Godfather, Part II (1974): Best American Film Since Welles’ Citizen Kane

the_godfather_part_2_posterCoppola’s The Godfather, Part II is considered by many critics to be the best American film made since Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, in 1941.

Origins:

The phenomenal success of the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde revived interest in the crime‑gangster‑film. More crime films were nominated in the 1970s than in any other decade, and three won Best Picture: the action‑thriller The French Connection, and the two Francis Ford Coppola crime sagas, The Godfather in 1972, and The Godfather, Part II, in 1974.

Of the two, The Godfather, Part II was more critically acclaimed, but the first one was more popular, grossing over $80 million.

Less honored by the Academy than its sequel, The Godfather won a second Best Actor for Marlon Brando, as Mafia boss Don Vito Corleone, and screenplay, written by Coppola and Mario Puzo, upon whose best‑seller it was based.

Its major competitor in 1972 was Bob Fosse’s musical Cabaret, which captured the largest number of awards, eight, including Best Director.  Breaking new grounds in both thematic and artistic ways, the two Godfather sagas are still the only crime‑gangster movies to have won Best Picture.

the_godfather_part_2_6_de_niroThe Godfather, Part II, which won the largest, six, number of awards in 1974, is the only sequel to have received the Best Picture Oscar.

Despite anxious anticipation and public pressures, it took sixteen years for Coppola to make The Godfather, Part III (1990), which garnered Best Picture and other nominations, but is the weakest panel in the trilogy.

Again teamed with Puzo, Coppola extended his history‑making Mafioso saga into an absorbing tale of an older and disillusioned Michael (Al Pacino), now attempting to remove himself from the world of crime, and how fate and circumstances draw him back in, with his trigger‑happy nephew (Andy Garcia) and the rest of the family in tow.  Longish (191 minutes), but masterfully told, the film had one nearly fatal flaw: the casting of Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, in the pivotal role of Michael’s daughter and Garcia’s love interest.

In the same year, Martin Scorsese made one of his best films, GoodFellas, which swept all the critics awards but lost the Oscar to Dances With Wolves.  Joe Pesci won a supporting Oscar for playing that year’s “worst human being” in the movies, Tommy DeVito, a Mafia killer who gleefully enjoys his pasta while a dying victim is locked in his car trunk.  As written by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, based on the latter’s book, Wiseguy, GoodFellas provides a fascinating look at the allure–and dark reality–of “routine” life in a Brooklyn Mafia family, based on experiences of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who wound up in the Federal witness protection program.  The violence was almost necessarily harsh–and inevitably divisive–but GoodFellas was brilliantly realized by Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.  Pesci and Oscar‑nominated Lorraine Bracco stood out in an exceptional cast that also included Robert De Niro.

the_godfather_part_2_4_pacinoAs accomplished as they were, The Godfather, Part III and GoodFellas didn’t break new grounds thematically or artistically.  And neither did the 1995 Casino, a crime picture that reunited director Scorsese with De Niro, his favorite, quintessential actor, and co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi.

Oscar Nominations:  11

Picture, produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Gray Frederickson, and Fred Roos

Director: Coppola

Screenplay (Adapted): Coppola and Mario Puzo

Actor: Al Pacino

Supporting Actor: Michael V. Gazzo

Supporting Actor: Lee Strasberg

Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro

Supporting Actress: Talia Shire

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Dean Tavoularis and Angelo Graham; George R. Nelson

Costume Design: Theadora Van Runkle

Original Dramatic Score: Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola

 the_godfather_part_2_2_pacinoOscar Awards:

Picture

Director

Screenplay

Supporting Actor

Art Direction

Score

OSCAR CONTEXT

In 1974, two movies were nominated for 11 Oscars: The Godfather, Part II and Polanski’s Depression-era, well-crafted noir “Chinatown.”  While Coppola’s second installment won the largest (6) number of awards, “Chinatown” received only one, for Original Screenplay.

The three other nominees were Coppola (again) for “The Conversation” with 3 nominations; Bob Fosse’s biopicture “Lenny” with 6 nods but no wins; and the disaster-adventure flick, “The Towering Inferno,” which won 3 technical awards out of its 7 nominations.

CAST

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone.

Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen

Diane Keaton as Kay Adams-Corleone

Robert De Niro as Young Vito Corleone

John Cazale as Fredo Corleone

Talia Shire as Connie Corleone

Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth

Michael V. Gazzo as Frank Pentangeli

Morgana King as Carmela Corleone

G. D. Spradlin as Senator Pat Geary

Richard Bright as Al Neri

Marianna Hill as Deanna Corleone

Gastone Moschin as Don Fanucci

Troy Donahue as Merle Johnson

Dominic Chianese as Johnny Ola

Amerigo Tot as Michael’s bodyguard

Joe Spinell as Willi Cicci

Bruno Kirby as Young Peter Clemenza

Frank Sivero as Young Genco Abbandando

Maria Carta as the mother of Vito Corleone

Francesca De Sapio as Young Carmela Corleone

Giuseppe Sillato as Don Francesco Ciccio

Roman Coppola as Young Santino Corleone

John Megna as Young Hyman Roth

Julian Voloshin as Sam Roth

Larry Guardino as Vito’s uncle

Danny Aiello as Tony Rosato

John Aprea as Young Salvatore Tessio

Leopoldo Trieste as Signor Roberto

Salvatore Po as Vincenzo Pentangeli

Harry Dean Stanton as FBI agent

James Caan as Sonny Corleone

Abe Vigoda as Salvatore Tessio

Gianni Russo as Carlo Rizzi