The Godfather Part II presents two parallel storylines. One involves Mafia chief Michael Corleone following the events of the first film from 1958 to 1959; the other is a series of flashbacks following his father, Vito Corleone, from his childhood in Sicily (1901) to his founding of the Corleone crime family in New York City while still a young man (1917–1925).
- The film opens in 1901, in the town of Corleone in Sicily, at the funeral procession for young Vito’s father, Antonio Andolini, who had been ordered killed by the local Mafia chieftain, Don Ciccio. During the procession, Vito’s older brother Paolo is also murdered because he swore revenge on the Don. Vito’s mother goes to Ciccio to beg him to let young Vito live. When he refuses, she holds a knife to his throat, sacrificing herself to allow Vito to escape, and Ciccio’s gunmen shoot her. They scour the town for Vito, warning the sleeping townsfolk that they will regret harboring the boy. With the aid of a few of the townspeople, Vito finds his way by ship to New York. Arriving at Ellis Island, an immigration agent, mishearing Vito’s hometown of Corleone as his surname, registers him as “Vito Corleone”. He is then ordered to stay on the island for three months due to smallpox.
In 1958, Michael Corleone, Godfather of the Corleone Family, deals with various business and family problems at his Lake Tahoe, Nevada compound during an elaborate party celebrating his son’s First Communion. He meets with Nevada Senator Pat Geary, who despises the Corleones, but has shown up with his wife to accept a large endowment to the state university. Geary demands a grossly exaggerated price for a new gaming license and a monthly payment of 5% of the gross profits from all of the Corleone Family’s Nevada gaming interests, all while insulting the Corleones and Italians in general. Michael defends his family while keeping his usual calm demeanor, and tells Geary that his offer is for Geary to give him the gaming license for free.
Michael also deals with his sister Connie, who, although recently divorced, is planning to marry a man with no obvious means of support, and of whom Michael disapproves. He also talks with Johnny Ola, the right hand man of Jewish gangster Hyman Roth, who is supporting Michael’s move into the gambling industry. Finally, Michael meets with Frank Pentangeli, who took over Corleone caporegime Pete Clemenza’s territory after Clemenza’s death (which is implied to have been under non-natural circumstances), and now has problems with the Rosato Brothers, who are backed by Roth and attempting to intrude on Pentangeli’s territory. Michael refuses to allow Pentangeli to kill the Rosatos, in order to maintain a smooth business relationship with Roth. Pentangeli leaves abruptly, after telling Michael “your father did business with Hyman Roth, your father respected Hyman Roth, but your father never trusted Hyman Roth or his Sicilian messenger boy Johnny Ola.”
Later that night, an assassination attempt is made on Michael, which he survives when his wife Kay notices that the bedroom window drapes are inexplicably open. Afterward, Michael tells Tom Hagen that the hit was made with the help of someone close, and that the gunmen, whoever they were, are probably already dead. Michael then insists that he must leave and entrusts Hagen to protect his family. The Corleone guards then search the compound, and as Michael suspected, the gunmen are found dead.
- In 1917, Vito Corleone, now married with one son, works in a New York grocery store with his close friend Genco Abbandando. The neighborhood is controlled by a blackhander, Don Fanucci, who extorts protection payments from local businesses. One night, Vito’s neighbor Clemenza asks him to hide a stash of guns for him, and later, to repay the favor, takes him to a fancy apartment where they commit their first crime together, stealing an expensive rug.
Michael’s brother Fredo (John Cazale) receives a phone call from Johnny Ola in the middle of the night while sleeping. The conversation that takes place makes it clear that Fredo gave Roth’s men entry into the compound and then shot them, though Fredo was apparently unaware they would try to kill Michael.
Michael meets with Hyman Roth in his home near Miami and tells him that he believes Frank Pentangeli was responsible for the assassination attempt and that Pentangeli will pay for it. Traveling to his family’s former home in Brooklyn (which is now owned by Pentangeli), Michael lets Pentangeli know that Roth was actually behind it and that Michael has a plan to deal with Roth, but needs Frankie to cooperate with the Rosato Brothers in order to put Roth off guard. When Pentangeli goes to meet with the Rosatos, Rosatos men garrote him, but the attempted murder is accidentally interrupted by a policeman. It is later revealed that Roth orchestrated the whole thing.
In Nevada,Tom Hagen is called to a brothel run by Fredo, where a dazed Geary is implicated in the death of a prostitute. Tom offers to take care of the problem in return for “friendship” between the Senator and the Corleone Family. It is implied that the entire event was staged by the Corleone Family in order to gain leverage with Geary and force his cooperation.
Meanwhile, Michael meets Roth in Havana, Cuba at the time when dictator Fulgencio Batista is soliciting American investment, and guerrillas are trying to bring down the government.
Fredo, carrying the promised money, arrives in Havana and meets Michael. Michael confides to his brother that it was Roth who tried to kill him, and that he plans to try again. Michael assures Fredo that he has already made his move, and that “Hyman Roth will never see the New Year.”
Instead of turning over the money, Michael asks Roth who gave the order to have Frank Pentangeli killed. Roth avoids the question, instead speaking angrily of the murder of his old friend and ally Moe Greene, which Michael had orchestrated (as depicted at the end of the first film), saying, “I didn’t ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!”.
Michael asks Fredo to show Geary and other important American officials and businessmen a good time, during which Fredo pretends to not know Johnny Ola. Later in the evening, however, Fredo drunkenly comments that he learned about the place from Johnny Ola, contradicting what he told Michael twice earlier, that he didn’t know Roth or Ola. Michael now realizes that the traitor in the Corleone Family is his own brother, and dispatches his bodyguard back to their hotel to kill Roth. There, Johnny Ola is strangled, but Roth, whose health is failing, is taken to a hospital before he can be assassinated. Michael’s bodyguard follows, but is shot by police while trying to smother Roth with a pillow.
At Batista’s New Year’s Eve party, at the stroke of midnight, Michael grasps Fredo tightly by the head and gives him the Kiss of Death, telling him “I know it was you Fredo; you broke my heart.” Batista announces he is stepping down due to unexpected gains by the rebels, and the guests flee as the guerrillas pour into the city. Michael appeals to his brother to join him in leaving the country, but Fredo runs away, frightened.
Michael returns to Las Vegas, where Hagen tells him that Roth escaped Cuba after suffering a stroke and is recovering in Miami. Hagen also informs Michael that Kay had a miscarriage while he was away.
- In New York, in 1921, Don Fanucci is now aware of the partnership between Vito, Clemenza and Sal Tessio, and demands that they “wet his beak.” Clemenza and Tessio agree to pay, but Vito is reluctant and asks his friends to leave everything in his hands to convince Fanucci to accept less money, telling his friends “I make him an offer he don’t refuse.” Vito manages to get Fanucci to take only one sixth of what he had demanded. Immediately afterwards, during a neighborhood festa, Vito kills Fanucci and escapes via the rooftops of the tenement buildings.
Michael returns to his compound in Lake Tahoe, where he wanders the house in silent contemplation. In Washington, D.C., a Senate committee, of which Geary is a member, is conducting an investigation into the Corleone Family. They question disaffected “soldier” Willi Cicci, but he cannot implicate Michael because he never received any direct orders from him.
- With Fanucci now gone, Vito earns the respect of the neighborhood and begins to intercede in local disputes, operating out of the storefront of his Genco Olive Oil Company, named after his good friend Genco Abbandando.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacin) appears before the United States Senate committee, with his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) in the background.When Michael appears before the committee, Geary makes a big show of supporting Italian-Americans and then excuses himself from the proceedings. Michael makes a statement challenging the committee to produce a witness to corroborate the charges against him. The hearing ends with the Chairman promising a witness who will do exactly that. Pentangeli has been kept at an army base all this time for his safety. He is upset when he learns that Michael did not assert the Fifth Amendment and Pentangeli will now have to appear at the hearing.
Tom Hagen and Michael discuss the problem. They have found out that Frank Pentangeli is the witness who will testify against him, and observe that Roth’s strategy to destroy Michael is well planned. Michael’s brother Fredo has been found and persuaded to return to Nevada, and in a private meeting he explains to Michael his betrayal: he is upset about being passed over to head the Family in favor of Michael, and wants to be treated with respect. He helped Roth, thinking there would be something in it for him, but he swears he didn’t know they wanted to kill Michael. He also tells Michael that the Senate Committee’s chief counsel is on Roth’s payroll. Michael then disowns Fredo and privately instructs Al Neri that nothing is to happen to Fredo while their mother is still alive; the understanding is that Fredo will be killed after her death.
Frank Pentangeli has made a deal with the FBI to testify against Michael, believing he was the one who organized the attempt on his life. At the hearing in which Pentangeli is to testify, Michael arrives accompanied by Pentangeli’s brother Vincenzo, brought in from Sicily. Upon seeing his brother, Frank Pentangeli recants his earlier statements, saying that he runs his own family, and claims that the Corleone family is innocent of any wrongdoing, thereby derailing the government’s case.
At a hotel room afterwards, Kay tries to leave Michael and take their children with her. Michael at first tries to mollify her, but, when she coldly reveals to him that her recent “miscarriage” was actually an abortion to avoid bringing another son into Michael’s criminal family, Michael explodes in anger and punches her in the face.
- In 1925, Vito visits Sicily for the first time since leaving for America. He is introduced to the elderly Don Ciccio by Don Tommasino (who initially helped Vito escape to America) 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 stabs the old man to death. In the ensuing gun battle, Tommasino is shot in the legs, confining him to a wheelchair.
Carmella Corleone, Vito’s widow and the mother of his children, dies and the whole Corleone family reunites at the funeral. Michael is still shunning Fredo, who is miserable and depressed, but relents when Connie implores him to forgive his brother. Michael and Fredo embrace, but at the same time Michael signals to Neri that Fredo’s protection from harm, in effect while their mother lived, is now over.
Michael, Hagen, Neri, and Rocco Lampone discuss their final dealings with Roth, who has been unsuccessfully seeking asylum from various countries, and was even refused entry to Israel as a returning Jew. Michael rejects Hagen’s advice that the Corleone Family’s position is secure, and killing Roth and the Rosato brothers for revenge is an unnecessary risk. Later, Hagen pays a visit to Frank Pentangeli at the military base. Hagen talks about the honor of the Roman Empire, and Frank hints that if he were to commit suicide, he would like his family spared and taken care of. They agree on this and shake hands.
With the help of Connie, Kay visits her children, but cannot bear to leave them and stays too long. When Michael arrives, he closes the door in her face.
The film reaches its climax in a montage of assassinations and death:
- As he arrives in Miami to be taken into custody, Hyman Roth is killed by Rocco Lampone disguised as a journalist. Lampone is immediately shot dead in turn, by FBI agents.
- Frank Pentangeli is found dead in his bathtub, having followed Hagen’s instructions and committed suicide, slashing his wrists while taking a bath.
- Finally, Fredo is murdered by Al Neri while they are fishing on Lake Tahoe, as Fredo is saying a Hail Mary to help catch a fish.
The penultimate scene takes place as a flashback to December 1941 as the Corleone family is preparing a surprise birthday party for Vito. Sonny introduces Carlo Rizzi, Connie’s future husband, to his family. Sal Tessio comes in with the cake, and they all talk about the recent attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Michael shocks everybody by announcing that he has dropped out of college and enlisted in the United States Marines. Sonny angrily ridicules Michael’s choice, while Tom Hagen mentions how his father has great expectations for Michael and has pulled a lot of strings to get him a draft deferment. Ironically, Fredo is the only one who supports his brother’s decision. When Vito arrives (offscreen), all but Michael leave to greet him.
After a final flashback depicting Vito and a young Michael leaving Corleone by train, the film ends with Michael sitting outside the Lake Tahoe compound, alone in contemplative silence.
I was surprised with how much I actually liked The Godfather, so going into the second part of the trilogy, I had a slightly high expectations, but at the same time I didn’t want to set myself up for a flop.
The film follows two paths, a bit of a prologue/prequel that shows how Vito Corleone became the Godfather. Robert DeNiro shines as young Corleone. One has to wonder how much he studied Marlon Brando’s acting and mannerisms in order to play a younger version of him.
The other part of the film takes us through the current regime and their problems staying together under Michael’s leadership.
My main issue with this film is that it is 3 1/2 hours long. THat’s a personal issue of mine since I am not a fan of long movies, especially the ones that just seem to have filler. Having said that, the time pretty much flew by on this one, even faster than in the first film.
The real issue here is that with all the jumping around between the past and present takes its toll on the brain, especially when you’re trying to keep up with the story. Just as it seemed to be going somewhere, there was a jump to or from one time to another. Not to mention the total randomosity of the Senate hearing. I may have missed something somewhere, but that seemed to come out of nowhere.
The acting is what you come to expect from a film that has gone down in history and become a classic of cinema. These actors had talent and didn’t have to hide behind special effects and whatnot. This is what makes classic films so good, actors that can actually act. What a concept, right?
Often referred to as the greatest sequel ever, The Godfather, part II lives up to the hype. Granted, it does fall slightly below its predecessor, but that is to be expected, and its a slight drop off, mainly due to the loss of Marlon Brando. With an intriguing, intertwining way of telling the story in the present and giving us the history of Don Vito Corleone, this film delivers. It is definitely worth the viewing, if only it wasn’t so long!
4 1/2 out of 5 stars