The Godfather: Part II will be 45 years old this week, and what better way to celebrate Michael Corleone’s sapphire anniversary than a look back at a film that overcame, what appeared to be, insurmountable odds to become the high water mark in mob movies?
I understand how controversial that last statement might be for some people because of how significant the original Godfather movie was. Brando’s Godfather was a film that dealt with family, respect, legacy, the American Dream and huge universal themes like good versus evil. It helped to redefine the portrayal of bad guys in cinema, at a time when sympathy for on-screen criminals was a relatively new phenomenon.
The Godfather: Part 1 was released in 1972, a mere 4 years after Hollywood’s abandonment of the Hays Code in favour of a ratings system. Up until 1968 filmmakers were not allowed to create fully rounded anti-heroes. Criminals were bad and that was all there was to it. Then came Vito Andolini Corleone.
Up until the camera perched over Brando’s shoulder taking in the desperate pleading of Amerigo Bonasera there had been little to no sympathy for bad men in movies. In fact, you could argue that Milton’s portrayal of Satan in a 17th century epic poem was a more progressive depiction of evil than anything Hollywood had managed to muster in the 300 years between the two.
The Godfather gave us bad guys we could believe in, bad guys we could even care about. We didn’t just watch them commit crime and then meet their comeuppance. We entered their homes, met their families, saw them love and be loved in return. The nature of good and evil was rendered in subtle tones with each character’s duality cast on the audience through the expert use of light, or lack of it, that cinematographer Gordon Willis, AKA, The Prince of Darkness, handled with consummate precision. This is literally a dark film, with shadow just as important a feature as light and with the drive-in audience, previously revered, now pronounced insignificant, as art took president over popcorn sales. Make no mistake about it, The Godfather changed cinema forever.
For a film to be considered a classic we need more than just perfect cinematography, direction and storytelling. We also need acting that works in tandem with the skills of the filmmakers. Marlon Brando was, arguably, the finest actor of his generation. A performer so skilled that he took a trade and turned it into an artform. But with such artistic brilliance comes a certain liability that often overshadows those performances. Let’s not forget Paramount didn’t want Brando anywhere near this film. He was a trouble-maker, someone who would make life too difficult for the director. However, Coppola, insisted that only Brando could play the role, a decision that was only given the green light if the actor was willing to take a serious cut in wages. As a result of this, the film’s standout performer did not receive the biggest paycheque.
Despite this, Brando produced one of the finest performances of his illustrious career and won his second Oscar for best actor in the process. He would refuse to accept the award as a protest against Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans, and in doing so would create a stir that would divide those appearing on the red carpet that evening. However, the one thing they would surely all agree with was that only one person deserved to pick up 45th Academy Award for Best Actor in 1972.
Add to all of this a level of violence that had never been seen in movies before, an ensemble of some of the best actors around, a horse’s head at the bottom of a bed, offers that could not be refused and you have a combination of parts that would make a successful sequel anything that didn’t just pale in comparison.
Whilst I accept that in terms of obvious chronology, content, aesthetic and overall tone and ethos there could be no Godfather: Part II without the original, I still believe that Brando’s Don Corleone set the reels turning, providing Pacino and De Niro with the momentum they needed to embrace a more complex and ambitious narrative.
Brando’s presence in the first film was chasmic. He was that film and it is hard to argue against there being something missing without him in the second. However, De Niro goes a long way towards filling that void with a masterclass and Oscar winning performance of his own. Playing the young Vito Corleone, speaking the entire film in Italian, most notably with a Sicilian accent that was honed after spending time on the island and then embracing Brando’s performance and his mannerisms to become a young, penniless version of the great Don is a feat that should garner more praise than it does. He didn’t have Brando’s blank canvass to work with, he was much more restricted in terms of his own interpretation of the role and still delivered something that saw him begin a run of performances that would make him Hollywood’s most sought after actor.
Whilst De Niro alone might not have been quite enough to fill Brando’s shoes let’s not forget that he wasn’t alone. Al Pacino was in the original and received a nomination for best supporting role, despite the fact that he spent more time on screen than Brando. Pacino brought his irrepressible bite and snarl to the film, providing it with an energy that was needed to mirror De Niro’s performance and juxtapose Brando’s. Al Pacino would push the films forward in a new direction, whilst De Niro provided the bookend needed to prequal the original.
On one side exists the lawlessness that defined America’s early 20th century. One where immigrants had to carve their own fortunes without support or infrastructure. De Niro’s film depicts the rise of the mafia as he outmanoeuvres his early adversary, Fanucci the leader of the Black Handers, who himself had worked his way into a position of authority by providing protection for Italian immigrants who could not rely on the support of established authorities. It was a position that he abused and, as such his murder was one that felt justified, as a young Corleone looked to restore a sense of fairness to a society that had been left to its own devices. Of course, we witness this all from the vantage of hindsight. We know that Fanucci and the Black Handers were the prototype and that when the Mafia was in full stride it did not rely on the threat of violence but the reality of it to get what they wanted.
At the other side of the film you have the portrayal of a more modern, more structured, and lawful society. The mob are no longer in the precarious position of trying to assert their authority and instead find themselves with the daunting task of trying to extend it through the trade of narcotics and legitimise it by assimilating with a corporate world that does not want to muddy its hands such barbarous associations. Whilst the threat of violence against the mod is still a very real one, the main enemy now appears to be the American justice system. The last hour or so of the film, following the intermission, centres around the court case against Michael Corleone. Again, it is a threat that he wriggles free from but not without a few scars to show for it.
Unlike his father, Michael Corleone had a shifting cultural landscape to dance around. The age of masculinity was beginning to tremble as newer more complex systems replaced the brute force and violence inherited from the old country. Taking what he wanted, when he wanted it was still an option, but one that Michael had to traverse with greater dexterity.
The second film successfully shows how much the demands on a Don had change within the 40 or so years since his father first wore the crown. The final piece of an ever-increasing puzzle comes back to that element that helped define fully rounded bad guys the first film: family.
A domestic scene between Michael and Katherine “Kay” Corleone perfectly depicts something that Vito never needed to deal with. Instead of celebrating his victory in court with his family around him, Michael Corleone has to confront a wife who has had enough of the violence he has dragged her and their children into. Coercion without brute force proves to be insubstantial, with Michael having to assert his authority over Katherine with a show of hard-hitting force that sees her temporarily put back in her place. Whilst family is still everything to the mob, this scene suggests that it could also prove to be the biggest threat of all.
What makes The Godfather: Part II better than the first film is the seamless stitching of three separate narratives. The 2nd narrative might have already been written but it could hardly be ignored as Coppola sandwiches it perfectly between two worlds that are one in the same, yet completely different.
The second film has more complex social structures to traverse and did so with a firm grasp of the past and eye for the future. But most importantly of all is that after watching The Godfather: Part 2 you gain even more of an appreciation for the first film.
Honestly I won’t argue with anyone who says the original is the better film because I see the two as symbiotic. Part the genius of the 2nd film is that Coppola didn’t want to make it. It wasn’t part of a grand design but a director at the height of his powers reacting to his own work in a way that feels effortless.
These might not be stories about Ancient Greece, Bible stories or Olivier Shakespearian adaptations, but when The Godfather Part 1 and 2 were released they created a new epic narrative, one that Americans could embrace as their own. In this instance you have the emergence of the Italian Mafia, set against the backdrop of America’s transformation from a rag-tag boiling pot of desperate immigrants into the world’s biggest super-power. Stories don’t come much grander or more epic than that.
Gangster Themed Slots
Given the Mob’s interest in the gambling industry, you would think that piecing together a list of the best gangster themed slots would be quite easy. A few years ago, when we had easy access to slots like The Godfather, Scarface and the Sopranos it probably would have been easy, but now that those games appear to have disappeared from most casinos and demo versions of them are borderline impossible to find the job of compiling 10 great gangster themed slots is a decidedly tricky one.
Truth be told, there aren’t 10 great gangster themed slots out there for us to make that list and as such, this will only be a selection of 5 slots and even then there will be at least 1 we would consider under-par for most lists we have complied over the years.
It turns out that one of Hollywood’s most successful genres is one that has failed to meet the standard in the world of slots. However, without getting too down on the situation I would like to stress that there will be at least a couple of absolutely stunning slots on this list and I am hoping that in two and a bit year’s time, when The Godfather is celebrating its half century we can re-visit this list and a few new slots to it.
I am going to go out on another limb here and say that the Narcos slot is the best gangster themed slot out there for you to play today. The gangs in question might speak a different language from the ones in The Godfather movies but the story is equally as engaging and even more explosive and violent than the one depicted in Coppola’s films. As for the slot, I have written about it on many occasions and if you don’t know what makes it special by now then you really have not been paying attention. Features range from the Drive By to the Locked Up feature, which signal an intelligent attempt to bring the features in line with the game’s central themes. Characters from the show appear on the reels and you get to add to all this a gaming experience that is fun and engaging. You don’t even need to love the show to love this slot.
The Slotfather II
The closest thing we have to a Godfather slot (one that is easily accessible) has to be The Slotfather games that BetSoft have brought us. For the sake of this list I will be highlighting The Slotfather II slot as the one you should play out of those two. First of all, the slot looks amazing and secondly it comes with an array of brilliant features. Free Spins, Scatters, Wilds and more than one Bonus feature. In the Gangster Feature you get, what is at its heart a simple click and reveal bonus, but sitting down at a table with a gangster and playing cards against him helps to bring this slot to life. When we reviewed this slot we gave it a mighty 9 out of 10 and part of the reason for that has to be the value for money that is on offer, along with those excellent features.
The Reel Steal slot is based around a typical 70s heist movie, one in which gangs play an important part in stealing that precious loot. Some the symbols have characters on them, with one in particular resembling Steve McQueen in “Bullet”. There are leather jackets with wide collars, moustaches, wide brimmed hats and great big rumbling V8 engines. There are bags of swag, briefcases with huge gems, fake passports and cameras without display screens. New York sits at the centre of the slot, with the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline both projected in the background of a couple of the symbols. Unlike the crooks you don’t get a whole lot here. Just some Free Spins and a slot that fully commits to its theme.
Another slot from BetSoft but this time we are dealing with very different gangsters than the ones previously mentioned. The Slots Angels slot is a take on a certain bunch of denim and leather clad bikers, with a love of rock music and facial hair. As soon as you start up those reels the rock music blasts you, along with the gnarling of those huge gas guzzling cruiser engines. You have features that let you party like a biker, play darts with them and even race bikes with them. Add to this a progressive jackpot and you have a slot that impressed us thoroughly all those years ago when it was released.
This final spot has been a decidedly tricky one to fill. There are plenty of OK slots I could use to fill the space but almost no good ones. In the end I decided that the Fratellis are gangster enough to qualify The Goonies slot for a place on this list. The film is not exactly The Godfather but still rank as a classic for different reasons. The Fratellis may not be the Corleones but they are still a gang and still put family first. As for the slot, I was blown away by the features that it has to offer. 6 bonus features, 6 random features and all the characters from the film make their way onto the reels. Add to this a plethora of catchphrases and you have a slot that is a completely immersive experience.
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