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The Godfather - Part II

By From the June/July 1975 issue

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Do you think you have a lot of willpower? Are you willing to be considered a nonconformist? Are you willing to be considered a freak even? You are? Then don't see The Godfather-Part II.

When I finally went to see GF-II, as its fans call it, two teenage girls in front of me were mixing screwdrivers while the show went on. They kept it up through the whole three and a half hours, and I think they really got something out of the time. I wasn't as lucky.

The movie is the biggest fraud since Homestake Oil Drilling, and a hell of a lot more money and people are involved. You would do better to contemplate murder for three and a half hours than to see GF-II. It is simple-minded, boring, pretentious, and dull. So that you won't feel too bad about missing it, here is one of its more memorable moments:

The Godfather, a vicious, brooding, sulking slimeball of a man, is told by his lovely Nordic wife ("Kay") that she had an abortion rather than have his child. "It was an abortion," she says. "Just like our marriage is an abortion, an evil, unholy, dirty thing." GF-II was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium. What could the "Other Medium" have been? Gruel?

Al Pacino, who plays GF, spends most of the movie staring at the ground with a burning Camel cigarette in his hand. Occasionally he whispers and sometimes he shouts. Sometimes he even speaks Italian. Once (when he is told about the abortion), his lower lip quivers. He is playing the role as if he were on Chlorpromazine. When he is threatening someone he says, "If you do not do this, I will be very...disappointed." Pacino was nominated for Best Actor.

Now here's a part for those of you who like subtlety. At almost all times when the GF appears, he is in a darkened room. He doesn't like the light, see, and all that darkness is supposed to show how he operates sort of out of the power of darkness and fear. There are about two hours of darkness in the film so the message gets across.

Another clever, subtle moment: the GF is sitting on the sundeck of a pre-Castro Havana hotel (acutely uncomfortable in the sun) with a number of other hoods. They are talking with a leading gambling hood named Hyman Roth (obviously patterned after Meyer Lansky) about dividing up the gambling casinos in Cuba. Just then, because it is Roth's birthday, a waiter comes out with a big birthday cake with a map of Cuba on it. Roth slices up the cake, thus slicing up the map of Cuba, and gives pieces of it to the racketeers. That's director Francis Ford Coppola's understated way of telling us how the gringos were carving up Cuba and exploiting it before Castro.

In case all this subtlety gets to be too much and the audience gets confused or loses interest, Coppola has a brilliant way of keeping our curiosity alive. For about the first two hours of the film, Coppola has the GF mumble whenever he is talking to his henchmen, so that we can't hear what he is saying to them. Then, when people start getting strangled and cut up, we don't know how come. People all over the theatre are nudging their neighbors and asking, "What's going on?" -- everyone curious about whether any of those mumbles has anything to do with the killings.

The Godfather-Part II cuts back and forth between the story of the new Godfather, Al Pacino, and the stuff he is doing in 1958, and that of the original, GF-II's father, who was brought lovingly to life by Marlon Brando in the original Godfather. Only Brando wouldn't play in the sequel, so we get to see the young original GF being traumatized in his native Sicily, fleeing to America, and becoming a killer and a racketeer, circa 1918.

Never in the whole history of Hollywood movies which glorify killing and crime have murder and crime been so glorified as when we see the original GF start his climb to gangster top dog. If you don't see it, it is hard to believe that a camera could linger so lovingly on one man putting a pistol in another's mouth and pulling the trigger.

The film would be much less of a loss if it actually glorified crime. After all, there can be a certain bravery involved in crime, a daring and ambition which propel men from rags to riches. But unfortunately, the loving shots of murder are the high points of the film. Most of GF-II shows already rich and powerful people killing and torturing other people more or less just for the hell of it.

It is in this respect that GF-II is fundamentally different from the original Godfather. The latter, a lengthy soap opera of crime, at least gave some credit for toughness and initiative. It showed murderous people who were killing for motives we could understand, even if we did not share them. It showed people with some verve and personality that we could admire. But GF-II shows us people who are essentially no more than subhuman automatons, who kill because it is part of their nature. It shows us a society beyond hope of redemption -- thoroughly rotten and deserving of destruction. Indeed the movie is a virtual paradigm of nihilism -- "conditions in a social organization so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility." The fundamental nature of men and women in GF-II is so murky and evil that no amelioration of the human condition is possible.

Even that, however, could have been presented interestingly, and it wasn't. For the Academy Award for the Emperor's New Clothes -- Francis Ford Coppola.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.