The Violent History Of The Real-Life Gangster Who Shot To Fame In The Godfather

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It’s Carlo Rizzi’s most wretched moment. Mobster Michael Corleone has arrived at his home, determined to find out who killed his brother Sonny. “Don’t be afraid,” says Corleone. “Come on, do you think I’d make my sister a widow? I’m Godfather to your son, Carl.” Believing he’s safe, Rizzi relents. He admits it. He had Sonny killed. “Good, good,” says Corleone. “Leave now; there’s a car waiting to take you to the airport.”

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The Godfather is celebrated by many as the most perfect gangster movie of all time. And the climactic confrontation between Rizzi and Corleone is one of its most memorable and terrifying scenes. Pacino’s performance is stellar. As is that of Gianni Russo, who plays the sniveling Rizzi. But unlike Pacino, Russo was not then a professional actor. On the contrary, he was a bona fide Italian-American mobster.

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Apparently, Russo had spent much of his early life hanging out with wise guys. Indeed, he had supposedly been immersed in the horrendously violent New York crime scene, which has been controlled by the so-called “Five Families” of the Italian-American Mafia since 1931. His experiences, it would seem, were ideal preparation for his eventual role in The Godfather.

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