A sprawling three-hour-and-twenty-minute American epic crime film, what can you say about Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part II” that hasn’t already been said? Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and winning six, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Robert De Niro, “The Godfather Part II” was met with tremendous critical acclaim with many proclaiming it had outdone its predecessor. Award-wise, it had. The original had also bagged eleven nominations, but won only three.
This weekend, as we just mentioned in our piece about Coppola’s “The Conversation,” marked the 73rd birthday of the famed director, and yesterday on April 8th, the anniversary of “The Godfather Part II” winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. Curiously enough, while many consider 'Part II' superior, box-office-wise the 3 hour 20 minute running time was audience prohibitive, and the film only grossed $47 million domestically, as opposed to the $133 million of the original according to Box-office Mojo (though note other sites seem to dispute these figures and put them a little higher, and curiously enough BOM doesn't have the worldwide gross numbers).
With such a long, distinguished and sometimes meandering career, one can kind of understand how hubris may have got the best of Coppola in the 1980s after his stunning run in the 1970s, which included two Palme d'Or wins, twelve Oscar nominations (for "The Godfather," "The Godfather Part II," “The Conversation,” "Apocalypse Now," "Patton,” which he wrote, and “American Graffiti” which he co-produced) resulting in five wins, plus dozens of accolades for those films.
Coppola has had his share of major ups and downs, but during “The Godfather Part II” era, he was arguably at the peak of his powers. In 1993 the drama was added to the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally significant," and in 1997, the AFI ranked the picture #32 on their list of the 100 greatest films in American cinematic history. More than ten years later that ranking persists, one of many tips of the hat to a towering achievement. Now then, here’s five things about the picture you may not already know.
1. While “The Godfather Part II” runs 3 hours and 20 minutes, there are longer versions out there, though none are available to the public now
Additional scenes originally shot but not included in the theatrical version were added for the seven-plus-hour miniseries “The Godfather Saga,” which showed the first two films in chronological order. So just how much more “The Godfather” is there? At least an hour or so (approximately 73 minutes). With “Apocalypse Now” running over-budget, Coppola tasked editor Barry Malkin to make a television cut of the “The Godfather” films in chronological order. At 434 minutes, critics felt this new edit resulted in a far less effective film, but fans were treated to over an hour’s worth of deleted scenes and footage. And not all of this footage made it to home video. In the ‘80s it came to VHS in a shortened version running 386 minutes titled “The Godfather 1902-1959” and this was incorporated into a VHS and laserdisc release in 1992 (which added “The Godfather Part III” to the timeline) called “The Godfather 1902-1980.” This hasn’t yet been released on DVD, but the original “The Godfather Saga” was broadcast last month on AMC and hopefully some of you Tivo’d it (but edited out the commercials) and are going to send us a copy.
2. Francis Ford Coppola initially didn’t want to direct the sequel, after clashing with the studio on the first film
To call “The Godfather” a troubled production would be an understatement. Not the studio’s first choice (Sergio Leone and Peter Bogdanovich were early contenders), the director and Paramount clashed on everything from casting to production delays, and producers strongly considered replacing Coppola midway through filming. So when it came time to direct 'Part II,' Coppola wanted no part in the sequel as a filmmaker (his plan would be to produce only) and instead even suggested Martin Scorsese to be his successor, but the Paramount executives rejected this plan.
“ ‘The Godfather’ was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn't like the cast. They didn't like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired," Coppola said. “So it was an extremely nightmarish experience…They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn't at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I'd ever get another job.”
But when the movie proved successful, Paramount thanked Coppola by buying him a new car — the director chose a blue Mercedes that would cameo near end of “The Conversation.” Several additional considerations existed, including Paramount backing “The Conversation,” Coppola being allowed to write the screenplay for the 1974 version of “The Great Gatsby” and directing a production for the San Francisco Opera.
3. It was the first film sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture
…and “The Godfather Part II” remained the only film that ever did so until the “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won the award in 2003. And while Francis Ford Coppola claimed “The Godfather Part II” was the first numbered sequel in film history, he wasn’t quite factually correct. It was the first U.S. film sequel to use such numbering, but the British film “Quatermass II: Enemy from Space” was the first, released 17 years earlier.
4. Just like James Caan, Marlon Brando was supposed to cameo in “The Godfather Part II”
In the finale scene of “The Godfather Part II” (spoiler in case you somehow haven’t seen this film), there is a newly-shot flashback to the era of the first film when Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and Sonny Corleone (James Caan) are still alive and the family is all together. Caan reprised his role as Sonny — reportedly for the same amount of money he was paid in the original, even though it was about a day’s worth of shooting at most — and Brando was also scheduled to appear as Don Corleone. However, Brando evidently refused to show up to the studio on the single day of shooting, because of (likely financial) disputes with the studio. Coppola then made rewrites allowing for the scene to carry on without Brando.
In another piece of related trivia, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only two actors to ever win separate Oscars for playing the same character (De Niro plays the young Vito Corleone in ‘Part II’; Brando won Best Actor for the part and De Niro won Best Supporting Actor in the sequel).
5. Nino Rota won an Oscar for his score in 'Part II' despite being disqualified for the first film
The great Nino Rota (composer for Frederico Fellini and Luchino Visconti) was originally nominated for his “The Godfather” score and then ignominiously disqualified. This nomination was withdrawn when it was discovered that Rota had recycled music from one of his own previous earlier scores: 1958’s “Fortunella,” for director Eduardo De Filippo. Ironically, “The Godfather Part II” also uses elements of that score again, but the Academy didn’t seem to have a problem with it the second time around and he was awarded the Oscar for ‘Part II.’
Extra credit: Renowned cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (“The Conformist,” “Last Tango in Paris,” “Apocalypse Now”) apparently turned down the chance to be the film's cinematographer as he felt that a sequel would never match the original. Plus as good as he was, how do you compare with Gordon “Darkness” Willis’ work in the film (a chiaroscuro-soaked work that Willis concedes was actually too dark at times). Last bit. Have you ever heard Scott Walker's rendition of "The Godfather" theme called, "Speak Softly Love" from his 1974 album The Moviegoer? Man, it rules. Check it out below around the 3:27 mark. It might seem a bit ridiculous at first, but it's rather lovely. — Additional reporting by RP