*This is, of course, the second of the Godfather series, which are considered one “film” by the fellows who put together the TIME magazine list of “100 great movies”. Here’s my review of the first movie, done a few months ago.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Initial Release Country:
Times Previously Seen: three (last time about 6 years ago)
Teaser Summary (No Spoilers)
Long before dying in an orange orchard in the 1940s, Vito Corleone immigrated to the
and became a respected and feared crime lord. Four decades later, his son
Michael struggles to maintain and expand the family’s criminal empire. U.S.
Extended Summary (Slightly longer plot synopsis, including spoilers. Fair Warning.)
This is a relatively short (used loosely – the movie’s 3 and ½ hours long!) summary. For a much more thorough synopsis, check out this one at the Internet Movie Database website.
Roughly 45 years before the events chronicled in The Godfather, a nine-year old Vito Andolini lives in the town of
Corleone in 1901. He must flee the
country to escape murder at the hands of the local mafia head, Don Ciccio, who
has already killed his father, older brother, and mother. A few sympathetic
clergy members stash him on a freight ship, and he arrives in Sicily
a few months later. At America Ellis Island, his named is
inadvertently altered to “Vito Corleone”, which is the name he will use for the
rest of his life.
A nine-year old Vito arrives at Ellis Island, quietly dealing with all of the chaos and change.
Nearly 20 years pass, and Vito (Robert De Niro) is living in a poor Italian district in
Through a series of events and in order to support his family, Vito takes to crime with his friends, Clemenza and Tessio. The three lead a successful, if relatively small, thievery ring. When Don Fanucci finds out, though, he demands a cut of their action. While Tessio and Clemenza would like to bow to Fanucci’s wishes, Vito convinces them to let him handle it. They agree, and Vito “handles it” by assassinating the despicable Fanucci.
The three friends then continue to slowly build their criminal empire, with Vito as their head. Vito, not only interested in criminal profits, also develops a reputation as a man who will help any friends in need. Thus, he becomes not only feared, but also a highly beloved and respected figure in Italian New York.
Vito Corleone, ascended to successful, deadly, and highly respected crime boss.
Around 25 years later, the events depicted in The Godfather take place, with the mantle of “Don Corleone” passing from Vito to his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino). The Godfather ends with Michael having his 5 main rivals assassinated and beginning to move the Corleone family to
Seven years after these events, in 1958, the Corleone family is in
Lake Tahoe, celebrating Michael’s son’s first communion
with a massive party. As with his sister, Connie’s, wedding to Carlo ten years
prior, this grand celebration serves as a front for Michael to conduct family
business with other powerful people, including corrupt Senators and mafia
bosses who work for him. Michael’s grand scheme is to partner with Hymen Roth,
a very wealthy, long-time associate and financial supporter of his father in
various illegal activities. They plan to bribe the president of
into letting them open and run their own businesses in the Cuba Caribbean
country. A monkey wrench exists, however, in the form of Michael’s underling Frank
Pantangeli wanting to eliminate a rival
crime family who is backed by Roth. New York
That evening, after the party guests have all left, an attempt is made on Michael’s life. In his very bedroom, where his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) is sleeping, a pair of assassins opens fire and riddles the room with bullets. Both Michael and Kay escape, unharmed, but Michael now must guess who sent the would-be murderers.
Over the coming months, Michael travels from
Tahoe to and Miami ,
speaking with Roth, Pantangeli, and his older brother Fredo, in order to
determine who tried to kill him and exactly how they were able to get so close
to him and his wife. In the middle of it all, Michael must face Senate
questions about his alleged crimes. Pantangeli and his bodyguard, Cicci, have
become witnesses to the prosecution, after the former survived an attempt on
his life, seemingly ordered by Michael. Cuba
Through his own cunning and willpower, Michael learns that it was, in fact, Hymen Roth who ordered both his and Pantangeli’s murders. Not only this, but Roth obtained access to the Tahoe compound from Michael’s own brother, the weak-willed and petty Fredo. Added to this, any designs of the Corleone family in
are crushed when Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries take over the government and
oust the president. A final, more devastating and personal blow is given
Michael by Kay. Michael had believed that Kay’s recent pregnancy had ended in
miscarriage, when in fact it was an abortion. Kay explains to her husband that
she has become disgusted at their lives and refuses to bring any more of
Michael’s children into the world. Cuba
Michael in his fortress-like compound in Reno, dealing with some enemies while creating many more.
Michael resolves each problem in his own ruthless way. Hymen Roth is assassinated in an airport. Frank Pantangeli is coaxed into recanting his testimony against the Corleones, in exchange for assurances that his family will be taken care of. Michael completely shuns Fredo, cutting him off from the family. After their mother passes away, Michael has Fredo killed for his past treachery. As for Kay, she too is cut off from her own two children. The divide is so severe that, upon finding Kay secretly visiting their children, Michael coldly slams a door in her face.
The tale ends with a final flashback to 1941. All of Michael’s immediate family members are alive and happy, and they prepare to eat a surprise birthday meal for their father, Vito. Michael then reveals that he has enlisted in the Marines, much to the disgust and anger of his eldest brother, Santino (James Caan). When Vito arrives, everyone leaves the table to greet Vito. All except for Michael, who merely sits and contemplates his decision.
In 1959 in
Lake Tahoe, Michael
Corleone, now seventeen years older, sits in a similar thoughtful pose –
Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Done before any further research on the film.)
Just as with my re-watching of Part I, this one was a treat, yet again. Part II is a seamless continuation of, and deeper exploration into, the epic and tragic tale of the Corleone crime family. This sequel/prequel combo may still be the only “great” movie that matches or surpasses its classic predecessor.
In watching these two films within about two months of each other, I realize that one is best served by watching them in rapid succession. The two really are one long movie, and should be watched as such. As excellent as Part I is on its own, my appreciation for it is so enhanced by watching Part II that I really can’t imagine watching one and not the other any more.
One of the early scenes of Vito Andolini, just before his mother is brutally gunned down. This camera shot is one of countless that could be stilled and hung on a wall.
I assume that Mario Puzo’s book tells the Corleone story in standard chronological order. By choosing to reshuffle the tale and go simultaneously backwards and forwards in time, Coppola did something that I can’t recall seeing in any earlier film. Or at least, not done so effectively. Watching the quiet boy Vito Andolini steadfastly overcome his hardships through his own conviction and willpower is the more enjoyable and entertaining part of the three-and-a-half behemoth that is The Godfather Part II.
Though it is the more pleasing of the two tales, Vito's story serves the greater purpose of casting Michael’s story into very dark relief. By the end, Michael is having to deal with all of the fallout of his own lack of the very thing that made his father a better man – genuine compassion. Michael gets respect from other powerful people because he has always had money and because he is clearly intelligent and capable. His father, however, did not initially have the luxury of financial might to impose his will; what Vito had was real concern for his family and his countrymen, and he had a sense of justice that weak and strong alike would support. As was developing in the latter half of Part I, the intellectual Michael understands these characteristics of his father, but he does not and cannot genuinely feel them.
The tone of the movie is also very much in keeping with Part I. There are intense moments of emotion, fear, and anger, but also moments of levity provided by taking a look at the “gangster lifestyle”, especially the far less polished under-bosses and henchmen. The drunken and obnoxious Frank Pantangeli and his body guard, Cicci, provide as many chuckles as Sonny or Clemenza do in Part
I. The reverse is true of the
flashback scenes with Vito – his tale contains more humor (we know he’s going
to succeed, having seen Part I), but there are certainly moments of tension and
bloodshed. Everything is balanced exceptionally well.
Speaking of the violence. It’s interesting to realize that, while there is certainly graphic violence in Parts I and II, alike, I never feel that it is gratuitous in any way. There is never any slow-motion photography, no stylization of it, or any music to try and intensify anything. A murder, even a fictitious one on screen, is intense enough. When I see a murder occur in these movies, my clenched teeth and cold guts tell me that these are the horrors that are part of this type of criminal life. The fact that the victims are often slain by those they know and trust is an even greater horror, and one that should leave a viewer no doubt as to whether the lifestyle is truly glamorous or noble.
One of the more iconic shots - Vito murdering the corpulent Don Fanucci. The unstylized presentation of this killing gives a cold sense of just how matter-of-fact Vito can be about assassination, when it comes to providing for his family.
Probably the thing that I gained a better appreciation for upon this viewing came from the end of the movie. I don’t know that I ever fully grasped the comparison that the two movies were making between Vito and Michael, and just how aware Michael is that he does not have his father’s most valuable gifts of character. Nowhere in the movies is this clearer than at the very end, when we shift from Michael in 1941, sitting alone at the family dinner table, to Michael in 1958, having just had his brother killed for treachery. The divide between father and son is now all too clear, and Michael is left alone.
Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (Done after a little research.)
As with Part I, the commentary on The Godfather Part II is almost limitless. The handful that I read was mostly unsurprising. The Godfather Part II was a very solid commercial and critical success, raking in 11 Oscar nominations and 6 wins. The reasons for this are the same reasons for Part I’s acclaim.
A few curious notes popped up in what I read, though. The primary one was that a handful of respected film critics, including Roger Ebert, weren’t completely enthralled with this sequel. In Ebert’s original 1974 review here, it’s clear that he recognizes several clear strengths, but he felt that the telling of the dual tales of Vito and Michael was a bit of patchwork job that weakened the picture. He wasn’t completely alone in his assessment. I myself did feel that the shifts, while not very distracting to me, were a tad abrupt at times. Still, I don’t know that there was a better way to tell the story and still provide the interesting parallels and divergences between Michael and his father.
Apparently, the slightly stilted nature of the narrative was not a figment of a few critics’ imaginations. The studio and advance critics’ protestations were enough that Coppola actually was in the process of reediting and restructuring the film so that the two different stories were more self-contained and impacting. However, he couldn’t get it done by the release date, so we were left with the greater number of flashbacks and forwards.
The other major area of interest is just how much reality provided the source material for The Godfather Part II. Even more than Part I, the sequel drew from very real mafia doings in
and Las Vegas . The
Senate hearings were based on actual hearings in the 1950s in pursuit of
gangster Frank Costello (not to be confused with the character of the same name
in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed). Hymen Roth was based on an actual major
financier for the mob named Meyer Lansky. It’s a bit frightening to think that
so many of these insidious machinations are not just the stuff of make believe.
Just who do you think might own that nice hotel you’re staying in? It might not
be some kindly hotelier, eh? Cuba
Hymen Roth and Michael in Cuba (actually filmed in the Dominican Republic), trying to outmaneuver each other and drop their dirty stakes into the country at the same time.
*A final thought about The Godfather Part
(1990): In brief – if you’re thinking about watching it, don’t get your hopes
up. Amazingly, it’s horribly inferior to Parts I and II. The visuals are great,
and the plot is halfway decent, but there are some really bizarre shifts of
character and laughably atrocious acting by a few “thespians”. The greatest
offense was the notoriously bad performance by Sophia Coppola. Watching
this third installment might give a bit closure, but realize that there are
very good reasons that this one is never included in discussion of the “great
series” that the first two films make up.
That’s a wrap. 73 shows down. 32 to go.
Coming Soon: Barry Lyndon (1975)
I don’t meet too many people who know of this movie, but I love it. It can be filed under “lesser-known Kubrick”. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a nice overcast day to kick back and drink in this meditative, visually lush epic.
Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.