Relieved of the need to be faithful to Mario Puzo’s novel, Director Francis Ford Coppola embarked on a sequel with an unusual theme – crime as capitalism.
This follow-up to the hugely successful Godfather (1972) used extensive flashbacks to highlight the juxtaposition between the youth of Vito Corleone and the problems of his son Michael 50 years later as the mob threatens to break apart under Congressional scrutiny.
Breathtaking in scope, we see the early life of the Don, brilliantly portrayed by Robert De Niro, as he is smuggled out of Sicily when his family is slaughtered in a Mafia vendetta and sails for New York.
The later sequences, with Michael (Al Pacino) in Cuba, are clumsy and confusing, though the climax is as chilling as the look on Michael’s face when he realises that even Family members can be rubbed out.
A brilliant supporting cast (especially legendary Actors Studio director Lee Strasberg making his film debut, aged 71) and superb direction, screenplay, score and art direction ensured a clean sweep at the Oscars, winning six Academy Awards (including Best Film and Best Supporting Actor for Robert De Niro).
Diane Keaton is Michael’s wife, Kay; Robert Duvall is Tom Hagen, the adopted brother and Consigliere; John Cazale is Michael’s weak brother Fredo; and Talia Shire is his sister, Connie. James Caan makes a brief appearance as Sonny, the impetuous brother who died a horrible death in The Godfather.
De Niro prepared for his role by moving to Sicily, where he lived incognito, learning to speak Italian with a heavy Sicilian accent. Pacino gives a monumental performance, and it was an equally monumental crime that he never won an Oscar for it.
There is opulence and magnificence from the very start at a huge, vulgar garden party celebrating the First Communion of Michael’s son.
Other big scenes include the recreation of the Senate Caucus Room in which there’s an inquiry into Mafia activities and there are some brilliantly handled crowd scenes, such as New Year’s celebrations in pre-Castro Havana and street scenes in early 20th century New York.
A third and final sequel completed the Corleone family trilogy in 1990 showing an ageing Michael dividing his time between politics and gangster activities, with the corruption spreading all the way to the Vatican.
The Godfather II was the first time a director had been paid $1 million upfront, in addition to a percentage of the gross (Coppola had received just $60,000 to make The Godfather).
Robert De Niro
Michael V Gazzo
Mrs Marcia Roth
Senator Pat Geary
G D Spradlin
Harry Dean Stanton
Francis Ford Coppola