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In the very first several minutes of Godfather I, Vito is disdainful of the mortician's request to have the boys who assaulted his daughter killed -- "That would not be justice; your daughter is still alive." And later Vito mentions that no matter what this undertaker says, they are not murderers.

However, after Vito's death, at least one man is indeed killed for business reasons -- Moe Greene simply refused to agree to a purchase of his casino as far as we know.

So did the family change with Vito's death or was Vito being disingenuous and in fact, was willing to murder for business reasons all along? In The Godfather II, the murder of the "Black Hand" guy was in response to a threat of violence -- Vito had seen the man hold a knife to the throat of the young actress so his murder was not just for business reasons.

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    I can't remember the detail - but its one thing to respond to a request to murder someone, where you take the risk of the action for little benefit to yourself, or when you are directly benefiting.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 15, 2021 at 18:59
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    La Famiglia have no problems murdering for their own cause. Sonny was murdered, Carlo was murdered, Luca Brazzi was murdered. The issue is whether or not Don Vito wanted to be "murderers for hire" a la "Murder, Inc." during the days of Al Capone. Dec 15, 2021 at 19:33
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    Having read the script of this specific scene - its a poor example. Vito is distainful of the request, because the person has ignored him for much of his life and been happy with the protection of the police and the law. He has only turned to Vito for this revenge. If he had been his friend over the years he might have done this. He isn't a 'murder on demand' thug.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 15, 2021 at 20:34
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    ... but he does that because the guy commits to "friendship" with Vito and is now in his debt and it's clearly stated that the favor will be repaid in the future. He does this because it is now in Vito's interest to do so.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 16, 2021 at 9:41
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    Agreed but that's not your fundamental question. The undertaker asked for justice and killing would not be that. Its not relevant to your primary question.
    – Paulie_D
    Dec 17, 2021 at 8:57

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No, the character didn't change

Michael's ruthlessness was rather consistent with his father Vito.

In II, the murder of the "Black Hand" guy was in response to a threat of violence -- Vito had seen the man hold a knife to the throat of the young actress so his murder was not just for business reasons.

Although that indeed contributed to Vito's decision to kill Don Fanucci, it wasn't the trigger. The trigger was that Fanucci tried to racketeer the trio Vito/Clemenza/Tessio ("wet his beak"), and Vito decided to kill many birds with one stone:

  • Get rid of the racketeering problem (which was worrying himself as well as the whole neighborhood)
  • Earn respect of Clemenza/Tessio and become the leader of the band
  • Earn respect of the neighborhood, essentially make bones and set to become a Don
  • Get rid of the asshole

So, although Fanucci was not a serious life threat to Vito, killing him solved many problems and created many benefits. And the fact that he was a bad person sort of negated any possible pangs of conscience.

Now, Moe Greene wasn't killed purely (or, I would even say, substantially) for business reasons. The trigger was that he had sided with Barzini (was stupid enough to reveal it himself). He was also blatantly disrespectful of the Corleones (slapped Fredo in public, said "you Guineas make me laugh", "you don't have that muscle anymore" etc.).

So, aside of the benefit of acquiring Greene's assets from his heirs for cheap, the benefit of killing him was to show everyone in the crime world that the new Corleone boss was powerful and was to be feared pretty much like the old Don.

It could be argued that Michael could kill just the NY crime bosses and spare Moe Greene giving him another chance to show respect and concede. But Michael was just insulted enough not to, and decided to get rid of him as, otherwise, he could hold a grudge and retaliate later.

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    Moe Greene also showed great disrespect to Michael (and thus, the family) when not greeting him upon his arrival in Vegas ("call him when the party has started" said Fredo). Why would I bother to pick you up, you're peanuts and almost history?...
    – OldPadawan
    Feb 1, 2023 at 8:02

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