Sunday, November 12, 2017

Don't Make a Scene: The Godfather Part II

The Set-Up: "Useful idiots." It's a term that first saw print in June of 1948 in The New York Times commenting on Italian politics and the role of local newspapers pushing a communist agenda. In spy/political parlance, it describes those individuals who, for whatever reason (be it ideological zeal, a literal or political romanticism, or something as practical as greed) betray secrets to spies or comrades or fellow travelers to meet whatever ends the puppet-masters in Moscow...or wherever...require. They may do so deliberately or because they don''t know any better, or because they truly are "idiots."

Whatever. It's a need or weakness of character in the UI's that contrariness can seem minor compared to what is gained in return...even if it is only respect, real or imagined. The deficiency in thought is that they think they are in some sort of control, when, in fact, they are merely leaving themselves open for a betrayal of their own from whatever they are working for. In the mirror, they are rebels or heroes; observed, they are pathetic and disposable.

They may be "idiots" or not; they actually may be very smart—but not as smart as they think they are...or as they think should be recognized by others. The medical result is a chip on the shoulder and in that toxic mix, their actions may seem like an act or revenge ("Oh, yeah? I'll show 'em!), impotent though it may be.

I've written before about the Dunning-Kruger effect, the one that came to the conclusion that a lot of people—maybe a majority of them—aren't as knowledgeable as they think they are, and think that they are (unless they're shown—and accept—that they aren't). 

And because I'm surely not good enough to explain Dunning-Kruger, here's a very enlightening video:

Search Results

Just as knowledge increases exponentially, the internet seems to have increased the Dunning-Kruger effect just as dramatically. I can remember a time when I could say "People don't know what they don't know" and dismiss it. Then, there came a time when people didn't care what they didn't know. Now, people are actually proud of what they don't know.

And who is the patron saint of the D-K crowd? I nominate Fredo Corleone from 2/3 of "The Godfather" trilogy ("I'm not dumb, like everybody says. I'm smart!"), as exemplified by this scene from The Godfather Part II.
Appropriately, it ends in the dark.

The Story: Things are not going well with the Corleone Family: Michael's negotiating a deal with dying Mafia Don Hymen Roth (Lee Strasberg) over control of his business interests in Cuba; the Senate is investigating the Mafia and paying extra-close attention to the Corleone's; he's losing respect—he's facing defiance from his family members and hostility with his business partners: with the Corleone's in Las Vegas, his lieutenants are losing control in the old neighborhoods in New York; things are fractious between the head of the Corleone family, Michael (Al Pacino), and his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), especially after an attempted hit on Michael at his Lake Tahoe estate.

That last one stung and Michael spends a good deal of time trying to find out who was able to penetrate his net of security to get close enough to spray machine gun fire into his bedroom. In Cuba, he discovers, from an ill-considered boast, that it is his older brother Fredo (John Cazale) who has betrayed him. With the two Corleone's safely back in Lake Tahoe, it is time to get some information.



Fredo sits on the couch.  When Rocco sees Michael, he automatically takes his leave.  

Michael sits in the chair opposite Fredo.

FREDO (after a pause) I don't have a lot to say, Michael.

MICHAEL We have time.

FREDO I was kept pretty much in the dark. I didn't know all that much.

MICHAEL What about now, is there anything you can help me out with?
MICHAEL Anything you can tell me now?

FREDO I know they got Pentangeli, that's all I know.
Fredo gets up, walks to the glass panel that separates the terrace from the lake.

FREDO I didn't know it was a hit, Mike. 

FREDO I swear to God I didn't know (it was going to be a hit). 
FREDO Johnny Ola contacted me in Beverly Hills -- said he wanted to talk. 
FREDO He said you and Roth were in on some big deal, and there was a place...
FREDO ...something in it for me in it if I could help them out.
FREDO They said you were being tough on the negotiation, and if they had a could get a...
FREDO ...little bit of help,
FREDO ...they could close it fast and it would be good for you the Family.

MICHAEL And you believed that story?
MICHAEL You believed that?

FREDO He said there was something good in it for on my own.

MICHAEL I've always taken care of you, Fredo.
FREDO Taken care of me.  Mike, you're my kid brother, and you take care of me.  Did you ever think of that, huh? D'ja ever once think about that? 
FREDO Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo off to do that... let Fredo take care of some "Mickey Mouse" night club somewhere, and there; send Fredo to pick somebody up at the airport.  Mike,
FREDO I'm your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!
MICHAEL It's the way Pop wanted it.

FREDO It ain't the way I wanted it!  
FREDO I can handle things.  I'm smart; not like everyone says; like dumb. 
FREDO I'm smart and I want respect.

MICHAEL Is there anything you can tell me about this investigation?

MICHAEL Anything more?

FREDO The Senate lawyer; Questadt, he belongs to Roth.

MICHAEL Fredo, You're nothing to me now; you're not a brother, you're not a friend,
MICHAEL I don't want to know you, or what you do. 
MICHAEL I don't want to see you at the hotels. I don't want you near my house.  When you see our Mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won't be there. 
MICHAEL Do you understand?
Michael turns, and starts to leave.  A frightened voice behind him:

FREDO Mikey?
Michael doesn't stop, doesn't turn back.  He continues off through the veranda, and out the summer doors.
Neri stops by him.

MICHAEL I don't want anything to happen to him while my Mother's alive.

Michael leaves.

The Godfather Part II

Words by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola

Pictures by Gordon Willis and Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather Part II is available on Paramount Home Video.

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