Luca Brasi, the fearsome enforcer of the Corleone family, is one of the most intriguing characters in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”. His portrayal in the book paints a picture of a man whose loyalty and ruthlessness are unmatched.
However, in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic 1972 film adaptation, Brasi’s character is significantly downplayed and loses significant depth and complexity. While he remains an imposing figure, his dark capabilities are only hinted at before he meets an early demise.
In examining the Luca Brasi character, it becomes clear that the film did him an injustice by not fully conveying the full menace and impact of his presence.
This article will analyze Brasi’s character in both versions of The Godfather and explore why he was unfortunately under-served in the cinematic depiction. We’ll look at key scenes and plot points in both works to showcase how the movie minimized Brasi compared to Puzo’s original conception in the novel.
A Force to be Reckoned With
In Puzo’s novel, Brasi is introduced as a man whose very name sends shivers down the spines of even the most hardened criminals. His reputation is built on a foundation of violence, loyalty, and an almost superhuman ability to instill fear.
While many in the underworld are known for their cunning or their connections, Brasi’s reputation is built on sheer ruthlessness. During a period when Sonny Corleone was making a name for himself as a relentless executioner, even he was overshadowed by the terror that Brasi represented.
“From 1935 to 1937 Sonny Corleone made a reputation as the most cunning and relentless executioner the underworld had yet known. Yet for sheer terror even he was eclipsed by the awesome man named Luca Brasi.”
Brasi’s actions spoke louder than words. He singlehandedly wiped out Irish gunmen and even took on powerful families, going so far as to assassinate the head of a family as a warning.
“It was Brasi who went after the rest of the Irish gunmen and singlehandedly wiped them out. It was Brasi, operating alone when one of the six powerful families tried to interfere and become the protector of the independents, who assassinated the head of the family as a warning.”
A Dark Past
One of the most chilling and haunting episodes in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” revolves around Luca Brasi’s relationship with a young woman and the birth of their child. This incident, while briefly touched upon in the film, is explored in greater depth in the book, shedding light on the depths of Brasi’s brutality and the demons that haunted him.
On a cursed night, Filomena, a midwife, was summoned by Luca Brasi. She was immediately filled with dread upon seeing Brasi’s brutal face, which looked almost like that of a madman. Brasi led her to a small frame house in Long Island City, where a young, pretty girl lay in bed, seemingly about to give birth. The girl, with her painted face and red hair, appeared to be of Irish descent.
“In the bed was a young pretty girl who looked Irish, her face painted, her hair red; and with a belly swollen like a sow.”
A Horrifying Act
After the child was born, Brasi’s intentions became terrifyingly clear. He expressed a desire to Filomena that he did not want any offspring of his “race” to live. He ordered her to take the newborn to the basement and throw it into the furnace.
“Brasi glared at her, malevolent, insanity stamped on his face. ‘Yes, I’m the father,’ he said. ‘But I don’t want any of that race to live. Take it down to the basement and throw it into the furnace.'”
Filomena, paralyzed with fear, tried to refuse, but Brasi’s threat was clear. He drew a knife, and with the furnace’s flames flickering in the background, the scene was set for one of the most horrifying acts in the novel.
“She must have gone into shock then because the next thing she remembered they were all standing in the basement of the house in front of a square iron furnace. Filomena was still holding the blanketed baby, which had not made a sound.”
Luca Brasi and Don Corleone: A Bond Forged in Darkness
The relationship between Luca Brasi and Don Vito Corleone is one of the most intriguing dynamics in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”. While the novel offers glimpses into the depth of their bond, understanding the roots of Brasi’s unwavering loyalty requires a deep dive into their shared history.
A Debt Beyond Repayment
The story of Luca Brasi’s child is one of the darkest chapters in the novel. After the birth of his child with a young Irish woman, Brasi’s unpredictable and violent nature took a horrifying turn. He ordered Filomena, the midwife, to dispose of the newborn in a furnace.
Following this chilling act, Brasi murdered the child’s mother and was subsequently arrested. It was during this tumultuous period that Don Corleone intervened. Brasi, in a state of despair, attempted suicide in his cell. By the time he recovered, Don Corleone had used his influence to ensure Brasi’s release.
“Before Don Corleone could set matters aright, Luca Brasi tried to commit suicide in his cell, hacking at his throat with a piece of glass. He was transferred to the prison hospital and by the time he recovered Don Corleone had arranged everything. The police did not have a case they could prove in court and Luca Brasi was released.” –
This act of salvation by Don Corleone was not merely a favor; it was a lifeline for Brasi, pulling him out from the depths of his own darkness. From this point on, Brasi’s loyalty to the Don was solidified, not just out of gratitude, but out of a deep-seated respect and fear.
The Psychological Bond
Brasi’s loyalty to Don Corleone was not just rooted in gratitude. The Don, with his astute understanding of human nature, recognized the unique psyche of Brasi. He was a man who did not fear death but had one singular fear: that Don Corleone might be the one to end his life.
“Brasi’s reputation for violence was awesome and his devotion to Don Corleone legendary. He was, in himself, one of the great blocks that supported the Don’s power structure. His kind was a rarity. Luca Brasi did not fear the police, he did not fear society, he did not fear God, he did not fear hell, he did not fear or love his fellow man. But he had elected, he had chosen, to fear and love Don Corleone.”
This psychological bond, combined with the life debt Brasi felt he owed to the Don, created a loyalty so fierce that it became legendary in the underworld.
The Movie’s Brasi: A Shadow of His Literary Self
In Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation, Luca Brasi, played by Lenny Montana, is presented as a somewhat one-dimensional character. The movie does touch upon his fearsome reputation, but it also adds elements that were not present in the book, which dilute the character’s impact.
One of the most notable scenes in the movie that diverges from the book’s portrayal is when Brasi is shown nervously practicing his speech for Don Corleone’s daughter’s wedding. While this scene adds a touch of humor and humanizes Brasi, it also detracts from the aura of menace that was so palpable in the book.
Furthermore, the film does not delve deep into Brasi’s backstory or the reasons behind his unwavering loyalty to Don Corleone. The layers of complexity and the dark undertones present in the book are glossed over in the movie.
Fan Reactions: A Missed Opportunity
For many fans of the novel, the cinematic portrayal of Luca Brasi was a missed opportunity. While Lenny Montana’s performance was commendable, the nuances and depth of Brasi’s character, as described in the book, were lost in translation. Fans missed the intricate details of his past, his relationships, and the reasons behind his fierce loyalty to the Corleone family.
While “The Godfather” film is undeniably a cinematic masterpiece, the portrayal of Luca Brasi remains a point of contention among fans of the book. The character, so richly developed in Puzo’s novel, was not given the same depth and complexity on screen. For many, this remains a blemish on an otherwise flawless adaptation.