In 1945, at his daughter Connie’s wedding, Vito Corleone hears requests in his role as the Godfather, the Don of a New York crime family. Vito’s youngest son, Michael, who was a Marine during World War II, introduces his girlfriend, Kay Adams, to his family at the reception. Johnny Fontane, a famous singer and Vito’s godson, seeks Vito’s help in securing a movie role; Vito dispatches his consigliere, Tom Hagen, to Los Angeles to persuade the obnoxious studio head, Jack Woltz, to give Johnny the part. Woltz refuses until he wakes up in bed with the severed head of his prized stallion.
Shortly before Christmas, drug baron Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, backed by the Tattaglia crime family, asks Vito for investment in his narcotics business and protection through his political connections. Wary of involvement in a dangerous new trade that risks alienating political insiders, Vito declines. Suspicious, Vito sends his enforcer, Luca Brasi, to spy on them. However, a Tattaglia button man garrotes Brasi during Brasi’s first meeting with Bruno Tattaglia and Sollozzo. Later Sollozzo has Vito gunned down in the street, then kidnaps Hagen. With Corleone first-born Sonny in command, Sollozzo pressures Hagen to persuade Sonny to accept Sollozzo’s deal, then releases him. The family receives fish wrapped in Brasi’s bullet-proof vest, indicating that Luca “sleeps with the fishes.” Vito survives, and at the hospital Michael thwarts another attempt on his father; Michael’s jaw is broken by NYPD Captain Marc McCluskey, Sollozzo’s bodyguard. Sonny retaliates with a hit on Bruno Tattaglia. Michael plots to murder Sollozzo and McCluskey: on the pretext of settling the dispute, Michael agrees to meet them in a Bronx restaurant. There, retrieving a planted handgun, he kills both men.