The Godfather Part II (1974) Review

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Kiss Me Deadly

The Godfather Part II (1974): 8 out of 10: The continuation of the story told in The Godfather (1972) the Godfather part II, continues Michael Corleone’s expansion of the family into Nevada and his quest to take the family legitimate. Michael, however, struggles with his own family from his relationship with his wife Kay to the realisation that someone in his family has betrayed him.

The Godfather Trilogy

The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 (1992) This direct-to-video feature re-edits the three Godfather films into one cohesive package. The saga of the Corleone Family is told in chronological order, and numerous scenes that were deleted from each film have been restored.

To me, this remains the best way to watch the Godfather. Just marathon that 9h 43min in one sitting. The Godfather II takes place in two very different timelines. We have a young Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) in one timeline and his son Don Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in the other. The major criticism against Godfather Part II is that the DeNiro story drains the tension from the Pacino story. I actually disagree with that criticism, but I understand it.

The majority view, however, is that the Godfather Part II is equal to, if not better than, the original Godfather. Some will go as far to say that it is the answer to best sequel ever compared to the original film. (The actual answer is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). As one can observe from my score above, I disagree with those folks as well.

The Good

The Good: Let’s start with the acting. Robert DeNiro gives the second best performance in the film as the young Vito. We can see DeNiro’s mannerisms already in full bloom, but he really makes the role his own. It is an amazing job. This should have been an impossible task. Not just was he playing a beloved character that was just on screen a few years prior, but one played brilliantly and owned fully by Marlon Brando.

It is a daring choice by Robert DeNiro, and he hits it out of the park. I cannot think of another example where someone took over a beloved character so soon and made it their own. (The key word is beloved. Most times when this is done, the original performance was forgettable, and the character was relatively minor. Think Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over the role of Rachel from Katie Holmes in Nolan’s Batman trilogy or Don Cheadle taking the role of James Rhodes from Terrence Howard in the Iron Man movies.)

As good as Robert DeNiro is the other amazing performance is John Cazale as Fredo. How John Cazale is not a household name amazes me. His career is a real monkey’s paw situation. He appeared in five academy award nominated films in quick succession (The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and The Deer Hunter (1978)). Cazale had a hot up and coming young girlfriend who was devoted to him (Meryl Streep). He was one of the best actors of his generation. And then he died tragically young.

Cazale’s movies are still famous and beloved today. Meryl Streep went on to make a few more films of note. Certainly, other actors whose lives were tragically cut short are often lionized years later. Yet here we have one of the best actors of his generation and his name is a hard trivia question. Again, monkey’s paw is the only proper explanation I have.

Though I get the stick out below, almost everything else in the film is very well done. The direction remains top notch. Set design and sense of place are excellent. The Cuba scenes dazzle. Godfather Part II also has one of the best endings I have seen in a film in a long time. No matter how you feel while watching it, the ending will lift your spirits, make you think, and get you right in the feels. It really is all about family.

The Bad

The Bad: Some people put Coppola and Scorsese in the same category. Talented directors that are famous for their mob pictures. Fixtures in the New Hollywood movement and not for nothing both Corman proteges (Dementia 13 for Coppola, Boxcar Bertha for Scorsese plus bonus Corman plays a Senator in Godfather Part II). They are both Italian Americans and very influential in film and well known for their gangster pictures.

The difference? Scorsese has mob wives and Coppola does not. I said that the one problem I had with The Godfather was the character of Kay and while she has a more dramatic role here, Coppola does not know what to do with her. Mama Corleone is still a passionless saint (Though in all fairness Francesca De Sapio, as young Mama Corleone brings a touch of earthy lust to her scenes.) Hell, even Coppola’s own sister, given plenty of scenery chewing scenes, can’t seem to break through.

Now compare those ladies to the two main mob wives in the Scorseses mob pictures; Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill in Goodfellas and Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna in Casino. These girls are sexy, dangerous, and unpredictable. There are serious plot points in both movies revolving around our “heroes” being unable to control their wives threatening to get everyone killed. They are exciting characters. Even when the women in Godfather Part II are doing apparently exciting or controversial things like having abortions or shagging Troy Donahue, it comes across as flat and boring.

The Ugly

Intermission: Never has that word seemed more of a threat than when it appears on the screen in Godfather Part 2. It shows up after about two hours and it comes as a shock. After all, both storylines seem like they are ready to wrap up. The olden times’ section Vito has become a Godfather in New York and in the space age times the Cuba deal has fallen apart and Hyman Roth is on the run. But like the last six hours of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King actually ending the story seems a bridge too far.

Until this point, The Godfather Part 2 had been moving at a good pace. Admittedly, it is a little more confusing than the first Godfather. I do not know why Michael was investing in Cuba. Why Hyman Roth needed his money, Why Roth even wanted Michael. (Michael has no connection to the Cuban government and had never even been there before. He brought nothing to the table but a relatively small investment that Roth could have raised from some South Florida dentists with significantly less risk of getting shot in the back). And if this was all a crazy scheme to get payback for the death Moe Greene, why not just kill Fredo which would be a much less risky and much more proportionate action from someone who supposedly lives like Warren Buffett and keeps a low profile and is all about business.

I also to this day do not know what was going on with the families back in New York and outside of a TED Talk with graphs. I am unsure if I will ever know. Still, I was entertained. Then, post intermission, we have a congressional hearing. These are supposed to be the Valachi hearings, but with Corleone as the target. It is really tiresome stuff. One could excise this from the movie would lose nothing. The ohhh he owns that senator stuff never pays off the way I suspect the movie thought it would. Having Kay play the dutiful wife throughout the hearings drains that character of any possible remaining interest (It isn’t really Diane Keaton’s fault, she is given an impossible task)

There is also the sense that Coppola was trying to create direct parallels for story beats in The Godfather. Instead of the meeting of the five families, we have the meeting of all the major US companies in Cuba. Instead of a horse’s head in the bed of a film producer, we have a dead hooker in the bed of a Nevada Senator, and instead of an opening wedding, we have an opening first Communion. In every case, the scenes in Godfather Part II are lesser.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: I seemed to have typed more bad than good above so I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Godfather Part II is a magnificent film and well worth the watch. It really is one of the best sequels ever made and Coppola, with his actors, takes some serious risks that pay off. The film overall is a triumph and I highly recommend.

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, and space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. 

Coppola really nails the iconography during the Ellis Island scenes.

I am always unsure whether Diane Keaton’s awkwardness is in character or simply the actress.

I could spend all day analysing the surprisingly circus heavy tsotchkes all around Michael’s Nevada office. The set designer definitely went on a flyer on this one. Did Michael Corleone have his mother do his office? Because this screams middle aged or elderly woman.

I praise Robert DeNiro and John Cazale above but I don’t want to leave out Michael V. Gazzo as Frank Pentangeli

Frank Pentangeli was created when Richard S. Castellano refused to come back to play Peter Clemenza in one of the greatest career miscalculations since, um… Shelley Long leaving Cheers maybe. This is not a Robert Duvall Godfather III money issue either. (And I love George Hamilton as much as the next guy but Coppola should have written the check for Duvall).

Apparently Castellano was excluded because Castellano and his agent insisted on having control over the character’s dialogue. Director Francis Ford Coppola said that this was untenable and wrote Castellano’s Clemenza out of the movie

Anyway, Michael V. Gazzo came into a recently scripted role cribbed together and hit it out of the park, nabbing himself an Oscar Nomination.

All of this despite being central to both the most confusing story line (the battle in New York vs the Roth backed Rosato brothers) and the most boring. (The congressional hearing). Gazzo is so good in the film I could swear he was on the first Godfather.

Though most people in my generation know him from the lyrics of Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee Troy Donahue is some brilliant stunt casting.

As for you, Troy Donahue
I know what you wanna do (Good luck getting rid of that earworm)

Somehow Bruno Kirby Cop Killer works.

Having Bruno Kirby as the Young Clemenza makes me think Coppola did not have Joe Pesci’s number. Still, Kirby makes it work.

Though there is a fat suit that the filmmakers put him in at the end, that is unfortunate.

Not just is this a poor substitute for the brilliant horse’s head scene from the first film. But having Michael and Tom order the killing and mutilation of an innocent woman for monetary gain is a moral bridge that I don’t think they earned.

The recreation of late fifties Cuba is fantastic.

While I have some criticism of the plot line itself, the filmmaking side of things is brilliant.

Herman Roth is like that one three hundred pound woman in HR that insists on buying a sheet cake every Friday because someone in the office is celebrating a birthday that week.

Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl
With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there

His name was Rico
He wore a diamond
He was escorted to his chair. He saw Lola dancing there.

Guy is dressed like Superman, bondage, and the band is topless. Coppola seems to channel Roger Corman. He has the instructions he is just not assembling it correctly.

I am of two minds of the nurses’ reaction here. Overacting or a realistic reaction to a gunshot less than a foot away.

Of course, I am focused on the scene.

But Al Pacino really is short.

It’s-a Me, Mario!

You know Fanucci gets a bit of a raw deal here. He clearly is not raking in the big bucks and accepts Vito’s low-ball offer and counters with an enforcer position. Vito then kills him and takes his spot.

But it makes sense that Vito was not always cuddly. It works for the character, as he would never have become Godfather without ambition and ruthlessness.

Vito loves shopping for his oranges.

I swear Robert DeNiro was doing this gesture in his crib.

Paint drying the testimony.

Diane Keaton’s wardrobe lady certainly had a favorite color.

A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. Part 1.

A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. Part 2.

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