32 – The Godfather Part II (1974)

Fredo Corleone: I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb… I’m smart and I want respect!
Seen before?

F: Yes

R: Two times I think.

Thoughts?

F: The only sequel on the list and I guess it’s lucky we’ve both seen part one already otherwise we might have had to skip ahead. I’ll probably save the ‘which is better?’ question until we get to the first one but do you think this works as a standalone film, rather than part of a series?

R: Yeah I think it probably does. Without the first film you might miss quite how deeply tragic the story is (as you wouldn’t fully appreciate that Michael never wanted to be “Godfather”), but the story works well enough even without that knowledge. Arguably there’s more narrative hand-holding here than in the first, where you really are dropped in the middle of events and expected to keep up.

F: I get confused about which Mafia guy is which! We do get a glimpse of the Michael from part one during the flashback at the end. I think the problem with not seeing these films in order is you have absolutely no sympathy for Michael in this, except you do because of what happens in the first film. It’s that ‘origin’ story that I think is the best thing about both films and I do enjoy the young Vito parts of this best.

R: That’s interesting, I’d probably say the opposite. The Vito origin story is really effective at evoking early 20th century America but it’s really quite a basic tale of rags to riches. For me it works as light relief for the more intense Michael story, which is where the real juicy stuff is. Nothing in Vito’s narrative comes close to that astonishing final scene with Michael and his wife Kay, for example. But really it’s a mistake to treat them separately – the way they interlink and share motifs is what makes this such a classic.

F: Yes they are a parallel. I’ve read in a few places that this is a Shakespearean story which I do have to agree with. It’s a story of power, of betrayal, of family and it does play out like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Do you think there is a lack of light relief in this?

R: Ha! That would be like saying there’s a lack of light relief in Hamlet! I’d say the Vito plotline does enough to stop the film wallowing in its grimness too long, and provides a few moments that are actually quite funny.

F: Maybe that’s why I enjoyed those parts more! What do you think of the performances here? Have to say I was a little unsure of Diane Keaton at the beginning but she really comes into her own during that confrontation scene with Michael.

R: The script gives her less to work with than the male leads, but she does a fantastic job. A lot of the film’s credibility rests on the strength of the performances, and there isn’t really anyone who lets the side down, is there?

F: No I think everyone is at the top of their game here. I always find it surprisingly how softly spoken Al Pacino is in his early film roles (compared to the shouty version now) and it makes you really sit up and notice when Michael does occasionally raise his voice.

R: A classic example of why less is so often more.

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: Arguably the greatest sequel of all time for a reason. Yes from me.

R: You betcha.

Up next:
31 – The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Previously:
33 – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

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