He’s more than just your real world political punchline.
While normally I’m loathe to spoil a perfectly fine article about movies with something as nerve-wracking as current events—I say “normally” because I do it all the time these days, but IRL has gone a little goofy, unavoidably so at times—this week’s news has seen a development relevant enough to the world of movies that it requires address. The shithead kids of the shithead president have been fucking up a bit and the commentariat has, in a swift coalescence of the collective unconscious, decided that the entire family is acting like Fredo Corleone. Because this is properly a space to discuss movies, I’m going to unilaterally call QED on the First Family’s shithead status and move on to an examination, and indeed, defense of Fredo. Fredo may have been kind of a shithead. He definitely fucked up a bit. But he deserves better than this.
The Godfather movies having long since passed into a realm of culture that transcends the cloisters of movies themselves, and are so universally recognized that references to them have become shorthand, shibboleths standing in for ideas and archetypes. The Don, Vito Corleone, is a stand-in for benevolently sinister/sinisterly benevolent patriarch. Michael Corleone, ruthless pursuit, and maintenance of power. Sonny Corleone, hot-headed short-sightedness. And so on. Fredo, the middle son, passed over in the line of succession by his younger brother, instead sent as an advance man to Las Vegas for the family’s move west, is the avatar of a handful of far less admired and respected characteristics. He is regarded as a condescending affection, considered to be unintelligent if not outright mentally challenged, and his ultimate betrayal of the family, to flatterers who catered to his sense of birthright entitlement, was considered so unforgivable that he was perfunctorily shot in the back of the head and dumped in Lake Tahoe. This after a childhood in which he frequently took ill and an adulthood where his lack of rage, cruelty, and moral conflict was regarded as weakness.
It is long past time to sing Fredo Corleone’s praises, and list his heroic qualities and deeds. To wit:
He had two dicks
Moe Greene, in the first Godfather, complains to Michael that, in order to maintain an efficient casino operation, he had to slap Fredo around. When Michael frostily indicates further explanation is required, Moe Greene elaborates that Fredo “was banging cocktail waitresses, two at a time.” It’s only natural that the uninitiated to the mysteries of the menage a trois assume that what Moe Greene meant was that Fredo was having civilian cisgender FFM threesomes, where the M has one dick with which to administer to both Fs. But note his wording: Moe Greene says Fredo was (emphasis mine) “banging cocktail waitresses, two at a time,” implying proactive action on Fredo’s part. In order to bang, one must have something to bang with, and in order to achieve simultaneity, Occam’s Razor tells us that Fredo must have had two dicks. This is the obvious explanation, because notable dicks ran in the Corleone family; Sonny’s was so big there was a whole subplot in the book about a woman with an abnormally large vagina who could only be satisfied by Sonny (she later finds love with a plastic surgeon who, long after Sonny’s death and any remaining connection to the main plot of the book, arranges for surgery that enables her to enjoy a more normative heterosexuality). Michael’s dick remains a mystery, as only two people ever saw it, and as one is dead and the other a WASP no information can ever be known about it, although if Sonny’s was Gargantuan and Fredo had two (as we can clearly ascertain from the text), speculation can only run to the mythic. Phallocentrism is a slippery slope to fallacy, but Fredo’s status is almost certainly unique in human history, and thus notable.
Not being a murderer is actually a good thing
This should require less explanation. Sonny fucked people up for fun, and Michael languidly swanned about darkened rooms saying “If anything in this life is certain if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.” Fredo, on the other hand, freezes up when Sollozzo’s gunmen light his father up because he’s scared because gunshots are loud and scary. Everybody always holds that up as confirmation that Fredo’s soft. My counterpoint: killing people is kind of a questionable thing to be good at. I don’t want to murdershame anyone who did what they had to do; John McClane, Martin Riggs, Wang Chi, Tequila Yuen, Rajveer Singh Shekhawat, Robocop, Catherine Trammell, to name but a few, they all had their reasons. But I digress.
It’s not Fredo’s fault Johnny Ola and Hyman Roth were a couple of jerkoffs
I know, he betrayed his brother, which does, let’s rhetorically concede, suck. But it wasn’t a calculated decision. Fredo was a man of not inconsiderable skill, albeit in the existentially inessential realm of showing people a good time in places like Vegas and Havana, but not everyone knew that the best show in Havana was Superman (a fictionalized portrayal of a real-life nightclub performer with a legendarily huge dick, in a callback to an earlier essential point and, more importantly, poetic unity). He was passed over and held in contempt by people he loved. So he got a little angry and fell under the charm of devious men. Gullibility should not mandate a death sentence. Exile? Maybe. But we should entertain the possibility that Michael Corleone is not the gold standard of morality. I think there were three movies that made that point.
Anyway. Fredo Corleone deserves better than joking scorn. If nothing else, John Cazale rendered the character as a fully, tragically realized man in full. Cazale’s unwavering humanity, the richness of his acting, is some of the highest artistry the form has ever known. And his most famous role was worthy of his peerless gifts.