Godfather Part II (SE)/A,A-
Paramount/1974/200/ANA 1.85

    Two scant years after the release of The Godfather, writer/director Francis Ford Coppola returns to the dark world in arguably the greatest sequel achievement ever accomplished on film. After a brief moment depicting Michael Corleone's confirmation as head the of the Corleone crime family, The Godfather Part II shifts on a mournful tone to a funeral in Sicily. The strong yellow cast of the first film is embellished by the sun and dust. The old world is recorded in a few short strokes. This is the world into which  Vito Corleone was born. A world of feuds, vengeance, feudal fealty, and calculated protection against enemies. The first scenes trace Vito's escape from Sicily and his arrival in the new world. As the young Veto ponders his future through the windows of his quarantine quarters on Ellis Island, the film dissolves to the first communion of his grandson some 57 years later. It Lake Tahoe, Nevada, the new base of the Corleone family and another celebration. The bifurcated back and forth structure of The Godfather Part II introduced and maintained in miraculous balance through the more than three hours of the film. But the behind the scenes manipulations and interesting cross-cutting  are established as well, respecting the structure of the first film. 

A new Godfather.  © Paramount

     This time out the Corleone family has put most of their marbles into developing the money machine of Nevada casinos. Michael deals expeditiously with uncooperative politicians. There's dissatisfaction within the crime family structure as the Corleone's have moved operations from New York. Frankie Pentangeli wants to eliminate the Rosato Brothers, moving in on Corleone operations in New York. A senate committee has begun investigating allegations of the existence of the Mafia and in particular the Corleone crime family. Michael picks up an acrid scent of treachery close to home. In a move to spread his empire to Cuban casinos, Corleone forms an alliance with big shot criminal mastermind Hyman Roth. Along with Fredo, he attends a meeting in Cuba, where events do not unfold as planned. The pressures of running the Corleone Family has sapped what little humanity Michael maintained. His wife Kay has grown to distrust and dislike him. 
       The parallel story of Veto Corleone's rise, though laced with blood, is warm. Veto acts out of a sense of necessity to protect his family. His rise is chronicled in through a filter of respect and distance. The production design details make The Godfather Part II sing. Turn of the century New York rings true. The Ellis Island immigration experience is captured in short bold strokes. The Lake Tahoe compound is a wonderful find and Cuba is recreated with extraordinary force. 
     Puzo and Coppola deliver a top notch script liberally relying on Godfather conventions to link the films effortlessly. Coppola's direction is outstanding. Actors are given enough space to breath life into their characters. Big production elements like the casino sequences are recreated with  the magic of the moment. The rhythms of the film play beautifully. The Coppola team of director of photography Gordon Willis, composers Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola and production designer Dean Tavoularis work in perfect harmony with the director. Three editors worked feverishly with Coppola to put The Godfather Part II together in its final elegant presentation. 
     Once again, supporting characters are richly drawn. Significantly absent is Clemenza, who has died in New York. The addition of Clemenza under boss Frankie Pentangeli makes up for the absence of the former. Michael's strong arm Al Neri is more of a white collar killer than any of the characters in the first film, again making The Godfather Part II's move into more legitimate enterprise chilling. Add a corrupt Senator and savvy old mob figure named Roth and some additional juice for Fredo, and the contemporary segment creates a rich tapestry. The period part of the film features a young Clemenza, an excellent character, and a local dandy Black Hand figure Fannuci. 
     Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro are the twin lynchpins on which the duality of The Godfather Part II balances perfectly. Pacino's performance as Michael Corleone makes you feel you're watching a man who sleeps in a refrigerated room. There's no room for warmth in this man, whether dealing with his personal family or the family business. Pacino is thoroughly consistent in his portrayal. Playing Veto Corleone during his rise to power as a Mafia chieftain, DeNiro captures the essence created by Brando as Corleone in the first film. DeNiro's Corleone is tough, thoughtful, and decisive to act. The mannerisms of the young Veto are consistent with audience expectations. Again in top form are Robert Duval as Tom Hagen and John Cazale as Fredo. Diane Keaton's role as Kay is beefed up a bit and she's fine. Outstanding cast additions include Michael V Gazzo as Pentangeli and Bruno Kirby as the young Clemenza. G. D. Spradlin has some fine moments as Senator Geary and veteran acting teacher Lee Strasberg is calmly sinister as Roth.
        Presented on 2 DVDs, the second feature in the Godfather collection is slightly cleaner overall than the first film. Images are very sharp with background information easily discernible. Color palette remains true to the first film and the transfer again recreates the amazing lighting designed by cinematographer Gordon Willis. Shadow detail is likewise slightly improved, though this may be attributable to Willis's original photography which is less underexposed this time around. Interiors are warm and filled  with shadows, yet the players in this Godfather incarnation are slightly more out front and exposed to the light. Grain is tightly controlled. The Cuban sequences (Filmed in Dominican Republic.) are especially lovely. You can feel the heat in the colors of Willis's lensing. Black is deep, plush velvet smooth,. Fleshtones are very accurate. Dolby Digital Surround is more aggressive in Godfather Part II. The Cuban sequences are especially effective. 
     A detail revealed by Francis Ford Coppola in the audio commentary sat like a piece of old meat between my teeth. The director takes credit for the dubious notion of naming American movies with the unoriginal Part II, et. al. following the original title. A pox on Roman numerals in movie titles!  Otherwise, once again Coppola is in fine fettle on the commentary track. With a total of nine hours of commentary over three films it is natural that Coppola repeats himself here and there.




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