The Godfather Part II that was released two years after the first part in 1974 is placed above the first part in contrast to many other lists of the greatest films for the reasons that will follow. For example The Godfather (or part I) had been ranked the third on the first AFI list of the greatest American films in 1997 and the second on its second edition list in 2007, while The Godfather Part II has been ranked number 32 on both editions of the list. It is unusual to rank a second part of a film, or a trilogy in this case above the first or the original one, but The Godfather Part II has so much more and deserves to be at least one rank higher than the first part. In fact the major reason that the first part that will be presented here right after the second part at the same time, has been ranked on this list of the greatest films of all time, is its impact on others, and not per se for its own merit. To understand better the ranking differential between these two films, some comparisons will be attempted here.
The part two starts where the part one finished, with Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ascends to the position of the Godfather, passed on to from Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando who plays only in the first part) ruling the family’s organized crime. Soon after, the next scene flashbacks to the past and origin of Vito Corleone, the Godfather, back to Sicily Italy. Vito Andolini at the time is a nine years old boy, the only son left for his mother whose husband has been stained by the local mob chieftain, Don Cicco for not giving in. Her older son who had disappeared to the hills to take revenge of his father’s murder, soon at the time of the father’s funeral is shot to death by the mobs as well.
The mother goes to Don Cicco with Vito asking for his forgiveness to spare his only son’s life as “he’s too young and would not seek revenge”. But the mother is killed on the spot and the young Vito runs away. While the local mobs looking for Vito everywhere in the village of Corleone, he’s arranged to flee the village and get aboard of a ship to America. The scene of immigrants aboard reaching the land of free with their hopeful eyes falling on the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island of New York is one of the most beautiful such scenes of immigrating to America at the turn of 20th century, even better than “America America “ of Elia Kazan. The next scene while Vito has passed the immigration screening and placed in a room, looking through the window at the Statue of Liberty, fades off to the present time where Michael hosts a party.
Right away the difference between the two parts is that the first part is a cross sectional depiction of a mafia family, while the second part is a longitudinal examination of the origin of such family, starting off good, but ending devil. Throughout the film there are flashbacks to the past in early 20th century when all started with Vito, first an honest and hard working man who grew to become a monster and a killing machine. Even when back to the present in the second part, Michael is seen clearly in conflict within himself for taking on such responsibility leading a criminal family at the cost of ruining his own life. This is not yet seen in the first part, where Vito Corleone like a king with no remorse orders killings at ease and comfort of his place.
Back to the part two at the present time, Michael hosts son’s first communion party by lake Tahoe, running like his father in the opening of the first part of the film, his family crime business meetings in his office. While the two parts of the film have been released two years apart, in 1972 and 1974, in this film Kate while dancing with Michael tells him that seven years ago he promised his business would be legal, the difference between the two films’ era looks like more. At the night of the party while Michael and Kate are in the bedroom of their estate, there’s a shooting through their bedroom window in an assassination attempt at Michael’s life. Tom Hagen (Robert Duval), the family conciliar who initially was fired from his position in the first part is still around in the same role and after the assassination attempt he is handed being in charge of the family during Michael’s absence on a business trip to Miami. While Michael saying goodbye to his son at the night before his next day trip, the film flashbacks to the past in 1917 when Vito has his first child Sonny from his wife Carmela.
Vito is a young man living and working honestly like many others. Soon he realizes through a friend, Peter Clemenza about a local Italian mob, Don Fanucci who takes money from the poor small local businesses in the neighborhood for protection. One evening when Vito having a meager dinner as always with his wife over a talk on their daily struggles fro survival, Clemenza passes him a bag through the window to keep it for him. When Vito opens the bag in the bathtub in hiding from his wife, he finds some guns. The next day while Vito at his job in a bakery, Don Fanucci enters and takes his share cash for protection from the cash register and asks Vito’s boss to replace him with his own nephew, and he has no choice to let Vito go and be unemployed.
The next day Vito is asked by Clemenza to help him carrying a rug that a friend has offered him. But soon we learn that Clemenza is stealing the rug from an apartment and needed Vito as a partner. This is the start of Vito’s getting into illegal activities that the film cuts it off and takes us to the present time and to the business trip of Michael visiting the Jewish business partner, Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). At the Hyman Roth’s house, Michael tells him about his assassination attempt, but that and nothing else would stop him having business with him. Hyman Roth promises Michael that their business is the future and something that even his father never dreamed of.
The next scene shortly back in New York, Michael calls in Frankie (Michael Gazzo) who previously showed his contempt and mistrust towards Hyman Roth to find out and help him to take his revenge on the traitor in his family who helped with the assassination attempt. When Frankie arrives in a bar for a meeting with another New York’s crime family Rosato’s men, he is attacked by them, but saved as a police man enters the bar and they all had to run. Frankie is arrested by the police and held in FBI’s custody, promised protection for leaking information towards the arrest of Michael and his gang.
In the next scene Michael arriving in Havana, where it seems the future business plan of Hyman Roth lays. After a meeting with the participation of all major American cartels, at the Birthday party of Roth’s, Michael witnessing earlier that day the Cuban rebel’s fighting the Cuban government, cast his first doubt on their business in Havana as he suspects the rebels might win. But Hyman Roth sways Michael’s second thought that has always been rebels in Cuba but never won and convinces him to invest and hand him the cash for his future legal hotels’ business.
Michael who all along knows Hyman Roth is his enemy and has been part of his assassination attempt with Rosato family and now after his money while knowing that the Cuban government is at verge of fall, orders Roth’s murder at the New Year’s eve of 1959. But Roth’s assassination attempt is intercepted by the Cuban military officers who arrive at the hospital where he had admitted for his heart problem and shoot the assassin.
Just before leaving Havana, Michael breaks to his brother Fredo that he knows he is the inside traitor who helped with his assassination attempt. He kisses him in the memorable scene telling him “You’re my little brother and you broke my heart”. When back in New York, Michael asking Tom about Fredo who’s disappeared and nobody knows of his whereabouts, Tom breaks to him that Kate has had a miscarriage. This saddens Michael specially when he finds out it was a boy. Here the film flashbacks again to the past to the young Vito’s family when Fredo is sick with a fever. Young Vito convinces his two burglar friends, Clemenza and Salvatore that he can talk to Don Fanucci to take less protection cash from them by “making him an offer that he won’t refuse”. The next day Vito meets with Fanucci and gives him less than what he expects but him liking his courage (guts) takes the cash and walks out to the neighborhood religious fiesta.
In another memorable and well filmed scene, Vito follows the Fanucci on top of the roofs while he walking on the streets through the festival and at every step takes his protection share off people. When he arrives at his apartment building, Vito who has hid there in the dark shoots him to death when he tries to open his apartment door. The sound of shots is mixed up with the fireworks outside, though Vito has wrapped his pistol in a towel and finishes the mob after a few shots in the chest with the last shot in his mouth to be certain of his death so to take over his territory. At the next scene, Vito telling the newborn Michael that his father loves him very much that the film enters its intermission.
After the intermission when Michael arrives home in a cold wintery day with snow covered everywhere, and he finds his house empty, despite finding Kate upstairs alone sowing, for the first time it hits him hard that he’s on the verge of losing his family. Up to this point, there’s no words expressed but all the fact is felt in the air. Not showing himself to Kate that he’s home, he goes out to his mother’s corner and asks her how his father felt in his heart about the possibility of losing his family. The mother thinking him being sad about the loss of their expected baby by miscarriage, tells Michael not to think like that as they’re going to have another baby. Michael who is not yet consoled, asks her what his father felt about losing it all, meaning his family. His mother tells him that he will never lose his family, but he mumbles to himself “time has changed”.
In the next scene, in the court with the inquiry committee, Michael and members of his organization are all seen, while Frankie enters escorted by the FBI guards. Fearing Frankie might leak information to the committee, Michael arranges to bring over Frankie’s older brother from Sicily to US to evade him that they succeed as he backs of all his earlier confessions and the court is adjorned. Meanwhile Michael finds Fredo and tries to discover through him who else was in the plot against him. Fredo finally admits to be the insider traitor, but he didn’t know it would go that far and also he wanted to make some money on his own. Michael in cold blood tells him that you’re no brother or nobody to him and does not want to see him anymore, then tells one of his men in the room not to let anything happen to him as long as their mother is alive. In the next scene, Kate has their son and daughter ready to leave Michael who tries to change her intention, but during their argument, Kate discloses that he has no love for him anymore and the miscarriage was an abortion and deliberate. Kate in anger insults Michael and his Sicilian family background that enrages him to slap her and that dissolves their marriage.
Back to the young Vito, he arrives in Sicily for a visit with his wife and three children. After a family gathering, he goes right off to visit Don Cicco, the local mob who killed his family when he was nine years old. He introduces himself being in olive oil business in America and when Don Cicco asks him who was his father, he tells him in his ear Antolini while cutting through his belly across with a knife and kills him.
Back home in New York, the mother has died and there’s a reception where Fredo after viewing the mother’s corpse asks Tom if he could see Michael, but he is rejected. His sister, Connie (Talia Shire) goes to Michael who is sitting quietly and sad in his office. She apologizes to him that she did not previously appreciate all he was doing and being strong for the family like their father. She begs Michael who is now softened a bit to forgive Fredo as well, as he is helpless without him. Michael goes back to the reception room where the mother’s coffin is and hugs Fredo, but with his cold look give the order of his wipe out to one of his men. The next day Fredo goes fishing with one of Michael’s man who shoots him on the boat. Here Michael has ordered killing his own brother, the son of his mother and father that years later in the third part of the trilogy confesses as such to a priest in tears.
At the same time of Fredo’s murder, a series of other killing sprees have been arranged such as Hyman Roth who is shot at the airport when surrounded by the press, and Frankie who after a brief meeting with Tom in his custody has been ordered to commit suicide. After the Fredo’s murder, there’s a memory flashback to the past when the three brothers, Sonny, Fredo and Michael with Connie and Tom, their step brother are altogether at a dinner table. Sonny makes fun of Michael as a college boy and Tom tells him that his father is worried about his future. These all happen in Michael’s mind sitting quietly and sad on a bench outside in his estate, reflecting on his life how went against his wish, and that concludes the film.
While the Godfather won three academy awards of the best picture, best actor by Marlon Brando who refused it and best adapted screenplay, the Godfather part II won six academy awards including best picture, best direction for Francis Ford Coppola who lost such award for the first part, best supporting actor for Robert De Niro, again best adapted screenplay, best art direction, and best original score that Nino Rota had been awarded for the first part but had been revoked when the academy found out that he had used some of his previous score from an 1958 Italian comedy “Fortunella”. Only a few critics ranked the second part higher than the first part, but majority of the critics that did not rate this film as high as the first one, changed their rating and ranking years later.
In brief while the first part failed a deep depiction of Corleone’s crime family and focused on actions and killings, the second part analyzed the development of this family as an example of the Italian American families in America at the start of the 20th century, a few were drawn into crimes. The viewers who may not have any empathy for Vito Corleone in the first part as the Godfather of a mafia family, they may have such feelings for the young Vito as a young boy and also a young man when helping his poor and helpless neighbors before dipping into organized crime business. The viewers might have empathy for Michael who in the second part is shown to be drawn to the family crime business against his initial intention and when observing his internal turmoil, regret, fear and demise. In conclusion the Godfather part II is more humane, sincere and honest as it lashes back on its own.
In closing remarks “The Godfather Part II” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality: “The Godfather Part II” is original in analyzing the rise and fall of an Italian American crime family from within. While the first part of the Godfather trilogy fails to do much of this reflection within, this is done by the new Godfather, Michael Corleone in the part II, triggered by the antagonism from his wife Kay.
- Technicality: “The Godfather Part II” is more technical than the part one, in its script for its flashbacks between the past and present, its cinematography and also music score. The characters performance are also better in the part two than part one.
- Impact Factor: The influence of “The Godfather Part II” if not as much as part one, it has not been much less even by those who over-valued the first film.
- Survival: “The Godfather Part II” has survived well to this very day for its sincere presentation of how rise to power at any cost could bounce back cause the demise of the individual and others, including the family that has been the subject of protection.