How Did Don Vito Know It Was Barzini?

After the meeting with the head of the five families, Vito Corleone tells Tom Hagen that he knows that it was Barzini who was backing Sollozzo all along. What happened at the meeting that gave Don Vito the impression? How did Vito Corleone come to know that it was Barzini all along?

The Godfather introduced us to the Italian-American Mafia families, with the Corleone family being the most prominent. We watched the intriguing series of events unfold under Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant direction. 

After Sonny was taken out, Don Vito stepped in and called a meeting with the heads of the five families. It appears that he did it to establish peace with the other families, bring back Michael safely from his exile in Sicily, and prevent his empire from collapsing. But Vito’s goal and intentions behind the meeting were not limited to the reasons he listed. In reality, Vito needed to verify who was behind the lethal attacks on his family. As expected after the meeting, Don Vito instinctively knew that the individual behind all the treacherous events was not the obvious Philip Tattaglia but the cunning Don, Emilio Barzini.

What happened in the meeting that allowed Don Corleone to make this deduction?

How Did Vito Corleone Figure Out That It Was Barzini All Along?

Vito Corleone was smart and could read people. 

  1. During the meeting, Vito could see Barzini taking the center stage, comporting himself as a leader, and pushing his agenda through Tattaglia and Sollozo.
  2. As the conversation went on, Vito must have realized that Philip Tattaglia was speaking Barzini’s tongue. Throughout the meeting, Philip was staring back at Barzini and following his lead whenever he was in duress in front of Vito. 

Don Barzini Took Keen Interest In The Meeting

During the meeting, Don Barzini took a keen interest in the peace negotiations and took almost complete charge of negotiating with the Corleones for a settlement. When Sollozzo entered the picture, he requested Vito Corleone for protection and to give up political influence, something that he did not need at large for his business. It became clear that he was pushing his and someone else’s agenda in return for a cut of the profits and taking care of the Tattaglias. 

The meeting’s agenda was to discuss peace between the Tattaglias and the Corleones, instead, Barzini took that opportunity to request for the Corleone to give up judges and political influence and push the Sollozzo business of trafficking and distribution of drugs. He said-

“Don Corleone has all the judges and the politicians in New York, and he must share them, he must let us draw the water from the well…traffic and drugs will be permitted but controlled, and Don Corleone will give up protection in the East, and there will be peace.”

Barzini then set the peace terms and obtained what he wanted from the meeting. Moreover, it was noticeable how Tattaglia directed his comments to Barzini. It sounded as if they were continuing a previous conversation on the subject of Vito and his political ties.

Don Vito, naturally, realized that the one orchestrating everything from the beginning was Barzini. 

Tattaglia Was Not Strong Enough

Vito understood the other Dons well. Tattaglia was the one that had been the most hostile to Corleone, but Vito had never really respected Tattaglia or thought him to be intelligent. We know it not only by Vito’s comment that Tattaglia’s a pimp, and that Sonny would have outfought him, but also considering Tattaglia and Barzini’s familiarity with each other during the peace meeting. Tattaglia seemed to be looking to Barzini for support.

By himself, Tattaglia was not strong enough to take on the Corleones as Phillip was not, particularly a strategic man. Vito probably always had a suspicion that there was more to Tattgalia’s hostility than was obvious.

So when Don Vito called the meeting to make peace with Tattaglia over the Sollozzo business, he was paying close attention to what the other Dons had to say. 

Barzini built his empire on gambling, prostitution, and narcotics, the last of which stood to reason why he would have an even greater need than Tattaglia for bribing judges and politicians. Once Barzini demanded at the meeting of the Five Families, in an official capacity, that Vito share the judges and the politicians, Vito realized that Sollozzo’s request for access to those judges and politicians must have come from Barzini.

It was Barzini who took over the meeting and set the terms of the deal, not Tattaglia. As Vito said,

“…That’s why I don’t have to know about what happened. It’s enough to know that Barzini had a hand in it.”

Vito correctly perceived that it was Barzini all along. It was what Vito had intended when he called the meeting—to uncover the mastermind if there was one. Tattaglia did not have brains. Sollozzo would have never attempted to kill a Don without some kind of sanction from the Commission. Evidently, he had gotten it from Barzini.

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