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Joe Bonanno is on the mark when he says The Godfather is a story about family pride and personal honor. This aspect raises the Corleones above being a mere gangster family. We see them more as a clan fighting a war for survival.

In fact, the most remarkable thing about the three Godfather films is that we continually find ourselves rooting for the Mafia every time rather than the duly constituted authorities.

The villains in this world created by Mario Puzo and sustained by Francis Ford Coppola are not the Corleone family and their gang of willing cutthroats. The Corleones are sympathetic figures we keep attempting to understand.

Remember the sudden burst of cheers that swept the theatre when the crooked Vatican official (he is either a bishop or a cardinal) gets rubbed out in gangland fashion in the climax of Godfather III.

By the time this dishonest man of the cloth is shot to death, we have so deeply identified with the lifestyle of the Mafia family that we are willing to believe this is an absolutely sensible course of action.

We experienced the same reaction back in the series opener when young Al Pacino, war veteran and Dartmouth College graduate, says, "Where does it say you can't kill a cop?" Then we watched with growing excitement as he came out of the restroom in the Italian restaurant with the pistol in his hand to kill the crooked police officer played by Sterling Hayden.

In Godfather II, we delighted when the arrogant and crooked senator from Nevada was drugged and then set up in bed with a dead prostitute. For the moment, we believed the senator got exactly what he deserved because he had been rude to Michael Corleone and had even insulted his Italian heritage.

It was in Godfather II that we were even able to suspend our horror when Michael ordered the execution of his older brother, Fredo.

Perhaps we're more romantic than we think. Fredo had betrayed the family and had helped enemies set up an attack on Michael and his wife. Fredo was weak. He must be eliminated.

The Corleone family are always depicted in heroic fashion.
Why should we dislike or fear them? The old don, played by Marlon Brando, sees to it that a young woman's honor is avenged. He refuses to traffic in heroin. All he wants to do is run profitable operations based on gambling, liquor and women.

Michael Corleone's goal is to move the family out of mob operations and into legitimate business.

But they are always finding it necessary to kill people. It seems to be the only way to convince some of the error of their ways.

Compare Don Corleone with the closing summary of Joe Bonanno to his book:
"I was born into a tradition. I was born among a people whom experience has taught to cherish certain fixed values. It taught us right and wrong. It guided youngsters as they strove toward manhood. It guided mature men, and punished them if they deserved it. Our tradition gave us a way of life."

"My father is no different from other powerful men," Michael Corleone says at one point in the first film.

We never realize until the third film when Michael, now the head of the family, starts tossing bribes at the Vatican that the Corleone fortunes had reached into the hundreds of millions.

Certainly, the real mob always had deep pockets. As long ago as 1965, Carlo Gambino, another New York don and a contemporary of Joe Bonanno, owned several million dollars' worth of real estate in Manhattan.

Gambino not only owned the building in which the Wall Street Journal was published, he also owned the building which housed Vogue magazine, the Chrysler building and the building on East 69th Street where the FBI had its New York City headquarters.

The Corleone family is not representative of the typical Mafia member any more than the Pulliam family is representative of an average Arizona Republic reporter.

We walk away from the movie with a sneaking sense of admiration for the Corleones and for all hoodlums as well.

I would believe all this if I hadn't seen the average Mafia hood in action in Chicago.

I remember Sam DeStefano, often referred to as the clown prince of the Chicago crime syndicate, when he was on trial in federal court for threatening a government witness.

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Tom Fitzpatrick