Godfather, Part Two, The (1974): Coppola’s Superlative, Narratively Complex Sequel

Partially based on Puzo’s 1969 novel, The Godfather Part II is both a sequel and a prequel to The Godfather, which deservedly won the 1972 Best Picture Oscar.

The last scene of The Godfather shows Kay leaving the room, after Michael lies to her, denying any involvement in the killing of Carlo, Connie’s husband.  Standing outside, she observes how the new Don holds court.  It is significant that we see the proceedings in a long, deep focus shot from the POV of Kay, the WASPish outsider.  When the dealings begin, the door is firmly closed, and the very last shot is a close-up of Kay, wondering….

The Godfather Part II presents parallel dramas.  One narrative strand, the sequel, focuses on the 1958 story of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), the Don of the Corleone crime family, protecting his family business ventures in the aftermath of an attempt on his life.

The other narrative strand, the prequel, covers the physical and mental journey of his father, Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), from his harrowing childhood escape from Sicily in 1901 to the desperate founding of his family enterprise in New York City.

Past: 1901

Tale begins in Sicily, with a funeral of the patriarch, interrupted by shooting.

the_godfather_part_2_5_pacinoIn 1901 Vito Corleone, Sicilys family is killed after his father insults local Mafia chieftain Don Ciccio.  His widow asks Don Ciccio to spare the life of her youngest, weak and dumb-witted son, but Don Ciccio refuses, claiming that the boy would grow up to be strong and seek revenge.

He escapes to New York City and is registered as “Vito Corleone” on Ellis Island, disregarding his real name.   Coppola tracks hundreds of immigrants looking up at the Statue of Liberty, symbol of the United States, land of unlimited opportunities.

Present: 1958

In 1958. during the first communion party for his son, Michael Corleone has a series of meetings in his role as the Don of his crime family. With Nevada Senator Pat Geary, he discusses the terms of a fourth state gaming license for the Corleones, but the two only trade insults and demand payoffs.

the_godfather_part_2_4_pacinoJohnny Ola arrives to express support for Michael on behalf of Florida gangster Hyman Roth. At the same time as the Don tries to manage his depressed sister Connie and older brother Fredo, Corleone caporegime Frank Pentangeli is upset that his boss will not help him defend New York against the Rosato brothers, who work for the Jewish Roth. That night, Michael survives an assassination attempt at his home and puts consigliere Tom Hagen in charge, reassuring him of their fraternal bond.

Photo: One of the most touching scenes, when Michael says to his older brother: “You break my heart, Freddo.”




Past: 1917

the_godfather_part_2_2_pacinoIn 1917, Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) lives in a tenement with his wife Carmela and son Sonny, and works in a New York grocery store owned by the father of a close friend. A member of the Black Hand, Don Fanucci, who extorts protection payments from local businesses, forces the store owner to fire Vito and give his job to Fanucci’s nephew.

As a favor to his neighbor, Peter Clemenza, Vito hides a stash of guns, and he is invited to the burglary of a rich apartment. His share of the loot is a plush rug, which he lays in his own living room.


In Miami, Michael tells Roth that Pentangeli was behind the assassination attempt; he then tells Pentangeli that Roth ordered it and asks him to cooperate. Pentangeli meets the Rosatos; their men ambush him, saying they act on Michael’s orders, but a passing policeman interrupts them and they flee, leaving Pentangeli for dead.

Geary finds himself in Fredo’s brothel with a dead prostitute and no memory of how he got there; he accepts Tom’s offer of “friendship” to cover up the incident.

After witnessing a rebel suicide bombing in Havana, Cuba, Michael becomes convinced of the rebels’ resolve to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fredo brings Michael the money for a deal with Roth, but instead of turning it over to Roth, Michael asks who put out the hit on Pentangeli. Roth is reminded of his late friend Moe Greene–dead in a spate of Corleone killing – saying, “This is the business we’ve chosen. I didn’t ask who gave the order because it had nothing to do with business!”

the_godfather_part_2_3_de_niroAs they go to the President’s New Year’s Eve party, Michael tells Fredo that he knows Roth plans to kill him as he leaves the party and later Fredo reveals that he knew Johnny Ola, despite his previous denial. Michael’s bodyguard strangles Ola but is killed by police before he can finish off the ailing Roth. Michael embraces his brother, revealing that he knows he was behind the plot on his life but the party breaks up as word spreads that the rebels are taking over, and Fredo flees in the chaos. Back home, Tom informs Michael that Roth is recovering in Miami and that Kay’s pregnancy has miscarried.


Three years later, two more sons—Fredo and Michael—have been born to Vito. He and his partners (Clemenza and Sal Tessio) face extortion by Don Fanucci, who demands they let him “wet his beak” from their recent burglary or he will have the police ruin the Corleone family. Vito persuades his partners to pay Fanucci less than he asks and promises he will “make him an offer he can’t refuse” as a favor to them. During a neighborhood festa, Vito meets with Fanucci and earns his respect. He then follows Fanucci, surprises him in his apartment foyer, shoots and kills him, takes back his partners’ money and escapes.


the_godfather_part_2_1_pacinoIn Washington, D.C., a Senate committee investigating the Corleone family cannot find evidence to implicate Michael until a surprise witness is called. Pentangeli, ensconced in FBI witness protection and ready to avenge the attempt on his life, is prepared to confirm accusations against Michael until his Sicilian brother attends the hearing at the Don’s side; Pentangeli denies his sworn statements and the hearing dissolves in an uproar.


Vito has become a respected figure in his New York community. He confronts a landlord who doesn’t know him, offering extra money to let a widow keep her apartment. The landlord says he has already leased it and becomes angry when Vito demands that he allow her to keep her dog. Later the landlord learns that he may have offended the wrong person. Terrified, he returns to assure Vito that the widow can stay, along with her dog, at a reduced rent.


Roth’s strategy to destroy Michael is well planned. Fredo is found and persuaded to return to Nevada. In a private meeting he explains his betrayal to Michael; he was upset about being passed over to head the family, and helped Roth, thinking there would be something in it for him. He swears he was unaware of their plan to kill Michael. He tells Michael that the Senate Committee’s chief counsel is on Roth’s payroll.

Michael disowns Fredo and instructs Al Neri that “nothing is to happen to him while my mother’s alive.” Afterwards, Michael violently prevents Kay from leaving with their children; she retaliates with the revelation that her miscarriage was actually an abortion.


Vito and his young family visits Sicily for the first time. He is introduced to the elderly Don Ciccio by Don Tommasino as the man who imports their olive oil to America, and who wants his blessing. When Ciccio asks Vito who his father was, Vito says, “My father’s name was Antonio Andolini, and this is for you!” He then plunges a knife into the old man’s stomach and carves it open. As they flee, Tommasino is shot and injured.

Carmela Corleone dies. At the funeral, a reformed Connie implores Michael to forgive Fredo. Michael relents and embraces Fredo, but stares intently at Al Neri.

Roth is refused political asylum in Israel, despite his wish to offer one million dollars to settle down there.

Over Tom’s dissent, Michael plans his revenge. Tom visits Pentangeli and offers to spare his family, reminding him that failed plotters against the Roman Emperor took their own lives.

Connie helps Kay visit her children, but rushes her to leave befoore Michael arrives.  When Michael arrives, he closes the door on any forgiveness by shutting Kay out.

As he arrives in Miami to be taken into custody, Hyman Roth is shot in the stomach and killed by Rocco Lampone, who is immediately shot dead by FBI agents. Frank Pentangeli is discovered dead in his bathtub with slit wrists. Al shoots Fredo while they are fishing on Lake Tahoe.

Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, the Corleone family gathers to surprise Vito for his fiftieth birthday. Sonny introduces Carlo Rizzi to Connie. Tessio comes in with the cake, and they discuss the attack on Pearl Harbor. Michael announces he has left college to enlist in the Marines, leaving Sonny furious, Tom incredulous, and Fredo supportive.

Vito is heard at the door and all but Michael leave the room to greet him.

In the last shot of the movie, the isolated Michael sits alone by the lake at the family compound.

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 dollars.

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 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.

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.

As 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


Oscar Awards:




Supporting Actor

Art Direction


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.