Forgive me for going into Cliff Clavin mode here, but…
I had a little fun with the "Godfather" cliche of business-vs.-personal in my Sunday column. But it’s a little-known fact that in the novel (as opposed to the movie), Michael Corleone did say it was personal, and not business.
The irony is that the "it’s not personal… it’s strictly business" line is probably the most quoted from the movie. It’s used in business, sports, anywhere and anytime American males do something distasteful for which they do not wish to be held morally responsible. It’s like the kinder, gentler, all-American version of the Nazis’ "I vas only followink orders."
Hey, I’ve been guilty of using it, to help me separate personal feelings for a newsmaker from the responsibility to report or comment without reference to those feelings (Hey, he’s a nice guy, but this is business…). But it can be a pious copout, if you’re a real human being.
And that was Mario Puzo’s point. In fact, the central theme of the novel, and of other works by Puzo, such as The Fourth K, was the exploration of the personal as opposed to larger societal obligation, such as to the rule of law. The seduction of The Godfather is that you are invited to care about these characters personally, and forget that they are unapologetic, sometimes murderous, criminals.
Anyway, the central speech in the novel occurs just before Michael goes off to kill Sollozzo and the police captain. He’s speaking to Tom Hagen:
…Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business…. They call it business, OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal. Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes. Right?…
It’s the epiphany around which the whole story is based. But somehow, as great as the movie is, that got left out. We were left with the opposite impression of the point. Odd, isn’t it?