The Godfather, Part II

Dan Czitrom


A. The Godfather, Part II (Paramount, 1974, 200 minutes) directed by Francis Ford Coppola, screenplay by Coppola and Mario Puzo


The epic sequel to The Godfather (1972) and considered by many critics to be a deeper, more complex, and more disturbing film than the original. After the enormous commercial success of The Godfather (for a time the highest grossing movie in history), Coppola looked to avoid the usual practice of a cheap, quickie sequel. His newfound “bankability”  gave him the freedom to plan a longer and more complicated production, one that included a sophisticated take on twentieth century U.S. history. The film’s story picks up the tale of the Corleone family, moving forward and backward over time. It juxtaposes the family’s evolution into the modern era (1950s/60s), led by Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), with an account of the rise of his father Vito (Robert DeNiro) from Sicilian immigrant to young Mafia leader in turn of the century New York. The film combines penetrating character study with thoughtful meditations on the relationship between the underworld and respectable society, the nature of American political power, and the meaning of revolution. The action ranges far over space as well as time, from Sicily to New York to Las Vegas to Miami to Havana. Through it all, Coppola insists on an unsentimental interrogation  of the most enduring institution of all, “la famiglia”—the family.


B. Questions for Reading and Viewing


Specific scenes:

Italian vaudeville scene in Little Italy: How does Coppola use earlier popular culture forms to communicate themes in the social history of Sicilian immigrants living in New York City?


Confirmation party scene in Las Vegas: How does Coppola structure this scene to comment on the evolution of Italian ethnicity between generations?


Congressional Hearing with Michael Corelone, Frank Pentangeli : How does Coppola visually explain the workings of power in American government? In the Mafia? How are these different? 


Las Vegas hotel scene with Michael Corelone, Hyman Roth: What does the scene tell us about generational change within organized crime and the larger society?


Broader issues:

How does Coppola’s sympathetic treatment of the Cuban revolution square with his depiction of the Corleone family? How do you explain the presence of such sympathy in a Hollywood blockbuster film?


Considered as an interpretation of recent U.S. history, what does Coppola see as the defining strengths and weaknesses evident in  American society?


Pick any character other than Michael Corleone and discuss how the film uses him or her to comment on larger historical and/or cultural themes.


What issues does Coppola the filmmaker raise for historians pursuing the history of organized crime and related issues of ethnicity? How can historians compete with the exaggerations and myths so prominent in the mass media?


C: Readings



Michael Schumacher, “The Death of Michael Corleone,” from Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life (New York, 1999)


Humbert S. Nelli, “Early Ventures in Syndicate Crime” and “A Summing Up,” from The Business of Crime: Italians and Syndicate Crime in the United States (Chicago, 1976)


Walter Lippmann, “The Underworld: Our Secret Servant,” from The Forum 85 (January 1931)



Peter Biskind,  Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drug-and Rock’n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (New York, 1998)

Alan Block, East Side/West Side: Organizing Crime in New York, 1930-1950 (New Brunswick, 1983)

Peter Cowie, Coppola (New York, 1990)

Estes Kefauver, Crime in America (Garden City, LI, 1951)

Robert Lacey, Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life (Boston, 1991)

Nicholas Pileggi, Wise Guy (New York, 1990)

Mario Puzo, The Godfather (New York, 1969)