If THE GODFATHER
isn't the greatest
film ever made, it's very close to
it. But there is little debate that THE GODFATHER, PART II is
greatest sequel ever made. It can be said that PART II's
greatness is dependent on the existence of part one (it's not a
stand-alone sequel, in other words), but it hardly matters any
more. Debates over which is the better film are meaningless,
the two films have blended together into a single entity in the public
consciousness. It seems unlikely that Hollywood will ever
produce anything quite like the Corleone family saga. Unless
Corleones can be reincarnated as super-heroes. - JL
Rather than make a straight sequel to the hugely successful THE GODFATHER, Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo conceived of a double film - a prequel and a sequel - intertwining the story of Don Vito Corleone's ascension to power in the early 1900s with the story of his son Michael's descent into soulless misery in the 1950s. Either film would have made for a fine followup to the original, but the skillfully balanced intercutting from one story to another, contrasting a father's success with his son's failure, resulted in a film universally hailed as the Greatest Movie Sequel Ever. Many fans consider it to be better a better film than the original.
There is arguably no finer example of an actor displaying full control over his every movement than Al Pacino as Michael in this film. Playing a master manipulator of people and events who can never show his true emotions, Pacino saves his "Shouty Al" line readings for key moments ("WAS IT A BOY!?"), making them all the more powerful. He is riveting, even when sitting in his den saying almost nothing (as pictured). Pacino had risen from obscurity to stardom with THE GODFATHER, and this sequel, along with films like SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON and AND JUSTICE FOR ALL would establish him as one of the most dynamic actors of his generation.
Director Coppola must have been touched by the hand of God back in the early 1970s. He had previously fought tooth and nail to cast Al Pacino as Michael in the first film, despite studio objections. For the sequel, he and only he saw that relative unknown Robert De Niro was the only actor capable of following Marlon Brando in the part of Vito Corleone. De Niro's performance is every bit as masterful as Pacino's, especially considering that except for a handful of lines, he spoke Sicilian for the entire movie. De Niro's every movement and gesture is full of such self-confidence, he is completely believable as a young Brando/Don Vito. This film was to De Niro what THE GODFATHER was to Pacino. Although he had done some outstanding work in BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY and MEAN STREETS, it was THE GODFATHER PART II that would make Robert De Niro a household name.
The flashbacks to Don Vito's early life are straight forward, coming mostly from Puzo's original Godfather novel. We follow Vito's early life, his coming to America, his life in the streets of New York, and his rise in his neighborhood as a man to be respected and feared.. The Michael story, conceived by Coppola, has a confused, convoluted quality only surpassed by THE BIG SLEEP. THE GODFATHER moves clearly from one plot point to the next, but events of THE GODFATHER PART II would be confusing even without its main narrative disappearing for great lengths of time to make way for the young Vito sections. Even hardcore GF fans such as the two webmasters of this site have disagreement over whether it was Hyman Roth or Frankie Pentangeli who actually planned the unsuccessful hit on Michael that sets the story in motion. Michael plays both sides against each other, but there is never a definitive answer. Our collective theory is that Coppola and Puzo, creative juices flowing wildly, were just writing really fast and loose. Yet the confusion doesn't matter. In fact, the murky plot points out how times had changed, showing us that "business" is no longer as simple as it was back in the day of Don Vito. As Michael attempts to consolidate his power and vanquish his enemies, he winds up losing everything he hold dear in life. His own quietly manic attempts to protect his wife and children leads to a complete separation from them, while, in what I consider the most powerful scene in all of cinema, he wordlessly forgives his own flesh and blood for a terrible transgression while, with an imperceptible nod of his head, simultaneously orders the murder of the same person. He gave up his own chosen life to protect the Family in Part One. In Part Two, he winds up giving up his soul.
Not enough can be said about Pacino and De Niro in this film, but major props should also be given to several other actors for their outstanding work. In particular, Michael V. Gazzo as a turncoat capo regime is the kind of actor who could literally do some of his finest work while suffering from a major hangover (just watch the Senate hearing scene with this is mind). The legendary Lee Strasberg, director of the famous Actor's Studio, is commanding in one of his rare screen appearances, playing the Meyer Lansky-like Hyman Roth, and G. D. Spradlin is perfect as a corrupt Senator mixed up with the mob. Of the returning Corleones, Talia Shire (Coppola's real life sister) vastly improves on her fine but sometimes clumsy performance as Michael's sister in the first film, and Robert Duvall equals his dignified performance from THE GODFATHER as Michael's adopted brother and family lawyer Tom Hagen. Best of all, and saddest too, is John Cazale as weakling Fredo Corleone. In one of the film's most riveting scenes, he finally lets out all his pen-up anger against his younger brother, literally shaking with fear and emotion while laying down, exhausted and scared, on a lawn chair. Cazale is absolutely perfect in the film, one of only five feature films he appeared in before succumbing to bone cancer after 1978's THE DEER HUNTER.
The first two Godfather films are so rich in character, strong acting, plot, dialogue and directorial technique, this is the first time I have been able to squeeze in some overdue praise for the music of Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola, who both contributed many indelible melodies to our popular culture, including Rota's "Godfather Waltz" and "Godfather Theme" (later known as "Speak Softly Love") and Coppola's incredibly infectious tarantellas and stately marches, and the haunting "The Immigrant", heard most prominently in GODFATHER II when young Vito arrives in America. Gordon Willis also contributed mightily to all three films with his groundbreaking cinematography, creating a unique look, especially for parts one and two, through the use of overexposure, underexposure and color saturation.
Overall, I enjoy watching THE GODFATHER to THE GODFATHER PART II. I believe the first film is more entertaining and "fun", if that is a word we can use about these films filled with murder, mayhem and betrayal by the bucket load. But THE GODFATHER PART II is twice as ambitious, difficult and rewarding as its predecessor. In my review of the first film, I said that you have to live inside of THE GODFATHER. For THE GODFATHER PART II, you have to work your way through it. But it is completely worth the effort and then some. Watching THE GODFATHER without following it with THE GODFATHER PART II is like listening to the first two movements of a Beethoven Symphony without hearing out it all turns out. Don't do it. Watch them both. - JB
ADD ANOTHER QUOTE AND MAKE IT A GARROT... ER... GALLON
"I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies."
In the end, Michael Corleone really didn't need to know who was behind the assassination attempt at his home, as his solution is stated above - just kill them all.
YOU WON'T SEE HIM NO MORE
Richard Castellano was supposed to reprise his role as Fat Clemenza in The Godfather Part II, but, head filled with stardom, he made unreasonable demands on Francis Coppola, who then reached a decision the Corleone family would be proud of: he "killed" off Clemenza. Dialogue suggests Clemenza died of a heart attack, sometime between the first and second film, although another character adds mysteriously "That was no heart attack." Castellano overplayed his hand and lost out on stardom. He continued onto an undistinguished film and television career, including a short-lived sitcom in 1972 called The Super, in which he played father to Bruno Kirby, who plays the young Clemenza in The Godfather Part II flashback scenes. Ironically, Castellano died of a heart attack in 1988 at age 55.
Coppola wanted Marlon Brando to appear as Vito Corleone in the final flashback sequence which took place just in the Corleone's dining room in Long Island just after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But Brando, angry with Paramount over his salary on the first film, would not commit to the part. Up until the day of the shooting, Coppola still had hopes of Brando showing up, but he had an alternate script for the scene prepared just in case. It was his alternate version that was shot, as Brando was a no show. His dialogue was transferred to the character of Sonny, Michael's older brother, played by James Caan. "That's Pop talking," Michael says to his brother, something of an in-joke.
JOHN, WE HARDLY KNEW YOU
"His roles were in the background. A lesser actor would've tried to throttle them forward. Because he didn't, we still remember him today." - Film Experience Blog
John Cazale was lucky to have come into his own during a time when glamor and looks were not necessarily what many directors were looking for. (Today, Cazale would probably have been cast as Batman villains). He never had a starring role, yet was completely unforgettable in at least three of the five films he made before his untimely death in 1978. Imagine THE GODFATHER films without Cazale as the hapless Fredo, or DOG DAY AFTERNOON without Cazale as the unpredictable, zombie-like Sal. He was that rare actor who not only did great work himself, but naturally inspired others around - including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman and Meryl Streep - him to do their best. He remains one of my favorite actors of the 1970s.
The Films of John Cazale:
The Godfather (1972) (dir. Francis Coppola)
The Conversation (1974) (dir. Francis Coppola)
The Godfather Part II (1974) (dir. Francis Coppola)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) (dir. Sidney Lumet)
The Dear Hunter (1978) (dir. Michael Cimino)