July 20, 2024
What could I, a middle-aged family man who types words for a living, possibly find appealing about the immorality and violence of the Mafia?
Marlon Brando in The Godfathe (Paramount Pictures, IMDb)
Marlon Brando in The Godfathe (Paramount Pictures, IMDb)

‘You’re watching The Godfather? Again?”

“Yes, again,” I respond to my wife. “Also, don’t ask me about my business.”

My beleaguered spouse rolls her eyes at this familiar retort, but she has only herself to blame. By all accounts, a woman reared in a large New York household and blessed with a salubrious Latin name — a “Maria” in the middle; the whole shebang — should be enthusiastic about watching the story of the Corleone family for the umpteenth time with her husband. 

She should be excited, for that matter, to watch the violent pseudo-realism of Scorsese’s Goodfellas or to binge-watch the contemporary struggles of the Soprano family. Yet it’s never so.

The real Mafia was a criminal enterprise that trafficked in human misery, and there’s absolutely no reason to romanticize such things. Italian Americans, she argues, would be far better off educating people about the cultural and scientific achievements of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Fermi, Montessori, and so on. 

This, I explain, is exactly what “Joe” Colombo, founder of the Italian-American Civil Rights League and head of a crime family, told a crowd during a 1971 rally in Manhattan just before he was gunned down by an associate of Vincenzo “Vinny” Aloi. I happen to be reminded of this event because I just finished my fifth reading of Selwyn Raab’s Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires