#61) The Godfather Part II (1974)

godfather_part_ii

#61) The Godfather Part II (1974)

OR “The ‘Godfather 2’ of Sequels”

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Written by Coppola & Mario Puzo. Based on the novel “The Godfather” by Puzo.

Class of 1993

 

The Plot: Picking up where the first film left off, Michael (Al Pacino) is now the Don of the Corleone family and is struggling with his empire’s move to Nevada, a business partnership/possible betrayal from Florida mobster Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), an ongoing Senate committee on organized crime, and his deteriorating relationship with his wife Kay (Diane Keaton). Told in parallel is the story of his father Vito (Robert De Niro) as a young man emigrating from Italy to start a new life in America.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film one of the few sequels that is “as good or better than the original”. An essay by Michael Sragow is a tribute to both films.

But Does It Really?: Given the story structure it’s hard to separate this film from “The Godfather”. It expands on the story of the original in the right ways and gives more dimension to the characters, even if it means a lot more spinning plates to keep track of. The film as a whole is great, but by its nature a sequel can never be the breakthrough its predecessor was. It doesn’t help that a lot of this film is about maintaining a legacy, be it Michael with his father or Coppola with his films. Is “The Godfather Part II” better than the original? Not really. Is it a worthy successor that can stand alongside the first? Absolutely.

Shout Outs: Ummm…the first one?

Everybody Gets One: Perhaps the name most associated with “The Method”, Lee Strasberg ran the Actors Studio for 31 years and taught several generations of acclaimed actors. He had retired from acting to focus on teaching, but former pupil Al Pacino persuaded him to take the role of Hyman Roth after director and former Actors Studio member Elia Kazan turned it down. Strasberg finally relented and received an Academy Award nomination for his troubles. In addition, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer – at the age of 73.

Seriously, Oscars?: “The Godfather Part II” defied expectations and scored 11 Oscar nominations and six wins. Among the prizes claimed were Best Picture, Director for Coppola, Adapted Screenplay (even though very little of the film is based on the novel), Supporting Actor for De Niro, and Original Score (even though the first film’s score was deemed ineligible. I don’t know how these things work). Despite the sweep, Pacino once again went home empty-handed (They went sentimental and gave Best Actor to Art Carney for “Harry & Tonto”). The film’s wins were deserving, but meant there was no room for fellow NFR entries “Chinatown” and “The Conversation”.

Other notes

  • Just to reiterate, the only part of this film based on the original novel is the Vito flashbacks, and that’s only one chapter. Everything involving Michael is unique to the film.
  • I had a first communion and I didn’t get a reception with dancers or bocce ball or senators or Troy Donahue.
  • The character of Frank Pentangeli was originally intended to be Pete Clemenza from the first film. When actor Richard Castellano asked for too much money and script demands, the character was killed off. And then they wrote it in that Clemenza didn’t tie things up with the Rosato brothers. I guess Coppola held a grudge.
  • Speaking of Clemenza, he’s played in the flashbacks by a young Bruno Kirby. I will always remember him best as a short-tempered caricature of himself on “The Larry Sanders Show”. He left us much too soon.
  • Damn, Pacino is good in this. Like you needed me to tell you that.
  • Someone in this film actually says the phrase “mamma mia!”
  • It’s a lot of fun watching De Niro doing his interpretation of Brando’s Vito. If the stories are true and Martin Scorsese plans on de-aging De Niro for scenes in “The Irishman”, he’s got his work cut out for him.
  • I’m a little disappointed that Duvall really gets nothing to do as Tom Hagen in this one. No wonder he didn’t want to do the third one.
  • It must have been great for Pacino to watch his former acting teacher Strasberg have to practice what he preached.
  • How come they didn’t translate “paisan” on the subtitles?
  • I’m glad things worked out for Signora Colombo and her landlord. I hope this means a bright future for her son.
  • Among the actors playing senators in the committee are B-movie producer Roger Corman and author Richard Matheson, who wrote the “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”.
  • Senator Geary says that the Mafia hearings are not “a slur upon the great Italian people.” Sure, but it didn’t help either.
  • Always great to see Diane Keaton in a performance before she became self-parody.
  • The Oscars managed to include three of this film’s actors in the Best Supporting Actor category, but couldn’t find room for John Cazale’s iconic and heartbreaking work as Fredo? Where’s the justice in that, I ask you?
  • The film’s final flashback is pretty great, and also quite emotional since it brings several characters back from the dead. It’s a shame Brando didn’t show up for this one.

Legacy

  • Although content with the two films being halves of a larger whole, Coppola did finally relent and make a third one in 1990, calling it an epilogue to the original two. Most people call it the Fredo of the bunch.
  • This film, of all things, led to more sequels having the number in their title, as opposed to “Son of” or “Revenge of” or “Beneath the”.
  • Everyone who says “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, or “I knew it was you. You broke my heart.”
  • Don Homer
  • This interesting reference on Seinfeld.
  • While not De Niro’s first film, it did propel him into the mainstream and to one day play straight man to Ben Stiller.

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