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December 13, 1974 REVIEW | '
THE GODFATHER, PART II' '
Godfather, Part II' Is Hard to Define By VINCENT CANBY
The only remarkable thing about Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather, Part II" is the insistent manner in which it recalls how much better his original film was. Among other things, one remembers "The Godfather's" tremendous narrative drive and the dominating presence of Marlon Brando in the title role, which, though not large, unified the film and transformed a super-gangster movie into a unique family chronicle.
"Part II," also written by Mr. Coppola and Mario Puzo, is not a sequel in any engaging way. It's not really much of anything that can be easily defined.
It's a second movie made largely out of the bits and pieces of Mr. Puzo's novel that didn't fit into the first. It's a Frankenstein's 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.
"The Godfather, Part II," which opened yesterday at five theaters, is not very far along before one realizes that it hasn't anything more to say. Everything of any interest was thoroughly covered in the original film, but like many people who have nothing to say, "Part II" won't shut up.
Not the least of its problems is its fractured form. "Part II" moves continually back and forth in time between two distinct narratives. It's the story of the young Vito Corleone (who grew up to be played by Marlon Brando in the first movie) seen first around the turn of the century in Sicily and then in 1917 in New York, where he's played by Robert De Niro, and it's the story of Vito's son, Michael, played again by Al Pacino, the new Mafia don who sets out to control Las Vegas in the late nineteen-fifties.
One story doesn't necessarily illuminate the other. It's just additional data, like footnotes. I can't readily imagine what Mr. Coppola and Mr. Puzo were trying to do, except to turn their first film into a long parenthesis that would fit between the halves of the new movie.
Even if "Part II" were a lot more cohesive, revealing and exciting than it is, it probably would have run the risk of appearing to be the self-parody it now seems.
Looking very expensive but spiritually desperate, "Part II" has the air of a very long, very elaborate revue sketch. Nothing is sacred. The photography by Gordon Willis, so effective originally, is now comically fancy--the exteriors are too bright and glowy while the interiors are so dark you wonder if these Mafia chiefs can't afford to buy bigger light bulbs.
Nino Rota's old score keeps thumping away like a heavenly juke box. The performers, especially those repeating their original roles, seem locked into waxily rigid attitudes. Mr. Pacino, so fine the first time out, goes through the film looking glum, sighing wearily as he orders the execution of an old associate or a brother, winding up very lonely and powerful, which is just about the way he wound up before. Mr. De Niro, one of our best young actors, is interesting as the young Vito until, toward the end of his section of the film, he starts giving a nightclub imitation of Mr. Brando's elderly Vito.
There are a couple of notable exceptions; Lee Strasberg, the head of the Actors Studio, makes an extraordinarily effective screen debut as Hyman Roth, the powerful Jewish mobster (reportedly modeled on Meyer Lansky) with whom Michael attempts to take over the Havana rackets under the Battista regime. Mr. Strasberg's Roth is a fascinating mixture of lust, ruthlessness and chicken soup. Michael V. Gazzo, the playwright ("A Hatful of Rain"), is also superb as a Corleone captain who crosses the Family. Another more or less nonpro, G. D. Spradlin (a former politician, according to publicity sources) is absolutely right as a crooked, very WASPish United States Senator from Nevada.
The plot defies any rational synopsis, but it allows Mr. Coppola, in his role as director, to rework lots of scenes that were done far better the first time: family reunions, shoot-outs, ambushes and occasional dumb exchanges between Don Michael Corleone and his square, long-suffering wife, Kay (Diane Keaton). "Oh, Michael," says the slow-to-take-offense Kay when Michael is about to sew up the Vegas rackets, "seven years ago you told me you'd be legitimate in five years."
THE GODFATHER, PART II With Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G. D. Spradlin, Richard Bright and Gaston Moschin. Directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mr. Coppola and Mario Puzo, based on Mr. Puzo's novel, "The Godfather"; co-produced by Gary Frederickson and Fred Roos; director of photography, Gordon Willis; music, Nino Rota; editors, Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, Richard Marks; distributed by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 200 minutes. At Loew's State 1 and 2.