Remember this scene? The first meeting with Sollozzo. This is not Plot Point 1 of The Godfather, but it’s arguably the most important scene in the movie. Now you’re like…huh?
Classic screenplay structure, meaning Old School Syd Field variety, tells us that the Plot Point 1 takes us out of the First Act. It’s a lynch pin scene. There’s no movie without it. In a 100 page movie, it happens around page 25. In a two-hour movie, it happens more like page 30.
In the case of The Godfather, and indeed the entire Godfather trilogy–not of it would exist without this Sollozzo scene.
Recall the scene: Don Corleone is talked into meeting the drug dealer Solozzo by both Sonny and Tom. In the meeting the Don is offered the chance to go into business with Sollozzo. Sollozzo wants access to Don Corleone’s powerful friends– judges, politicians. In return he will cut the Don in for a thick percentage. Everyone stands to make millions. Yet Brando turns him down. He points out he would lose his political connections and judges if they discovered he was peddling heroin. He wishes Sollozzo the best, but refuses him.
This single decision determines the entire course of The Godfather Trilogy.
Think about it: If Brando tells Sollozzo he will go into business with him, there is no assassination attempt made on the Don. Brando doesn’t end up in the hospital. Michael, the war veteran, if he follows through his previous life course, marries Kaye and never becomes the Don. Michael does not kill Sollozzo in the restaurant. He doesn’t go to Italy. Sonny doesn’t die–least not at the tollbooth like he did.
All of this happens because Brando turns Sollozzo down. Plot Points are lynch pin scenes. There is no movie without them.
So what is the Plot Point 1 scene for The Godfather? We had two sequences before the Sollozzo meeting. The first sequence, The Wedding, opened up the movie with 15 or more scenes (19 pages total) concentrating around the big event of Carla’s wedding. This introduces us to the entire Corleone family. It also fully sets up the world, the tone, and the beginnings of conflict.
The second sequence is what? Right…Hollywood. The horse’s head!
The Sinatra character had to have that role, so Tom Hagan roles out to L.A. to have a little talk with the all-powerful movie producer Woltz. He disses Tom at the start, then learns who he is and brings him to him home to make amends. They go to the stables, see the beautiful million dollar horse, have a marvelous dinner, but the movie producer isn’t changing his mind. Johnny Fontaine ruined one of his young actresses lives with his olive oil voice and guinea charm (well, presumably the damage was done more than just guinea charm)…Tom excuses himself and makes plans to leave, the Don always insists on hearing bad news quickly. Cue night, silk sheets, and Seabiscuit no more. This sequence puts the Puzo-Coppola draft on page 22.
That brings us to the Sollozzo scene on pages 23-25. So, what’s the Plot Point 1 scene?
Yep, it’s the assassination attempt on Don Corleone:
This happens on page 32, just about the exact page a two-hour movie would want to be according to the Old School, Syd Field structural model.
Here’s what the script looks like: