Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mattresses, Fishes and Offers

Kate and I watched The Godfather trilogy again in one sitting yesterday.

The Godfather is one of my Top Ten Plus Two list when I once posted about my top ten movies. I had to add the two because I couldn’t work out which two to delete.  Numbers 2 and 3 didn't make it to the list, my view is that TG 1 is good, 2 is less so, 3 is worst.

For those interested, the list, with comments about each film, is at:

Also for those interested, the list (not in any order) is:
1. The Godfather
2. Rat Race
3. Runaway Train
4. Blues Brothers
5. Chicago
6. 12 Angry Men
7. Zulu
8. Blade Runner
9. Groundhog Day
10. Full Metal Jacket
11. Pleasantville
12. Sin City

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That Sonny's runnin' wild. He's thinking of going to the mattresses already.

No, no, no! No more! Not this time, consiglieri. No more meetings, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. You give 'em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it's all-out war: we go to the mattresses.

I was aware that “go to the mattresses” had also been quoted in another fav pic, You’ve Got Mail  –

My business is in trouble. My mother would have something wise to say.

I'm a brilliant businessman. It's what I do best. What's your business?

No specifics, remember?

Minus specifics, it's hard to help. Except to say, go to the mattresses.


It's from The Godfather. It means you have to go to war.

The Godfather? What is it with men and The Godfather?

The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." What day of the week is it? "Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday." And the answer to your question is "Go to the mattresses."

You're at war. "It's not personal, it's business. It's not personal it's business." Recite that to yourself every time you feel you're losing your nerve. I know you worry about being brave, this is your chance. Fight. Fight to the death. 

That started me wondering as to the meaning and the origin. Although the meaning is clear – to prepare for war or battle – there is no definitive, verified origin. The Phrase Finder, an authoritative UK website, offers this commentary:

In 1530 the combined troops of Charles V and Medici Pope Clement VII lay siege to Florence. The bell tower of San Miniato al Monte was part of the defences. Michelangelo Buonarroti, as he was good at most things, was put in charge of defending the city. He used the ploy of hanging mattresses on the outside of the tower to minimise damage from cannon fire. 
In times of war or siege, Italian families would vacate their homes and rent apartments in safer areas. In order to protect themselves they would hire soldiers to sleep on the floor in shifts. 
Ordinarily we would want to verify such stories before publishing them here as part of a phrase derivation. In this case though it isn't really important. The meaning of the phrase turns on the association in Italian folk-memory of mattresses with safety in wartime. The phrase wasn't well known outside of the USA and Italy prior to the Godfather movies. It was used there, and later in The Sopranos television series, to mean 'preparing for battle'. Whether or not the stories that originated it are true doesn't alter the fact that the screenwriters of those films used them in that context.

San Miniato al Monte

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Which raises some other phrases from the Godfather . . .

When a package is delivered that contains a dead fish wrapped in the bulletproof vest of one of Don Corleone’s most loyal lieutenants, someone asks what it means. Clemenza states “It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

Is it a Sicilian message or was in invented by Mario Puzo for the book The Godfather?

From the Phrase Finder:
Cassell's Dictionary of Slang dates "sleep with the fishes" from the 1950s, but The Godfather was only published in 1969; so although it undoubtedly gained circulation from the book, it didn't originate there. There's also a closely related phrase, "feed the fishes" which has been in circulation since the 19th century.

From Wiktionary:

A similar reference can be found in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, wherein the second mate Stubb soliloquizes: "when Aquarius, or the Water-bearer, pours out his whole deluge and drowns us; and to wind up with Pisces, or the Fishes, we sleep. (Melville, Moby Dick, ch. 94).
Earliest known reference for this phrase can be found in the epic Greek poem, The Iliad, by Homer. During Book 21, Achilles slays Lykaon, a son of Priam, and throws him in a river. Achilles taunts him as he dies, saying "Lie there now among the fish..." (Lattimore translation) or, "Make your bed with the fishes now..." (Fagles translation). In other words, sleep with the fishes.

* * * * * * * *
Don Corleone:
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Again from Phrase Finder:

This is the best-known line from The Godfather book (1969) and film (1972), both written by Mario Puzo. In fact, it is one of the best-known lines in any film and ranks second only to 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn' as the most celebrated quotation from an American film. The 'offer he can't refuse' line is used in all three films of the Godfather trilogy but varies slightly throughout and isn't always easy to hear through all that cotton wool. 
The expression 'make an offer he can't refuse' does occur in literature and film prior to 1972, but not with the meaning that it has now taken on because of its use in The Godfather. For example, Jason Robards' character in the 1934 film Burn Em Up Barnes uses "I'll make her an offer she can't refuse". The meaning there is quite different. The character is suggesting making a large and tempting offer of cash - it is meant to be taken as generosity rather than as a threat. 
Puzo appears to have been making an reference to an existing phrase so that the Godfather character could ironically pretend that his 'offer' was benevolent. 
In the first occurrence in the first Godfather film, it is 'I'll make him an offer he can't refuse'. In one of the film's best-known scenes Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is visited by his godson, the famous singer Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) - a characterization that is widely believed to be based on Frank Sinatra, although many people associated with Sinatra and the film have denied this. Fontane asks for Vito's help to secure a film role that will boost his fading career. The head of the film studio, has previously refused to give Fontane the part, but Don Corleone tells Johnny "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."  The studio head later wakes to find the severed head of his expensive racehorse in his bed. Unsurprisingly, Fontane is subsequently given the part.

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