The Godfather II

Top 5: Scenes From The Godfather Part II

Top 5Once a month in the Top 5 column, we do a little something different.  Moving down the IMDB (International Movie Database) Top 250 films, we’ll name the top five scenes (in my order) from films so good that our regular “My Favorite Scene” column can’t do them justice.  You can see our first effort with #1 on the IMDB 250 – The Shawshank Redemption – by clicking here and our #2 – The Godfather by clicking here.  Today, we tackle #3 – The Godfather Part II.Al Pacino, MIchael Corleone, The Godfather Part II
For a long time, The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back were held up as the only good sequels (largely because that was more or less true).  Until The Return of the King, it was the only sequel to ever win Best Picture.  It’s a very different film than Part I, and many people prefer it, though I am not one of them.  The split narrative showing the rise of young Vito with the fall of Michael is a perfect study in contrast.  Robert DeNiro managed to take a part Marlon Brando had made legendary and make it his own.  Then there’s poor Fredo.  As with all the films that are at this level, separating five scenes is excruciating.  That’s why this column is so hard!  So, in no particular order, here are my top 5 scenes from The Godfather Part II.

1. My Offer is Nothing

Right away, from the film’s beginning, we see Michael’s chilled to a cold control that veers away from the familial approach his father took (things don’t go well for this Senator).

2. The Murder of Don Fanucci

Again using religious iconography juxtaposed with murder, Coppola – with no words- creates a tense and pivotal scene in Vito Corleone’s rise to power.

3. You’re Nothing to Me Now

If Godfather I is about Michael’s rise, Godfather II is about the cost.  Here Fredo lashes out about being passed over in the family hierarchy in response to an error.  Michael listens, then surgically excises him from his world with a few sentences.

4. I Know It Was You, Fredo

This is the most famous scene from the film, obviously, but it’s famous for a reason.  Michael, emotionless through most of the film, finally shows that the cost is getting to him.  This is the scene where Fredo dies.  The fishing trip was just the postscript.

5. Corleone Family Reunion

What a brilliant way to end a film where Michael is left with nothing of the life and world his father had cultivated than to flashback to happier times.  It reminds us how few people at that table are still alive and how different a man Michael was at the beginning of the first film.  Full circle.  Genius.

21 thoughts on “Top 5: Scenes From The Godfather Part II”

  1. Godfather is the best film ever made. Not my favorite (you know what that is), but the best. And Godfather II is the second best. Trying to improve upon them would be an act of futility.

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    1. They’re flawless. It almost leaves you with nothing to say because they’re so freaking good. As with part one, there are 15 other scenes I could have chosen and justified. They’re just perfect films. Period.

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      1. Out of curiosity, what is your take on Part III? By which I mean, just how bad do you think it is? Because the scale of the badness is different for everyone. Some would have been OK with the film if Sophia and George had been replaced by anyone, anyone else in the world. Others actually wish they had never seen it.

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      2. Honestly, I should probably watch it again, I saw it once 15 years or so ago. Sophia was so bad it distracted me from the rest of the film. I kind of just tend to ignore that it happened because I don’t think it adds anything to the story and it subtracts a lot from the perfection.

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  2. IMHO, you omitted two pivotal scenes. The first is the brief, haunting conversation Michael has with his mother in Italian, during which he asks her if his father ever feared losing his family. Here we see the first glimmer of vulnerability in Michael, as he speaks of matters close to his heart and not the usual matters of business. He realizes that his efforts to make his father proud and to further develop the American Dream for his own family are the very actions that are alienating him from them. In a moment of foreshadowed tragedy so subtle that it can pass unnoticed, Michael’s mother fails to understand him. She placates him with the words, “You can never lose your family.” From this moment, Michael is utterly alone. His mother has not provided him with words of wisdom from his dead father that can help him reconcile his ambitions for his family with his family’s happiness. Thereafter, he doesn’t know of any way to treat his family other than as business affiliates.

    The second scene is the ending sequence of Michael’s elimination of his enemies, the echo of the baptism scene from the first Godfather. The coup de grace is the masterful scene of Fredo’s demise that is all the more harrowing for not showing the actual act. The unfinished Hail Mary punctuated with a gunshot, Michael’s presence in the boat house as he listens for the impending fulfillment of his most pernicious order, the seagulls squawking across a dusky sky, and the silhouetted boat that set out with two passengers but now shows that only one is left standing. Has any scene portrayed the treachery of murder, both visually and aurally, to greater tragic effect?

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    1. That’s fantastic observation and the hard part about picking five film from a movie like The Godfather Park II is that you’re always going to leave out fantastic bits of film, but I totally see your point and you analyzed them spot-on. Excellent post.

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  3. Quote from sleeplessdave:
    “… the hard part about picking five film from a movie like The Godfather Park II is that you’re always going to leave out fantastic bits of film”

    Amen. In the vast majority of movies, a viewer is lucky to experience one iconic scene. In The Godfather and The Godfather Part II we behold scene after scene of cinematic genius.

    (GF and GFII were recently on TV where I live, so I’ve been re-immersed in the greatness. And BTW, thank you for the compliment on my post. I’m glad I prefaced it with “IMHO,” because other choices made here are just as good.)

    Now I’m off to check out your Top 5 for the original Godfather.

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  4. Peter B asked, “Out of curiosity, what is your take on Part III?” sleeplessdave gave his answer. I’m two years late to the question, but I’d love to give my opinion.

    The Godfather Part III should never have been made. It was a mistake of the highest magnitude — and not just because of Sofia Coppola’s amateur acting performance, or the absence of Tom Hagen, or the choice of George Hamilton to fill the shoes of Robert Duvall, or the convoluted plot, or the derivative and anti-climactic murder sequence (which lacks all the menace and chill of those in the first two Godfathers… I mean stabbing someone to death with a pair of eyeglasses?)

    Those are all contributing factors, but the cardinal sin of The Godfather Part III is that it answered all the questions that hung in the air at the conclusion of Part II.

    Part II ended on the perfect note of tragedy and poignant nostalgia. Michael is alone, brooding. He has murdered his brother. The ghosts of the dead — his father, Sonny, Fredo, Carlo — haunt his thoughts. We look at his face and wonder if this is the moment that he begins to feel profound regret for what he has done. Will it torture him for the rest of his life? When will the family start asking about Fredo? When will he realize that his children are afraid of him? Will he be so shaken about the loss of his moral compass that he leaves criminal life? Or does he feel he has made his choice and there is no escape?

    The Godfather Part II was a greater masterpiece for leaving these questions unanswered, only to be pondered in the mind of the viewer. They will be forever unresolved, and so The Godfather Part II will forever resonate with an emotional impact that is rarely achieved in film.

    Then the Godfather Part III comes along and ruins everything. The kids know what happened to Fredo, we are told. Michael is deeply disturbed that he ordered Fredo’s death, he tells his confessor. Michael realized that his children needed their mother, he says in his letter. It’s bad enough that Part III is a poor film — far below the standard set by its two predecessors — but what’s worse is that all the exposition and revelation taints the perfect ending of Part II.

    It’s hard to duplicate perfection, and impossible to improve it; but unfortunately for us, Coppola tries to do so with a formulaic imitation of Part II. Now he must create a tragedy for Part III to rival Fredo’s murder. All points are covered: Close family member of Michael’s murdered? Check (Mary). Murder is Michael’s fault because of his involvement in mafia life? Check. Michael has now lost any hope of reconciliation with his ex-wife and son? Check. Michael is left bereft and alone at the end? Check. And then he keels over and dies, and that’s supposed to be the ultimate tragedy. Yet the ending of Part II was so much more affecting, memorable, and sorrowful.

    In Part II the ending was more of a natural progression, as we saw betrayal, jealousy, panic, and revenge played out among well-drawn characters that we came to care about. In contrast, Part III was an overt pulling of strings, a copycat attempt to achieve the same effect; but we were not invested enough in the characters to care in the same way. We hardly knew anything about Mary except what we were told — that she loved her father and her father loved her. Likewise for nearly everyone else in the movie.

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