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It was only business… Abe Vigora’s best scene remembered.

January 27, 2016

tessio

Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.

Abe Vigora died yesterday after many many years of jokes involving the fact that he was surprisingly still alive.  He was one of those actors who only found fame once he looked fairly elderly, but he was not in fact as elderly as he looked.

His most famous screen role was, of course, as Sal Tessio – senior caporegime to the Corleone family in The Godfather.   Tessio is “almost” family within the Corleone organisation and is present at nearly all high level discussions.  He is tall and thin and gaunt.   Clemenza, the other senior capo, is short and fat and jovial.   And eventually it is Tessio who betrays Michael to the Barzinis – arranging a “meeting” that will involve Michael’s assassination.  Tom Hagen is surprised when Tessio emerges as the traitor, thinking Clemenza the more likely candidates for treason, but Michael sagely observes that Tessio was always the smarter one and betrayal was the logical business move.

Sal Tessio’s assertion that “it was only business” as he stoically prepares for his own imminent death is just one of countless hopeless attempts to separate business from family in the course of the Godfather trilogy.  When Michael persuades Sonny and Tom that killing the Turk and the police captain in a restaurant is the right move – he insists that it’s “business” and not “personal”.   Meanwhile, “business” is not to be discussed a the family dinner table.   And at the end of the film Kay is given one chance and one chance only to ask Michael a “business” question.  The final closing of the doors on Kay (by hit man Al Neri) represents the culmination of nearly three hours of attempts to enforce lines of separation between the professional and the familial.

The Corleones run a family business which if they themselves are to be believed – is a tautology.  But the more they seek to protect a domestic sphere from professional contamination, the more hopeless these lines of demarcation appear.   Indeed Sal Tessio’s exquisite final line is about perhaps the driving issue of the trilogy – the issue of failed compartmentalisation – failed attempts to seal off parts of your life and keep them safe – failed attempts to call certain things sacred and private.

RIP Abe Vigora – I hope your passing was as dignified as Sal’s.  But a lot less violent obviously.

 

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One Comment
  1. I didn’t know about this. I used to love him in “Barney Miller.” And yes, his last scene in “Godfather” is a great one.

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