Dissolve to a montage of newspaper headlines reporting the hunt for the "cop killer", New York's crackdown on organized crime, and, just as Michael had planned - a story linking McCluskey to the "drug rackets". Scenes of the Corleone Family fade in and out between the newspaper closeups and black-and-white photos of the escalating mob war. The final image of the montage is a newspaper story about Vito Corleone returning home. Dissolve to the exterior of the hospital, buzzing with police and button men. An ambulance pulls away, flanked by several black cars.
The family is gathered all around the Corleone Mall, awaiting the Don's return. Inside the house, orderlies carry the bedridden Don up the stairs. Tom Hagen tells his father that the police have been cracking down on all of the Families since McCluskey's death. The Godfather, meanwhile, asks about Michael. Tom and Sonny gingerly reveal that Michael is the one who killed Sollozzo. Don Corleone shakes his head in disappointment, and the men leave his bedside. On the stairway, Sonny tells Tom Hagen to find out where Tattaglia is hiding. Tom cautions Sonny to ease off the war, as it is costing the family a lot of money. Sonny gets riled up and shouts at Tom, who storms away. At dinner, Connie reprimands Sonny for talking business at the dinner table. Carlo tries to interject, eager to be more actively involved with the family - but Sonny hushes him. Fredo enters his father's bedroom, looking contemplative. Don Corleone holds the Get Well cards from his grandchildren on his chest and falls asleep.
Dissolve to an establishing shot of the Sicilian countryside. In a medium shot, Michael, with a shotgun slung over his shoulder, walks with his bodyguards, Calo and Fabrizio. Don Tommasino, who is tasked with Michael's safety, urges the American not to stray too far from his home because his enemies know where he is. Michael, however, decides to keep walking to Corleone - a small hilltop Sicilian village. The streets are empty, and Calo tells Michael this is because all the men have been killed in vendettas. The trio runs into a group of village girls collecting flowers on the hillside. Apollonia - a brunette beauty - catches Michael's eye. He stares at her, dumbstruck.
Michael, Calo and Fabrizio wander into a cafe and sit down with Vitelli, the gregarious proprietor. Over coffee, Fabrizio asks Vitelli about the beautiful girl they saw on the hillside. As he describes her, Vitelli's mood changes and he storms inside. Calo and Fabrizio then urge Michael to leave the cafe, realizing that Apollonia is Vitelli's daughter. Michael, however, asks Vitelli respectfully if he can meet Apollonia under the family's supervision. Vitelli agrees. A few days later, Michael, dapper and polished, comes to the Vitelli house, accompanied by Fabrizio and Calo. Vitelli introduces Michael to all of the family members, and he dutifully shakes hands and hands out gifts. He hands Apollonia a special gift - a pretty gold necklace, which she puts on. At the cafe, Michael sits with Vitelli and listens to his jovial stories, while locking eyes with Apollonia across the table. Later, the young lovebirds go for a walk together with the entire family following several paces behind.
Back in New York City, Sonny leaves a tryst with Lucy Mancini and goes to pick up Connie. When he walks into Connie and Carlo's apartment, however, Sonny sees that his sister's face is battered and bruised. Sonny flies into a rage but Connie tries to calm him down, saying that she was responsible for starting the fight with Carlo. She tries to make her hot-headed brother promise not to do anything, to no avail. Down the street, Carlo is sitting on the stoop of a nearby building, talking to friends. Sonny's car pulls up and as soon as his brother-in-law gets out, Carlo runs away. Sonny catches up with him and throws him against a brick wall. He punches and kicks Carlo repeatedly, slamming steel trash cans on his head as neighbors gather and watch. A bloody Carlo falls to the ground under a gushing fire hydrant and Sonny leaves him with a final threat: "Touch my sister again, I'll kill ya".
In Sicily, Michael and Apollonia kneel before a priest, dressed in their wedding finery. After the ceremony ends, a band leads the traditional bridal procession through the streets of Corleone. The entire village gathers in the square, where Michael and Apollonia dance for the first time as husband and wife. Later, in a tight shot, Michael walks through his bedroom and comes to face his nervous new bride. Apollonia walks towards him slowly and he takes her face in his hands - kissing her. She drops her slip to the floor and he takes her in his arms.
On a dreary day, a taxi stops in front of the Corelone Mall and Kay Adams, dressed in a red hat and coat, steps out. Tom Hagen comes out of the main house to greet her. She desperately wants to know where Michael is - she hasn't been able to reach him. Tom tells her that nobody knows where Michael is and she cannot send anything to him. Meanwhile, in Connie and Carlo's apartment, a heavily pregnant Connie answers the phone. It's a woman calling for Carlo to tell him that she can't make it until later. Connie hangs up, furious, and tells Carlo that dinner is on the table. He refuses to eat and they start to fight. Connie explodes and starts throwing all the dishes in the apartment. Carlo, his temper rising again, takes off his belt and commands his bawling wife to clean up the mess. Connie hides in the bathroom and Carlo kicks the door in. We hear her screams in between his violent lashes.
Back in the Corleone home, Mama can't understand Connie's frantic wails over the phone. Frustrated, she hands the phone to Sonny. His listens and his expression darkens. Boiling with anger, Sonny runs out of the house and into his car. Tom Hagen tries to stop him but Sonny won't listen - so Hagen sends a carful of button men to keep an eye on him. After stopping at a toll booth, Sonny gets stuck behind another car. All of a sudden, he notices a group of men brandishing machine guns in an adjacent toll booth. Several more men exit the car that is stopped in front of him. The gunfire starts and Sonny, unable to fire back, stumbles out of his car. The bullets keep pelting his body until he falls to the ground. The Corleones' button men pull up, but it's too late. Sonny Corleone is dead and his murderers have fled the scene.
In a long shot, Tom Hagen sits in Don Corleone's dark office, his back to the camera, sipping a drink. The camera slowly moves towards him and Don Corleone walks into the frame, sitting down. Sonny turns to face his father. Don Corleone asks Tom Hagen to tell him what he already knows. Tom's voice cracks as he tells Don Corleone the news of Sonny's death. Don Corleone turns his face into the shadows and starts to cry. Broken, he asks Tom to arrange a meeting with the heads of the five families - this war must end. Don Corleone offers Tom a comforting embrace - and asks him to ring Bonasera. It's time to call in a favor.
Two men bring Sonny's body, covered in a blanket, into Amerigo Bonasera's funeral parlor. Don Corleone tells Bonasera that the undertaker must now repay his debt to the Godfather. The Don pulls back the blanket covering Sonny's corpse, which is riddled with bullet holes, and asks Bonasera to do whatever he can to salvage it before the funeral. The Don's face falls and his eyes fill with tears as he says, "look how they massacred my boy."
Coppola had to fight Paramount to allow him to film scenes in Sicily, understanding how vital these scenes were to tracking Michael's descent into despotism. He wrote in his notebook, "we consider the land itself; ancient, with beautiful views of the sea; in part arid, and now, in the Springtime, abundant. Most of all a feeling of its ancient rituals and roots" (Jones 142). In this sequence, Coppola immerses his audience in the beauty of Sicily - namely, in the character of Apollonia and Michael's charming pursuit of her. However, there is a dark side to Michael's heritage as well. As Calo and Fabrizio point out, there are no men left in Corleone because they have all been killed in vendettas. During the time when Michael was in Sicily in the film, the town of Corleone did actually have the highest murder rate in the world. Along with the beauty - Michael becomes highly aware of the longstanding terror that has been unfolding here for many years - and he cannot escape it. That is his heritage.
In the novel The Godfather, Mario Puzo goes into much more detail about the history of organized crime and its effect on life in Sicily during the first half of the 20th Century. He writes, "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... Sicilians learned that the establishment was their enemy, so to obtain redress they went to 'the rebel underground, the Mafia'" (Puzo 311). However, neither Puzo nor Coppola attempt to claim that the Mafia presence in Sicily was a solution to these problems, as Mafia Dons perpetrated their own brand of oppression, driving droves of people out of Italy to escape the "corrupt, undemocratic sociopolitical structure that... protected the mafia". Therefore, it is understandable how Don Corleone, who grew up under the thumb of the Mafia, would be attracted to unlawful business after moving to America; it is the only kind of power structure he understood.
Critic George De Stefano writes, "The Godfather films identify the organization and values of a mafia clan with those of the southern Italian/Sicilian family. The profits of the Corleone crime 'family' nourish the Italian immigrant family, and the Italian family culture sustains the crime family" (De Stefano 85). Michael's entry into the world of organized crime starts to feel less and less like a choice and more like an inevitability - perhaps even fate. His love for Apollonia, the innocent beauty, is a parallel to Coppola's romantic depiction of the beautiful Italian countryside - a stark contrast to the murky, noirish scenes of New York. In this way, Coppola shows how Don Corleone and, by proxy, his family, still idealize the traditions and history of the Old World, and therefore, venture to remain connected to it.
Critic Vera Dika praised Coppola's embrace of la via vecchia, literally translated as 'the old road' and commonly used to refer to the Old Sicilian ways. Characters in the film "who commit infamie -- the pedophile producer Jack Woltz or Carlo Rizzi, who beats his wife... get just what they deserve because they have transgressed the protocols of the Old World" (De Stefano 105). Meanwhile, this section of the film also embodies the eternal paradox of Coppola's depiction: "the most lovingly detailed depiction of Italian American life in the history of the movies... framed through the singular experience of an atypical group, a society of outlaws" (De Stefano). Italians and Italian-Americans widely decried the common pop culture image of the 'mafiosio gangster' that existed before The Godfather. Meanwhile, although Coppola's film is framed by the world of organized crime, his depiction of the Corleone family is so specific and nuanced that it transcends stereotypes - at its core, this is the story of a man contending with his own demons.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Michael's short but impactful turn in his family's business leaves a noticeable void while he is away. Sonny and Tom Hagen clash - Sonny wants to keep the war amongst the families going, determined to further avenge the attack on his father by going after Old Man Tattaglia. Tom Hagen, though, is concerned about the loss of money to their business. And without Don Corleone able to enforce his specific code of conduct, this conflict starts to bleed into the Corleone family's personal life. An example of this is the Sunday dinner scene, where Sonny and Carlo start discussing business in front of their kids and wives. Connie comments that Don Corleone never "talked business at the table".
Without Michael's ruthlessness and the Don's measured tyranny, the Corleone family at the fragile mercy of Sonny's hot-headed whims. Sonny cannot control himself, which is why he is not a good Don. He puts his vulnerability out in the open. For example, when he comes to Connie's house and finds her beaten and bruised, he decides to enact his own vigilante justice. He finds Carlo on a street corner. Of the scene where Sonny beats up Carlo, Coppola wrote, "We must really think that Sonny's going to kill Carlo until here (i.e. when he says 'Touch my sister again...')" (Jones 158). Through this act of violence, Sonny reveals his weakness - being irrationally reactive. This trait, according to Tom Hagen, is the reason that Sonny develops a bad reputation during the time that he is Don, and what eventually leads to his death.