Film Review: The Godfather, Part II

The Godfather Part II
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The Godfather, Part II” far from being a spinoff followup to its 1972 progenitor is an excellent epochal drama in its own right providing bookends in time — the early part of this century and the last two decades — to the earlier story. Al Pacino again is outstanding as Michael Corleone, successor to crime family leadership.

The $15,000,000-plus production about 2-1/2 times the cost of the original was most handsomely produced and superbly directed by Francis Ford Coppola who also shares credit for a topnotch script with original book author Mario Puzo. The Paramount release has everything going for it to be an enormous b.o. winner.

There should be very few criticisms that the latest film glorifies criminality since the script never lets one forget for very long that Pacino as well as Robert De Niro, excellent as the immigrant Sicilian who became the crime family chief as played by Marlon Brando in the first pic, and all their aides are callous, selfish and undeserving of either pity or adulation. Yet, at the same time, there’s enough superficial glory in the panoramic story structure to satisfy the demands of less discriminating filmgoers. Hence Coppola has straddled the potential audience and therefore maximized the commercial potential.

The film’s 200 minutes to be played without an intermission could be broken down into two acts and 10 scenes. The scenes alternate between Pacino’s career in Nevada gambling rackets from about 1958 on and DeNiro’s early life in Sicily and New York City. A natural break comes after 126 minutes when DeNiro involved with low level thievery brutally assassinates Gaston Moschin the neighborhood crime boss without a shred of conscience. It’s the only shocking brutality in the film. The small number of other killings are discreetly shot and edited and it makes its point.

Of course, in the modern day sequences, Pacino is also making the point clear that he has passed completely from the idealistic youth that made him enlist in the early days of World War II. A brief flashback scene presents James Caan in a cameo encore as the original heir apparent to his final destiny. In the Caan flashback Pacino is sitting alone with his untested ideals; in the fadeout scene he is again alone, but it’s all his own doing.

Brando is said to have accepted the original title role because he considered organized crime a perfect analogy to big business. In this script the analogy is even clearer, especially the pre-Castro Cuban sequences where big business and big crime have a cozy relationship with the former Cuban regime.

Shot on many U.S. and foreign locations, the film had a firstrate technical staff. Gordon Willis encoring superbly as cinematographer. Production designer Dean Tavoularis and associates editors Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, costumer Theodora Van Runkle whose fine work had to span decades of changing styles, makeup artists Dick Smith and Charles Schram are equally superior in making just the right changes in features to keep up with the calendar and Walter Murch for outstanding sound mixing and montage. Gray Frederickson and Fred Roos share coproducer credit.

The alternating period stories advance more smoothly through the many prominent characters all perfectly cast. Performer Robert Duvall is back in top form as the family lawyer, Pacino’s only steadfast friend, but a near curtain vibration finds him going at last onto that never ending enemies list which Pacino’s own machinations inevitably spawn and nurture. Diane Keaton is compelling as Pacino’s wife who finally cannot endure life. John Cazale provides a wonderful depth to the weaker brother Fredo whose insecurities set him up for betrayal of Pacino.

Good as Fredo’s slatternly wife is Mariana Hill. Talia Shire, as sister Connie, the bride of the first film, later is a hardened and compulsively self destructive jet setter with Troy Donahue in tow for a fling. She finally comes home to be a penitent and surrogate mother of Pacino’s children.

An unusual but showmanly casting is that of Actors Studio’s Lee Strasberg as an aging but still powerful Jewish crime kingpin. Fay Spain does nicely as his wife as does Dominic Chianese as his top side. Another offbeat casting is that of playwright Michael V. Gazzo returning to acting as an oldtime mobster who later becomes an informer for FBI probes of crime. Gazzo’s performance has the right mixture of old world manners that fail to keep step with the times. G.D. Spradlin is excellent as a U.S. Senator whose brothel kinkiness makes him a perfect setup for compromise.

Further offbeat casting comes in a running sequence of a Congressional hearing, one of those periodic public pageants designed to appease middle class uproar over crime. Veteran screenwriter William Bowers is sensational as the crusty chairman while producers Phil Feldman and Roger Corman, the latter an early employer of Coppolo, do well as probing senators.

Morgana King again graces the role of Paclno’s mother while Francesca deSapio is quietly appealing as the mother in DeNiro’s time. Richard Bright and Tom Rosqui are good as Pacino’s bodyguards while Amerigo Tot is chilling as Pacino’s executioner on the Cuban visit where Strasberg plans Pacino’s murder.

Leopoldo Trieste has a marvelous role as a slum landlord, an early victim of DeNiro’s growing influence who squirms to the right cues. There are lots of other players filling out the cast.

The excellent score is by Nino Hota conducted by Carmine Coppola who also is credited for incidental additional music. Newspaperman Ed Guthman gets credit for advising on the Congressional hearing sequences. Caan’s brief appearances is called a special participation in the crawl. All credits come at the end, as in the original film. The R rating is also a repeat, but this film seems less crudely violent in deed, and not in word.

Paramount some weeks ago said it had $26,000,000 in exhibitor advances and guarantees for “Part II,” about enough to get it off the nut right away and it looks like the money will be expeditiously earned from a strong b.o. tide since the “Godfather” exceeded anybodys wildest expectations with about $129,000,000 ($87,000,000 domestic) in world film rentals from theatres. There’s just no point in gauging the success of “Part II” by comparing or even guessing at the ultimate numbers.

Coppola was in total control of “Part II” and between him and his close associates has been demonstrated the versatility to handle both panoramic scope and personal intimacy the widespread location shooting and post production centres undoubtedly contributed some of the budget overage from the original target of about $12,000,000.


Film Review: The Godfather, Part II

  • Production: Paramount Pictures release of a Francis Ford Coppola production. Produced and directed by Coppola. Coproduced by Gray Frederickson, Fred Roos. Screenplay. Coppola, Mario Puzo, based on Puzo's novel. Reviewed in Hollywood, Dec. 9, '74.
  • Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Gordon Willis; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; editors, Peter Zinner. Barry Malkin, Richard Marks; costumes, Theadora Van Runkle; music composed by Nino Rota; conducted by Carmine Coppola; art director, Angelo Graham; set decorator, George R. Nelson; asst. directors, Newton Arnold, Henry J. Lange Jr., Chuck Myers, Mike Kusley, Alan Hopkins, Burt Bluestein; special effects, A.D. Flowers, Joe Lombardi; unit publicist, Eileen Peterson (MPAA Rating --R). Running time: 200 MIN.
  • With: Michael - Al Pacino Tom Hagen - Robert Duvall Kay - Diane Keaton Vito Corleone - Robert De Niro Fredo Corleone - John Cazale Connie Corleone - Talia Shire Hyman Roth - Lee Strasberg Frankie Pentangeli - Michael V. Gazzo Senator Pat Geary - G. D. Spradlin Al Neri - Richard Bright Fanutti - Gaston Moschin Rocco Lampone - Tom Rosqui Young Clemenza - B. Kirby Jr. Genco - Frank Sivero Young Mama Corleone - Francesca deSapio Mama Corleone - Morgana King Deanna Corleone - Mariana Hill Signor Roberto - Leopoldo Trieste Johnny Ola - Dominic Chianese Michael's bodyguard - Amerigo Tot Merle Johnson - Troy Donahue Young Tessio - John Aprea Tessio - Abe Vigoda Theresa Hagen - Tere Livrano Sonny - James Caan