Don Vito Corelone, "The Godfather" is one of the most iconic film characters of all time, played by Marlon Brando. He is an Italian immigrant of Sicilian origin who has built an organized crime empire in New York. In his autobiography, Marlon Brando described Don Corleone as "a gentle man, unlike Al Capone, who beat up people with baseball bats... I saw him as a man of substance, tradition, dignity, refinement, a man of unerring instinct who just happened to live in a violent world and who had to protect himself and his family in this environment" (Jones 139).
Don Corleone has three sons - Santino "Sonny", Fredo, and Michael, one daughter, Connie, and an adopted son, Tom Hagen. He loves all of his children and includes Sonny, Fredo, and Tom in the family business. He once had hopes that Michael would go into politics or another "legitimate" avenue of power, but after Don Corleone is shot, Michael quickly steps up to protect his father. After Sonny is murdered, Don Corleone, recognizing his skill, puts Michael in power. During the twilight of his life, Don Corleone relaxes and enjoys being a grandfather as well as a consigliere to Michael.
Don Vito Corleone's youngest son, played by Al Pacino in his star-making role. He went to Dartmouth College but dropped out to join the Marine Corps in World War II. After the war ends, Michael comes back to New York but makes it clear that he does not want to join his family's business. However, when Michael's father is attacked and nearly killed by a rival gangster, Michael steps up and volunteers to kill his father's attackers in order to keep the old man safe. After carrying out the murders, Michael hides out in Sicily and marries a young woman named Apollonia. Then, he receives news that his older brother, Sonny has been murdered and soon thereafter, Apollonia is killed in a car bomb meant for her husband. Back in New York, Michael becomes the head of the Corleone family and marries Kay Adams, his college sweetheart and has a son, Anthony. He proves himself to be much more ruthless and power-hungry than his father.
Don Corleone's adopted son and the family's even-keeled consigliere, played by Robert Duvall. Hagen is of German-Irish descent, which Sonny and Michael often use as a way to discredit him as a "wartime consigliere". Hagen is loyal through and through, and is often a voice of reason between Sonny's wild temper and Michael's cold-blooded ruthlessness. He is married to Theresa (who is Italian) and has two sons, Frank and Andrew.
Santino "Sonny" Corleone is one of Don Corleone's sons, played by James Caan. Sonny is known for his explosive temper and is not as bright as Michael or Tom Hagen. He has been part of the Family Business his whole life and steps in as Don after Don Vito is shot. Sonny is married to Sandra, with whom he has 4 children. He frequently cheats on her, notably with Lucy Mancini, one of his sister's bridesmaids. However, Sonny also has a softer side - he is extremely protective of his family, especially his younger siblings - nearly killing Carlo for beating Connie and protecting Michael after he kills Sollozzo and McCluskey. Carlo eventually betrays his violent brother-in-law, leading to Sonny's death.
Michael's girlfriend and eventual wife, played by Diane Keaton. She is from New England and symbolizes Michael's desire to live a life separate from his family business. After Michael commits a double murder and flees to Sicily, Kay tries desperately to get in touch with him, to no avail. A few years later, Michael returns to the USA and tracks Kay down. He reveals that he now works for his father (something he promised he would never do) and proposes marriage. She accepts and they eventually have two children - Anthony and Mary. However, Kay becomes increasingly disillusioned by Michael's work (which he cannot share with her) and his ascension to Don of the Corleone Family.
Don and Carmela Corleone's second son, played by John Cazale. He is the least intelligent and weakest of the Corleone brothers and rarely gets to participate in his family business at a high level. After Sonny's death, Michael sends Fredo to Las Vegas to look after the family's gambling interests, where Fredo develops a womanizing problem.
A famous singer, film star, and godson of Don Corleone, played by Al Martino. His character may or may not be inspired by Frank Sinatra. Don Corleone helps Johnny with his career, first getting him out of an oppressive contract with a band manager and later, forcing producer Jack Woltz to give him a role in a major war film (in the film's famous "horse head" scene).
An Italian undertaker who comes to Don Corleone during Connie and Carlo's wedding to request retaliation against some men who roughed up his daughter. Corleone agrees to carry out the task in exchange for Bonasera's loyalty. Later, the Don collects on his favor by asking Bonasera to prepare Sonny's body for his funeral.
Jack Woltz is the head of Woltz Studios in Los Angeles, played by John Marley. He is producing a new war film that Johnny Fontane, Don Corleone's godson, desperately wants to star in. However, Woltz is furious at Fontane for seducing away one of the young starlets Woltz had marked as his own and will not consider him for the role. Therefore, Tom Hagen is forced to go to Hollywood and make Woltz an offer he cannot refuse.
A top narcotics man who is running a heroin business out of Italy, played by Al Lettieri. Sollozzo is new to the New York scene and is backed by the Tattaglia family, but comes to Don Corleone to request protection and cash in exchange for a percentage of his business. Corleone politely turns Sollozzo down, leading to a series of retaliations. First, Sollozzo arranges to have Don Corleone gunned down, but his further attempts to murder the Don are thwarted by Michael. Michael Corleone murders Sollozzo at a restaurant, along with Sollozzo's crooked cop ally, McCluskey.
Don Corleone's bodyguard and driver played by John Martino. Paulie keeps calling out sick and is absent the day Don Corleone is gunned down. Clemenza and Rocco Lampone murder Paulie because Sonny thinks he snitched while he was apparently ill.
The Corelone family's loyal, awkward 'muscle', played by Lenny Montana. He is killed by Virgil Sollozzo when he tries to go undercover to obtain information about him.
Don Corleone's longtime caporegime, played by Richard S. Castellano. He lives in a modest home on Staten Island with his wife. He is a good cook and has a gregarious personality, but is also a loyal and ruthless killer when he has to be. During the film, Clemenza is responsible for the deaths of Paulie Gatto and Carlo Rizzi.
Another one of Don Corleone longtime caporegimes, played by Abe Vigoda. Michael discovers that Tessio has betrayed him to Barzini and has him executed. Before he is taken away, Tessio makes sure that Michael knows that his betrayal was only business - a reaction to Michael scaling back operations in New York increasing the Corleone family's presence in Las Vegas.
Don Corleone's youngest child, played by Talia Shire (Francis Ford Coppola's sister). She marries Carlo Rizzi, a friend of Sonny's, at the beginning of the film. Carlo regularly abuses and cheats on Connie, but they eventually have two sons, Victor and Michael Francis. Upon discovering that Carlo betrayed the Corleone family to Barzini, leading to Sonny's murder, Michael orders Carlo's execution. This causes a major rift in his relationship with Connie and with his own wife, Kay.
Connie's philandering, abusive husband, played by Gianni Russo. Don Corleone does not trust Carlo to be part of the family business. Sonny later nearly kills Carlo for beating Connie. Despite his violent nature, Michael relies on Carlo to help navigate the Corleone family's business in Las Vegas, since Carlo is from Nevada himself. However, when Michael discovers that Carlo conspired with Barzini to arrange Sonny's death, he has his brother-in-law killed.
The Sicilian baker, played by Vito Scotti, who makes the lavish cake for Connie's wedding and asks for Don Corleone's help in getting Enzo, his prospective son-in-law, a visa to stay in America.
The young Italian girl that Michael falls in love with while he is hiding out in Sicily, played by Simonetta Stefanelli. Michael marries her and only a year later, witnesses her accidental death due to a car bomb that was intended for him.
Carmela Corleone is the matriarch of the Corleone family, played by Morgana King. She is Don Corleone's wife; mother to Michael, Fredo, Connie, Sonny, and adoptive mother to Tom Hagen.
One of Michael's bodyguards while he is hiding out in Sicily, played by Angelo Infanti. Fabrizio betrays Michael, leading to the death of Apollonia.
One of Michael's bodyguards while he is hiding out in Sicily, played by Franco Citti.
The older man who is responsible for Michael's safety while he is hiding out in Sicily, played by Corrado Gaipa. He is an old friend and colleague of Don Vito Corleone.
The proprietor of a small coffee shop in the Sicilian village of Corleone, played by Saro Urzi. Vitelli is also Michael's father-in-law during his brief marriage to Apollonia.
Emilio Barzini is a Don in New York, and the biggest rival to the Corleone families. He arranged Sonny's murder.
A renowned Jewish mobster and the Corleones' business partner in their casino, played by Alex Rocco. Greene is well-established in Las Vegas and who agrees to take Fredo under his wing while the Five Families in New York are at war. Greene grows frustrated with Fredo's womanizing and hits him in public, drawing the ire of Fredo's brother, Michael. Moe refuses to sell his shares in the casino to Michael, and as a result, dies as part of Michael's killing spree.
A crooked police captain whom Sollozzo has bought off, played by Sterling Hayden. McCluskey calls off all the police protection surrounding Don Corleone when he is in the hospital after being shot, but Michael comes to the rescue. As a result, McCluskey punches Michael in the face, breaking his jaw. Later, Michael assassinates McCluskey and Sollozzo in order to keep his father safe.
The Don of the Tattaglia family and father of Bruno Tattaglia, played by Victor Rendina. His family is involved in the heroin business and he is the initial supporter of Sollozzo's trade in new York.
Son and underboss of Philip Tattaglia and colleague of Virgil Sollozzo, played by Tony Giorgio. Sonny Corleone orders Bruno's death after the assassination attempt on Don Corleone.
A Don who, like Don Corleone, has fought hard to keep his distance from the narcotics trade - played by Louis Guss.
Nazorine's son-in-law who Don Corleone helps get a visa to stay in New York. He works in the bakery with his father-in-law, and, as a show of loyalty to Corleone, helps Michael protect the Don from Sollozzo's henchmen at the hospital.
Michael's bodyguard who becomes a caporegime at the end of the film, played by Richard Bright.
An enforcer (and eventual caporegime) for the Corleone family, trained by Clemenza and played by Tom Rosqui.
An enforcer for the Corleone Family, played by Joe Spinell.
The Don of one of the Five New York Families.
One of the New York Dons
Michael and Kay's eldest child
Senior Vice President in Charge of Worldwide Production for Paramount Pictures who oversaw The Godfather. He is a former actor who, as an inexperienced executive at Paramount, transformed the floundering studio into the most powerful organization in Hollywood. In his prestigious, prolific career, Evans oversaw films like Rosemary's Baby, Love Story and Chinatown, among many others. Although Evans calls The Godfather the "best picture ever made", he also claims that it almost destroyed him.
Brando is commonly considered the greatest American actor of all time and is regarded as a cultural icon. He won his first Academy Award in 1954 for his portrayal of Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront and continued to star in successful films throughout the 1950s, but he hit a rough patch in the 1960s. When Francis Ford Coppola brought up Brando's name as a potential Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Paramount balked because the actor had developed a terrible reputation for being notoriously difficult on set and was considered "unbankable". However, Coppola insisted, and Brando eventually won an Oscar for his performance. He went on to star in Coppola's next film, Apocalypse Now, and took several supporting performances throughout the 1990s, despite his massive weight gain. He died in 2004, and was survived by 13 children.
James Caan and Francis Ford Coppola attended Hofstra University at the same time and Caan had previously starred in Coppola's film The Rain People. By 1972, he was already an established actor, having proven his chops on television and in films like El Dorado with John Wayne and Red Line 7000, directed by Howard Hawks. The role of Sonny ended up being smaller than Caan expected. At the premiere, he was furious that his part was cut down so drastically, but he was eventually nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (as were his costars Al Pacino and Robert Duvall).
Al Pacino was a relatively unknown stage actor when Francis Ford Coppola insisted he be cast as Michael Corleone. The role propelled Pacino into superstardom, and cemented him as one of America's most enduring cinematic icons. He was nominated for 8 Oscars over 30 years (for roles in The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, ...And Justice for All, Dick Tracy, and Glengarry Glen Ross, eventually winning in 1993 for Scent of a Woman.
Duvall, like Al Pacino, started out as a stage actor before making his foray into films and television. In 1962, he played Boo Radley in the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird. His role as Tom Hagen in The Godfather films was critically acclaimed and earned him his first Academy Award Nomination. He gained more widespread praise a few years later for his role in Coppola's Apocalypse Now. He has maintained a steady and celebrated acting career for over 50 years.
The Godfather Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Godfather is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.