The Godfather Effect

It has been 40 years since the "The Godfather" drew fans into the iconic saga of the Corleone family, reinventing the mob-movie genre and embedding the phrase "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse" in the American idiom.

But the blockbuster film and its two sequels, with more than $1 billion in revenues, are about far more than crime and punishment to Tom Santopietro, the author of "The Godfather Effect." Mr. Santopietro, a theater manager who has written books on Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Barbra Streisand, saw "The Godfather: Part II" (1974) as a college sophomore, and it rocked his world: The image of a young Vito Corleone quarantined at Ellis Island stirred a sense of identity that had eluded him for years—the scene instantly connecting him to the Italian roots on his father's side of the family.

Part memoir, part devotional film essay and part reflection on the meaning of ethnicity in American life, "The Godfather Effect" purports to define how the "Godfather" movies, along with the 1969 Mario Puzo novel from which they were adapted, reflected the "madness, glory and failure" of the American dream. By exploring that dream in distinctly Italian-American terms, the movies "succeeded in delivering nothing less than the Italianization of American culture." In other words, they were so cool that everyone wanted to seem a little Italian.

The Godfather Effect
By Tom Santopietro
St. Martin's, 326 pages, $25.99

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