How to Write a Successful Literature Review

In many ways writing a good literature review is like writing any run of the mill high quality essay or research paper. Success hinges on the selection of a meaningful and defensible topic, then performing the requisite research and analysis of supporting material. This work will culminate into a written essay in which the writer will state their thesis, their arguments to support their thesis and the reference material which proves the validity of their arguments. So far so good.


There is, however, a key differentiator between a standard essay and a literature review. Ignoring this wrinkle during the planning phase of the paper will disqualify the paper from being considered a literature review, and if that is indeed what is being asked of the writer then it will inevitably end up with a failing grade.


A good literature puts the spotlight on a specific topic (where this a standard essay or research paper it would end there), and it requires of the writer to critically analyze the relationship between the various reference materials and works related to the topic. Once that thread of commonality has been established the writer must then find a way to link everything together and tie that into their own work, arguments and the conclusion they reached.


Just like tackling an essay it is best to breakdown the literature review into smaller, digestible chunks so that the task does not seem insurmountable. The best place to start is to know the lay of the land and determine what is technically required. Reviewing the standards and guidelines set by those marking the literature review is paramount. A writer may have the best topic and written the best essay of their life, but if they broke rules or missed critical elements in doing so, then it will all be for naught.


Choosing a topic is next step and it can be both very easy and extremely difficult. Think it through and hunt down old reviews to see what topics have already been covered. Try to attack a new subject matter or approach a familiar one at a different angle. Keep in mind that this is a literature review and that the topic chosen should not only be interesting, but also defensible.


Then it is time to hit the books and identify the key pieces of literature that will be used in the review. Comb through databases, peer reviewed journals, published studies and scientific data.


Once the mound of raw information has been accumulated it is time to parse and analyze the literature. At this point it may be a good idea to start categorizing the articles and various works that has been collected. This will not only help organize the articles but it will may later on aid in helping draw commonalities for the literature review. For the easier display of information create a table in a spreadsheet and for each article note: the author, the title, the category it was placed in, the particular quote(s) that will be used in the paper, its strengths (how it can be tied to the topic and thesis), its weaknesses (how others may contest its legitimacy as it pertains to the topic), and how it relates to the other articles.


Placing the data on a table accomplishes two things: for the writer, it provides a quick summary sheet of the various references and resources they will be using for their review, and for the reader it provides a visual guide to the conclusion that the writer is attempting to draw.


Now, with all the information in hand and organized in a coherent way to support both thesis and its arguments can the writing begin. A literature review is a bit odd in that it is more an exercise of what not to do rather than the opposite. For example, while it is important to identify the topic, arguments and problem area, the writer should not make global statements. They should not forget to clearly delineate the difference between research findings and secondary sources of information. Don’t forget to not omit time frames. Don’t be afraid of statements like “no studies were found”, but be sure to justify its use in the paper. There are literally a dozen or so of these, however the one that should never be forgotten is this: resist the great temptation of turning this paper into an annotated bibliography.


With quotes, references, sources being cited throughout the paper it is very easy to lose sight of the fact that this is a professional literature review. Keeping the goal in mind is key to success with this type of paper. And that goal is to highlight the relationship between the articles, sources and material that has been cited in the essay, and the topic being explored by the writer.

literature review

professional literature review

A Throne of Games – Volume 3 – A Storm of “S” Words.

When last we left the historie of the consoleflict, King Atari had perished in madness and the kingdom of console gaming fell into chaos and disarray.

It was a wasteland. No one purchased new consoles, and merchants refused to sell them. For all intents and purposes, the idea of video gaming as a central activity was dying.

In this time of desperation and blight, an Arcade Clan of the East rode in. One that would attempt to seize Atari’s now empty throne for itself. It was a clan of great ambition and long lineage that saw the fallen crown, and realized it only had but to reach out in order to claim it.

Fallen Crown of King Atari

I mean, it’s a pretty nice crown. A bit bloody, but that comes out with some club soda.

But the greater problem still stood. In this barren land devoid of life, any potential ruler would have to either be extremely powerful or extremely lucky in order to restore faith and renew the potential of gaming in the eyes of the populace.

It was fortunate then, that this Clan’s words were to “leave luck to the heavens”, for it only dealt in power.

What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.
(But it helps if you bring Robot Buddies)

Even as the first king fell, Clans Nintendo and Sega – both having found success in the Arcadean Wilds – entered into the conflict of consoles in their native land, a place where the sun rose red. In Japan, Clan Nintendo’s Family Computer and Clan Sega’s SG-1000 arrived to do battle with their hosts on exactly the same day. Battle commenced immediately between the two and an early setback for Nintendo’s “Famicom” (as it would be known), poorly shod steeds, caused their hosts to crash into the mud even as they could begin their charge.

Clan Sega gained precious ground as Clan Nintendo ordered a full retreat and a costly re-shoeing. The battle was far from over though, and with their great beast Donkey Kong at the front of the legion and the might of their Cross Technique, Clan Nintendo soon claimed victory in its small island home. With the success of this victory Nintendo, now Lords of the East, set their sights on further conquest.

Not wanting to anger the King of the West, Nintendo first sought to work under King Atari, not yet realizing the mad monarch’s ill turn. However, their prior work with House Coleco was cited as a betrayal and the King refused the foreign House and any aid they might have brought to their flagging fortunes. Undaunted, the Lords of Nintendo began planning their own invasion of Western shores.

THE EMPEROR, THE FOOL, AND THE VIZIER (Sakaguchi, Miyamoto and Yokoi)

Oh, Those Crazy Modern Victorians: Or What the Heck Is Steampunk?


Amber Johnson rockin’ the goggles made for her by Ian N. Campbell. Steampunk World’s Fair 2013.

Whether or not you are familiar with the term Steampunk, you have encountered its influence in popular entertainment and fashion.

For the record, the term Steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy literature in which Victorian aesthetics combine with futuristic technology to create a world full of brass, mechanical gears, goggles, clocks, and steam-powered machinery.

Though there exist Victorian fantasy novels written by the greats — H. G. Wells and Jules Verne — the actual term Steampunk is relatively recent. Coined by writer K. W. Jeter in a light-hearted 1987 comment to Locus magazine, the letter read:

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for [Timothy] Powers, [James P.] Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

It took a while, but it seems that this prediction may actually come to pass.

[Full disclosure time: As you might have guessed by the similarity in our names, I am related in some way to K. W. Jeter. He is, in fact, my husband. And, of course, I am inordinately proud of him. However, although I never review his books because of the obvious conflict, it would be remiss of me to exclude him from this article.]

Recently, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, along with other national publications, have featured Steampunk topics relating to fashion and Victorian martial arts. Additionally, IBM has predicted that Steampunk will be one of the biggest trends in 2013 to 2015.

Possibly. There are signs. Apart from its literary influences, Steampunk has begun to impact current fashion. Sarah Burton’s new spring collection for Alexander McQueen, for example, references Victorian fashion with her emphasis on corsetry, full-skirted gowns, and specialty millinery. In Paris, John Galliano’s 2010 collection at Christian Dior featured lace, corsets, and top hats. Most significant is Pantone’s announcement that brown (a color much beloved by the Steampunk fashionistas) is one of the top colors for fall 2013.

The entertainment industry also is giving a nod to the genre. Television shows like Sanctuary and Warehouse 13, and the wildly popular Dr. Who, lean heavily on the Victorian “look.” Beyond the cable shows, even the networks are getting into the act. For example, the show Castle highlighted the subculture in its 2010 episode “Punked.” Also, films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire are Victorian in design and period.

The Conventions

As is usual with parts and portions within the science fiction and fantasy community, aficionados of a particular enthusiasm gather together to celebrate their passions. Star Trek conventions, the big San Diego ComicCon and its various offshoots, and the more general World Science Fiction and World Fantasy conventions, along with the general regional conventions, attract thousands of people every year.

As one of the newest entries on the specialty conference scene, the various Steampunk conventions are a combination of topic-relevant panels, music, art, crafts and other demonstrations, Victorian-themed teas and absinthe tastings, and, of course, the costumes.

After attending two of the most prominent Steampunk conventions — Steamcon in Seattle, held in the fall, and the Steampunk World’s Fair, held in New Jersey each spring — I have to say that this is some of the most inventive costuming I have encountered in years. Plus, the craftsmanship is at an incredibly high level. These are not tatty Halloween costumes off the rack. They are often wearer-made, or at the least, handmade by people working within a narrow area of expertise. Beautiful hats by true milliners, scientific instrument and faux weapon accessories, and fantastic jewelry and leatherwork create an ongoing visual feast.

sp_BW Hat-0390

Madame Pâte à Glacer models her new hat.

All Are Welcome

Another thing I have noticed is that this is an all-ages, all-comers enthusiasm. From babies in decked-out prams to older people sporting canes or wheelchairs studded with gears, clock mechanisms, and brass, this is a party that includes everyone. While I readily understand the older generations’ affinity for the event, and we all know that babies exist for the wearing of funny hats, I am intrigued by the number of teens and preteens in attendance at these events.

So I asked. One young woman, Mirabelle von Hedwig (aka Ronan York) who is an active member of the group The Steampunk Family said:

Younger people enjoy Steampunk because it is a way to be amazing. They can learn how to make and do cool things and be recognized for them. Imagine a group of tiny threads, thousands of them, constantly weaving together and unraveling, then repeating the process. Now label it. Its name is Steampunk, a place where there is always room for a new thread.

Steampunk is a live culture, constantly changing and evolving, Because of this, no one is “bigger, better, or more experienced.” You can have been Steampunk for years, as I have (I first went to a convention as Steampunk five years ago when I was seven years old) and still not know its full mystery. I know I don’t!

Additionally, as ‘children,’ we often are grouped together as one unit, but in Steampunk we are amazing individuals.

In addition, attendees have begun to realize that the Victorian Era touched many cultures. This was the time in history that the sun never set on the British Empire, and many countries were influenced by the arts and sciences of the period. Therefore, Steampunk has attracted many people of color and myriad ethnicities who have become an integral part of the Steampunk community.


For costuming, it’s all in the details.

The women, of course, look lovely in all the pretty dresses and intrepid female explorer outfits. But a big plus for the Steampunk enthusiasts — the men look terrific in this stuff! Especially the tall and portly men. Victorian menswear and its various permutations very much suit the guys.


Professor Verdigris Wetware takes tea. (Notice the clock detailing on the hat.)

The Future

This success, however, has highlighted some possible problems. What has been a predominately small, out-of-the-mainstream enthusiasm is catching the attention of big media. While there is a sense of pride in having created something so wonderful, there is also a fear that it all might be tarnished or even taken away by the corporate entities that run the film industry, television networks, and fashion.

We’ll see. My bet is that the true essence of Steampunk will escape the corporations. They will play with it for a while, move on to the next new thing, and then Steampunk will go back to those who truly love the genre.

And what does K. W. Jeter think of what has happened to “his” word?

Here’s the deal: I didn’t invent Steampunk. I did, however, bumble into coining the word “Steampunk.” There’s a lot of creativity, written and others, and just general fun that’s going on in regard to Victorian-themed fantasy and science fiction, and if a word I created has become attached as the portmanteau handle to all that, then I’m flattered. But it would still be going on, with or without that label. — K. W. Jeter

[For a representative gallery of Steampunk looks, go to the Flickr pages for The Steampunk Family.]

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Godfather, #1


The Godfather changed everything. This milestone in cinema revived a genre that had languished for decades. Nearly every gangster movie produced since starts with The Godfather as its primary point of reference.

“It created the game,” said Chazz Palminteri, whose film, A Bronx Tale, centers on growing up around mobsters. “Any of us today who make a movie about organized crime should realize that without The Godfather, we never would have had the chance.”

But it did more than that. For better or worse, The Godfather changed how audiences view Mafiosi, elevating them from nasty thugs to a modern incarnation of Roman royalty. The Godfather does not present organized crime as an evil empire presided over by heartless men. Indeed, we never even see victims with lives destroyed by the mob’s illicit activities. The treachery only occurs against traitors within the business, and the mob is a family enterprise presided over by a sympathetic patriarch. Decades later, Vito Corleone would become Tony Soprano.

 The Godfather made careers, most notably those of Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino, despite the fact that both of them were almost fired during production. All these years later, it’s still thrilling to watch Pacino as Michael, the Don’s youngest son, evolve from an innocent outsider among his own family into a stone-hearted killer. Watch Pacino’s eyes deaden over the course of the 175-minute film as he becomes the man his father never wanted him to be. It’s why The Godfather is, ultimately, a tragedy.

Of course, it also revived Marlon Brando’s career after he was deemed box-office poison. Brando’s Vito Corleone is one of cinema’s all-time greatest characters—gruff but charming, brutal but genteel. Brando and Coppola invented the persona—right down to the puffed-out jowls—and in doing so spawned a million imitators.

“It’s the underworld and it’s interesting to look on the dark side,” actress Talia Shire, who plays Vito’s daughter Connie, told Vanity Fair. “But in this darkness there is the Vito Corleone family. Remember when Vito says, ‘There’s drugs,’ which he didn’t want to touch? He’s a decent man on the dark side who is struggling to emerge into the light and bring his family there. That’s what still makes it dramatically interesting.”

Indeed, the movie has aged better than any Barolo. Filmed in 1971 and set in the period of 1945-55, The Godfather still amazes, no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. The detail is awe-inspiring, from the beautiful tree-lined mountains of Sicily to that small moment when Enzo the Baker, after staring down assassins outside the hospital, cannot flick his cigarette lighter because of quavering hands.

There’s a brilliant balance of action and drama, perhaps best exemplified by the baptism-massacre scene. Notice the rapid shift between shots of Michael at his nephew’s baptism—vowing to renounce Satan—to shots of his enemies being gunned down all over town. The organ music swells as Michael becomes Godfather—by both definitions.

The Godfather is packed with rich characters, even in secondary roles. Clemenza (Richard Castellano), the jovial caporegime who teaches Michael how to cook the sauce. Fredo (John Cazale), the weakling brother who botches his father’s protection. Moe Greene (Alex Rocco), the blustery Vegas casino owner who tries to dismiss Michael (“I made my bones while you were going out with cheerleaders”) and ends up paying with a bullet through the eye.

Consider, too, what this movie brought to the modern vernacular: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” “Sleeps with the fishes.” “Go to the mattresses.” “This is business, not personal.” Even the word “godfather” had no real meaning in modern culture until this movie. Now Google lists over three million references that start with “the godfather of. . . .”

There is a scene in the movie You’ve Got Mail (a film you definitely won’t find on this list), where Tom Hanks’ character describes The Godfather as “the I-Ching . . . the sum of all wisdom.” Certainly, it provides life lessons:

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

“Don’t ever take sides against the family.”

“Women and children can be careless, but not men.”

Okay, maybe that last reference seems dated. But the rest are words to live by. Not everyone, however, has used those lessons for the greater good.

“It made our life seem honorable,” Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, of the Gambino crime family, told the New York Times in 2000. “I would use lines in real life like, ‘I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.’ And I would always tell people, just like in The Godfather, ‘If you have an enemy, that enemy becomes my enemy.’ It influenced the life, absolutely.”

Well, we wouldn’t endorse that. But if the real goodfellas buy into it, there must be something genuine there.

For all of those reasons, there is no doubt that The Godfather is the greatest gangster movie ever made. In fact, we would argue that it’s the greatest movie of any type ever made. But that’s for another book.

The Godfather was a sensation before its first scene was even filmed. Author Mario Puzo’s novel spent 67 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Unfortunately for Puzo, he optioned the rights to Paramount before his book’s release, getting a mere $12,500 advance, plus $80,000 more if a movie was actually made. Puzo later received more for cowriting the screenplay.

Despite owning the rights and despite the book’s international buzz, Paramount shuffled its feet. Overblown epics fared poorly in the 1960s and mob movies did worse. The Brotherhood, starring Kirk Douglas as a Sicilian gangster, was a horrid flop in 1968.

As Paramount sat on the rights to The Godfather, others came sniffing around. Burt Lancaster, who loved the novel, tried to buy the property so that he could play Don Corleone. Eventually, Paramount executives decided to make the movie, but on a small budget. The template, believe it or not, was Love Story (1970), another Paramount project that had been filmed on the cheap and ended up turning a huge profit.

The first task was to hire a director. Richard Brooks (The Professionals, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) declined because he thought Puzo’s story glorified organized crime. Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) was committed to another film. Finally, after a dozen directors turned it down, Paramount approached Coppola. He was 31 years old and had yet to direct a major hit, although he was about to win an Oscar for cowriting the screenplay for Patton.

Coppola was also reluctant. He had read the novel and was put off by a major subplot involving Sonny’s girlfriend, Lucy, and her abnormally “loose vagina.” In the book, Lucy can only enjoy sex with the well-endowed Sonny. Coppola didn’t want to create a movie about that.

His friend and business partner, George Lucas, recognized the commercial opportunity of The Godfather and urged him to find an element of the novel he liked and could build around. So Coppola reread it and latched onto the family dynamics, viewing the tale of a father and his three sons as a Shakespearean tragedy. He further saw the element of the mob struggling to adapt after World War II as a metaphor for capitalism.

Paramount hired the young director—and the battling began immediately. Cost-conscious executives wanted the story set in modern times because it would be cheaper to shoot a movie in contemporary settings than to create elaborate sets for a period piece. And they wanted it filmed either in a studio back lot or in an inexpensive Midwestern city, like Cleveland. Coppola, meanwhile, foresaw an epic. He fought to remain true to The Godfather’s time period and to film it in New York and Sicily. He got the studio to agree to a $2.5 million budget—and then exceeded it by $4 million.

The combat continued throughout the process. Peter Bart, one of few Paramount executives who stuck up for Coppola, said afterward that the director was nearly fired five times—even as late as during the editing process.

The largest skirmishes were over casting. In Coppola’s mind, just two men—the two he considered the world’s best actors—could play Vito Corleone: Marlon Brando and Laurence Olivier. Sir Laurence was committed. And Paramount was adamantly against hiring Brando, calling him overbearing, overweight and over the hill. “I assure you that Marlon Brando will not appear in this motion picture,” studio CEO Stanley Jaffe wrote to Coppola. “And furthermore, I order you never to bring the subject up again.”

Jaffe preferred Ernest Borgnine or Anthony Quinn. George C. Scott and Richard Conte were considered, with Conte later landing the role of Don Emilio Barzini, Vito Corleone’s rival. Comic actor Danny Thomas was even discussed, in what would have become Make Room for Godfather.

Coppola stuck to his guns. He met with Brando, who had to overcome his own doubts that he could play an Italian. Finally, the studio capitulated, and signed Brando at the bargain rate of $50,000 upfront and a back end of the gross, not to exceed $1.5 million. To his eternal dismay, Brando later sold back the royalties for a measly $300,000.

Casting the role of Michael proved as nettlesome. Higher-ups favored a star for the crucial role, suggesting Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson or Robert Redford. Coppola wanted Pacino, who had yet to appear in a substantive movie role, but impressed the director by winning a Tony on Broadway. Robert Evans, Paramount’s head of production, dismissed the five-foot-seven Pacino as “a runt.” And when Coppola pointed out that Pacino’s grandparents had immigrated to America from Corleone, Sicily, he was told that the actor looked “too Italian.”

“The war over casting the family Corleone was more volatile than the war the Corleone family fought on screen,” Evans wrote in his 1994 memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture.

To his credit, Coppola stood by his choice for each major role—James Caan as Sonny, Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, John Cazale as Fredo and Diane Keaton as Kay. The only time he deferred was hiring his sister, Talia Shire, to play Connie. Coppola did not want to be accused of nepotism. He also thought she was too pretty for the character.

Brando studied for his role by meeting with people connected to the Mafia who were relatives of actor Al Lettieri (Virgil Sollozzo in The Godfather). He designed the wide-jowled mien for his character, saying that Vito should “look like a bulldog.” And he created the voice by listening to audiotapes of testimony from the 1950s Kefauver Committee hearings, which probed organized crime. “Important people don’t need to shout,” Brando concluded.

“I thought it would be an interesting contrast to play him as a gentle man, unlike Al Capone, who beat up people with baseball bats,” Brando wrote in his autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me. “I saw him as a man of substance, tradition, dignity, refinement, a man of unerring instinct who just happened to live in a violent world and who had to protect himself and his family in this environment.”

Caan, who grew up Jewish in Queens, modeled his character’s mannerisms after gangsters he met over the years. He had a tougher time creating Sonny’s machine-gun speech pattern until coming upon an unlikely muse.

“I started thinking of Don Rickles,” he recalled to Vanity Fair in 2009. “Somebody was watching over me and gave me this thing: being Rickles, kind of say-anything, do-anything.”

It shows through in Sonny’s best line: “What do you think this is, the army, where you shoot ‘em a mile away? You gotta get up close, like this—and bada-bing! You blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit.” Caan says that “bada-bing,” which became an iconic mantra, wasn’t in the script. “It just came out of my mouth,” he told Vanity Fair. “I don’t know from where.”

Improvisation like that played a huge role in The Godfather’s success. Consider, for example, Don Corleone’s hard slap across the face of singer Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) and his barked instruction to “act like a man.” That unscripted moment occurred because Brando felt Martino was acting stiffly, so he tried to get a rise out of him.

As the movie was being filmed in New York, an actual mob war broke out, initiated by Crazy Joey Gallo. The same week that the crew shot scenes of Michael ordering the execution of his enemies, real-life Mafiosi Joe Colombo Sr. was shot in the head at a Unity Day rally in Columbus Circle. Colombo (as you will read further down) had fought against The Godfather’s production until forging a deal with Paramount. He slipped into a coma after the shooting and lingered for seven years before dying in 1978.

The mob war only added to the buzz around the movie. The Godfather opened nationwide in March 1972 and, within months, became the highest-grossing film of all time, a distinction it held until “the summer of Jaws” in 1975. Stock in Gulf + Western, which owned Paramount, jumped $97 million within a month. Ticket prices, which averaged $1.50 at the time, were doubled or tripled for The Godfather. NBC bought the television rights for a then-record $10 million and later broadcast the film to an audience of 42 million Americans.

The Godfather won the Oscar for Best Picture. Coppola and Puzo won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Brando was announced as the Best Actor Oscar winner, a moment most remembered for Brando’s sending of a faux-Native American named Sacheen Littlefeather to decline the award on the actor’s behalf in protest. Overall, it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Pacino, Caan and Duvall all got bids for Best Supporting Actor, but split the vote—allowing Joel Grey to take home the prize for his work in Cabaret.

Perhaps the person most shocked at the film’s success was Coppola, who had been told throughout that his dream would fail. “I fantasized that Mephistopheles popped out of the bushes and said: ‘Francis, how would you like this movie to be the most successful movie ever made?’ “ Coppola said in The Annotated Godfather. “Something like that must have gone down, because the idea that this disastrous movie would be successful and remembered and even in the annals where it would be compared to movies that I thought were among the greatest, is so surprising.”

HIT: One of Coppola’s last fights was to keep intact the haunting score composed by Nino Rota. Fortunately, he won that battle, too.

MISS: There’s nothing that misses in this epic film—except, perhaps, for the whiff of a punch Sonny aims toward brother-in-law Carlo as he beats him in the street. You’ll hear the sound of a smack, but the swing misses Carlo by a solid foot.

WHAT THEY WROTE AT THE TIME: “They have put pudding in Brando’s cheeks and dirtied his teeth, he speaks hoarsely and moves stiffly, and these combined mechanics are hailed as great acting. . . . Like star, like film, the keynote is inflation. The Godfather was made from a big bestseller, a lot of money was spent on it, and it runs over three hours. Therefore, it’s declared important.”—Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

GOOF: The horse’s head under movie producer Jack Woltz’s silk sheets does not appear to be the head from his prized thoroughbred Khartoum. In an earlier scene, Khartoum is shown with a white patch between his eyes. The disembodied head in the bed is solid brown.

The head, by the way, is real and was supplied by a dog-food maker after earlier shots with a fake head looked, well, fake. The blood soaking Woltz’s bed is made from Karo syrup, a technique conceived by makeup man Dick Smith. In his director’s notes for this scene, Coppola wrote to himself, “If the audience does not jump out of their seat on this one, you have failed.”

REALITY CHECK: On his way to getting gunned down, Sonny’s car radio is playing the October 3, 1951 broadcast of the Dodgers-Giants playoff game, which ends with Bobby Thomson’s famed “Shot Heard ’Round the World.” Only problem is the scene takes place in 1948. That’s one hell of a radio Sonny’s got.

REPEATED WATCHING QUOTIENT: We’ll take our cue from the great Pacino. “It’s funny,” he said in a 2004 interview, “but anytime I see it on TV, I still stop and watch it.”

PIVOTAL SCENE: Young Michael’s plan, of course, is to stay out of the “family business.” That changes when his jaw is broken by corrupt police Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) outside the hospital where Michael’s father is recuperating.

The Corleone sons know the Don’s enemies, while calling for reconciliation, will stop at nothing short of killing him. So a plan is concocted where Michael (“the nice college boy,” as Sonny calls him) will agree to a meeting with McCluskey and Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), and then assassinate them.

They head to an Italian restaurant in the Bronx, where Corleone spies have planted a gun in the men’s room (“I don’t want him coming out of that toilet with just his dick in his hands,” says Sonny). The backdrop is perfect—a neighborhood joint with a checkered tile floor and linen tablecloths. The three men sit around a small table and the waiter uncorks a bottle of red wine. “All I want is a truce,” Sollozzo assures Michael.

As planned, Michael excuses himself to go to the bathroom. After a few panicked moments of groping for the hidden gun, he pulls it from behind an old box-and-chain toilet and tucks it into his belt.

Michael returns to the table. Sollozzo begins to speak, now in fluent Sicilian. His tone is reassuring, but his face is menacing. “Al [Lettieri] was perfect,” Coppola says in the film’s DVD commentary, “such a strong villain for Michael to play against.”

An elevated train screeches by, obscuring Sollozzo’s words. You also hear Michael’s heart pounding. Suddenly, he pushes back from the table, stands and fires. A pink mist sprays from Sollozzo as the bullet burns through his forehead. Michael then turns on the dirty cop, firing twice and killing McCluskey as he lifts a forkful of veal (“the best in the city”).

In that moment, the young man whose father dreamed of him being a doctor or senator has become a cold-blooded executioner. The smartest of the Corleone sons has taken his first step toward becoming Don.

The turning point for the plot was also a turning point for Pacino. Before this was filmed about a week into shooting, Paramount executives were displeased with what they saw from the young actor, and considered firing him. But his evolution in this scene—“kindly to menacing in a few minutes,” says Coppola—floored everyone involved in The Godfather. “Al really showed his stuff,” Coppola says.

One more note: Pacino sprained his ankle fleeing the restaurant and missed the next three days of shooting. If you spot a cane in the background of other scenes, it’s the one he used between takes.

DON’T FAIL TO NOTICE: The use of oranges as an omen of impending doom. There are six separate shots of oranges during The Godfather, and each time one of the characters in the scene winds up dead. See if you can spot all six.

DON’T FAIL TO NOTICE II: The words Mafia and Cosa Nostra are never spoken in the film. This was part of an agreement between producer Al Ruddy and a pressure group called the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which was headed by the aforementioned Colombo.

CASTING CALL: Robert De Niro, then an unknown 27-year-old, was cast in the small role of Paulie, the traitorous driver who calls out sick the day Don Corleone is shot. De Niro was released from his contract when he signed to appear in another mob movie, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, which proved to be a dud. Obviously, had De Niro stayed in this picture, he would not have been able to play young Vito in The Godfather: Part II.

VIOLENCE LEVEL: One of the amazing aspects of The Godfather is its ability to veer from beauty (say, the opening wedding scene) to brutality (Woltz awakening with the severed horse’s head). Make no mistake; this is a bloody, sometimes sadistic film.

BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Lenny Montana, who plays Luca Brasi, was a former professional wrestling champion who fought under the name “The Zebra Kid.” He also reportedly worked for a time as a bodyguard for the Colombo family. Montana’s fumbling of his lines when he thanks Don Corleone during the opening wedding scene was not rehearsed—it was the genuine result of a non-actor feeling intimidated sharing a scene with the great Brando. The shots of him nervously rehearsing were added later.

BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW II: Caan was furious when he first saw the finished film, saying that more than 30 minutes of his scenes were cut out. Among those deleted was his personal favorite, which showed him too unnerved to sit in his father’s power chair after Vito gets shot.

BEST LINE: It’s too easy to pick, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The one we find ourselves repeating, often for no apparent reason, was improvised by actor Richard Castellano as Clemenza: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

“I KNOW THAT GAL”: The baby “boy” being christened is actually Francis Ford Coppola’s infant daughter, Sofia. She appeared in all three Godfather films—as a child on the ship crossing the Atlantic in Part II and in the larger role of Michael and Kay’s grown daughter, Mary, in Part III. Her subsequent acting career was not as impressive as her work as a director in such films as The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation.

The Godfather is quite the Coppola family affair. In addition to daughter Sofia and sister Talia Shire, Francis’ father, Carmine, wrote some of the music and appears as the piano player in the “go to the mattresses” scene. His cousin sings the aria at the wedding, and his mother appears as an extra during the christening.

IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU’LL LIKE: The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980, Coppola’s 1993 re-editing of all three Godfather movies in chronological order. It runs 583 minutes and includes scenes edited out of the original movies. Our favorite added moment has Vito Corleone and his sons visiting the deathbed of wartime consigliere Genco Abbandando.

BODY COUNT: Seventeen—fourteen by gunfire, two by garroting and poor Apollonia, who gets blown up in the car.


Join us as we count down the greatest gangster movies of all time! Click here to see what you’ve missed so far.

[Reprinted from The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies by George Anastasia and Glen Macnow. Available from Running Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.]

The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies

Mad Men Recap: “The Better Half” (Season 6, Episode 9)

Poor Peggy Olson. She was doing so well, the last time we checked in on her. But in the world of Mad Men, no one gets to balance work, love, and happiness. It’s just not in the cards. (Let’s face it, it’s not easy in real life, either.)

Mad Men The Better Half Pete Campbell

Pete Campbell is in a bad place (again). Photo courtesy AMC.

The SCDP/CGC Creative team is still musing on Fleischmann’s margarine, and playing around with the pop psych advertising techniques that were appearing in the late ’60s. Ted insists that people will buy Fleischmann’s not in spite of, but because of its expensive price tag. There’s something to that, and advertising underwent a sea change in the 1960s as psychologists discovered the true reasons people buy stuff. As usual, Chaough is a little more progressive than Don. After all, he did say “Groovy” last week, much to Don’s chagrin.

Pete Campbell, still hankering for Don’s approval, says (rather petulantly),”Don, I agree with you.” Harry Crane is like, “eff this I’m out.” Don calls Peggy into the conference room to actually choose between his approach and Ted’s. She refuses. Honey, you can’t be Switzerland forever. Things just don’t work that way. She knows exactly what Don’s up to, and she lets him know it. Their relationship is becoming more complex and fun to watch as Peggy continues to climb the ranks. He respects her, and it’s refreshing. “Your opinion matters,” Don tells her. It’s a big statement, one that doesn’t come lightly to Mr. Draper. “Ted’s interested in the idea, and you’re interested in your idea,” she answers. “He never makes me feel this way.” “He doesn’t know you,” Don replies.

Mad Men The Better Half Betty

Here she is, Mrs. Francis, back to her old self. Photo courtesy AMC.

Betty Francis, who digressed momentarily into mundane housewifery and too much junk food, is back to herself, every inch the politician’s wife in a sparkly yellow dress, impeccably crunchy hair, and green eyeshadow. While Henry’s on the phone, a very classy gentleman tells her, “I’d like to be alone with you all night.” Betty, her face all icy goodness, first tells him he doesn’t understand, she has three children. This is not an answer to his request, obviously. She’s as good at cat and mouse as she ever was, and testing the waters appropriately. Always vain, she asks him, “Do I look like I’ve had 3 kids?” On the limo ride home, Henry lectures her, and appropriately enough she acts like a child (Betty has never been particularly mature). “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble,” she says, allowing him to clutch her chin and scold her. Their father/daughter dynamic is oddly sexual, and knowing that his wife is once again desirable evidently gets Henry in the mood for limo fornication.

In the West 80s, Abe was stabbed in the arm getting off the subway, and refusing to cooperate with the policeman. “This is a fucking police state,” Abe yells to Peggy after ushering the skeptical officer out the door. “It’s fascinating, the attitudes I’m encountering.” Peggy first treats him as though he has some weird variation on PTSD (which, I think, would’ve still been called “shellshock” at the time). He asks her (rightly) not to patronize him, to which she responds snidely, “I don’t care if I take a loss, I’m going to sell this shithole.”

Roger Sterling, unsurprisingly, has no idea how to be a father. When he takes Margaret’s son so the kid can have a “special day with Pop Pop,” Roger uses the child to flirt with the secretaries, then tries to impress Joan, and finally he takes him to Planet of the Apes. (This is an interesting juxtaposition, since that is the movie in which, a few weeks ago, Don Draper realized he actually loves his son.)

At Harry Crane’s grouchy suggestion, Pete sets up a clandestine meeting in his grungy apartment with headhunter and throwback Duck Phillips. Everybody’s seeing headhunters – so much cheating in this season. Pete, though, is really and truly floudering. When he tells Duck he just doesn’t think there’s more he can do at work, he gazes down into his whiskey with genuine sadness. Is it possible I’m actually feeling sorry for Pete Campbell? (Nah.)

At her job, Megan is playing two roles, sisters who want the same thing but go about getting it very differently. The maid, whom we’d already met, the cheating cheater that Don visited on set, is one half of this duo – and the other sister, evidently blond and named Collette, is also a cheating cheater. Infidelity: it’s the name of the game in season six.

Megan packs Don’s suitcase for his trip to visit Bobby at camp, and sends him on his merry way. Don pulls into a gas station to fill up, and is bemused by the attendant, who’s eyeing the derriere of an attractive blonde. When the lady leans out of the car again, it turns out it’s none other than Betty Francis, also on the way to visit Bobby at camp. “Are you lost, too?” she asks him; there’s more depth to that question than either of them realizes. Everyone on this show is lost.

Meanwhile, back in the office, Peggy is beginning to realize just how difficult it’s going to be to balance Ted and Don. After a presentation, Ted yells at Peggy for touching his hand, for smiling at him. She tells him she forgot about the kiss, and he replies he hasn’t. He’s “a boss in love with his protege.” It comes back to her assertion to Don earlier that Ted never makes her feel the way Don does – remember how, in the first season, Peggy briefly and embarrassingly propositioned Don? That was never meant to happen, but one imagines it stung – and Peggy’s feelings for Ted are jumbled with her feelings about Don and Abe, as well as her respect for him.

At camp, Bobby is ecstatic to see his parents, who are for once acting civilly toward one another (Don’s indiscretion, the one that allowed Betty’s kids to be held hostage by Grandma Ida, is evidently forgotten). Don, never the family man, finds himself very charmed by Betty’s interactions with Bobby. Bobby teaches mom and dad a new song about Father Abraham’s seven sons, and the Draper family, broken and busted such as it is, sings a children’s song while smiling at each other. It is one of the weirder (and more heartwarming) moments of the season.

Mad Men The Better Half Drapers

Father Abraham has seven sons, and the Drapers are acting weird. Photo courtesy AMC.

Don and Betty are, of course, remarkably similar. After putting Bobby back to bed, they find themselves at the same hotel. Both of them crave booze, and they have a drink together. Betty, visually and developmentally, is very much like her first season iteration. Smoking too much, reminiscing about a trip the two of them took Lake Champlain with Betty’s parents. As any pair of parents is prone to do, they discuss the oddness of trying to parent a teenage girl. Betty doesn’t understand her and says Sally’s more like Don, but Don says she’s more like Betty. Both are correct. “When I saw you earlier today, I…forgot how mad I was at you,” Betty says, and she leaves the hotel room door open. When he grabs her by the back of the neck, we realize that Henry’s controlling, patriarchal behavior is really what Betty wants…and it doesn’t need to come from her husband. For the second time, Betty asks a flirtatious man for affirmation. She’s forever concerned about what people see when they see her. Aren’t we all?

While Don’s off having sex with his ex-wife, Megan’s getting drunk with Arlene (one half of the couple who propositioned her and Don a few episodes ago). Megan, unsure where to turn, tells Arlene she feels lonely. Arlene kisses her. Megan accuses her of taking advantage of a compromising situation, and Arlene accuses her, rather gently, of being a tease.

“I’m thinking of how different you are, before and after,” Betty tells Don as they enjoy pillow talk after they’re done with the lovemaking. Betty knows she can only hold his attention for so long. “Why is sex the definition of being close to someone?” Don muses. “That poor girl,” Betty says of Megan, touching Don’s face while she says it. “She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” In these moments with Don, Betty is anything but childlike. She is, in fact, wise. Sometimes we forget that Don and Betty were married for a reason, that they’re far more similar than they’d like to admit.

Back in the City, Megan has successfully turned down a woman’s advances in favor of her rapidly failing marriage, which is something Don doesn’t ever manage to do. When he returns, she’s on the balcony staring out into the city in a t-shirt and panties. “I missed you.” The sirens are actually drowning out her words for the second time in the episode. She can’t be heard over the noises of the city. In a surprise move, Don agrees with Megan. “You’re right, I haven’t been here,” he says, and hugs her gently. He was clearly hurt by Betty’s coolness to him the morning after, while eating breakfast with Henry. He knows not to expect anything else – and something tells me he’s not done sowing those oats. However, perhaps his tryst with Betty, ill-advised as it was, will convince him he needs to be better to his wife. (Doubtful, really – but it’s lovely to think of it.)

Mad Men The Better Half Pete Joan

No one can solve your problems for you, Pete. Photo courtesy AMC.

In another play for my sympathy, Pete asks Joan, “Do you feel my attention to business has been dilute?” Joan notes that she can’t solve Pete’s problems (a mother, son, job, and complex relationship), she has those problems. Indeed, she appears to be entering into a relationship with Bob Benson. They’re taking Kevin to the beach. Having been rebuffed (scolded, really) by his daughter after taking his grandson to Planet of the Apes, Roger makes another play to get into his true son’s life. He shows up at Joan’s door with a gift of Lincoln Logs (I loved those!). When he realizes what’s going on, Roger is upset. “I guess we’re all a little bit out of context right now,” he says. In other news, Joan tells Bob that Pete’s in need of a nurse for his mother, and Bob – who is entirely too good a character at this point, and I’m curious about his true motives – gets Pete the name of a nurse. “Is he Spanish from Spain?” Pete asks, taking the name begrudgingly. “Because otherwise my mother will refuse.” Oh, 1968. You’re great. “He’s very well bred,” Bob says, a slightly amused expression on his face.

Even as the sirens drown out Megan’s pleas for Don’s love, Abe is busily trying to convince Peggy that they’re in the best possible place for them. She can’t handle the danger. “Maybe we’re not cut out to be pioneers,” Abe says, admitting that maybe they didn’t make the right choice. Someone has thrown a rock through the window, and Abe has been stabbed getting off the subway. Instead of allowing the police to do their jobs, Abe, forever the counterculture instigator, tells Peggy she’s a fascist for trying to cooperate with them.

After Abe leaves her at home so he can work, Peggy hears a commotion. She goes to the window with a bayonet, and when she’s surprised by an “intruder” in the house, she accidentally stabs her boyfriend with a bayonet. In the ambulance, dripping blood and sweat, blue-faced, Abe tells her all the things he’s been meaning to. “You’re a scared person who hides behind complacency. I thought you’d be braver because you’re in advertising. Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. I’m sorry, but you’ll always be the enemy.” Well, why don’t you tell us how you really feel? We’ve known for awhile that this relationship was unlikely to work out – but this minor, violent explosion was unexpected.

Mad Men The Better Half Peggy

Peggy is also in a bad place. Photo courtesy AMC.

The next morning, Peggy arrives at the office looking like complete shit. Dark circles stain her eyes, her unwashed hair hangs lank around her head. She approaches Ted first, telling him firs that “Abe was stabbed,” then that he was going to be fine, then, “It’s over, we’re done.” Ted reacts with eerie good nature. “It’s Monday morning, Peggy!” he cries, smiling. “Let’s get to work!” Don tells her promptly to round up the troops for the Monday meeting, and the two of them close their office doors. The two most important men in her life (or at least, the most important ones she hasn’t accidentally stabbed) leavePeggy standing, stunned and alone, on the opposite side of two closed doors. This, the writers are telling us, is what not choosing a side gets you.

All things considered, this episode presented a lot of information and didn’t really give us a hint as to what we should do with it. Don and Betty have hit a point in their relationship where they’re able to interact again, which is great. However, only one of them knows that sex is “the definition of being close to someone.” Megan is alone, lonely, and unable to be heard. Peggy Olson suffered the most this week – but I suppose we knew that was coming. It’s certainly a blow, considering how well she handled last week’s office shenanigans. You get knocked down, but you get up again, I guess. Such is the way of the Mad Men ‘verse.

For more Mad Men recaps, please join me at the soon-to-be live site musingonmedia. I’ll be continuing to write there, as well as with a number of other publications.

In the comments, share how you felt about this episode!