If you are a movie buff, The Godfather Trilogy holds a special place in your heart. The Godfather Parts I and II are two of the greatest movies ever made … and The Godfather Part III isn’t as bad as many people think. While we were hanging out post-dinner at our villa in Sicily, my husband and I were shocked to discover that our kids had never even heard of the movies. How did such a shocking lapse happen in our family?? We thought we had done a pretty good job with their film education (Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Willy Wonka, etc.) but clearly there were still gaping holes that needed to be fixed. So, we took it on ourselves to teach the kids about the greatness of the three movies making up The Godfather Trilogy in Sicily.
Why do The Godfather movies resonate so deeply? Not only are the movies works of cinematic brilliance, but the story itself is epic. Mobster movies are a dime a dozen but what makes The Godfather Trilogy special is the family dynamic.
The Movie Itself
The movies have an amazing cast of actors – Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Andy Garcia to name a few. A young Al Pacino was simply delicious.
The scriptwriting was excellent with so many of the more famous quotes having entered the popular vernacular. How many of the lines do you remember? Probably more than you thought.
The epic revolves around family and the things we do to keep our families safe. We all have dreams for our children and we want them to do well. For example, the young Vito Andolini’s mother sacrifices herself to save her son, Vito Corleone wants his son Mikey to get out of the family business and Michael Corleone schemes to have his daughter Mary break up with gangster-cousin Vincent.
Along the way, the family is kept safe, but at what cost? Don Corleone may have fulfilled the American Dream but Michael Corleone’s hunger for power turns it into a nightmare.
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Mark 8:36 (American King James Version)
Michael, protected his family in his own misguided way, but only to lose them all at the end. He has his brother killed, his daughter dies, his wife can’t stand him and his son with the artistic soul will need years of therapy. The only one left with him at the end of his machinations is scary sister Connie and ruthless nephew Vincent.
All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy from Anna Karenina
At the end of his life, Michael dies alone (in a scene which turns out to be unintentionally comedic with Michael Corleone falling off his chair). Americans will be reminded of the television advertising line “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
The movies are also about the immigration story in the USA. The kid who shows up with nothing and goes onto build a successful life in America. The kid doesn’t even get to keep his last name but is given the name of his hometown by the immigration officials at Ellis Island. Who doesn’t love The American Dream? I admire the movie for showing the seamier sides of the dream.
Sicily itself is only peripheral to The Godfather Trilogy. Only a small part of the 9+ hours of the movies are set in Sicily. Yet, the idea of their homeland is integral to how the characters see themselves. Don Corleone had only an immigrant child’s memories of his homeland and, like other immigrants, that connection with the past shaped his future.
Although there was supposed to be a fourth Godfather, I am glad they did not do make that movie. The fourth movie would have been about Andy Garcia assuming the mantle of the Godfather and the direction he chooses to take the family business. Frankly, I couldn’t see this story working as well because, at heart, The Godfather Trilogy was about familial relationships. Pretty much everyone in the main family is dead (or in therapy) by the end of the first three movies, so a bunch of random cousins we haven’t met yet would be needed to continue the family story.
Sicily and the Mafia
I realise that The Godfather image peddled by Hollywood is glamorised violence. Many Sicilians are less than thrilled that their country is associated with the Mafia. On the other hand, the tourist shops have embraced the image and peddle tatty souvenirs related to the movie. It’s not personal, it’s business.
We were told organised crime in Sicily has moved on from harassing the locals to more lucrative options, like government contracts and vote fixing. If you are looking for a serious post on the actual Mafia in Sicily, this isn’t it. We are merely movie buffs who can recite entire chunks of The Godfather movies.
Explaining The Godfather Trilogy to the Kids
We were in Sicily with Andrew, Brenda and Bailey Tolentino, the family from Dish Our Town. We discovered that Andrew would probably be considered a super fan of the movies. He has practically an encyclopaedic knowledge of the trilogy.
Thanks to our ability to quote The Godfather movies extensively, our kids started asking us about the plot of the movies. We watched clips of it on YouTube since no one has time on holiday to watch 9+ hours of film.
We had a lot of fun filming these clips with our kids and we hope you enjoy watching them. Only a small portion of the films are set in Sicily, so we took lots of artistic license.
As the director, I felt some of the pain of Francis Ford Coppola when he was trying to get some acting ability out of his daughter Sophia in The Godfather Part III. Suffice it to say, Sophia is an excellent director and should remain behind the camera. Along those lines, I feel our kids should embrace their geeky side and get desk jobs.
Visiting the Movie Locations in Sicily
By the 1970’s, the town of Corleone was too modern to be a film location and other towns near Taormina were used as its stand-in. We didn’t take an organised tour of these locations because we were going to visit on our own. Taormina though was so pretty, we decided to stay put for the afternoon. I’m sure hardcore movie fans will sneer at us.
My husband has a soft spot for Apollonia, Michael’s first wife, who was killed by a car bomb in Sicily. Her death, hardened Michael’s heart, setting the scene for future family tragedies. He wanted to visit the church where they got married in the town of Savoca. I wanted to see the Castello degli Schiavio where Michael falls off the chair for his final thump. The castle though is privately owned though and you need to make reservations if you want to tour it.
The only movie location we visited in Sicily was the opera house, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, where Mary is shot dead in front of her father. I’ve got to say that scene never gets old – primarily for its comedic value. Even our kids thought Mary’s death was badly overacted and hysterically funny.
I think Mary Corleone should have been developed more as a character. Her main role in the movie seems to be to romance her bad-news cousin Vincent who wants to step into her father’s shoes. No daddy issues there, of course. Her death leaves her father a broken man. Interestingly, the making and breaking of Michael’s character are the deaths of his first wife and his daughter, respectively.
My daughter took to Michael Corleone like a duck to water which I found a little scary. Her brother better watch out that he doesn’t get Fredo-ed especially if I am not around to keep the peace.
I loved Tom, the consigliere, who is the perpetual outsider. The family trusts him implicitly and yet he will never be family.
I couldn’t stand Connie Corleone but both Andrew Tolentino and my husband thought she was a great character. I guess she did grow during the movies from a blushing bride to scary matriarch.
So we all had our favourite characters from The Godfather Trilogy. Who was your favourite character? Discuss. (Also, feel free to Psychology Today any of our preferences.)
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Travel Tips for Lovers of The Godfather Movies Visiting Sicily
It is important to note that many Sicilians hate the association of their country wth the Mafia. In addition, unlike in the movies, there is nothing glamorous about organised crime.
Practical Info To Know Before You Go
If you want to do the official Godfather movie location tour, the coaches starts from Taormina.
We stayed at a villa provided by Massimo Villas in Cefalu on the west coast of Sicily. Palermo, the site of the famous opera scene, is an easy drive about 1 hour from Cefalu. The other film locations such as Taormina and Savoca are on the east coast of Sicily. From Cefalu it was a 3 hour drive to get to Taormina. Hence, one of the reasons we ran out of time to see Savoca.
The movie family borrow their last name from the town of Corleone located near Palermo. By the 1970’s though, Corleone itself was too developed to be a film location for a movie set 20 years previously. Little Corleone does have deep associations with the Mafia. In the 1940’s, the little town had the one of the highest murder rates in the world. By the way, one set of Al Pacino’s grandparents were immigrants from Corleone.
If you are visiting Corleone though, the town has an anti-Mafia museum. In addition, Addiopizzo Travel organise tours that specifically reject the tentacles of organised crime (such as the small protection money called pizzo) that still exist in Sicily.
We rented our car through Hertz of which we are gold members. In retrospect, hiring a large 7-seater Volvo was fine in the big cities but was a mistake in the smaller villages and roads. Keep in mind also that Hertz in Palermo will let you hire a dongle to go with their in-built SatNav which is very handy. You may not have cellular access in the mountains and the Sat Nav proved unreliable on certain country addresses. Thank goodness for Google Maps!
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Sicily: A Short History by John Julius Norwich
Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
Unto the Daughters: Legacy of An Honor Killing by Karen Tintori