May 27, 2024

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AFI Countdown Challenge #32: The Godfather Part II

Michael Corleone isolates himself from his loved ones in what I suspect is the only sequel on the entire AFI list.

You know, I haven’t seen all of the films on the AFI list before starting this project.  There were good reasons for many of those omissions.  I’m still not much of a fan of musicals, so I hadn’t seen many of them.  I also hadn’t seen many silent movies, and while that meant missing Charlie Chaplin, it also meant not seeing the racist awfulness of Birth of a Nation.  And heck, I’d never even heard of A Place in the Sun before.  For the most part, I wasn’t bothered too much by missing many of these.

But The Godfather Part II?  How in the name of any deity you care to name have I not seen that?

Well, that’s been rectified now.

This may be one of the rougher entries to write.  I want to talk about Godfather Part II without saying too much about the original Godfather since that one is coming up later.  And though I hadn’t seen Part II prior to now, I have seen the original.  Heck, if I am being very honest, I will say I had seen bits and pieces of Part II before in college but never had time to watch the whole three hour and twenty minute film before.  That said, I did have a great remastered version of the entire trilogy on Blu-Ray, and that made for a beautiful viewing if nothing else.

By the by, I have no plans of ever seeing Part III.

So, what can we say about Part II, a film often celebrated as possibly being better than the original (just don’t ask Watson), and apparently the first sequel to ever just add a number to the title?

Well, mostly it works with a parallel structure.  We see the rise of Vito Corleone as a young man played by Robert De Niro, and we see what is arguably the fall of Michael Corleone decades later.  At the least, we see Vito building the family and Michael watching his own family fall apart.  Michael begins the film a married man with a couple kids by his wife Kay (Diane Keaton).  His sister Connie (Talia Shire, sister to director Francis Ford Coppola) is living recklessly with a parade of men Michael disapproves of, but he still has his brother Fredo (the late John Cazale).

And therein lies what will be one of two of Michael’s downfalls in this film.  He doesn’t lose his life or his freedom, but he ends the film a very isolated man with his brother dead and his wife leaving him while trying to do her best to take the kids with her.

What is the root cause of all this?  The same thing, actually: the Sicilian idea of masculinity and the role of family.  Kay is pregnant with another child, and all Michael cares about is that it is another boy.  When she loses the child, he takes it hard especially as it does appear to be another boy.  It makes it much, much worse that Kay confesses to an abortion later.

Given how much Pacino is known for shouting in movies these days, it is a little odd seeing him spend most of the film with a voice that rarely rises above a whisper.  But when he does raise his voice on learning Kay aborted their unborn son, it has an real impact.  And her reasoning?  She won’t bring another one of Michael’s children into the world until he finally makes the family business straight.  Michael either can’t or won’t do that, and who knew leading a criminal life was one of her buttons besides anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention to her beforehand?

As for Fredo, he just couldn’t stand being subordinate to his kid brother.  Sure, Fredo isn’t very bright, and he is responsible for a nasty hit on Michael in his own home, but he’s still Michael’s brother, and seeing the two tear each other apart over the betrayal, and then the way the film ends with Fredo’s execution while fishing is hammered home with a final flashback showing Michael’s announcement that he is leaving college to join the Marines after the Pearl Harbor attack.  Who alone supported Michael’s decision?  Fredo.

As for the other plot, we see the rise of Vito, a man who might have never gone that route had the Sicilian mafia not exterminated the rest of his family.  Vito was a slow child of nine who barely spoke before immigrating to America alone.  De Niro replaces Marlon Brando here, and like Brando he also won an Oscar for the role, and both didn’t personally take the stage to accept the award.  De Niro was busy filming something else, though.  Brando just wanted to make a political statement.

However, the old Don who killed Vito’s family was rather prophetic in his prediction of what would happen if he didn’t kill the boy.  He didn’t, and the boy returned as a vengeful man.

But we see Vito the family man, the one who cared for his children, and how he didn’t slide into the life of a crime lord necessarily out of a desire to commit violence at first, but as the only route he can find to real freedom.  Besides, as he takes over the role of the New York Don he murdered, we also see him adopt the dead man’s style.  Let’s face it:  that guy could pull off a white suit.

Truth be told, I would have preferred spending more time with young Vito than with beleaguered Michael.  Most of those scenes are actually in Italian with subtitles, and I think I like De Niro better than Pacino anyway.

So, now I have seen Part II.  Was it worth it?  Probably.  I think I prefer the first one a bit more, showing a fairly innocent man brought to evil by family commitments, evil his father desired to keep him out of.  But that’s for when I get to The Godfather in the future.

As for now…

NEXT UP:  We’re going to stick with something with Diane Keaton with 1977’s Annie Hall.