The Best Picture Winners: The Godfather Part II (1974)

| December 10, 2017

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

Perhaps in the interest of striking while the iron was hot, just seven days after the 45th Annual Academy Awards – which saw The Godfather take home the top prize – Paramount Pictures officially gave the green light to a sequel.  This was a daunting task.  Not only was it a tough act to follow but Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo had to draw much of their new story from material not included in the book – the Michael half, to be exact.

The Godfather Part II is something of an enigma.  It was the first sequel to ever win Best Picture, which is interesting to note because most of these award winners have not been good at rendering viable sequels whether it be Scarlett, The Miniver Story, They Call Me MISTER Tibbs, The Last Days of Patton, The French Connection II, The Evening Star, Hannibal or most of the Rocky sequels.  There are some acts that you just can’t follow.

Good sequels expand on their predecessor and this film does a good job.  It expands the saga of the Corleone Family from the smaller confines of their New York mobster world to a larger expanse as Michael, now the Godfather himself, tries to keep his empire together while rooting out the traitor in his own family.  Parallel to that, the story rewinds the clock to see how young Vito (Robert de Niro, the year’s Best Supporting Actor winner) comes to America as a small boy and begins to slowly build his mafia empire.

The result, for most movie fans, is lauded as the greatest sequel ever made.  I get their passion, especially in the structure of having the stories run parallel so that we see the journey of how Vito ultimately damns the destiny of his youngest son.  It is a good structure, but it is not one that I am very fond of; the story moves back and forth and often cuts back to Vito just as Michael’s story is gaining a head of steam thereby killing the film’s forward momentum.

One of the reasons that I am so passionate about the original Godfather was that it was always, first and foremost, about the family bond.  It was always about how the Corleone family operated as a unit and how their differing personalities often got in the way of doing the right thing.  We liked that family even though they were criminals.  Part II on the other hand is kind of all over the place.  I’ve seen the film several times and, truth be told, I always get lost in the sheer volume of new characters, most of which I don’t really care about.

And then there’s Fredo.  The story of the corruption of Michael’s soul is one thing, but having seen how the family unit works in the first film, I am dismayed by the ending here.  I know that I am alone in this opinion, but the murder of Fredo never rings true to me.  I see the deadening of Michael’s soul and I realize that Fredo’s blunder posed a danger to the safety of Michael’s family – but for me, it ultimately feels like a hasty decision.

That doesn’t mean that I hate this movie, it just means that it comes down to what I am passionate about.  The first film is my favorite movie, so any sequel, for me, can only be a step down.  Yet, it’s a slight step down.  This is still a very good movie, but it has the misfortune to follow a movie that I have eternally in my heart.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.