'The Godfather: Part II': THR's 1974 Review
A "grand historical epic studying the nature of power in the United States' heritage."
In December 1974, as Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II hit theaters, The Hollywood Reporter gave measured praise to the title even as it hailed the film's technical aspects. Now widely regarded as one of the best sequels of all time, the film currently sits at No. 7 on THR's entertainment industry ranking of Hollywood's Favorite Films. The original THR review is below.
Part two of Francis Ford Coppola's filmization of Mario Puzo's The Godfather is an admirable, responsible production, less emotionally disturbing than its predecessor, but a grand historical epic studying the nature of power in the United States' heritage.
In keeping his film emotionally honest, Coppola sacrifices some of the shock value of his violence, cools the ambition of his visual style, and forgoes the audience identification with characters that mark a more personal film. This movie's huge world audience may see it less as entertainment than as condemnation of the American corporate power structure. It is neither a very happy or driving picture.
But it is intellectually daring and marks an important breakthrough in the growing up of the Hollywood film. Coppola's screenplay, written with Mario Puzo, builds itself around the events of the earlier movie, intercutting between a late '50's crisis in the regime of a young godfather Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and flashbacks to the early 1900's tracing the rise to power of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), the character played in the original by Marlon Brando.
The personal side of the story plays variations on the family love versus business violence ironies that were well explored in the first screenplay. Here the Pacino character finds out and admits to himself the realities that the audience knew about him at the end of the first film. Without the first film, there's little to sympathize with in this cold, ruthless, ego-tripped and power mad character.
Pacino is not shown as a romantic character, but as a man under a great evil burden throughout. His scowl and guilty eyes constitute a heavy performance.
Ironically, the romantic figure is De Niro, with who the audience can sympathize as the oppressed immigrant learning how to deal with a threatening culture on its own hard terms. De Niro carefully prefigures mannerisms that will age into Brando and acts out the origin of "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."
This film is the ultimate case for production values. The incredible amounts of money spent are fully visible on the screen. The large historical re-creations work more as social comment than mere spectacle or backdrop. It is morally important to Coppola to show the political consensus of large groups of people in a single frame.
The arrival of immigrants past the Statue of Liberty, more gigantic Corleone estate parties, a flesh pit visit to pre-Castro Havana on the eve of the revolution (shot in Santo Domingo), the streets of New York's Little Italy in the early 1900's, and a hearing into Mafia activities in the Senate Caucus Room — all are remarkably evoked through the masterful work of production designer Dean Tavoularis, with costumer Theadora Van Runkle, art director Angelo Graham, and set decorator George Nelson.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis, in another major achievement, veils Pacino's world with darkness. The visual style is austere, with hard lenses and little camera movement. To the credit of editors Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin and Richard Marks, the 3-hour 20 minutes running time, while demanding, is well paced and justified.
Nino Rota revives his very effective themes of romantic decadence. Additional music and conducting by Carmine Coppola lend authenticity to Sicilian folk strains. The cast is huge and convincing, though not particularly colorful. James Caan appears in one quick scene that underscores the loss of Italian family emotionalism which had been such a major theme in Part I. Ably re-creating their roles as members of the Corleone household are Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Talia Shire and Morgana King. James Gounaris represents an unhappy third generation as Pacino's son.
Lee Strasberg is equally ruthless and durable as Pacino's primary enemy in the struggle to maintain power. Mariana Hill is excellent as an embarrassing in-law for the family.
Prominent also are Michael Gazzo as an old New York mafia figure, G.D. Spradin as a corrupt senator, and Gaston Moschin as De Niro's first victim.
Also in the cast are Troy Donahue, Fay Spain, Harry Dean Stanton, Phil Feldman, and producer-director Roger Corman who gave Coppola his start in the business.
Co-producers were Gary Frederickson and Fred Roos engineering locations at Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, New York, Miami, Washington, Trieste, Rome and Sicily. — John H. Dorr