“The Godfather: Part II” (1974) starring Al Pacino & Robert De Niro

[Don Cicci is threatening to kill young Vito]

Signora Andolini: But Vito is only nine. And dumb-witted. The child cannot harm you.

The early buzz on The Godfather (1972) was so positive that a sequel was planned before filming ended. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the entire script over a weekend b/c Al Pacino said he didn’t like the original and wouldn’t do the film. Later, he admitted to Coppola that he hadn’t actually disliked the first script all that much, but knew it could be better. Pacino was paid $500,000 plus a 10% share of the profits; he’d earned only $25,000 for the first film. Since Coppola had such a difficult time directing The Godfather, he asked to pick a different director for the sequel (and take the title of producer for himself). He chose Martin Scorsese, but the film executives rejected the idea; Coppola agreed to direct again and was given a lot of creative freedom.

Only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in Mario Puzo’s book. The story re: Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is unique to the film. De Niro (just 30 y.o.) had screen tested for Sonny; Coppola was so impressed that he called him back again to audition for Vito. De Niro (who is 25% Italian) lived in Sicily for 3 mos. and studied the Sicilian language for 4 mos. – wow! This was the first sequel to receive 5 Academy Award noms for acting: Talia Shire (Best Actress in a Suporting Role), Lee Strasberg (Best Actor in a Supporting Role), Michael V. Gazzo (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) and Pacino (Best Actor); De Niro took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Sen. Geary: I despise your masquerade, the dishonest way you pose yourself. You and your whole f*****g family.

Michael: We’re both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family.

The communion party here is a stark contrast to Connie’s wedding in Part I; it is out on Lake Tahoe (and for show/publicity), lacks culture (Frank Pentangeli laments that there is no traditional Italian food/songs), and (above all) seems emotionally cold. Sen. Geary (G.D. Spradlin) intentionally mispronounces “Corleone.” There is the awkward photoshoot w/ the donation check Michael gave to the local university. Before he died, Vito admitted to Michael that he hoped he’d a “big shot” who “pulled the strings” (like a governor or senator). We see Michael rebuffing the demands of the (openly racist) Sen. Geary, and making demands of his own. He is seeking respectability (still) and also trying to expand his empire to Cuba (w/ the help of Hyman Roth, played by renown acting teacher Lee Strasberg). Pacino requested that Strasberg take on this role, as he admired the man’s talent so much!

[during the play ‘Senza Mamma’]

Genco Abbandando: Vito, how do you like my little angel? Isn’t she beautiful?

Vito Corleone: She’s very beautiful. To you, she’s beautiful. For me, there’s only my wife and son.

In flashback, we see the life of young Vito Andolini; his father was killed for insulting a powerful man, Don Cicci. Soon after, his older brother (in hiding) was killed. When his mother (boldly) appealed to Don Cicci, she was shot/killed also. Vito was hidden by some (brave) neighbors and travelled alone to Ellis Island. The clerk thinks that Vito’s surname is the name of his hometown (Corleone). Then the boy is put into quarantine for several weeks in a tiny room from where he can see the Statue of Liberty. Wow, what an impactful series of scenes (w/o much dialogue)!

Michael Corleone: My father taught me many things here – he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

As one astute reviewer noted: “The Godfather Part II is not really a movie about the mafia, it is a movie about a man’s life long struggle.” While Vito’s empire was built on respect, Michael’s empire is built on fear. Look at the way Michael treats his own family- yikes! He doesn’t even acknowledge the fiance of his younger sister Connie (who he compares to a “whore”). Connie (Talia Shire) has lived overseas, trying to escape issues at home; she hasn’t spent much time w/ her kids (which concerns Mama). As for older brother Fredo (John Cazale), he’s still handling the hotel/casino end of the business, but wants to do more. His blonde/buxom wife gets drunk and flirts openly w/ other men. Michael is embarrassed by her behavior; Fredo is emasculated as he can’t control his wife (w/o intervention from bodyguards). There is an (obvious) distance between Michael and his adopted older brother/lawyer, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), who is no longer privy to certain aspects of the biz. Kay (Diane Keaton) is still around, BUT we can sense the tension in the marriage; Michael had promised her that the biz would be “legitimate” several years ago. Then there is the audacious shooting in their bedroom; hitmen were able to come onto the estate w/o being noticed!

Vito Corleone: I make him an offer he don’ refuse. Don’ worry.

In 1920, Vito is already married w/ a baby son (Sonny) and delivering groceries in Little Italy; he is a quiet and observant young man. His best friend Genco (Frank Sivero) takes him to a show to see the actress he has a crush on. They see a flashily-dressed local man, Don Fanucci (Gaston Moschin), threatening the actress and her father backstage w/ a knife; Genco said they need to get out of there. It turns out that Don Fanucci is pushing around local businessmen; Vito loses his job b/c his boss (who is like a father to him) is forced to hire the don’s nephew. Vito handles this disappointment well, not even taking the box of food offered to him. We sense that somehow he will find a way to provide for this family. Enter Clemenza (a very young Bruno Kirby- best known for When Harry Met Sally), who is a petty criminal who asks Vito for help. Vito seizes the opportunity, hiding a bedsheet folded up w/ handguns in his apt.

This is NOT your typical sequel; it’s a mix of a sequel and prequel (as many viewers have commented). The two stories have distinct looks, as they take place in different time periods (mainly the early 1920s and late 1950s), and b/c of their different tones. Though Michael’s world is much bigger in scope than young Vito’s, it lacks the warmth of a happy home/family and close friendships/connections. Michael has distanced himself so far from his Italian/immigrant roots that he no longer recognizes the values of his father’s generation. Is Michael the villain and Vito the hero (some viewers have wondered)? De Niro (youthful/slim/handsome) knows how to play subtlety; he just becomes the character! You will even see a few gestures that Brando used, but they come off as natural.

[1] Al Pacino’s performance is quiet and solemn… He is cold and ruthless, with a whole contrast from the idealistic innocent war hero we initially met at the beginning of the first film…

De Niro’s rise, from an orphan child by a family feud back in Italy to a hood in New York and his position as a respected Don, provides a welcome break from Pacino’s relentless attitude…

[2] Al Pacino is the standout in the ensemble cast and its amazing how his eyes have changed from the first part. They are now cold , ruthless and unemotional and betray the price which Michael Corleone has paid for power.

[3] Without spoiling, I will simply say the Robert De Niro as the young Vito is the best acting performance of all time, a role for which he won a richly deserved Oscar.

[4] Nino Rota’s musical score plays an even greater role in this equal but different successor than it did in the predecessor. Yearning, lamenting, stimulating bygone ages, see how infectiously Nino Rota’s music affects our sentiments for the savage events on screen. It is the pulse of the films.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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