James Caan as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather
|First appearance||The Godfather|
|Last appearance||The Godfather: The Game|
|Created by||Mario Puzo|
|Portrayed by||James Caan|
Roman Coppola (child)
|Full name||Santino Corleone|
|Title||Underboss, Acting boss|
|Children||Francesca Corleone |
Santino Corleone Jr.
|Relatives||Carlo Rizzi (brother-in-law)|
Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone (sister-in-law)
Kay Adams-Corleone (sister-in-law)
Deanna Dunn (sister-in-law)
Victor Rizzi (nephew)
Michael Rizzi (nephew)
Anthony Corleone (nephew)
Mary Corleone (niece)
Tom Hagen (adopted brother)
He is the oldest son of the mafia don Vito Corleone and Carmela Corleone. He has two brothers, Fredo and Michael, and a sister, Connie. In the film, Sonny was portrayed by James Caan, who reprised his role for a flashback scene in The Godfather Part II.
In both the novel and the movie, Sonny is the eldest of Vito Corleone's four children. Unlike his soft-spoken, quietly calculating father, Sonny is brash, rambunctious, hot-tempered and quick to violence.
At age 16, Sonny commits a robbery. When Peter Clemenza, Vito's right-hand man and Sonny's godfather, informs Vito about it, Vito demands his son explain himself. Sonny replies that he had witnessed Vito murder the feared "Black Hand" gangster Don Fanucci years before, and he now wants to join the "family business". Vito sends him to Clemenza for training.
Sonny "makes his bones" at the age of 19. By his mid-20s, he is promoted to a caporegime in the Corleone family. By the end of World War II, he is his father's underboss and heir apparent, respected and feared as a merciless killer with a fiery temper. Sonny is not without a gentler side, however; at age 11, he brings home a homeless boy, Tom Hagen, demanding he be allowed to live with the family. Vito informally adopts Hagen, who eventually rises through the ranks to become Vito's consigliere. As the eldest child, Sonny acts as protector to his younger siblings and has a close relationship with his youngest brother, Michael, and only sister, Connie. While he can brutalize and kill other men without compunction, he cannot bring himself to harm women, children, or anyone unable to defend themselves.
Sonny has four children with his wife Sandra. He also has several mistresses, including Connie’s friend Lucy Mancini. In the novel, Sandra allows – and is grateful for – his infidelities because she is unable to take the size of his penis.
Sonny's life is upturned in 1945, when drug lord Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo, backed by the Tattaglia family, approaches Vito with an offer to enter the narcotics trade. During the meeting, Sonny speaks out-of-turn, expressing an interest in the deal that Vito declined. Vito later reprimands Sonny for revealing his thoughts to an outsider. Sollozzo later attempts to have Vito assassinated, believing Sonny, as his father's successor, will bring the Corleone family into the drug trade.
The failed assassination attempt leaves Vito near death, making Sonny acting boss of the Corleone family. Sonny orders Clemenza to execute Vito's traitorous bodyguard Paulie Gatto. Sollozzo mounts a second assassination attempt on Vito at the hospital, which Michael thwarts. Sonny then orders Bruno Tattaglia, son and underboss of Sollozzo's ally Philip Tattaglia, to be murdered. Sollozzo proposes that Michael to be sent to broker a truce. Sonny, believing it is a trick, refuses and demands that the other Mafia families hand over Sollozzo to the Corleone family or else face war. Hagen successfully convinces Sonny to wait because Captain Mark McCluskey, a corrupt NYPD captain on Sollozzo's payroll, has agreed to be Sollozzo's bodyguard. Hagen warns Sonny that killing McCluskey would violate a long-standing Mafia rule not to kill members of law enforcement, and that the backlash from rival Mafia families and law enforcement would be severe.
Michael, who had before wanted nothing to do with the family business, volunteers to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, arguing that McCluskey is fair game because he is a corrupt cop mixed up in the drug trade. Sonny is impressed with Michael's loyalty and bravery, but doubts that his "nice college boy" brother is capable of murder. Ultimately, however, he approves the hit. Michael meets with Sollozzo and McCluskey at an Italian restaurant in the Bronx, and kills both men. This ignites the New York underworld's first Mafia war in a decade. Sonny had arranged for Michael to flee to Sicily under the protection of Vito's friend and longtime ally Don Tommasino.
The war between the Five Families drags on, and Sonny, unable to break the stalemate, orders bloody raids that earn him a legendary reputation. He also begins plotting to take out the rival Mafia bosses. Emilio Barzini, Vito's rival and the power behind Sollozzo, enlists Connie's abusive husband, Carlo Rizzi, to help set a trap. Earlier, Sonny had beaten Carlo up after he physically abused Connie. To draw Sonny out into the open, Carlo provokes Connie into an argument before savagely beating her. Weeping and injured, she telephones the Corleone compound asking Sonny for help. Furious, Sonny speeds towards Connie's apartment in Hell's Kitchen ahead of his bodyguards. At the Long Beach Causeway toll plaza, Barzini's men ambush Sonny and gun him down.
During a meeting with the other crime family Dons to establish peace, Vito realizes that Barzini masterminded Sonny's murder. After Michael returns from Sicily, he assumes Sonny's place as Vito's heir apparent. Vito and Michael secretly continue Sonny's plot to wipe out the other New York Dons to avenge Sonny's death and purge their rivals, once and for all. The plan is successfully executed in 1955, shortly after Vito's death from natural causes. Michael informs Carlo that the rival Dons have been killed and coerces Carlo's confession for his part in arranging Sonny's murder. Carlo admits Barzini was the mastermind. On Michael's orders, Clemenza garrotes Carlo to death. In a single strike, the Corleones become the most powerful crime family in the country.
As well as appearing in the original film, The Godfather, Sonny features in the sequel, The Godfather Part II. In this film, he briefly appears in some flashback scenes as an infant and as a young child. He makes a final appearance at the end of the story, in a scene that portrays Vito's birthday celebration in 1941. Michael announces that he has dropped out of college and enlisted to fight in World War II. Sonny is furious at the decision, and he berates his brother for risking his life "for a bunch of strangers." This flashback also reveals that Sonny introduced Carlo to Connie, and the rest of the family, which led to their marriage.
In The Godfather Part III, Vincent Corleone is introduced as Sonny's illegitimate son with Lucy Mancini. Vincent succeeds Michael as head of the Corleone family at the end of the film. Vincent's existence in the film contradicts the literary universe because Puzo's original novel stated that Lucy never bore a child with Sonny.
| Acting head of the Corleone crime family