Let’s Settle the Debate: The Godfather Part I or II?
It’s been 50 years since the release of one of cinema’s all-time greats. The Godfather continues to blow the minds of viewers across the globe. As part of its 50-year anniversary, the films have been remastered and re-released across cinemas this year.
Through its operatic direction, gripping performances, and socially conscious narrative, Francis Ford Coppola and his team elevated gangsters to Shakespearean spectacle, and cemented the film’s position in the cinematic canon. Ever since I became a fan at age 14, I’ve constantly read of and been subject to the one central Godfather debate: which is better, The Godfather Part I or The Godfather Part II? Here, I have taken it upon myself the onerous task of answering this question.
As with all aspects of both films, the quality of their respective plots is close to equal. But if I had to pick the superior narrative, it would have to be Part I. The trilogy’s central theme is Michael’s transition from well-to-do outsider to bloodthirsty mob boss, and nowhere is this more apparent than Part I. Although Part II does pack a punch that matches the force of Sonny Corleone’s anger, the dual plot can mean noticeable jumps that leave gaps in the story. On the other hand, Part I flows smoothly, effortlessly, and delivers scene after scene of prodigious cinema.
1-0 to Part I
In Part II the focus is predominantly on two people: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. These are two of the greatest performances of all time, from two of the greatest actors to have ever graced the screen. Just check out the pure viciousness in Pacino’s eyes as he tells his brother: ‘I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart.’ But what remains the most iconic Godfather performance is from the patriarch himself: Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, and he is seen only in Part I. You simply cannot beat that rough voice, those studied mannerisms, and those quiet but potent speeches. Brando’s Don Corleone has been widely imitated and is perhaps one of cinema’s most famous characters. So, there goes another point to Part I.
2-0 to Part I
Nicknamed ‘The Prince of Darkness,’ Gordon Willis’ camera is one of the key factors to the film’s success. His filming is shadowy and gloomy, using heavy tones and sharp contrasts. Stills from the films wouldn’t look out of place in The Sistine Chapel. Part I’s wedding and the scenes in Sicily do stand out – I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been to film a 1940s Italian American wedding – but the rich tonality of Part II, which gets darker as Michael’s actions become crueler, is hands down just stunning and so, one point goes to Part II.
2-1 to Part I
The Godfather secured Francis Ford Coppola a place in the pantheon of iconic directors. Alongside his New Hollywood colleagues, he followed the path laid down by Godard and Truffaut’s French New Wave: young and intellectual, bespectacled, serious, and utterly cinema obsessed. In direction, neither film outdoes the other. We can compare for example the Baptism Scene in Part I and the courtroom scenes of Part II and reach the same conclusion: both are genius executions of scriptwriting, and therefore no point to either film.
2-1 to Part I
So, The Godfather Part I is the victor. Nevertheless, both films are inspiring pieces of cinema and have inspired countless other films and TV shows including Goodfellas and The Sopranos. The entire Godfather series is playing in cinemas right now, so get yourself down there to watch this jewel of Hollywood cinema.