Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. Life lessons from The Godfather.
Updated: Aug 1
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who say The Godfather is their favorite movie of all time. And those who don’t. I am of the former and inherently suspicious of the latter.
There are many, many great lines in The Godfather and The Godfather II. There is one great line in the third movie and frankly, we’re lucky we got that.
Out of all of them though, Clemenza’s cannoli line is hard to beat. First, the context. Peter Clemenza has been with the Corleone family since the beginning. He is loyal through-out. Unlike that ungrateful piece of shit, Tessio.
“Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old time’s sake.”
“Can’t do it Sally.”
Yeah. Fuck you, Tessio. Go sleep with the fishes, traitor.
But Clemenza’s loyalty never waivers. He’s Sonny’s godfather. And when Sonny expresses an interest to his father in joining the family business, Clemenza is the man who teaches him the ropes.
A lot of shit goes down in The Godfather and the family finds itself in a sticky situation. Faced with the possibility of all-out war with the other families, Clemenza is tasked with two important jobs.
First, he’s got to find a good place for the gang to hide-out—which of course is referred to in the film as going to the mattresses. Secondly, he’s got to kill Paulie. Like Tessio, Paulie is a backstabbing little butthole and needs to be dealt with.
So, when we see Clemenza being picked up at his house in the morning, what we’re looking at is an incredibly busy man from the senior leadership team with a hell of a big day ahead of him. He’s basically an SVP with two major client meetings in one day. It’s not something a senior executive can’t handle but it requires focus and if nothing else, a good night’s rest.
As Clemenza is leaving the house, his wife (who BTW is played by the actor’s real-life wife) asks him to pick up some cannoli to which he agrees without giving it so much as a second thought. This alone, is amazing to me. If I was headed off to look for a new hide-out AND whack an associate, I’d be a little testy.
“Jesus, Honey. Do you know what a shit-show my day is like today?”
But for a guy like Clemenza, it’s NBD. The man is a hell of a multi-tasker and I admire his cool-headedness under the circumstances. Now there’s a guy who isn’t letting the day-to-day stress of his work life bleed over into his role as husband and father. He’s a better man than I am. Shamefully, I’m prone to crankiness at the approach of a looming deadline.
When it’s time for the deed to be done, Clemenza wisely delegates the task to Rocco as he relieves himself by the side of the road. It’s not in the movie, but in the book, this is Rocco’s first hit and Clemenza is allowing him the opportunity to earn his bones and advance in the profession. Clemenza may be a cold-blooded killer but you can’t say he doesn’t mentor the juniors.
Admirable yet again.
And then finally, we get the line. Which in the script was simply: Leave the gun. The actor who played Clemenza adlibbed the line we know and love by adding the cannoli follow-up on set.
But there’s more to those cannoli then just the crème filling. Again and again The Godfather talks about family above all else. The Don says it clearly and emphatically to Jonny Fontaine while giving Sonny the side-eye.
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
It would seem that when it comes to work/life balance the mob is far ahead of the curve than most companies in more conventional industries. Did the mafia invent unlimited PTO? I’m not sure. There’s not a lot of data out there on the subject.
But back to Clemenza. While leaving the gun, which is now tied to an unsolved murder, is a wise move—taking the cannoli is a grander gesture that tells us much more about Clemenza’s values and ability to juggle his professional life with his obligations at home.
There are many other great quotes from which we can all learn. I won’t linger on the obvious but there’s one other line that’s far less famous yet none the less packed with wisdom.
In Godfather II, after his son’s first communion, Michael survives an assassination attempt. Late that night he sits with Tom Hagen. Michael explains that he suspects the assassins we’re hired by someone on the inside. Tom is taken aback with the thought of a disloyal family member, but Michael is quick to explain.
“All our people are businessmen. Their loyalty is based on that.”
At the end of the day no truer statement can be made. I would love to work in an industry where loyalty and dedication were enough to keep myself from being fitted with a pair of cement shoes. But it would be unwise. Loyalty can only be given when its return is guaranteed. And sadly, there is no such guarantee in advertising. The reality is, in today’s agencies, your salary must be covered by a client scope. And even if your work is nothing short of stellar, should that client leave, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be asked to take a ride with Clemenza.
The only advice I can give you is to remember two other famous lines from The Godfather movies.
“It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
And this gem from Hyman Roth.
“This is the business we’ve chosen.”