— -- It has been 40 years since Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather: Part II” was released on Dec. 20, 1974 and the movie has had a lasting impact.
“Part II" was released two years after the “The Godfather: Part I” and it is widely considered the best sequel of all time. To some, the sequel even surpasses the original. “The Godfather: Part III” would come in 1990, but the third time was not quite the charm.
The sequel focused on Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, as he attempted to expand his family business into a then-brand new playground called Las Vegas. The film included flashbacks to the early 1900s, showing the rise to power of a young Vito Corleone, played by a little-known actor named Robert De Niro. In Part I, the Vito Corleone character was played by the iconic Marlon Brando.
Here are some fun facts that you may not have known about “Part II” on its 40th anniversary:
1. De Niro, the Method Actor
To prepare for his role as Vito Corleone, De Niro, lived in Sicily and learned the Italian dialect. Nearly all of De Niro’s dialogue in the film was in Sicilian.
2. De Niro Was Almost Cast in the Original
De Niro auditioned for the role of Sonny Corleone in the original “Godfather.” De Niro’s audition tape is like watching poetry in motion. Various versions of the audition are on YouTube and worth a watch. The role of Sonny eventually went to James Caan, who made a cameo in a flashback in the final scene of the sequel even though he was killed in the original.
The famous flashback scene at the end of “Part II” was also supposed to include a small cameo from Brando. Brando didn’t show up on the day of filming because of legal issues and problems between the actor and Paramount.
3. The Brando-De Niro Connection
Brando and De Niro are the only two actors to ever win separate Oscars for playing the same character. Brando won Best Actor for “The Godfather” while De Niro won Best Supporting Actor in “Part II.”
4. Sequels Get No Love From Oscar
Speaking of Oscars, "Part II” is the first sequel to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This feat would not be repeated until 2004 when the award was given to “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
5. Martin Scorsese Was This Close to Becoming Director
Coppola originally didn’t want to direct a sequel because of a tenuous relationship with Paramount during the filming of the original, according to the Oscar-winning director. In the commentary for “The Godfather DVD Collection,” Coppola revealed he recommended Martin Scorsese to direct the film.
6. Offer Pacino Couldn't Refuse
Pacino was paid $600,000 for his role in the sequel. Not bad for the time, but when you consider his salary for Part I -– a measly $35,000 -– it shows you how much Pacino’s stock rose in such a short time.
7. Best Adapted Screenplay?
“Part II” won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay even though only half the script was actually adapted. The story of Michael Corleone was written specifically for the film while the story of Vito Corleone came from "The Godfather novel" written by Mario Puzo, which was published in 1969.
8. 'Part II' Got Off to a Rough Start
Coppola later revealed in another documentary that “Part II” didn't test well in previews leading up to its release. The issue was the cutting back and forth to Michael Corleone’s storyline and the flashback scenes with the young Vito Corleone. Coppola and his editors worked in the cutting room to make the narrative flow better up until the film was released nationwide.