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The Godfather (1972) had been such a box-office and critical sensation, that Paramount Studios wanted to make a follow-up quickly. Francis Ford Coppola, who had directed the first film, was not interested because the studio had nearly fired him from the first production several times. He suggested Martin Scorsese but Paramount refused. Coppola finally gave in when the studio agreed to his demands. Those demands were: "[T]hat the sequel be interconnected with the first film with the intention of later showing them together; that he be allowed to direct his own script of The Conversation (1974); that he be allowed to direct a production for the San Francisco Opera; and that he be allowed to write the screenplay for The Great Gatsby (1974) - all prior to production of the sequel for a Christmas 1974 release." Coppola later remembered, "I looked at the calendar and realized that I had three months to write a two-hundred-page screenplay for Godfather II (1974), and then go right into pre-production."
Coppola's idea for the sequel would be to "juxtapose the ascension of the family under Vito Corleone with the decline of the family under his son Michael...I had always wanted to write a screenplay that told the story of a father and a son at the same age. They were both in their thirties and I would integrate the two stories...In order not to merely make Godfather I over again, I gave Godfather II this double structure by extending the story in both the past and in the present."
Gene Phillips wrote in his book Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola, "Many of the actors from The Godfather reprised their roles in Godfather II: Al Pacino, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, and Robert Duvall all returned. As for new members of the cast, Coppola was at pains to find the right actor to play Vito Corleone as a young man. He tested Robert De Niro. 'I thought De Niro had a sort of stately bearing, as if he really was the young Vito who would grow into that older man who was Marlon Brando in Godfather I. He had grace.' As a matter of fact, De Niro had spent some time in his apprenticeship days as a young actor studying Brando's acting style and was able to recreate in Godfather II Brando's measured gestures and calm, convincing voice." Ironically, De Niro had auditioned unsuccessfully for a role in the first film, but when Coppola saw his performance in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973) he brought him back to audition again. Because his dialogue in the film would be in Sicilian, which he did not speak or understand, De Niro prepared for his role by living in Sicily. His Sicilian was convincing enough to win De Niro a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for his performance. Interestingly, De Niro and Brando are the only two actors to date who have won an Academy Award for portraying the same character.
Casting the rest of the film was not so smooth. Marlon Brando was supposed to make a cameo appearance in the film during the scene in which the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor on his birthday, December 7th. Angered by the way he was treated by Paramount during the first film, Brando simply neglected to show up that day for filming and the lines were hastily rewritten. James Caan only appeared in flashback towards the end of the film, but he asked for (and got) the same salary he made for the entire filming of The Godfather three years before. Richard Castellano, who had been the highest paid actor in the first film, was not so lucky. He wanted a bigger salary and the freedom to have his lines written by a writer of his own choosing. Coppola refused and instead rewrote Castellano's character Clemenza as Frankie Pentangeli, played by Michael V. Gazzo, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Acting legend Lee Strasberg was talked out of retirement by Coppola's father Carmine, and when Strasberg's health failed, the character of Hyman Roth was rewritten to accommodate his illness. Roth was reportedly based upon real-life gangster Meyer Lansky, who actually phoned Strasberg after the film's release to congratulate him on his performance. The role of Merle Johnson went to former teen idol Troy Donahue, who had known Coppola when the two attended military school. Donahue's real name was Merle Johnson. Danny Aiello, appearing in his third film, improvised the line "Michael Corleone says hello" while committing a murder. After stopping the scene, Coppola asked Aiello what he had said in the first take and liked the line so much, he told Aiello to say it again.
Shooting for The Godfather Part II began on October 23, 1973 at Lake Tahoe, where the Fleur de Lac estate served as location for the Corleone's compound. Interiors were filmed at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Paramount had been bought by the conglomerate Gulf and Western in 1966, and part of its holdings included extensive property in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where the Cuba sequences of the film were shot. While filming in Santo Domingo, Al Pacino developed pneumonia. During his month-long convalescence, the company moved operations to New York City where shooting began on the young Vito Corleone's flashbacks, which were filmed on East Sixth Street in Lower Manhattan, between Avenues A and B. Later filming would move to Miami, Las Vegas, New York City, Sicily and Italy.
When The Godfather Part II was released in December 1974, critics were mixed in their reception. Some, like Vincent Canby found it "a Frankenstein monster stitched together from leftover parts. It talks. It moves in fits and starts but it has no mind of its own. Occasionally it repeats a point made in The Godfather (organized crime is just another kind of American business, say) but its insights are fairly lame at this point." Roger Ebert agreed that the narrative structure was weak, but noted that Coppola "reveals himself as a master of mood, atmosphere, and period. And his exposition is inventive and subtle." Years later the film would be edited together in chronological order as The Godfather Saga and shown on television.
Like its predecessor, The Godfather Part II was a box-office hit and won several Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Robert De Niro, Best Director for Francis Ford Coppola, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score for Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Coppola and Mario Puzo, author of the original novel and co-author of the first Godfather screenplay.
Producer/Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo (based on the novel The Godfather)
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Production Design: Dean Tavoularis
Art Direction: Angelo P. Graham
Music: Nino Rota
Costume Design: Theadora Van Runkle
Film Editing: Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, Peter Zinner
Cast: Al Pacino (Don Michael Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay Corleone), Robert De Niro (Vito Corleone), John Cazale (Fredo Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth), Michael V. Gazzo (Frankie Pentangeli), G.D. Spradlin (Senator Pat Geary), Bruno Kirby (Peter), James Caan (Sonny Corleone), Troy Donahue (Merle Johnson), Dominic Chianese (Johnny Ola), Joe Spinell (Willie Cicci), Abe Vigoda (Salvatore "Sally" Tessio), Leopoldo Trieste (Signor Roberto), Harry Dean Stanton (FBI agent), Fay Spain (Mrs. Marcia Roth).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola by Gene D. Phillips
The Internet Movie Database