Anyone would agree that The Godfather trilogy is one of the most astounding and enticing film series ever made. Not only did it win three Academy Awards, but the movies are a hot topic for discussion even after decades of release. Among other things, fans still ponder over the relationship between Fredo and Michael, and more importantly, what exactly did Fredo do to betray his elder brother, Michael. I think all of this was far more complicated than it seemed. So in this article, I will try to analyze from all the possible angles and points of view why Fredo betrayed Michael and the possible reasons why Michael decided to kill him.
What Did Fredo Do To Betray Michael?
In the Godfather: Part II, Fredo betrayed his younger brother Michael Corleone by working behind the scenes with Johnny Ola and Hyman Roth during the negotiation of a business deal between the Corleone family and Roth’s organization. Johnny Ola (the agent of rival gangster Hyman Roth) meets Fredo, and the two become fast friends through the entertainment of Las Vegas. When Fredo starts his litany of complaints, Johnny listens and adds his share of talking. Ola and Roth claim that Michael is being particularly difficult in the negotiations of a business deal between Roth’s organization and the Corleone family. It is when Fredo agrees to aid them and provide information about Michael in exchange for compensation. Roth’s men use this information to make an attempt on Michael’s life at his home.
What Lead Did Fredo Give To Ola and Roth?
The film does not explicitly show what exactly Fredo told Ola and Roth, but it is implied that he naively gave out too much information about Michael, which helped Roth to make an attempt on Michael’s life. But let us explore this with the help of some hints-:
- It is inferred that Fredo was providing information to Johnny Ola and Hyman Roth on the whereabouts and business activities of Michael Corleone. Fredo gave Johnny Ola the layout of the family’s estate — most importantly, the location of Michael’s bedroom. Fredo opened the curtains to Michael & Kay’s room as a hint to the assassins (sent by Roth) about where to fire. As a result, the hit gets carried out, unsuccessfully, of course.
- Fredo did not change even after an assassination attempt on his brother, Michael. He continues working with Roth, intending to send Michael to prison, hoping he would become the new Don. He knew Roth had hired Senate lawyer Questadt against Michael but never informed Michael about it.
Why Did Fredo Betray His Brother, Michael?
Fredo gave Hyman Roth via Johnny Ola valuable Intel for setting up a hit on Michael at his home in Tahoe. Throughout the movie, we are led to believe that Fredo did not know about the actual plan Roth had for Michael (assassination attempt). He did not intend to have Michael killed (later in the movie, he pleads to Michael that he had no idea there would be a hit) rather he just wanted something for himself – to make a good figure or take a bit of advantage for himself out of the deal.
Fredo was angry and insulted that Michael was made the Don after their father retired as the Don even though Fredo was the eldest among the two. Fredo could never prove himself worthy and resented spending his whole life as a bumbling idiot in the family who could never do anything significant of his own. He also confesses to Michael his resentment at being passed over (not being the heir) in spite of being older than Michael, and how he wanted respect. Roth and Ola played on Fredo’s ego and made him feel worthwhile. The implication is that Johnny Ola lied to Fredo and convinced him that he and Roth would try to scare Michael rather than making it an actual hit, and Fredo bought it. A dialogue from a later scene indicates the same-:
- When Johnny Ola calls Fredo in the middle of the night to ask for further assistance, Fredo straight up tells him, “You guys lied to me — I don’t want you to call me anymore.”
As naive as he was, Fredo never intended to hurt Michael or the family as a whole. He was just jealous of Michael and considered him to be a hurdle for him to become the Don. He did not know about the attempted hit on Michael, just as he told Michael later in the big confrontation scene. A case in point is that Fredo would have known that a hit on Michael would be immediately recognized as an inside job. Any benefit he might have derived from Michael being killed would make him a prime suspect, and Michael’s people would retaliate.
Why Did Michael Kill Fredo?
It is a question that the Godfather fans have been debating for literally years. Both sides have very valid arguments on whether or not it was the right thing to do. However, I feel that Michael killing Fredo was not for reasons as simple as they seem. It is why I decided to include this segment where I will be discussing this aspect in varied detail.
How Does Michael Find Out Fredo Betrayed Him?
While Michael was in Havana negotiating with Roth, he realizes that Fredo is the family traitor he had been looking for. When Michael introduces Fredo to Johnny Ola, Fredo pretends that they have never met before. Later in the club, Fredo drunkenly lets slip that he had met Ola before. This is how Michael knows that Fredo betrayed him as he confronts him later and tells him, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!”
Why Did Michael Corleone Not Forgive His Brother Fredo And Decided To Kill Him?
In The Godfather II, at Michael and Fredo’s mom’s funeral when Michael approached Fredo, he embraced him, and it seemed that Fredo was remorseful for what he had done. It was clear that Fredo had changed. He perceived that he crossed the line, and he regretted his actions. He was weak and helpless and needed support. Then why did Michael kill him when he could have forgiven him?
One of the major themes of The Godfather 2 is Michael’s transition from a kind man to a hardened, business-like criminal. He had lost feelings of pity and compassion, especially after the murder attempt on his father, the death of his brother Sonny and his wife Appolonia. His treatment of Fredo by this time becomes strictly business. It is said that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and Michael understood that Fredo was the weakest link. Fredo was naive and weak and could not have possibly hurt Michael, but that didn’t eliminate the idea that Fredo could eventually be exploited again in the future and was a threat to the Corleones.
Michael killed Fredo also because he was dictated by his principles and he had simply no other choice than to have Fredo killed. Literally, mafioso means “men of honor”, and Michael had so tightly integrated the code of honor (so far as it goes in that closed criminal world) of the mafia that he would not forgo the procedure, even when it concerned his own sibling.
Furthermore, Michael valued loyalty, and he is certainly not a very forgiving man. At the end of The Godfather, he delivers revenge to several people who betrayed him (and the family), including his abusive brother-in-law Carlo, his traitorous capo Tessio, and Greene. In The Godfather (1972), after Fredo took Moe Greene’s side against Michael, he warned Fredo never to take sides against the family-:
Michael: Freddie, you’re my older brother. I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anybody against the Family again. Ever.
But Fredo paid no heed and colluded with Ola and Roth against his own brother, making it unforgivable. I think he never forgave Fredo for the betrayal to the family, even though it seemed that he had. So Michael waited until their mother was dead before killing Fredo. As soon as she was gone, he had Fredo killed.
It is why Michael ordered the killing of his brother, Fredo. Whether it is justified or not is debatable, but the decision had far-reaching consequences for Michael. In The Godfather III, he is filled with guilt and regrets his decision to the point that he confesses it to the Cardinal. He dies little by little as he cannot escape the consequences of his actions.
I hope this article gave you the needed clarity on some intriguing aspects of The Godfather series.