Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Godfather, Part II (1974)
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Background

The Godfather, Part II (1974) of the Godfather trilogy continues the saga of the Corleone Family, serving as both a prologue and a sequel, extending over a period of 60 years and three generations. The script was again co-authored by director Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, the author of the popular novel about American organized crime. Many critics believe this film sequel, at a lengthy three hours and twenty minutes, is a superior improvement over the original film, although some of it is confusing and leaves questions unanswered.

The film is masterfully intercut back and forth between two parallel stories: the prologue story (about one-quarter of the entire film) to the sequel, contrasting the two eras and their protagonists.

The prologue portion follows the background story of the rise of youthful Don Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro replacing Marlon Brando) to Mafia chief in the early 1900s in the Little Italy section of New York City. About fifteen minutes of the prologue portion is in Sicilian with English sub-titles. The major portion of the sequel begins in 1958 - about three years after the conclusion of the first film (The Godfather, Part I (1972)) and follows the career of Corleone's son Michael (Al Pacino again) from his patriarchal prime to his decline a year later. The saga leads to the inexorable passage of 'sins' from the immigrant father to his modern-day son.

Similar themes from the original are carried over and arise in Part II: revenge, intrigue, betrayal, alliances, violence, the corruptive influences of power, and devoted loyalties to the family. Unlike the first film, the forbidden words "Mafia" and "Cosa Nostra" are each mentioned once - in one of the Senate Hearings scenes. The film contains fewer deaths, though - a total of 16. But the tragic film is more somber with Gordon Willis' un-nominated cinematography highlighted by sepia-toned, golden amber, and darkish tones.

The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six: Best Picture (for producer/director Francis Ford Coppola), Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Robert DeNiro in a Sicilian-speaking role), Best Adapted Screenplay (co-authored by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Original Dramatic Score (Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola). It was a three Oscar win for Coppola. Five of the other six un-rewarded nominations were for acting roles: Best Actor (Al Pacino), Best Supporting Actor(s): (Michael Gazzo and Lee Strasberg), and Best Supporting Actress (Talia Shire). The Godfather, Part II was the first sequel in Academy history to win a Best Picture Oscar.

Coppola's Godfather Trilogy - See also The Godfather Trilogy
The Godfather (1972)

175 minutes
Ten Academy Awards nominations and the winner of 3 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay; the top-grossing film of the year, and a $134 million box-office hit; set in the mid to late 1940s NYC to the mid 1950s, a 10 year period, with Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, head of the crime family; it was filmed as a modern version of Shakespeare's King Lear (featuring a king and three sons: hot-headed eldest Sonny, Fredo and Michael); the 'honorable' crime "family," working outside the system due to exclusion by social prejudice, was threatened by the rise of modern criminal activities - the "dirty" drug trade. Family loyalty and blood ties were juxtaposed with brutal and vengeful blood-letting, including Corleone's attempted assassination in 1945 after he refused to bankroll a crime rival's drug activities.
The Godfather, Part II (1974)

187 minutes
Eleven Academy Awards nominations, and the winner of 6 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Robert DeNiro as the young Don Corleone), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Score Oscars; the first sequel to win Best Picture - and considered an equal to the original; $48 million in box-office business; both a sequel-continuation and a pre-quel to the 1972 film; now Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) served as the family's don in Part II after his father's heart attack in 1955 - he sought legitimacy in Nevada and invested heavily in gambling casinos in pre-Castro Cuba - interspersed with the tale (one quarter of the film) of his father Don Vito Corleone's (Robert DeNiro) rise to power in New York's Little Italy in the early 1900s; the film followed the rise of two successive generations of Corleone power, and extended over a period of 60 years.
The Godfather, Part III (1990)

162-170 minutes
With seven Academy Awards nominations (including the first for cinematographer Gordon Willis in this trilogy) and zero Oscars, but $66 million in domestic box-office business, although its production budget was $54 million; the story began in 1979, about 20 years after Michael Corleone (Pacino) gave the order to have his older brother killed and eight years since Michael and wife Kay (Diane Keaton) had seen each other after divorcing in 1959; consigliere and adopted brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) was now dead, replaced by BJ Harrison (George Hamilton), and the Lake Tahoe compound was in disrepair, as Michael had moved out of the casino business. Aging, 60-ish Michael Corleone was taking first steps toward cleansing himself, breaking his ties to the 'Mafia' business, legitimizing his violent reputation, and buying his way toward respectability, as well as finding a worthy successor; the film ended with a coda years later in 1997 with white-haired Michael's anti-climactic, peaceful death from a heart attack at his Sicilian villa.

The Story

The film opens with a brief connection to the first film - the last scene of Part I, in the year 1955. In the old Corleone office, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) extends his hand - it is kissed by Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui), one of his henchmen. Michael has emerged as the new Godfather in his father's image, an image he once sought to escape. His leather-backed chair, the Mafia leader's throne, sits empty as the film's titles are displayed.

The story dissolves back to the remote Sicilian countryside in 1901, where a funeral procession is passing along the edge of a rocky riverbed - a marching band with musicians accompanies the mourners carrying the crude wooden coffin. Corleone's original surname was Andolini:

The Godfather was born Vito Andolini, in the town of Corleone in Sicily. In 1901, his father was murdered for an insult to the local Mafia Chieftain. His older brother Paolo swore revenge and disappeared into the hills, leaving Vito, the only male heir, to stand with his mother at the funeral. He was nine years old.

[Whereas the first film began with an authentic Italian-American wedding, a religious event, this film begins with a funeral, another important rite of passage.]

The widow Andolini (Maria Carta), dressed in black, walks alongside young nine year old Vito Corleone, né Andolini (Oreste Baldini) at the funeral of her husband, Antonio Andolini. Two gunshots are heard, and everyone scatters for cover. Paolo's body is discovered slain on the ground - the fourteen year-old son has been murdered by orders of the local Mafia Chieftain Don Francesco Ciccio (Giuseppe Sillato). The widow kneels in front of the chieftain, who is seated on the porch of his baronial villa sipping wine with his bodyguards. She pleads, in Sicilian, for him to spare her remaining son's life:

Widow: All my respect, Don Ciccio. Don Ciccio. You killed my husband because he wouldn't give in to you. And his oldest son Paolo...because he swore revenge. But Vito is only nine. And dumb-witted. He never speaks.
Don Ciccio: It's not his words I'm afraid of.
Widow: He's weak - he couldn't hurt anyone.
Don Ciccio: But when he grows, he'll grow strong.
Widow: Don't worry. This little boy can't do a thing to you.
Don Ciccio: (standing up) When he's a man, he'll come for revenge. [In fact, the young boy returns for revenge later in his life.]
Widow: I beg you, Don Ciccio, spare my only son. He's all I have left. I swear to God he'll never do you any harm. Spare him!
Don Ciccio: No.

After the Don's rejection of mercy, the woman reaches for a concealed knife and holds it to his neck. As her son runs away, the Don's guards grab her arm, push her away, and kill her at close-range with the blast of a shotgun. The young boy quickly runs through a grove of olive trees toward the town to escape. While two of the Sicilian guards call out warnings of Mafia reprisal in the village streets that evening: "Any family who hides the boy Vito Andolini will regret it...Anybody who hides the boy Vito Andolini is in for trouble!," family friends hide the young fugitive in a basket on the side of a donkey, counterbalanced by a load of firewood on the other side. He is smuggled away from danger and taken out of the country.

In the next scene, following a dissolve, the young orphaned boy is huddled with other immigrants aboard the ship Moshulu as it moves past the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The hundreds of steerage passengers stand on the deck and expectantly look at the greenish female symbol of freedom - a memorable pan moves across their faces from right to left. In the Ellis Island Processing Hall [historically-recreated], a bustling and chaotic place captured in the poignant scene, large numbers of new arrivals are seated on benches and waiting in lines to be interviewed by officials. A "Red Star Lines" number 7 is pinned to his coat. A doctor examines Vito's eyes and chalks an X in a circle on his jacket. In the waiting room which looks like a cattlepen, a man plays a soulful violin tune; others speak in a multitude of different languages. When the quiet boy doesn't respond to an official asking him his name, the young Sicilian immigrant has his name mistakenly changed from Vito Andolini to Vito Corleone - the name of his town, taken from the tag on his coat.

The quiet, scrawny waif is again inspected by medical officials and found to have smallpox - he is ordered to be quarantined for three months. With another group, he is led down the interior of the Quarantine Corridor at Ellis Island to his cell. The Statue of Liberty is reflected on his window - he steps forward to the glass where the reflection casts its image. He accepts his fate in his bare room, stands and looks out at the immense statue. Then, he places his suitcase on his bed (Bed #52), sits in a chair facing the window, and sings to himself in Sicilian. A super-imposed title reads: "VITO CORLEONE, ELLIS ISLAND, 1901."

SEQUEL:

The scene dissolves in a connective transition to the superimposition of another young Corleone son, seven year old Anthony Corleone (James Gounaris) in the modern story two generations later, moving down the aisle of a church for his first Holy Catholic communion: "HIS GRANDSON, ANTHONY VITO CORLEONE, LAKE TAHOE, NEVADA, 1958." [The first film ended with a baptism and christening for younger members of the family. The symmetry is maintained in the second film with another family celebration following a religious ceremony while the Don holds meetings with important business personages.] On the expansive lawn on the shore of Lake Tahoe where the boy's father owns a great estate, a party is being held to celebrate.

At the lavish occasion, there is a specially-built bandstand pavilion, a full dance orchestra, and dancers exhibiting the tango. Thirty-one year old Connie "Constanzia' Corleone (Talia Shire) makes her way through the tables with a blonde gigolo/escort named Merle Johnson (teen idol Troy Donahue - the star's real name is Merle Johnson!) - he's her future third husband. Irresponsibly, she is one week late: "Here I am, just one week late." At the table of her sixty-one year old mother Mama Corleone (Morgana King), she is scolded for being a lousy mother and deserting her children [nine year old Victor and three year old Michael Francis] for her own self-seeking debauchery: "You go see your children first, and then you worry about waiting on line to see your brother. Like everybody else."

Nevada's U. S. Senator Pat Geary (G. D. Spradlin) and his wife are presented by the bandleader. The distinguished congressman graciously accepts an endowment check from the Corleones "for a magnificent contribution to the state...a check made out to the university, and it is a magnificent endowment in the name of Anthony Vito Corleone and the check is signed by that young man's parents whom I think we should recognize them: Mike, Pat, Kay..." He viciously mis-pronounces the name of "Vito Corleone." Pictures are taken with the check and a plaque. The Sierra Boys Choir performs at the boy's First Communion.

Thirty-eight year old Michael dispenses justice and conducts business in his boathouse office [just as his father Don Vito Corleone did at the beginning of the first film during his daughter's wedding] during the celebration of his eldest son's first Communion. Senator Geary [Geary's character is reportedly based upon corrupt Nevada Senator Pat McCarren] is brought to the Tahoe Boathouse for a private meeting in Michael Corleone's new office and headquarters to speak about the gaming license on a new casino - part of the Corleone expansion plan in the state after moving westward from the East Coast. In their presence is forty-two year old Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), Michael's trusted lawyer. Outside the picture window, celebrants play croquet on the lawn while corrupt deals are engineered inside.

Inside the office, Senator Geary turns sinister and corrupt. He speaks toughly, bluntly and "more frankly" about his real feelings for the Corleones in Nevada, insults Michael and his family personally, and tries to extort money from the cooly confident chieftain:

Geary: The Corleone family has done very well here in Nevada. You own, or you control, two major hotels in Vegas, one in Reno. The licenses were grandfathered in so there was no problem with the Gaming Commission. Now, my sources tell me that you plan to make a move against the Tropigala. They tell me that within a week you're gonna move Klingman out. That's quite an expansion. However, it will leave you with one little technical problem. Ahh! - the license will still be in Klingman's name...Well, let's cut out the bulls--t. I don't want to spend any more time here than I have to. You can have the license - the price is $250,000, plus a monthly payment of five percent of the gross. Of all four hotels, Mr. Corleone.
Michael: Now the price for the license is less than $20,000, am I right?
Geary: That's right.
Michael: Now why would I ever consider paying more than that?
Geary: Because I intend to squeeze you. I don't like your kind of people. I don't like to see you come out to this clean country in oily hair and dressed up in those silk suits, and try to pass yourselves off as decent Americans. I'll do business with you but the fact is that I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself. Yourself and your whole f--king family.
Michael: Senator, we're both part of the same hypocrisy. But never think it applies to my family.

Calmly, Michael rejects the "little games" of the Senator, refusing to pay even the $20,000 legal fee for the gaming license of the casino he will take over from Klingman: "My offer is this - nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally."

Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), a greyish-haired man in his sixties - one of the old-time gangsters who used to work for Vito Corleone and operates on the East Coast, catches sight of thirty-nine year old Fredo Corleone (John Cazale), Michael's older brother. Pentangeli is an uncouth, uneducated Italian unaccustomed to the modern, de-Italianized style of Michael's West Coast party, or having to wait in the lobby to see the godfather:

Pentangeli: Hey, what's with the food around here?...A kid comes up to me in a white jacket, gives me a Ritz cracker, and uh, chopped liver, he says, 'Canapes.' I said, uh, 'can of peas, my ass, that's a Ritz cracker and chopped liver!' (In Italian to button man Willi Cicci (Joe Spinell): 'We got a barbecue here, so where's the sausage?') Bring out the peppers and sausage!
Fredo: Oh, seeing you reminds me of New York - the old days, huh?
Pentangeli: Hey, Fredo, you remember uh, Willi Cicci? He was with old man Clemenza in Brooklyn. Yeah, look, here... (He and Cicci are wearing black crepe armbands to mourn the death of Clemenza)
Fredo: We were all upset about that, Frankie. Heart attack, huh?
Cicci: No, no. That was no heart attack.
Pentangeli: (upset) That's, that's, that's what I'm here to see your brother Mike about. But what's with him?
Fredo: What do you mean?
Pentangeli: I mean what do I gotta do? Do I have to get a letter of introduction to get a 'sitdown'?
Fredo: You can't get in to see Mike?
Pentangeli: He's got me waiting in the lobby.

A second, darkly-lit meeting is conducted in Michael's boathouse office with Sicilian Johnny Ola (Dominic Chianese) and his men - they have just arrived by boat launch. Ola presents Michael "an orange from Miami" - the contact represents ailing Jewish crime czar Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) from Florida who is the real financial, wily mastermind of the Nevada casino (the Tropicana), where Michael wishes to amass his own influence. [Roth's character is reportedly based upon crime syndicate treasurer Meyer Lansky.] An advantageous alliance between Roth and Michael would assure the smooth takeover of a third casino for Michael in Las Vegas (and grease other efforts to expand casinos into pre-revolutionary Cuba):

The casino you're interested in - the registered owners are Jacob Lawrence, Allan Barclay, both Beverly Hills attorneys. The real owners are the old Lakeville Road group from Cleveland, and our friend in Miami. Meyer Klingman runs the store; he owns a piece of it too; he does all right. But I've been instructed to tell you that if you move Klingman out, our friend in Miami will go along....Hyman Roth always makes money for his partners. One by one, our old friends are gone. Death - natural or not - prison, deported. Hyman Roth is the only one left, because he always made money for his partners.

While waiting for his meeting with Michael, Frankie Pentangeli is disgusted that "out of thirty professional musicians" on the bandstand, "there isn't one Italian in the group here." They play "Pop Goes to Weasel" instead of a tarantella when he tries to direct them.

The third conference in the boathouse is between Connie, Merle and Michael. She has come to ask her brother for support for their marriage, and for money for their trip to Europe ("passage on the Queen"), but Michael resists giving approval to his hedonistic-loving, profligate sister. He severely lectures her for abandoning her children:

Michael: So what do you come to me for? Why don't you go to a travel agent?
Merle: We're getting married first.
Michael: (To Connie) The ink on your divorce isn't dry yet, and you're getting married? You see your children on weekends? You know your oldest boy Victor was picked up in Reno for some petty theft you don't even know about.
Connie: Michael!
Michael: You fly around the world with men who don't care for you, and use you like a whore.
Connie: You're not my father!
Michael: Then what do you come to me for?
Connie: Because I need money.

Speaking softly with her, he proposes to his spoiled sister that rather than marry Merle, she should stay with the family and live on the estate with her kids: "You won't be deprived of anything. You can have everything you want....Connie, if you don't listen to me, and marry this man, you disappoint me."

The elaborate party continues into the evening - the Corleone family is seated for dinner in a party tent. Everyone in the family is there with Mama Corleone - Michael, Kay (Diane Keaton) - Michael's wife, Tom Hagen, Connie and Merle, Fredo and his drunken, flirtatiously-uncontrollable, slatternly, non-Italian wife Deanna (Mariana Hill), and Frankie Pentangeli. When Mama raises her glass for a toast to "Famiglia! Cent' Anni! [a hundred years]", Connie spitefully adds: "It means we should all live happily for a hundred years. The family. It would be true if my father were alive..." After dinner, Fredo's wife has to be dragged off the dance floor for flirting with another man - a deliberate attempt to intimidate her husband:

Deanna: Oh I know what's the matter with you. You're just jealous 'cause he's a real man.
Fredo: I swear to God, Deanna, I'm gonna belt you right in the teeth.
Deanna: You couldn't belt your mamma. You know somethin'? These Dagos are crazy when it comes to their wives...Never marry a Wop. They treat their wives like s--t!

A fourth meeting in the boathouse finally allows Frankie Pentangeli to meet with Michael. They discuss Pentangeli's operation in his New York (Bronx) territories, where he "welshed" on a previous promise by Clemenza (one of Vito's trusted men) to give "three territories in the Bronx" to the Rosato brothers before he died [of a 'heart-attack' induced by the Rosato brothers]:

Michael: Clemenza promised the Rosato brothers three territories in the Bronx after he died. You took over and you didn't give it to them.
Frankie: I welshed?
Michael: You welshed.
Frankie: Yeah, Clemenza promised him ougats. Muscodon. Clemenza promised them nothing. He hated those son-of-a-bitches more than I do.
Michael: Frankie, they feel cheated.

Pentangeli complains that Michael is passing judgment on him "high up in the Sierra Mountains" while drinking "champagne cocktails," and that his competition in New York, the Rosato brothers, are encroaching on his territory without any help from Michael to contain them. Michael won't "touch" the brothers or interfere in the affairs of the East Coast because the Rosatos answer to Hyman Roth in Miami - his new business associate. He refuses to let Pentangeli 'disturb' his important and delicate business dealings with Roth:

Michael: Tua famiglia. Your family's still called Corleone. And you'll run it like a Corleone.
Frankie: My family doesn't eat here, doesn't eat in Las Vegas...and doesn't eat in Miami...with Hyman Roth!
Michael: Frankie...You're a good old man. And I like you. And you were loyal to my father for years.
Frankie: The Rosato brothers. They're takin' hostages. And, Mike, they spit right in my face all because they're backed up by that Jew in Miami.
Michael: I know. That's why I don't want 'em touched...I want you to be fair with them.
Frankie: You want me to be fair with em? How can you be fair to animals? Tom, for Christsakes! Listen, they recruit spicks, they recruit niggers. They do violence in their grandmother's neighborhoods! And I tell ya, everything with them is whores, whores! Junk! Dope! And they leave the gambling to last. I wanta run my Family without you on my back, and I want those Rosato brothers dead.
Michael: No....
Frankie: (sneering) Then you give your loyalty to a Jew before your own blood.
Michael: Tcch! Come on, Frankie. You know my father did business with Hyman Roth. He respected him.
Frankie: (warning) Your father did business with Hyman Roth. Your father respected Hyman Roth. But your father never trusted Hyman Roth, or his Sicilian messenger boy Johnny Ola.

While Kay and Michael dance outdoors, Michael asks his wife about their expected baby, and then apologizes about the "bad timing" of having so many old-style gangster meetings with the underworld. She is reminded of his previous, hollow promises:

It made me think of what you once told me - in five years, the Corleone family will be completely legitimate. That was seven years ago.


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