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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Godfather Part II

Al Pacino's most famous line from Godfather II. Most of the really memorable Godfather lines came from the original Godfather and the original godfather, Marlon Brando.
A little over a year ago (06-17-12) I enumerated a list of the "Top Ten American Movies of All Time." Both before and since then, I've been doing individual items on each of the films I listed. The Godfather Part II is the final film in that series. I listed it as number five, just ahead of Titanic (#6) and just behind Ben Hur (#4). That placement was based mostly on the film's critical reputation and its ranking on numerous other hierarchical lists on which it fell both above and below my ranking. The reason for this is that, I must confess, I have never seen this film in its entirety. Gangster films are among my least favorite genres, along with horror films, sports films, and the whole "chick-flick" milieu of lighthearted romantic comedies (which my wife adores). Yet in each of these film categories there have been outstanding masterpieces such as On the Waterfront, The French Connection, Poltergeist, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and one or two of the Rocky series. Therefore, just to let you know I wasn't doting on personal favorites in creating my top-ten list, there sets Francis Ford Coppola's (and Mario Puzo's)The Godfather Part II right smack in the middle of it.

Unlike many classic films, The Godfather Part II is not rife with iconic images.
This is one of the few.
As with many outstanding film classics, the excellence of The Godfather Part II largely derives from the nearly absolute control of the film by its producer, director, and co-writer. Mr. Coppola and Mr. Puzo, the author of the book, not only worked well together, they created a work of art that was actually better than the original film and the original novel. Today we take sequels pouring out of Hollywood for granted. For better or worse (usually the latter) they are an integral part of the industry's business economics (if the original does well, milk it for all its worth--ala Rocky/Stallone). That was not the case back in the olden days of 1974 when Paramount believed audiences would not pursue an "add-on" story. They may have been right. At the box office, The Godfather Part II has not done as well as the original, grossing only $193-million (from a $13-million budget) as compared to $286-million to date for the original. And, though the original Godfather was critically acclaimed (winning three Oscars out of eight nominations), most film critics agree The Godfather Part II surpassed it on every level (winning six Academy Awards out of nine nominations).

Perhaps the most famous shot from The Godfather Part II
(cinematically speaking, of course).
The other half of the exemplary Godfather II equation was the cast. Marlon Brando was absent this time (front office politics--it's a long story) and James Caan was paid exorbitantly for his single flashback scene as Sonny Corleone. Otherwise, Al Pacino, Robert Duval, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Abe Vigoda, Roger Corman, virtually the whole case reprised their roles from the original film. Moreover, these people were no dramatic lightweights. They knew their characters and responded well to Coppola's dictatorial style of direction. For a production so massive (and a budget to match), filming is said to have gone quite smoothly, finishing on schedule and on budget. Filming began the first of October, 1973 and ended nine-and-a-half months later in mid-June of the following year. The movie has the distinction of having been the last film ever shot in Technicolor. However, it was the first sequel to win an Academy Award, and in fact, the first modern-day film to be overtly marketed as a sequel (but not the last, unfortunately).

The original movie trailer (rated R):

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