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

SEQUEL:

In a second Senate hearings scene, Michael also testifies in the Senate Hearing Room, explaining about the alias used by his father - "Godfather is a term that was used by his friends - one of affection - one of respect." Senator Geary defends Michael and all Italian-Americans:

For years now, a growing number of my constituents have been of Italian descent and I've come to know them well. They have honored me with their support and with their friendship. Indeed I can proudly say that some of my very best friends are Italian Americans...These hearings on the Mafia are in no way whatsoever a slur upon the great Italian people. Because I can state from my own knowledge and experience that Italian Americans are among the most loyal, most law-abiding, patriotic, hard-working American citizens in this land. And it would be a shame, Mr. Chairman, if we allowed a few rotten apples to give a bad name to the whole barrel. Because from the time of the great Christopher Columbus up through the time of Enrico Fermi, right up until the present day, Italian Americans have been pioneers in building and defending our great nation. They are the salt of the earth, and they're one of the backbones of this country.

Corleone denies being the "head of the most powerful Mafia family in this country," and being "personally responsible for the murder of a New York City police captain in 1947, and with him a man named Virgil Sollozzo." He also denies the "murder of the heads of the so-called Five Families in New York to assume and consolidate (his) nefarious power" in 1955. And finally, he denies having "a controlling interest in three of the major hotels in Las Vegas," or having "any interests or control over gambling and narcotics in the State of New York." Claiming that his client has answered every question "with the utmost sincerity" and has "not taken the Fifth Amendment," Tom Hagen argues that Michael be allowed to read a prepared statement:

In the hopes of clearing my family name in the sincere desire to give my children their fair share of the American way of life, without a blemish on their name and background, I have appeared before this committee, and given it all the cooperation in my power. I consider it a great dishonor to me personally to have to deny that I am a criminal. I wish to have the following noted for the record: That I served my country faithfully and honorably in World War II, and was awarded the Navy Cross for actions in defense of my country; that I have never been arrested or indicted for any crime whatsoever; that no proof linking me to any criminal conspiracy, whether it is called Mafia or Cosa Nostra or whatever other name you wish to give, has ever been made public. I have not taken refuge behind the Fifth Amendment, although it is my right to do so. I challenge this committee to produce any witness or evidence against me and if they do not I hope they will have the decency to clear my name with the same publicity with which they now have besmirched it.

Prosecutors plan for a third hearing on Monday morning with a "witness who will corroborate the charges" made against Mr. Corleone, who "may very well be subject to indictment for perjury." Frankie Pentangeli is being sequestered with FBI agents (on twenty-four hour armed guard) at quarters on an Army Base before the hearing. He has been promised life-long protection in compensation for his testimony against Michael: "You got a great home here, Frankie, the rest of your life. Nobody gets near you; you're not going anywhere...Aw, you'll live like a king; you'll be a hero. You'll live better in here than most people on the outside."

To the Don's consternation, Pentangeli is alive following the aborted assassination attempt by Roth, and Michael's testimony (by not taking the Fifth Amendment) has left him open to five counts of perjury. Thinking that he had been double-crossed by Michael and set up to be killed by the Rosatos, Pentangeli is testifying against him out of revenge:

Frankie went to make a deal with the Rosato brothers and they tried to kill him. He thought you double-crossed him. Our people with the New York detectives said he was half-dead, scared stiff, and calling out loud that you'd turned on him. They already had him on possession, book-making, murder one, and a lot more.

Believing that Fredo, who has been brought back to Nevada, knows something, Michael goes to talk to his brother on the lanai - the weakling, often-neglected brother Fredo is completely reclined back in a chair. Although Fredo is "pretty much in the dark" and "didn't know all that much," he explains how he was lured to help knock off Pentangeli with the promise of a deal for himself. Resentful of being treated like the perennial errand boy, and being "stepped over" in the succession of power, he sought to establish his separate identity through betrayal. Fredo reveals that Senator Questadt is on Roth's payroll and is the one responsible for orchestrating Michael's exposure before the Congressional committee:

Fredo: I didn't know it was gonna be a hit, Mike. I swear to God I didn't know it was gonna be a hit. Johnny Ola bumped into me in Beverly Hills and he said that he wanted to talk. He said that you and Roth were in on a big deal together and that there was something in it for me if I could help him out. He said that you were being tough on the negotiations. But if they could get a little help and close the deal fast, it'd be good for the family...He said there was something in it for me - on my own!
Michael: I've always taken care of you, Fredo.
Fredo: Taken care of me! You're my kid brother, and you take care of me? Did you ever think about that, huh? Did you ever once think about that? Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo off to do that! Let Fredo take care of some Mickey Mouse nightclub somewhere! Send Fredo to pick somebody up at the airport! I'm your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over.
Mike: It was the way Pop wanted it.
Fredo: It ain't the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says. Like dumb. I'm smart, and I want respect!
Michael: Is there anything you can tell me about this investigation? Any more?
Fredo: The Senate lawyer, Questadt, he belongs to Roth.
Michael: Fredo, you're nothing to me now. You're not a brother, you're not a friend. I don't wanna know you or what you do. I don't wanna see you at the hotels. I don't want you near my house. When you see our mother, I wanna know a day in advance so I won't be there. You understand?
Fredo: Mikey...

Michael walks up to Al Neri (Richard Bright), vowing to spare Fredo while Mama Corleone is alive: "I don't want anything to happen to him while my mother's alive."

To disguise his appearance on his trip to the Senate hearing, Pentangeli is dressed as an officer, while a Pentangeli look-alike is escorted in a jeep from the Army Base. The star witness is brought into the Senate Hearing Room by FBI agents, joking: "More people than a ball game in here." At the Chamber's entrance, Michael Corleone is frisked, and then joined by Vincenzo Pentangeli (Salvatore Po), Frankie's middle-aged, non English-speaking brother brought over from Sicily. Frankie reacts with terror and fear at the sight of his brother sitting next to Michael. The unspoken but implied message is that Frankie's family - his illegitimate children being raised in Sicily by his brother - will be in jeopardy if he testifies against Michael. The Chairman reminds the committee:

We have here finally a witness that will further testify to Michael Corleone's rule over a criminal empire that controls all of the gambling in this country and perhaps in other countries. This witness has had no buffer between himself and Michael Corleone. He can corroborate our charges on enough counts for this committee to recommend a charge of perjury against Michael Corleone.

When the questioning begins, Pentangeli cannot betray Michael in front of his brother from the old country. He suddenly develops a case of complete forgetfulness, contradicting previous sworn statements of his own made to Senator Questadt: "I never know no Godfather. I got my own family, Senator." He admits to making up "a lot of stuff about Michael Corleone" because that's what the FBI agents wanted him to do, but it's "all lies - everything." After Pentangeli's double-cross of the feds, Michael is excused and the case is dismissed.

In Michael's Hotel Washington fourth floor room, Kay congratulates Michael for his victory: "I suppose I always knew you were too smart to let any of them ever beat you." She announces that she is not going back to Nevada and that she is leaving him (with the children) because "it's too late" and because he has become "blind" to "what's happened" to them and to their son: "Anthony's friends...are your buttonmen!" Although he has promised to change, his disbelieving wife has lost all love for her husband and willingly performed a vengeful abortion (it wasn't a miscarriage) to kill their expected child in their already-dead marriage (to prevent the raising of another son in an atmosphere of crime). Obviously, the abortion is a sinful affront to the Catholic Church. He reminds her that it is not possible for her to leave him with their children:

Michael: Kay, what do you want from me? Do you expect me to let you go? Do you expect me to let you take my children from me? Don't you know me? Don't you know that that's an impossibility? That that could never happen? That I'd use all my power to keep something like that from happening? Don't you know that? Kay, now in time, you'll feel differently. You'll be glad I stopped you now. I know that. I know you blame me for losing the baby. Yes. I know what that meant to you. I'll make it up to you, Kay. I swear I'll make it up to you. I'm gonna change. I'll change. I've learned that I have the strength to change. And you'll forget about this miscarriage. And we'll have another child. And we'll go on, you and I. We'll go on.
Kay: Oh! Oh, Michael, Michael, you are blind. It wasn't a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael, just like our marriage is an abortion, something that's unholy and evil! I didn't want your son, Michael. I wouldn't bring another one of your sons into this world! It was an abortion, Michael! It was a son, a son, and I had it killed because this must all end! I know now that it's over. I knew it then. There would be no way, Michael, no way you could ever forgive me. Not with this Sicilian thing that's been going on for 2,000 years (Losing control in a violent rage, Michael viciously strikes her and slaps her back onto the couch, while yelling out "BITCH!") - OH!
Michael: You won't take my children.
Kay: I will.
Michael: (shouting) YOU WON'T TAKE MY CHILDREN!

PROLOGUE:

A train arrives at the village of Corleone's Railroad Station in Sicily - it is 1925. Vito disembarks from the passenger car with his wife and family. They are greeted by relatives and friends and driven to Don Tommasino's (Mario Cotone) villa. There, during an outdoor meal with everyone seated around a table, they open up gifts, including a miniature Statue of Liberty. Young Sonny already exhibits aggressive behavior - fistacuffs. Later, in an olive oil warehouse, where family and friends are brought and Vito conducts business, he feeds his son Michael an olive. They drink wine together, engulfed by giant barrels of olive oil.

Vito and Tommasino are driven to the gated entrance of Don Francesco's villa, where the decrepit old man sleeps on the balcony, and armed guards patrol the compound. The old Don is introduced to Vito Corleone, an olive oil importer and Tommasino's partner in America in New York, at the Genco Olive Oil Company. As they ask for the Don's blessing, the old man can't hear Vito's name:

Vito: Mi chiamo Vito Corleone.
Don: Vito Corleone. You took the name of this town! And what's your father's name?
Vito: His name was...Antonio Andolini.
Don: Louder, I don't hear so good.
Vito: My father's name was Antonio Andolini...and this is for you!

He carries out the vengeful vendetta against the Mafia chieftain that Don Ciccio had feared years earlier. From under his coat hung over his arm, Vito pulls out a knife and plunges it into the Don's midsection, ripping and pulling the knife up his stomach and leaving it there. In their flight, one of the guards is killed, but Tommasino is wounded in the legs - and ends up later in a wheelchair. Vito and his family are bid farewell on the steps of the Corleone church, and they wave good-bye at the railroad station as they depart. [Chronologically, a lapse of twenty years occurs between this scene and the opening scenes of The Godfather, Part I with an older Vito Corleone.]

SEQUEL:

On the Tahoe estate's grounds in the year 1959, a funeral is being conducted. Mama Corleone has passed away and Fredo and other family members pay their respects at the open coffin. Fredo wishes to speak to Michael, but is not allowed to see him, so Connie intercedes on her brother's behalf. In the boathouse, Connie kneels before her brother and admits to her pernicious attempts to hurt him over the years. She begs for his forgiveness and insists that Michael see their unstable, helpless brother Fredo:

Michael, I'd like to stay close to home now if it's all right...Michael, I hated you for so many years. I think that I did things to myself to hurt myself so that you'd know that I had hurt you. You were just being strong for all of us the way Papa was. And I forgive you. Can't you forgive Fredo? He's so sweet and helpless without you. You need me, Michael. I want to take care of you now. (She kisses his hand.)

In the interior of the house, Michael expresses his brotherly love by hugging Fredo and caressing his head that is pressed against his chest. However, he stares coldly past his brother toward his henchman Al Neri, signaling by a silent, significant nod that Fredo will be killed. Michael also plans a cold-blooded sweep of all his enemies, including terminally-ill Hyman Roth ("our friend and business partner") who fled Castro's Cuba and tried to enter Israel, Buenos Aires and Panama, but whose bribes for resident visas were turned down everywhere. Michael orders Roth to be met at the Miami airport and assassinated:

Tom: Mike, that's impossible. They'll turn him over directly to the Internal Revenue, Customs, and half the FBI.
Michael: It's not impossible. Nothing's impossible.
Tom: It would be like trying to kill the President. There's no way we can get to him.
Michael: Tom, you know, you surprise me. If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it's that you can kill anyone. Rocco?
Rocco: Difficult, not impossible.

Tom is skeptical about Michael's ruthlessness to kill everyone: Roth, his brother, and Pentangeli, even though he is at the pinnacle of his power. Michael also distances himself from his trustworthy, self-effacing, Irish consigliere:

Tom: Now Roth and the Rosatos are on the run. Are they worth it? And are we strong? Is it worth it? I mean you've won...you want to wipe everybody out?
Michael: I don't feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies, that's all. You're gonna come along with me in these things I have to do or what? Because if not, you can take your wife, your family and your mistress, move 'em all to Las Vegas.
Tom: Why do you hurt me, Michael? I've always been loyal to you, I mean what is this?
Michael: So, you're staying?
Tom: Yes, I'm staying.

On the pier next to the lake, Fredo teaches young Anthony Corleone "how to catch the really big fish" with his secret technique of saying a "Hail Mary" every time he put the line in the water. On the Army Base, Tom meets with Frankie Pentangeli and as they share cigars and walk between two chain-link fences, they glowingly speak about the "great old days," how "the Corleone Family was like the Roman Empire," and how the structure of the Mafia Families was modeled after the old Roman legions:

You were around the old-timers who dreamed up how the Families should be organized, how they based it on the old Roman legions and called them Regimes, Capos, and Soldiers. And it worked.

"It was once," says Tom, thinking of how the Corleone Family has deteriorated and decayed from the glory days. They also discuss how "plotters" who failed in their intrigues against the Emperor were "always given a chance to let their families keep their fortunes" if "they went home and killed themselves. Then nothing, nothing happened, and their families, their families were taken care of..." Pentangeli describes his understanding of their vindicated fate ("a good break, a nice deal") - and his own demise if he upholds Mafia (and Roman) traditions and follows Michael's suggestion:

They, they went home and sat in a hot bath, opened up their veins and bled to death. And sometimes they had a little party before they did it.

Relations continue to be strained between Kay and her estranged husband. In Michael's home, Kay abuses her visiting privileges and surreptitiously visits their children. As she embraces them and hurriedly leaves - and pleads for her son Anthony to "kiss me once," Michael unexpectedly appears in the kitchen. Without saying anything and with a dead-panned look, he rejects Kay by coldly shutting the door in her face.

The Godfather's three major enemies are killed simultaneously in a rapid succession of scenes, cross-cut between each other:

After his brother's killing, Michael sits alone in the dark boathouse and thinks back, in flashback, to a scene around the old Corleone dining room table in their Long Island compound in late 1941. [Fredo's sole support of his brother makes the murder even more tragic.] It is December 7th, the day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and the day of their "Pop's birthday" - the family awaits the arrival of Don Corleone (an off-screen Marlon Brando). Sonny (James Caan in a special appearance) introduces Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo) to his brother Fredo, to step-brother Tom Hagen, to his sister Connie ("this cute little thing"), and finally to "that droopy thing over there" - his brother Michael ("Mr. Einstein") who is the young Dartmouth-educated, "Joe College" of the family. Tessio (Abe Vigoda) delivers a rum-frosted birthday cake for the occasion.

The mood is festive until Michael reveals to the second-generation Corleone family that he has enlisted in the Marines (along with "thirty thousand men"), rejecting the deferment that his father had pulled strings to get for him. Michael implies that his allegiance is to his country rather than to his Family's code:

Sonny: What do ya think of the nerve of them Japs, them slanty-eyed bastards huh, droppin' bombs on our own backyard on Pop's birthday here?
Fredo: They didn't know it was Pop's birthday...
Tom: We should have expected it after the oil embargo.
Sonny: Whatdya mean, expect it? Expect it or not, they got no right droppin' bombs. What are you, a Jap-lover or somethin'? Are you on their side?
Tessio: I understand thirty thousand men enlisted this morning.
Sonny: Bunch of saps.
Michael: Why are they saps?
Connie: Sonny, come on, we don't have to talk about the war.
Sonny: (To Connie) Hey, beep, you talk to Carlo, right? (To Michael) They're saps because they risk their lives for strangers.
Michael: Oh, that's Pop talking.
Sonny: You're god-damn right that's Pop talking.
Michael: They risk, risk their lives for their country.
Sonny: Country ain't your blood, you remember that.
Michael: I don't feel that way...
Sonny: Well, if you don't feel like that, why don't you just quit college and go to join the Army?
Michael: I did. I enlisted in the Marines.
Tom: Why'd you do that? Why didn't you come to us?..I mean, Pop had to pull a lot of strings to get you a deferment.
Michael: I didn't ask for it. I didn't ask for a deferment. I didn't want it.

Incensed, Sonny slaps his brother's shoulder, and then assaults him before being held back. He derisively tells Michael: "Break your father's heart on his birthday."

Ironically, it is Fredo who supports Michael (who has made a responsible, adult-like decision to be apart from the family) with an encouraging handshake: "Hey, that's swell, Mike. Congratulations." Michael has plans for his own future, separate from his family's criminal activities and his father's plans for him:

Tom: You've got to understand. Your father has plans for you. On many times, he and I have talked about your future.
Michael: You talked to my father about my future? (Tom nods.) My future?
Tom: Mikey, he has high hopes for you.
Michael: Well, I have my own plans for my future.
Sonny: Did ya go to college to get stupid? You're really stupid.

Michael is awkwardly left alone in the room (at the table) as the rest of the family assembles in an adjoining room and sings a surprise: "For he's a jolly good fellow" to the off-screen Don Vito Corleone. [A rapid, super-imposed dissolve shows his father Vito waving little Michael's hand from the train window as they leave the village of Corleone.]

The film has one of the most effective final images ever produced. The flashback ends and the image returns to Michael's face. Middle-aged, prematurely old Michael, now a ruthless, soul-less, power-mad and paranoid gangster in the year 1959, sits quietly and introspectively on a Tahoe estate lawn chair as the cold winter approaches. He is once again alone and fully damned, with all family loyalties dissolved. He is wearing his wedding ring, although he has separated himself for his WASP-ish, estranged wife Kay. In the disintegrated aftermath, the Machiavellian figure is isolated from everyone and emptied, with dark, brooding, hollow eyes. His own worst enemy, he has either murdered or alienated himself from those closest to him, including his brother Fredo and faithful consigliere Tom Hagen. The camera slowly zooms in for a closeup before fading to black and the film's credits.

Also Worth Considering:
The Godfather, Part II (1974)


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