In the Godfather, when the Corleone family plans to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, Michael receives the instructions, from Clemenza:

Then when you come back, you come out blasting... And don't take any chances. Two shots in the head a piece.

However, when he comes out of the toilet, he sits back and keeps on talking with Sollozzo, in italian, so here is the translation :

SOLLOZZO: I want you to understand something. You're Italian like your father. Your father is not well, and when he's better, we'll need your help. This war has to end. You need to help me to end this...

I'm not sure I understand why did he wait. Was he scared of shooting at someone? He was a marine that fought in WWII so he might have experience in killing and not be uncomfortable.

Was he trying to get some more information from Sollozzo? I'm not sure of that too, because when he comes back from the toilet, Sollozzo don't say nothing important (maybe I'm wrong) before being killed.

Any additional information from the book would also be welcome.

  • Wasn't Michael told to do it at a precise time, so as to coordinate with the vehicle that enabled his escape?
    – Martin
    Commented Dec 9, 2020 at 2:54

4 Answers 4


Essentially, it's a combination of nerves and being alert to possible threats.

The novel clarifies...

Then he left the toilet.

Sollozzo was sitting directly facing the door of the toilet, his dark eyes blazing with alertness. Michael gave a smile. “Now I can talk,” he said with a sigh of relief.

Captain McCluskey was eating the plate of veal and spaghetti that had arrived. The man on the far wall had been stiff with attention, now he too relaxed visibly.

Michael sat down again. He remembered Clemenza had told him not to do this, to come out of the toilet and blaze away. But either out of some warning instinct or sheer funk he had not done so. He had felt that if he had made one swift move he would have been cut down. Now he felt safe and he must have been scared because he was glad he was no longer standing on his legs. They had gone weak with trembling.

The Godfather - Mario Puzo

Michael was a combat veteran but had not killed in cold blood before so nerves, even terror would not be out of line..but note that he wasn't aware of being scared until he sits down.

Of course, he's making a complete commitment to his family and their way of life and business. It's a huge step and his life will never be the same again so some trepidation is to be expected.


That delay shows Michael’s humanity. Killing is not easy for him and he’s not trigger happy so that he would go full John McClane. You can see that when he exits the toilet, the weight of killing two people dawns on him.

But what Sollozzo is saying to him is eerily similar to what he said to Tom Hagen. So that pushes Michael to kill him. He realises that Sollozzo started the war and now is pretending he wants to end it using other people. That there is no other way, and Sollozzo, if alive, will always try to destroy the Corleones.


This is an important scene in the development of Michael's character.

Until now, Michael has kept his distance from the family business. He makes a decision here to come over to that side, into the world of killing citizens, whereas before he an enlisted man killing for his country.

No doubt there was an element too of being scared. Michael had not developed the persona of a cold-blooded killer. He had to work up the nerve to pull off this double homicide.

When he makes his mind up, he goes ahead killing Sollozzo and McCluskey. This is the point in Michael's development that he becomes a true member of the family, and of the family business.


There are multiple factors here, one of which was Coppola’s desire to build the scene to a dramatic crescendo; the shots. But, this is a part of many moments where Michael's character is developed. You could argue at lest 6 points in this film where Michael becomes the new or real Godfather.

Did Michael change, or did he just give into who he was always destined to be (there are many moments in the film where the perpetuity and famiglia nature of the family is suggested, as the little kids playing in the toy car when Clemenza leaves his driveway with Paulie right before he has him killed). The restaurant scene is also a way Coppola establishes Michael as his own man, not to be told what to do by the others.

Prior to this, when Michael suggested it would be he who commits the act, everyone laughed at him; his reaction was subtle, but not unnoticed. This correlates to the power struggle between Micheal and Vito onscreen and Pacino and Brando off screen. The actions Michael takes are outrageous even to his famiglia, but he executes them flawlessly. This movie is so interwoven, you can’t analyze one scene without considering all the others.

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