The Godfather Part II

Released:  1974

Cast:  Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg

Oscar Wins:  Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Best Adapted Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo), Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Dean Tavoularis, Angelo P. Graham, George R. Nelson)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actor (Al Pacino), Best Supporting Actor (Michael V. Gazzo), Best Supporting Actor (Lee Strasberg), Best Supporting Actress (Talia Shire), Best Costume Design (Theadora Van Runkle)

SUMMARY:  Note:  this movie switches back and forth between the stories of Vito Corleone and his son Michael, so the parts corresponding to each man are labeled with his name.

VITO:  In 1901, Vito Andolini is a nine-year old boy living in Corleone, Sicily with his parents and older brother.  After his father insults local Mafia boss Don Ciccio, he is killed; Vito’s older brother swears revenge, but is also quickly killed.  Vito and his mother visit Don Ciccio, where his mother begs for mercy for her remaining son, but Don Ciccio refuses.  She attempts to take him hostage and tells her son to run; she is quickly shot, but Vito gets away.  With the helps of some townspeople, he makes it onto a ship headed to America; when he gets to Ellis Island, he is registered as “Vito Coreleone”.

MICHAEL:  In 1958, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is celebrating his son’s First Communion in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.  During the lavish party, Michael has a number of meetings with various members of the Corleone crime family, of which he is the Don.  One of the meetings is with Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), a capo in the family in New York, who wants help getting rid of the Rosato brothers.  The Rosato brothers are infringing on Pentangeli’s territory, but as they work for Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), a business partner of Michael’s, the request is refused.  That same night, Michael is preparing for bed when someone opens fire on his house.  Everybody survives the attack, but the house is immediately vacated.

VITO:  By 1917, Vito (Robert De Niro) is living in New York with his wife and son (Santino, or Sonny).  He holds a respectable job at a grocery store, but loses it when his boss must give in to the demands of Don Fanucci, the neighborhood heavy.  He is drawn into the criminal world when he hides some guns for his neighbor, Peter Clemenza.  When Clemenza comes to retrieve the guns, he enlists Vito’s help in stealing a carpet from a wealthy home; Vito is then given this carpet as thanks.

MICHAEL:  Using the assassination attempt as leverage (he insinuates that Pentangeli planned it), Michael orders Pentangeli to make peace with the Rosato brothers.  Michael also tells Pentangeli that he believes Hyman Roth is behind the attempt; however, during a meeting with Roth in Miami, Michael does not act on these suspicions.  Meanwhile, Pentangeli returns to New York and meets with the Rosato brothers, but they attempt to kill him, and let him know Michael is behind it.  After their meeting in Miami, Michael, Roth, and several other big American businessmen travel to Havana, Cuba, to meet with Fulgencio Batista and discuss expanding their business there.  On a number of occasions, Michael witnesses clashes between government soldiers and the rebels, which causes him to doubt the government’s ability to win.  Roth is not pleased with this, and browbeats Michael about it.  Roth is also in bad health, and soon has to be taken to the hospital.  Acting on the belief that Roth was behind the attack on his life, Michael sends a hitman to kill both Roth and his right-hand associate, Johnny Ola.  The hitman gets to Ola, but is shot by police before he can kill Roth, who eventually recovers.  On the day of the hits, New Year’s Eve, Michael is at a party with several associates and his brother Fredo (John Cazale), who operates several clubs for the family.  Though he had previously claimed never to have met Roth or Ola, Fredo forgets himself and reveals that he really did know both of them.  Michael realizes that Fredo was involved in the assassination attempt, but does nothing more than reveal this knowledge to Fredo.  The same night, Batista announces that he is abdicating and fleeing, as the goverment’s position against the rebels has become untenable.  In the ensuing chaos, Michael loses track of Fredo; a few days later, consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) tells Michael that his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), has suffered a miscarriage.

VITO:  By 1920, Vito has two more sons, Fredo and Michael.  He and his friends/associates, Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio, have been committing small time robberies, which have drawn the attention and ire of Fanucci.  Fanucci confronts Vito and demands a cut of the action, which Clemenza and Tessio agree to pay.  However, Vito is opposed to giving in, and ultimately convinces the other two men that he knows a way around the demands.  He meets with Fanucci and settles for a much lesser amount than demanded; however, after leaving the meeting, he stalks Fanucci through the neighborhood and ultimately kills him in his apartment.

MICHAEL:  A Senate committee has begun investigating organized crime, based on the evidence offered by a recovered Pentangeli.  Michael is implicated and called to testify, but throws things back in the faces of the Senators and lawyers.

VITO:  After his killing of Fanucci, Vito has replaced him as the most powerful man in the neighborhood.  This is evidenced when he confronts a landlord about a friend’s eviction:  while the man is at first scornful and rude, he soon finds out who Vito is, and falls over himself trying to make things right.

MICHAEL:  Fredo finally shows his face, and returns to Lake Tahoe.  Michael asks him about the betrayal, and Fredo explains that he was angry about his role in the family business, particularly being passed over for the head job, and took out his anger by helping Roth get to Michael.  However, he tells Michael that he had no idea that Roth would try to assassinate him.  Michael listens, then calmly tells Fredo that he never wants to see him again.  Michael is still dealing with the Senate committee, but since Pentangeli is in witness protection — and being guarded round the clock by the government, including the military — Michael cannot have him killed.  Instead, he flies in Pentangeli’s brother, and brings him to the next meeting of the committee:  when Pentangeli sees his brother sitting with Michael, he retracts his statements and denies any knowledge of criminal activity.  This success is tempered by a confrontation between Michael and his wife, Kay, when she announces that she is leaving him and taking their two children.  When pressed, she reveals that she so despises Michael and his way of life that she aborted their baby (which he thought was a miscarriage).  Michael explodes, screaming at Kay that she will not take his children from him; he then effectively banishes Kay from the family and the grounds.

VITO:  Vito finally returns to Italy, and goes to Corleone.  There, he seeks out the now-elderly Don Ciccio, and visits him on the pretense of receiving approval for his new business, which will import olive oil from Corleone.  However, when he gets close to Ciccio, Vito reveals his identity and brutally stabs him.

MICHAEL:  Michael’s mother, Carmela (Morgana King), dies, and a memorial service is held at Michael’s house.  He allows Fredo to attend, the first time Fredo has been allowed on the premises since his talk with Michael.  After his sister Connie (Talia Shire) begs him, Michael even meets with Fredo, and ultimately accepts him back into the family.  A chastened Fredo takes to spending most of his time fishing in the lake, often with Michael’s son Anthony.  However, when Fredo and a Corleone capo are out of a fishing trip, the capo shoots and kills Fredo as Michael watches from the house.  Meanwhile, Hyman Roth has been trying to enter Israel, but has been refused.  With nowhere else to go, he is forced to return to the United States, where he is met with government agents sent to arrest him.  However, they fail to do so before another Corleone capo shoots him.  At the Army barracks where he is staying, Pentangeli visits with Tom Hagen, who reminisces about the early days of the Mafia, and how it took inspiration from ancient Rome.  Hagen then brings up how high-ranking criminals in Rome often committed suicide rather than be executed, after which their families were cared for by the government.  Pentangeli gets the message, and commits suicide a short time later.

VITO:  In 1941, the Corleone family has gathered to celebrate Vito’s birthday.  Before his arrival, the children (Sonny, Fredo, Michael, Connie and Tom Hagen) discuss the recent attack on Pearl Harbor.  Sonny mocks the rash of enlistments, saying that a man’s duty is to his family, not country, so he is shocked when Michael reveals that he was among the enlisters.  Sonny quickly erupts into anger, while Hagen is stunned; Fredo is the only one to congratulate Michael.  Vito soon arrives, and everybody but Michael gets up to greet him.

MICHAEL:  Michael sits near the lake, alone.

MY TAKE:  You know a movie’s good when it’s a sequel and it wins Best Picture.  This movie manages to live up to its predecessor, which is no easy task.  It also manages to bring back the same cast of characters, with a few notable exceptions.  When somebody could not return, like Marlon Brando (who was supposed to be in the 1941 scene, but never showed up for filming), the script was changed.  Considering the people in the cast, it couldn’t have been easy to get them all back.  Then again, who would turn down a role in this movie, even if it was a sequel?  James Caan only appeared in one scene, the 1941 scene, but demanded that he be payed the same amount he got for the entire first movie — and he got it.  Pretty shrewd reasoning on his part.  Awful lot of money for one scene, though.  As with the first movie, I will admit to being impressed by how Michael runs his business:  with very simple actions, he gets people to do exactly what he wants.  However, I found myself thinking that his kill-all-opponents strategy would eventually come back to bite him, in one way or another.  Tom Hagen seems to have this same opinion, even though we don’t learn if we’re right.  I could understand why Kay wanted to leave Michael, although frankly she’s a dolt if it took her that long to figure out what was going on, and what Michael really was.  I don’t know how she thought she was going to get the better of him, when nobody else on the planet could manage it, but she tried anyway.  Probably would have worked better if she’d already taken the kids somewhere, or if she just took off, rather than telling him.  Course, then she’d probably get herself offed too.  Michael’s a little nuts that way.  It’s also interesting to watch Vito’s story develop — can you blame the guy for not wanting to pay Fanucci?  Granted, he’s already committing a crime, and he’ll eventually do the same thing with his capos, but you can understand the feeling.  Nobody wants to give some of their money to a guy who didn’t do anything.

RATING:  As good as the first — which is saying something.

 

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