“The Godfather Part II” (1974)

December 21, 2008 at 1:35 pm (Cinema, Reviews & Articles)

The brilliant sequel to The Godfather. This review also comes from A.D. Murphy (see review below) from Variety magazine, Dec. 9, 1974… 

 

The Godfather Part II far from being a spinoff followup to its 1972 progenitor is an excellent epochal drama in its own right providing bookends in time — the early part of this century and the last two decades — to the earlier story. Al Pacino again is outstanding as Michael Corleone, successor to crime family leadership.

The $15,000,000-plus production about 2-1/2 times the cost of the original was most handsomely produced and superbly directed by Francis Ford Coppola who also shares credit for a topnotch script with original book author Mario Puzo. The Paramount release has everything going for it to be an enormous box office winner.

There should be very few criticisms that the latest film glorifies criminality since the script never lets one forget for very long that Pacino as well as Robert De Niro, excellent as the immigrant Sicilian who became the crime family chief as played by Marlon Brando in the first pic, and all their aides are callous, selfish and undeserving of either pity or adulation. Yet, at the same time, there’s enough superficial glory in the panoramic story structure to satisfy the demands of less discriminating filmgoers. Hence Coppola has straddled the potential audience and therefore maximized the commercial potential.

The film’s 200 minutes to be played without an intermission could be broken down into two acts and 10 scenes. The scenes alternate between Pacino’s career in Nevada gambling rackets from about 1958 on and De Niro’s early life in Sicily and New York City. A natural break comes after 126 minutes when De Niro involved with low level thievery brutally assassinates Gaston Moschin the neighborhood crime boss without a shred of conscience. It’s the only shocking brutality in the film. The small number of other killings are discreetly shot and edited and it makes its point.

Of course, in the modern day sequences, Pacino is also making the point clear that he has passed completely from the idealistic youth that made him enlist in the early days of World War II. A brief flashback scene presents James Caan in a cameo encore as the original heir apparent to his final destiny. In the Caan flashback Pacino is sitting alone with his untested ideals; in the fadeout scene he is again alone, but it’s all his own doing.

Brando is said to have accepted the original title role because he considered organized crime a perfect analogy to big business. In this script the analogy is even clearer, especially the pre-Castro Cuban sequences where big business and big crime have a cozy relationship with the former Cuban regime.

Shot on many U.S. and foreign locations, the film had a firstrate technical staff. Gordon Willis encoring superbly as cinematographer. Production designer Dean Tavoularis and associates editors Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, costumer Theodora Van Runkle whose fine work had to span decades of changing styles, makeup artists Dick Smith and Charles Schram are equally superior in making just the right changes in features to keep up with the calendar and Walter Murch for outstanding sound mixing and montage. Gray Frederickson and Fred Roos share coproducer credit.

The alternating period stories advance more smoothly through the many prominent characters all perfectly cast. Performer Robert Duvall is back in top form as the family lawyer, Pacino’s only steadfast friend, but a near curtain vibration finds him going at last onto that never ending enemies list which Pacino’s own machinations inevitably spawn and nurture. Diane Keaton is compelling as Pacino’s wife who finally cannot endure life. John Cazale provides a wonderful depth to the weaker brother Fredo whose insecurities set him up for betrayal of Pacino.

Good as Fredo’s slatternly wife is Mariana Hill. Talia Shire, as sister Connie, the bride of the first film, later is a hardened and compulsively self destructive jet setter with Troy Donahue in tow for a fling. She finally comes home to be a penitent and surrogate mother of Pacino’s children.

An unusual but showmanly casting is that of Actors Studio’s Lee Strasberg as an aging but still powerful Jewish crime kingpin. Fay Spain does nicely as his wife as does Dominic Chianese as his top side. Another offbeat casting is that of playwright Michael V. Gazzo returning to acting as an oldtime mobster who later becomes an informer for FBI probes of crime. Gazzo’s performance has the right mixture of old world manners that fail to keep step with the times. G.D. Spradlin is excellent as a U.S. Senator whose brothel kinkiness makes him a perfect setup for compromise.

Further offbeat casting comes in a running sequence of a Congressional hearing, one of those periodic public pageants designed to appease middle class uproar over crime. Veteran screenwriter William Bowers is sensational as the crusty chairman while producers Phil Feldman and Roger Corman, the latter an early employer of Coppola, do well as probing senators.

Morgana King again graces the role of Pacino’s mother while Francesca deSapio is quietly appealing as the mother in DeNiro’s time. Richard Bright and Tom Rosqui are good as Pacino’s bodyguards while Amerigo Tot is chilling as Pacino’s executioner on the Cuban visit where Strasberg plans Pacino’s murder.

Leopoldo Trieste has a marvelous role as a slum landlord, an early victim of De Niro’s growing influence who squirms to the right cues. There are lots of other players filling out the cast.

The excellent score is by Nino Rota conducted by Carmine Coppola who also is credited for incidental additional music. Newspaperman Ed Guthman gets credit for advising on the Congressional hearing sequences. Caan’s brief appearance is called a special participation in the crawl. All credits come at the end, as in the original film. The R rating is also a repeat, but this film seems less crudely violent in deed, and not in word.

Paramount some weeks ago said it had $26,000,000 in exhibitor advances and guarantees for Part II, about enough to get it off the nut right away and it looks like the money will be expeditiously earned from a strong box office tide since The Godfather exceeded anybody’s wildest expectations with about $129,000,000 ($87,000,000 domestic) in world film rentals from theatres. There’s just no point in gauging the success of Part II by comparing or even guessing at the ultimate numbers.

Coppola was in total control of Part II and between him and his close associates has been demonstrated the versatility to handle both panoramic scope and personal intimacy the widespread location shooting and post production centres undoubtedly contributed some of the budget overage from the original target of about $12,000,000.

 

A.D. Murphy

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“The Godfather” (1972)

December 21, 2008 at 1:26 pm (Cinema, Reviews & Articles)

This review by A.D. Murphy, of my favorite film, comes from Variety magazine, March 15, 1972. It’s interesting to read this review with the hindsight of 36 years…
 

Powerhouse pre-sell of gangland tale alone assures box-office. Two strong performances, good production values. Must open big and mop-up.

 

With several million hardcover and paperback books acting as trailers, Paramount’s film version of Mario Puzo’s sprawling gangland novel, “The Godfather,” has a large pre-sold audience. This will bolster the potential for the film which has an outstanding performance by Al Pacino and a strong characterization by Marlon Brando in the title role. It also has excellent production values, flashes of excitement, and a well-picked cast.

But it is also overlong at about 175 minutes (played without intermission), and occasionally confusing. While never so placid as to be boring, it is never so gripping as to be superior screen drama. This should not mar Paramount’s box-office expectations in any measure, though some filmgoers may be disappointed.

Francis Ford Coppola directed the Albert S. Ruddy production, largely photographed in New York. Dean Tavoularis was production designer and Gordon Wills cinematographer (Technicolor) for the handsome visual environment, which besides World War II and postwar styles and props, is made further intriguing by some sort of tinting effect. There are people under 40 who grew up in the period of the film and who recall such color tones as evocative of 20 years earlier, that is, the end of the roaring ’20s and the Depression. Evidently the artistic effect here is to show some sort of antiquity which no longer exists.

Puzo and Coppola are credited with the adaptation which, best of all, gives some insight into the origins and heritage of that segment of the population known off the screen (but not on it) as the Mafia or Cosa Nostra. Various ethnic countercultures are part of the past and part of the present, and the judgment of criminality is in part based on the attitudes of the outside majority. Nobody ever denied that a sense of family, cohesion and order are integral, positive aspects of such subgroups; it’s just the killing and slaughter that upsets the outsiders.

In The Godfather, we have the New York-New Jersey world, ruled by five “families,” one of them headed by Brando. This was a world where emotional ties are strong, loyalties are somewhat more flexible at times, and tempers are short. In makeup and physical movement instantly evocative of Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane, Brando does an admirable job as the lord of his domain. He is not on screen for much of the film, though his presence hovers over all of it.

It is Pacino, last seen (by too few) in Panic in Needle Park, who makes the smash impression here. Initially seen as the son whom Brando wanted to go more or less straight (while son James Caan was to become part of the organization), Pacino matures under trauma of an assassination attempt on Brando, his own double-murder revenge for that on corrupt cop Sterling Hayden and rival gangster Al Lettieri, the counter-vengeance murder of his Sicilian bride, and a series of other personnel readjustments which at fadeout find him king of his own mob.

In a lengthy novel filled with many characters interacting over a period of time, readers may digest the passing parade in convenient settings. But in a film, the audience is forced to get it all at one time. Thus, it is incumbent on filmmakers to isolate, heighten and emphasize for clarity the handful of key characters; some of that has been done here, and some of it hasn’t. The biggest achievement here is the establishment of mood and time.

Among the notable performances are Robert Duvall as Hagen, the non-Italian number-two man finally stripped of authority after long years of service; Richard Castellano as a loyal follower; John Marley as a Hollywood film mogul pressured into giving a comeback film role (in a war film) to Al Martino, an aging teenage idol; Richard Conte as one of Brando’s malevolent rivals; Diane Keaton as Pacino’s early sweetheart, later second wife; Abe Vigoda as an eventual traitor to Pacino; Talia Shire as Brando’s daughter, married to a weak and traitorous husband, Gianni Russo; John Cazale, another son who moved to Las Vegas when that area attracted the mob, including Alex Rocco as another recognizable character; Morgana King as Brando’s wife; and Lenny Montana as a mobster.

Nino Rota’s fine score, plus several pop tunes of the periods, further enhanced the mood, and all the numerous technical production credits are excellent. So, at the bottom line, the film has a lot of terrific mood, one great performance by Pacino, an excellent character segue by Brando, and a strong supporting cast. That will be enough for some, only half the job for others.

A.D. Murphy

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Leonard Cohen – “I Have Not Lingered in European Monasteries”

December 21, 2008 at 12:02 pm (Leonard Cohen, Poetry & Literature)

I have not lingered in European monosteries
and discovered among the tall grasses tombs of knights
who fell as beautifully as their ballads tell;
I have not parted the grasses
or purposefully left them thatched.

I have not held my breath
so that I might hear the breathing of God
or tamed my heartbeat with an exercise,
or starved for visions.
Although I have watched him often
I have not become the heron,
leaving my body on the shore,
and I have not become the luminous trout,
leaving my body in the air.

I have not worshipped wounds and relics,
or combs of iron,
or bodies wrapped and burnt in scrolls.

I have not been unhappy for ten thousands years.
During the day I laugh and during the night I sleep.
My favourite cooks prepare my meals,
my body cleans and repairs itself,
and all my work goes well.

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Robert Shelton – “Bob Dylan: A Distinctive Stylist” (1961)

December 21, 2008 at 11:34 am (Bob Dylan, Reviews & Articles)

I believe this is the first national mention of Bob Dylan anywhere. Written by future Dylan biographer Robert Shelton for the New York Times, Sept. 29, 1961, this predates Dylan’s first album. He had only recently arrived in NYC to begin his career…

 

20-Year-Old Singer Is Bright New Face at Gerde’s Folk City

 

A bright new face in folk music is appearing at Gerde’s Folk City. Although only 20 years old, Bob Dylan is one of the most distinctive stylists to play in a Manhattan cabaret in months.

Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers up with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent.

Mr. Dylan’s voice is anything but pretty. He is consciously trying to recapture the rude beauty of a Southern field hand musing in melody on his back porch. All the “husk and bark” are left on his notes, and a searing intensity pervades his songs.

Mr. Dylan is both comedian and tragedian. Like a vaudeville actor on the rural circuit, he offers a variety of droll musical monologues. “Talking Bear Mountain” lampoons the overcrowding of an excursion boat. “Talking New York” satirizes his troubles in gaining recognition and “Talkin’ Hava Negilah” burlesques the folk-music craze and the singer himself.

 

Slow-motion Mood 

In his serious vein, Mr. Dylan seems to be performing in a slow-motion film. Elasticized phrases are drawn out until you think they may snap. He rocks his head and body. He closes his eyes in reverie, seems to be groping for a word or a mood, then resolves the tension benevolently by finding the word and the mood.

He may mumble the text of “House of the Rising Sun” in a scarcely understandable growl, or sob, or clearly enunciate the poetic poignancy of a Blind Lemon Jefferson blues, “One kind favor I ask of you – see that my grave is kept clean.”
Mr. Dylan’s highly personalized approach toward folk song is still evolving. He has been sopping up influences like a sponge. At times, the drama he aims at is off-target melodrama and his stylization threatens to topple over as a mannered excess.

But if not for every taste, his music-making has the mark of originality and inspiration, all the more noteworthy for his youth. Mr. Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up.

Robert Shelton

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Warren Smith – “Ubangi Stomp” (1956)

December 21, 2008 at 1:14 am (Rockabilly)

Recorded in August 1956 and released the following month, this well-known rockabilly number was Warren Smith’s second effort for Sun Records.
Smith recorded into the 1970s, before passing away in 1980 of a heart attack at the age of 47.

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