The Godfather: Part 2
Gangster Movies: The original Godfather is a brilliant work. It is in a sense a voyeuristic delight, allowing us to see the mafia from the inside as we become a part of La Famiglia. It single-handedly change the world’s view of organized crime, and created a cast of sympathetic characters, none of whom have a shred of common morality. It was the highest grossing movie of its time and Brando created a cultural icon whose influence still resonates as strongly today.
As extraordinary an achievement as this is, Part II is even better. It easily resides amongst the top 5 greatest movies of all time on virtually every serious movie critics list, and continues to delight new and old fans again and again.
The movie uses flashbacks to brilliantly weave two tales: The main story is the reign of Michael Corleone as the world’s most powerful criminal now reaping the benefits of legalized gambling in Las Vegas. Behind this, Director Francis Ford Coppola spins the tale of the rise of Michael’s father, Vito, to the center of the New York mafia.
The screenplay is full of delicious little underworld nuggets (“Keep your friends close…”, “I don’t want to kill everyone, just my enemies”) while it blows a dense, twisted plot past you at a dizzying and merciless pace.
The Godfather Part II is not really a movie about the mafia, it is a movie about a man’s life long struggle. Michael controls a vast empire that is constantly slipping out of his hands. He grows increasingly distrustful and paranoid, and even shows signs that he hates his own life. Michael almost seems to resent the fact that he is a natural born crime lord, a man who puts the family business ahead of everything.
See this movie. It’s three-and-a-half hours very well spent.
Francis Ford Coppola had a horrible time directing The Godfather (1972) and asked to pick a different director for the sequel, while taking the title of producer for himself. He chose Martin Scorsese, whom the film executives rejected. Thus, Coppola agreed to direct the film, with a few conditions.
The early buzz on The Godfather (1972) was so positive that a sequel was planned before the film was finished filming.
To prepare for his role, Robert De Niro lived in Sicily.
This was the last film printed in the US in the Technicolor “imbibition” printing process. The lab was held open for about three weeks for the film to be ready to print, and then it was disassembled and sent to Peking, China. The imbibition process was a three-strip dye transfer process that photochemical processes have yet to equal in richness and longevity of color rendition.
Originally the actors in the flashback scenes wore pants with zippers. One of the musicians pointed out that the zipper had not been invented at that time, so some scenes had to be re-shot with button-fly trousers.
Bruno Kirby, who plays the young Clemenza (who was played by Richard S. Castellano in The Godfather (1972)) played Castellano’s son in the TV series “The Super” (1972).
Originally it was to be Clemenza who agrees to testify against the Corleones. According to Coppola, Richard S. Castellano (who was the highest paid actor in The Godfather (1972) wanted to write his own lines and wanted a large salary increase. Consequently his character was replaced by Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) who received an Oscar nomination for the performance. But according to Ardell Sheridan, Castellano refused to regain the 50 pounds required to for the role due to health reasons so Coppola decided to replace him rather than have a thinner Clemenza.
Merle Johnson is played by Troy Donahue, whose real name is Merle Johnson.
As of 2010, Robert De Niro is one of only five actors (with Sophia Loren, Roberto Benigni, Benicio Del Toro and Marion Cotillard), to win an Academy Award for a role primarily in a language other than English, since almost all of his dialogue is in Italian.
Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only two actors to ever win separate Oscars for playing the same character. Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather (1972) and De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for this movie, both in the role of Vito Corleone.
When Michael goes to see Hyman Roth at his house in Miami, the football game on the TV is USC vs. Notre Dame, a major rivalry.
The first sequel to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.
The language spoken by the actors in the flashback part is not Italian, but a combination of southern Italian dialects (mostly Sicilian).
Francis Ford Coppola, having nearly been fired several times from the first film, was given a Mercedes-Benz limousine from Paramount as a reward for the record success of the first film and an incentive to direct a sequel. He agreed on several conditions – that the sequel be interconnected with the first film with the intention of later showing them together; that he be allowed to direct his own script of The Conversation (1974); that he be allowed to direct a production for the San Francisco Opera; and that he be allowed to write the screenplay for The Great Gatsby (1974) – all prior to production of the sequel for a Christmas 1974 release.
Filming was delayed for a month after Al Pacino developed pneumonia on location in Santo Domingo.
As the “deceased” Mama Corleone, Morgana King only appeared in the coffin for the establishing shot where her face is clearly visible. In all other shots, Coppola’s mother, Italia Coppola, stood in for Ms. King since she (King) initially refused to be in the coffin at all.
James Caan asked that he be paid the same amount of money to play Sonny Corleone at the end of the film in the flashback as he was paid to do the first film. He got his wish.
There are a total of 16 deaths in the film.
Francis Ford Coppola considered bringing Marlon Brando back to play Vito Corleone as a young man, convinced that he could play at any age. As he worked on the script, though, he remembered Robert De Niro’s exceptional audition for the first “Godfather” and cast him without offering the part to Brando.
Was voted the 7th Greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, thus being the most highly ranked sequel on their list and only 6 rankings behind its predecessor.
The flashback sequences with a young Vito were part of the original Godfather novel but not used for the first film.
Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay even though half of the script was adapted and half was original. The story of Michael Corleone is original while the story of the young Vito Corleone came from the “Godfather” novel.
Vito’s birthday is December 7. Sonny curses at the “Japs” for dropping bombs in Hawaii on his father’s birthday.
In an early version of the script, an ongoing story line was Tom Hagen having an affair with Sonny Corleone’s widow. This was later discarded, but the line where Michael Corleone tells Hagen that he can take his “wife, children and mistress to Las Vegas” was kept.
A then-unknown Joe Pesci was briefly considered for the role of Clemenza, which eventually went to Bruno Kirby.
The ship shown transporting the young Vito Corleone to New York was the Moshulu. That ship is now a restaurant docked at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.
The movie’s line “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” was voted as the 58 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
The movie’s line “Michael… we’re bigger than U.S. Steel.” was voted as the 54 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007.
The shooting script included a scene with an older, diabetic Michael talking with an 18-year-old Anthony but this scene was cut. The discarded scene also included Connie saying that Fredo drowned in the lake. These ideas were eventually used in The Godfather: Part III (1990).
Michael’s unnamed bodyguard is listed simply as “Michael’s bodyguard” in the closing credits. But in the shooting script he is named “Bussetta”.
There was much debate over whether Robert De Niro should grow a mustache for the scenes where young Vito is a few years older but De Niro insisted. For the scenes where Vito returns to Sicily, he gained weight and wore a smaller version of the dental appliance Marlon Brando wore in Part I.
According to the chart shown during the hearings, the Corleone family’s buttonmen/soldiers are: Luca Brasi (deceased), Chris Pennari alias ‘The Manager’, Donato Tolentinicci, Gaetano De Luna alias ‘Gary Dee’, Roberto Nelenza alias ‘Thunder Bob’, William Cicci, Pauli Gato [sic] (deceased), Nino Arneldi alias ‘The Patch’, Victor Vinatonni alias ‘Vicky Veal’, Calogero Radeni, Rafilo Gernzo, Carmine Caronda alias ‘The Plunge’, Francis Forducci alias ‘The Kid’, Ricardo Simmini alias ‘Powder’, Frank Corteale, Ettore Radeni alias ‘Oily Hand’, Salvatore Plumari alias ‘Sally Pee’, Samuel Corocco, Angelo Granelli alias ‘The Trojan’ (in jail), Gino Corsetta (in jail), Bartolo Neni alias ‘O’Neal’ (in jail), Joeseph Bronski alias ‘Joey Jail’ (deceased), Natale Parri alias ‘Fat Nat’, Alphonse Barino alias ‘Al Barret’, Gino Fredonna alias ‘Pretty Boy’ (deceased), Sabastino Sabela (in jail), Lawrence Tippirri, Gaetano Sirillo, Tony Dinegio alias ‘Tony Ding’, Carmen Della, Frank Darra alias ‘Frankie Dare’ (in jail), Alphonse Evolloni alias ‘Al Ove’ (deceased), Peter Leone alias ‘The Lion’ (in jail), Cassandros Fracca alias ‘David Gelly’, Charles Locirno (deceased), Cristoforo D’Binna
In the original script, Don Ciccio was named Don Francesco. “Ciccio” is a Sicilian nickname for Francesco. He is still listed as Don Francesco in closing credits.
In the original script, Tom gains Senator Geary’s support by paying off his gambling debts.
The unnamed senators in the committee were played people who were primarily screenwriters and producers: William Bowers, Roger Corman, Phil Feldman, and Richard Matheson.
In an interview, Gordon Willis admitted that he sometimes “went too far” in his use of dark photography. He particularly noted the scene in which Michael asks Mama for advice as an example.
The door to Vito’s olive oil business was rigged so that it would not open if a nail was inserted into the lock. Coppola kept this a secret from Leopoldo Trieste, who played Signor Roberto, and his difficulty in opening the door was real. Coppola wanted to film Trieste, a known Italian comedian, improvising his way through the scene. When Genco opens the door, Frank Sivero surreptitiously pulls the nail out.
Lee Strasberg came out of retirement to play Hyman Roth after a specific request from Al Pacino. He was unwilling at first, but agreed to do it after a 45-minute meeting with Francis Ford Coppola’s father, Carmine Coppola.
Marlon Brando was scheduled to return for a cameo in the flashback at the end but, because of the way Paramount treated him during The Godfather (1972), he did not show up for shooting on the day the scene was filmed. Francis Ford Coppola quickly re-wrote the scene on the spot.
This was the first film sequel to receive five Academy Award Nominations 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 Al Pacino (Best Actor) all received nominations, while Robert De Niro took home the Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role.
Robert De Niro auditioned for and was almost cast in The Godfather (1972) in a minor role. When Francis Ford Coppola was casting this film, he saw Mean Streets (1973) and knew he wanted De Niro for a major role in this sequel.
Hyman Roth’s character is loosely based in real-life mobster Meyer Lansky. Lansky, who at the time of the film’s release was living in Miami, reportedly phoned Lee Strasberg and congratulated him for the role as Roth.
Danny Aiello said that his line “Michael Corleone says hello” was completely ad-libbed. Francis Ford Coppola loved it and asked him to do it again in the retakes.
The orchestra that plays in the band shell during the party scene at Lake Tahoe was actually the Al Tronti Orchestra that played nightly for big names like Elvis Presley and Tom Jones at the Sahara Tahoe Casino/Hotel on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe while this film was being shot. Al Tronti himself sits in the orchestra in the front room (only seen in shadow). He wasn’t allowed to appear as the orchestra conductor since he looked “too Italian” and the orchestra in the movie was supposed to be a West Coast group not able to play any traditional Italian music.
The musical play performed in the film, “Senza Mamma”, was an actual early 20th century play composed by Francis Ford Coppola’s grandfather, Francesco Pennino.
The golden telephone presented to Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista is based on an actual event. You can see the actual gold-plated (not solid gold) telephone in Havana’s Museum of the Revolution (formerly Batista’s presidential palace). The replica made for the movie looks pretty much like the original. No reference to the film is made in the information card of the telephone on display.
A test screening of the film garnered negative reactions from the audience. They found cutting back and forth between Michael and young Vito confusing and bothersome. Francis Ford Coppola and his editors decided to decrease the frequency of the transitions in order to make the parallel stories easier to follow.
The Havana hotel that Michael stays in is the Capri. The location was the El Embajador Hotel in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
While the word “mafia” is never spoken in The Godfather (1972), it is heard three times in this film, during the Senate hearings. Sen. Geary says, “These hearings on the Mafia… “. The committee Chairman says, “You are the head of the most powerful Mafia family in this country”. Michael Corleone in his statement says, “Whether it is called ‘Mafia’ or ‘Cosa Nostra’ or whatever other name you wish… ”
The plot thread with Sen. Geary is a direct reference to The Godfather (1972), when Vito laments that he wanted Michael to be a “big shot” who “pulled the strings.” In particular, he had hoped Michael would become a Senator. Michael assures him, “we’ll get there, Pop.” At the opening of this film, we see Michael explicitly rebuffing the demands of a US Senator, turning the tables by making demands of his own.
Mario Cotone, the film’s Sicilian production manager, was cast as Tommasino due to his resemblance to Corrado Gaipa, who played Tommasino in The Godfather (1972).
November 2005: Voted 5 in Total Film’s 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time list.
1998: Voted 1 in TV Guide magazine’s list of the 50 Greatest Movies on TV and Video (August 8-14 issue). The Godfather (1972) ranked 7.
According to Francis Ford Coppola in the DVD commentary, Michael V. Gazzo gave such a great performance in the rehearsal of his testimony scene that Coppola wanted to start filming it immediately but everyone had to break for lunch. During the break, Gazzo got drunk and was unable to perform as well as he had in rehearsal.
According to Francis Ford Coppola on the DVD commentary, G.D. Spradlin wrote many of his own lines, including his anti-Italian speech to Michael.
Robert De Niro spent four months learning to speak the Sicilian dialect in order to play Vito Corleone. Nearly all the dialogue that his character speaks in the film was in Sicilian.
Don Fanucci says that, in order to show proper respect to him, Vito and his friends should allow him to ‘wet his beak a little’, by giving him a share of their profits. This is Sicilian slang, meaning “to get a piece of the pie”, a common expression often used to indicate the extortion activities committed by mafia members.
Widely credited as the film that began the tradition of numbered sequels for film franchises.
Originally, Kay was to truly have a miscarriage. It was Talia Shire’s idea that she would have an abortion instead, as the ultimate way to hurt Michael. To thank her for this idea, Francis Ford Coppola wrote in the scene in which she tearfully asks Michael to forgive Fredo.
When little Vito arrives at Ellis Island, he is marked with a circled X. Ellis Island immigrants were marked with this if the inspector believed the person had a mental defect.
When Coppola decided to replace Richard S. Castellano, Willi Cicci was planned to be the sole testifier against the Corleones before the character of Pentangeli was created.
The first American film to use the roman numeral II to indicate a sequel.
The paper currency that Vito hands to Signor Roberto is historically accurate. The bills used are series 1914 large size $10 Federal Reserve Notes. Large size notes measure 7-3/8 by 3-1/8 inches compared to the small note, printed from 1928 to the present, measuring 6-1/8 by 2-5/8 inches.
This was the first major motion picture sequel to use “Part II” in the title. French Connection II (1975) was later the first to simply use “II.”
The first movie sequel to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.
In his DVD commentary, Francis Ford Coppola describes The Godfather: Part II (1974) as being the first numbered sequel. In fact, Quatermass 2 (1957) was released 17 years previously.
Though it claims to be based on the novel by Mario Puzo, only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in the book. Only one chapter in the book is devoted to Vito’s youth and young adulthood. The story revolving around Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is entirely unique to the film.