of the Corleones to inject hope back into an emasculated population of men humiliated by international and national defeats.  Hollywood had to celebrate the gangster figure to make him an acceptable role model to emulate.   Hollywood’s interest in the mob narrative has shown no signs of dying down with the recent proliferation of Mafia related television shows and film: The Sopranos (1999-2007), Gangs of New York (2002), and the Departed (2006). Interestingly, the issues and conditions that led to the rise of the gangster figure are still very much present in today’s society.  The recent recession mixed with high unemployment rates has left alienated and humiliated populations.  America still faces wide-spread emasculation due to criticism of its controversial Wars on Terror and Drugs, police brutality and gun regulation.  Conflicts within the Middle East have left people intensely xenophobic especially with the recent refugee crisis.  More and more people are becoming resentful of foreigners coming into their countries and taking their jobs.  All of this has left people wanting strong leadership and with a continuing distrust in political systems, perhaps this strong leadership will take the form of Mafia gangsters who have been propelled into the spotlight as spokesmen of their communites.  Even if they are criminals, they have the power and resolution to do what they have to to protect their communities.  They have become romantic masculine heroes, as they are the men who are not afraid to sacrifice everything for what they believe to be the greater good.    

Word Count: 9,994


     Chapetta, Roberta, ‘Review‘, Film Quarterly, 25 (1972), 60-61

Dickie, John, Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia (London: Hodder and Stroughton, 2004)

Dickie, John, Mafia Republic Italy’s Criminal Curse: Cosa Nostra, Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta from 1946 to the present (Hodder & Stoughton: London, 2014)

Gambetta, Diego, The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993)

Garber, Frederick, ‘Self, Society, Value, and the Romantic Hero,’ Comparative Literature, 19 (1967), 321-333

History-World, ‘Vietnam War Statistics in Uniform and in Country,’ in the International World History Project <http://history-world.org/vietnam_war_statistics.htm> [last accessed: 18 April 2016]

Messenger, Christian K., The Godfather and American Culture: How the Corleones Became “Our Gang” (New York: New York University Press, 2002)

Puzo, Mario, The Godfather, (London: Arrow Books, 2009)

Saviano, Roberto ‘Why are gangsters obsessed with Hollywood,’ The Guardian, 13 January 2016, section G2

Servadio, Gaia, Mafioso: A history of the Mafia from its origins to the present day, (London: Secker and Warburg, 1976)

The Godfather, dir. by Francis Ford Coppola (Paramount Pictures, 1972)

      The Godfather part II, dir. by Francis Ford Coppola (Paramount Pictures, 1974)

The Godfather part III, dir. by Francis Ford Coppola (Paramount Pictures, 1990)

The U.S National Archives and Records Administration, Statistical Information about Fatal Casualties of the Vietnam War (Maryland: the U.S National Archives and Records Administration, 2008) <http://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty statistics.html#gender> [last accessed 20 February 2016]

Wilson, James D, ‘Tirso, Molière and Byron: The emergence of Don Juan as Romantic Hero,’ The South Central Bulletin, 32 (1972), 246-248

Wright, Alan, Organised Crime (Devon: Willan Publishing, 2006)

[1]     James D. Wilson, ‘Tirso, Molière and Byron: The emergence of Don Juan as Romantic Hero,’ The South Central Bulletin, 32 (1972), pp. 246-248 (p.246).

[2]     Frederick Garber, ‘Self, Society, Value, and the Romantic Hero,’ Comparative Literature, 19, (1967), pp. 321-333 (p. 330).

[3]     Garber, p. 322.

[4]     Garber, p. 329.

[5]     Mario Puzo, The Godfather, (London: Arrow Books, 2009) p. 255. All subsequent references are from this edition and will be given in parentheses after quotations in the text

[6]     Gaia Servadio, Mafioso: A history of the Mafia from its origins to the present day, (London: Secker and Warburg, 1976) p. 6.

[7]     Servadio, p.54.

[8]     Servadio, p. 53.

[9]     Servadio, p. 55.

[10]   Servadio, pp. 27-28.

[11]   Diego, Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993) p. 35.

[12]   Christian K. Messenger, The Godfather and American Culture: How the Corleones Became “Our Gang” (New York: New York University Press, 2002) p.4.

[13]   The U.S National Archives and Records Administration, Statistical Information about Fatal Casualties of the Vietnam War (Maryland: the U.S National Archives and Records Administration, 2008) <http://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html#gender> [last accessed 20 February 2016].

[14]   Messenger, p. 4.

[15]   Messenger, p.4.

[16]   History-World, ‘Vietnam War Statistics in Uniform and in Country,’ in the International World History Project  (World History Project, USA, 1997) <http://history-world.org/vietnam_war_statistics.htm> [last accessed: 18 April 2016].

[17]   Gambetta, p. 135.

[18]   Alan Wright, Organised Crime (Devon: Willan Publishing, 2006) p. 138.

[19]   John Dickie, Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia (London: Hodder and Stroughton, 2004) p. 331.

[20]   Roberta Chapetta, ‘Review‘, Film Quarterly, 25 (1972), 60-61 (p. 60).

[21]   Wright, p. 139.

[22]   Wright, p. 137.

[23]   John Dickie, Mafia Republic Italy’s Criminal Curse: Cosa Nostra, Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta from 1946 to the present (Hodder & Stoughton: London, 2014) p. 132.

[24]   Dickie, p. 132.

[25]   Gambetta, p. 134.

[26]           Roberto Saviano ‘Why are gangsters obsessed with Hollywood,’ The Guardian,  13 January 2016, section G.2 p. 7.

[27]   Saviano, p. 7-8.

*Author’s Notes*

This is my dissertation.  An essay I worked tirelessly on and one of the better things that I have written.  It is based on my favourite novel and favourite film of all time.  I find the romanticisation of criminals like the Corleones absolutely fascinating and that’s why I wanted to write about it.  A lot of the things that I have written about here are also present in TV shows like the Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire.  Unlike a lot of the other essays I’ve written, I really enjoyed writing this, as I actually understood and enjoyed the subject matter.  I would love to get your opinions on this interesting topic.

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