Tuesday, March 20, 2007

March Matchups: Godfather I vs. Godfather II

It is rare - and I mean extremely rare - for a sequel to even be somewhat comparable to the first. Oh sure, there are some exceptions such as Empire Strikes Back, which smoothly continued what "began" in Star Wars. Of course, Star Wars turned out to not be the original, however, but in reality the fourth edition. Here's the real test: could you sit down and watch the Star Wars Trilogy and feel like they haven't missed a beat at any moment? I'll even say you add the three prequels; Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, and they all go well together. But The Godfather II is the only sequel that I feel is equally as great as the original. In fact, an argument can be made that the followup is better than its predecessor. Holy anchovy, Robin! Yeah, you could say that or we could do better and hook 'em up!

The Godfather vs. The Godfather II

The Godfather was released in 1972 and boasted an all-star cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton, among many, many others. The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the book by Mario Puzo. The Godfather won an Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando) and Best Writing (Coppola and Puzo), it was also nominated for eight other Academy Awards, according to imdb.com. A couple of facts about The Godfather that many people may not know is that Robert De Niro tried out for all the top roles in the movie, but was cast as Pauli. However, Coppola arranged a "trade" to get Pacino from the film, Bang the Drum Slowly, sending De Niro the other way. Also auditioning but getting rejected was Sly Stallone for Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto; Anthony Perkins for Sonny; and Mia Farrow as Kaye.

The Godfather focuses on the lives of New York mobsters and their supposed "values" and "loyalty." There are some great lines in this movie and in some ways it is the forerunner for any cop or gangster movie and/or television show that has come about since. In many circles, it is ranked as the top movie ever, but as you know, I'm not big into lists. The book is better than the movie, which is almost always the case.

The story shows the established leader, or don, of the Corleone family, Vito (Marlon Brando), to be very powerful at the beginning of the movie. Brando does a fantastic job of playing a guy who appears to be in total control of everything going on while welcoming well-wishers at his daughter's wedding. He also deals with many unsavory characters showing up and looking for "favors." Vito Corleone appears to get too comfortable in his lofty stature as the number one don. He eventually gets shot and never really regains the same type of dominant presence that he had at the beginning of the film. Sonny, one of his children, takes over briefly, before his temper does him in. So the movie then shows Michael (Al Pacino) returning from his forced exile in Italy to eventually assume the role of the undisputed leader not only of the Corleone family, but as top mafia leader, after he has the leaders of the other "five families" killed.

The ascent of Michael is brilliantly done. He is the one who comes up with the idea of him going and killing a crooked N.Y.C. Police Captain and the Corleone family's scorned enemy, Virgi Solozzo. The closing moment of the film shows Michael having his ring kissed by his father's former top lieutenants, Pete Clemenza (Richard Castellano) and Sal Tessio (Abe Vigoda).

The Godfather II was released in 1974 and once again featured some of the best and brightest in Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, and Lee Strasberg. The movie illustrated Vito Corleone's arrival to the U.S. from Sicily and his eventual involvement in organized crime. De Niro played a young Vito, with the film taking us back and forth from the early days of his rise as an unassuming hard worker to the leader of the most feared crime family in New York. Al Pacino continues in his role as Michael Corleone and decides to move the family to Las Vegas. He says the Corleone family will become completely legit, but everyone knows better. Michael continues to succeed - but not without an increased sense of paranoia - as he wipes out all his perceived enemies, real or just suspected. One of his enemies who Michael has killed is his brother Fredo. Michael also shows how powerful he is by eluding jail time while being under investigation by the Feds.

The closing of Godfather II shows Michael sitting in a chair reflecting on his life, with much of the old guard now either incarcerated or dead. He appears to be a man extremely powerful, yet so incredibly alone.

A few years ago on television Godfather I and II were mixed together to form one long movie with all events occurring chronologically. The Godfather is great except for Michael's time in Sicily which seemed interminable, however, the second edition did not have any lapses of brilliance. Still, I realize the impact of the original and have to give the slightest of edges to Godfather I.


Rob Adams said...

When it comes to this debate, leave the gun...take the cannoli. I'll always go with "The Godfather" over "Godfather II." In fact I'll pick it Maunday, Tuesday...

The bigger question is which will you take, "The Godfather III" or "Caddyshack 2".

Ho HO!!

Sean G. Kilkelly said...

Rob, very funny! I think even Caddyshack II is better than Godfather III. Which doesn't say much!