Judge Lacey Worrell is going to make you an offer you can't refuse.
"There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."
Francis Ford Coppolla continued his domination of the mid-1970s silver screen with this film, the highly anticipated 1974 follow-up to The Godfather. The Godfather Part II is one of the rare sequels in movie history to stand with its predecessor in terms of quality, magnitude, and sheer audience enjoyment.
Facts of the Case
The Godfather Part II picks up with a lavish First Holy Communion party for Michael Corleone's (Al Pacino, Scarface) son in Lake Tahoe. As with the all-important wedding scene in the first picture (where Michael's sister, Connie (Talia Shire, Rocky), married Carlo Rizzi), this gathering sets the stage for the rest of the film. People wait to see Michael in his home office, much as they did with the original Don in The Godfather; among the guests is a crooked senator who tries to undermine the Corleone Family's holdings in Nevada by insisting on a payoff for a gaming license. He also insults Michael in the process. For those with even a passing understanding of these films, that's obviously not a good thing.
A running theme in The Godfather Part II is Michael's increasingly strained and troubled relationships with his wife Kay (Diane Keaton, Father of the Bride) and his older brother Fredo (John Cazale, Dog Day Afternoon). As his problems mount, Michael finds himself in increasing danger. There are hidden plots and power struggles to contend with, and he finds himself increasingly isolated from all but the most trusted people in his life, such as consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies).
The film also addresses the childhood and early adulthood of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull) in flashback sequences. Forced to leave Italy thanks to a series of unfortunate circumstances at the turn of the 20th century, young Vito moves to the United States, comes of age, and lives in relative simplicity with his young wife. When the local crime boss moves his nephew into Vito's menial job and forces Vito out, the stage is set for revenge, and, ultimately, Vito's rise to power as a Mafia boss.
This might be the only sequel I've ever seen that I actually enjoyed more than the original. The reason for this is simple: Robert De Niro as young Vito Corleone. De Niro has been in his share of terrific Mafia movies, from the stellar, modern classic Goodfellas to the underappreciated A Bronx Tale. For those of you who have not read Mario Puzo's novel, which is 446 pages long, it took both Godfather films to cover the entire story of Vito Corleone's rise to power and Michael's succession to his throne.
De Niro's appearance as the young, lean Corleone is refreshing. His facial expressions alone, as he learns, observes, and shrewdly seizes power from the local gangster who makes trouble for the residents of his neighborhood, are signs of De Niro's prowess on screen. With a twitch of the mouth, or a wave of the hand, De Niro quickly establishes his authority and refuses to let go—despite the equally powerful performance of Pacino. Viewers will also enjoy the sequel's treatment of the beginnings of Vito's friendship with Clemenza, the younger version of whom is played by Bruno Kirby (City Slickers).
By tracing the origins of the Corleone family's American experience, we are treated to insight into Vito's motivations. He witnesses the destruction of his own family in Italy at the hands of a brutal Don; young Vito flees for his life to the United States. This creates a strong sense of sympathy for Vito, as well as for Michael, who understands and honors his father's legacy in a way that siblings Fredo, Santino, and Connie cannot (or could not, in Sonny's case). While their flaws have to do with character and backbone, Michael's one glaring flaw is that he is too dedicated to his cause, which leads to strife in every other element of his life.
Another asset of this film is the set, costuming, and cinematography; from the linoleum, to the TV trays, even to the tinsel on a Christmas tree in the background of one scene, every detail is 1950s-perfect. Also look for a brief appearance by '50s teen idol Troy Donahue (A Summer Place) as Connie's hapless lover; it is another nice connection to that decade. The picture and sound are quite good, with the scenes that address the Cuban revolution being particularly bright, sharp, and colorful.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Several years ago I had the misfortune of reviewing what might possibly be one of the worst films ever, Juwanna Man, about a guy who dresses in drag to play basketball. That DVD had deleted scenes, a featurette, outtakes, and even a music video. Although I understand that typically the discs offered through Paramount's budget-priced "Widescreen Collection" are short on extras, this is the freaking Godfather, for crying out loud!
It is a crying shame that the only notable extra on this disc is the director's commentary. Although (of course) it is worth a listen, some featurettes would have been much appreciated here. It's not like this is some poor-quality film that big-time stars are afraid to look back upon and admit they made! The only way to find good extras is to invest in the 2001 release of The Godfather DVD Collection. Whether or not you hate the third film in this series, as many do, the extras included in that set are more in keeping with what one would expect from DVD technology and a film of this stature.
This film is fabulous, and I can recommend its purchase if only to save you from having to view it on cable with about 1,000 commercials breaking up the action, intensity, and grave mood of the film. If, however, you are looking for extras (and who isn't these days?), invest in The Godfather DVD Collection instead.
Judgment for the sequel, but producers are ordered to jail for the lack of extras on what is one of the finest films ever made.
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Scales of Justice
• Director's Commentary
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