Francis Ford Coppola had a horrible time directing The Godfather (1972) and asked to pick a different director for the sequel, while taking the title of producer for himself. He chose Martin Scorsese, whom the film executives rejected. Thus, Coppola agreed to direct the film, with a few conditions.
Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only two actors to ever win separate Oscars for playing the same character. Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather (1972) and De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for this movie, both in the role of Vito Corleone.
Though it claims to be based on the novel by Mario Puzo, only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in the book. Only one chapter in the book is devoted to Vito's youth and young adulthood. The story revolving around Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is entirely unique to the film.
Francis Ford Coppola considered bringing Marlon Brando back to play Vito Corleone as a young man, convinced that he could play at any age. As he worked on the script, though, he remembered Robert De Niro's exceptional audition for The Godfather (1972) and cast him without offering the part to Brando.
According to Francis Ford Coppola in the DVD commentary, Michael V. Gazzo gave such a great performance in the rehearsal of his testimony scene that Coppola wanted to start filming it immediately but everyone had to break for lunch. During the break, Gazzo got drunk and was unable to perform as well as he had in rehearsal.
Hyman Roth's character is loosely based in real-life mobster Meyer Lansky. Lansky, who at the time of the film's release was living in Miami, reportedly phoned Lee Strasberg and said, "Now, why couldn't you have made me more sympathetic? After all, I am a grandfather."
Originally the actors in the flashback scenes wore pants with zippers. One of the musicians pointed out that the zipper had not been invented at that time, so some scenes had to be re-shot with button-fly trousers.
In the scene in which young Vito negotiates with Signor Roberto on the street, a passerby interrupts to say hello to Vito. Carmelo Russo was an extra who was supposed to just walk by but he improvised speaking to Vito. Francis Ford Coppola did not like that Russo interrupted the scene. But Robert De Niro liked that it showed how much people in the neighborhood respected Vito and convinced Coppola to keep Russo's line.
Originally it was to be Clemenza who agrees to testify against the Corleones. According to Coppola, Richard S. Castellano (who was the highest paid actor in The Godfather (1972)) wanted to write his own lines and wanted a large salary increase. Consequently his character was replaced by Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) who received an Oscar nomination for the performance. But according to Ardell Sheridan, Castellano refused to regain the 50 pounds required to for the role due to health reasons so Coppola decided to replace him rather than have a thinner Clemenza.
There was much debate over whether Robert De Niro should grow a mustache for the scenes where young Vito is a few years older but De Niro insisted. For the scenes where Vito returns to Sicily, he gained weight and wore a smaller version of the dental appliance Marlon Brando wore in The Godfather (1972) Part I.
The door to Vito's olive oil business was rigged so that it would not open if a nail was inserted into the lock. Coppola kept this a secret from Leopoldo Trieste, who played Signor Roberto, and his difficulty in opening the door was real. Coppola wanted to film Trieste, a known Italian comedian, improvising his way through the scene. When Genco opens the door, Frank Sivero surreptitiously pulls the nail out.
Marlon Brando was scheduled to return for a cameo in the flashback at the end but, because of the way Paramount treated him during The Godfather (1972), he did not show up for shooting on the day the scene was filmed. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the scene without Vito and it was filmed the next day.
The plot thread with Sen. Geary is a direct reference to The Godfather (1972), when Vito laments that he wanted Michael to be a "big shot" who "pulled the strings." In particular, he had hoped Michael would become a Senator. Michael assures him, "we'll get there, Pop." At the opening of this film, we see Michael explicitly rebuffing the demands of a US Senator, turning the tables by making demands of his own.
Francis Ford Coppola, having nearly been fired several times from the first film, was given a Mercedes-Benz limousine from Paramount as a reward for the record success of The Godfather (1972) and an incentive to direct a sequel. He agreed on several conditions - that the sequel be interconnected with the first film with the intention of later showing them together; that he be allowed to direct his own script of The Conversation (1974); that he be allowed to direct a production for the San Francisco Opera; and that he be allowed to write the screenplay for The Great Gatsby (1974) - all prior to production of the sequel for a Christmas 1974 release.
In an early version of the script, an ongoing story line was Tom Hagen having an affair with Sonny Corleone's widow. This was later discarded, but the line where Michael Corleone tells Hagen that he can take his "wife, children and mistress to Las Vegas" was kept.
Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay even though half of the script was adapted and half was original. The story of Michael Corleone is original while the story of the young Vito Corleone came from The Godfather (1972) novel but was not used in the first film.
In his DVD commentary, Francis Ford Coppola claimed The Godfather: Part II (1974) was the first numbered sequel in film history. In actual fact, the British film Enemy from Space (1957) was the first (released 17 years earlier). The Godfather Part II is the first US film sequel to use such numbering though.
While the word "mafia" is never spoken in The Godfather (1972), it is heard three times in this film, during the Senate hearings. Sen. Geary says, "These hearings on the Mafia... ". The committee Chairman says, "You are the head of the most powerful Mafia family in this country". Michael Corleone in his statement says, "Whether it is called 'Mafia' or 'Cosa Nostra' or whatever other name you wish... "
Although Nino Rota's score for The Godfather (1972) was withdrawn an Oscar nomination because he reused the same theme from his previous score for Fortunella (1958), he was still awarded the Oscar for Best Original Score for the sequel even though it still used the same love theme from the first film.
The paper currency that Vito hands to Signor Roberto is historically accurate. The bills used are series 1914 large size $10 Federal Reserve Notes. Large size notes measure 7-3/8 by 3-1/8 inches compared to the small note, printed from 1928 to the present, measuring 6-1/8 by 2-5/8 inches.
A test screening of the film garnered negative reactions from the audience. They found cutting back and forth between Michael and young Vito confusing and bothersome. Francis Ford Coppola and his editors decided to decrease the frequency of the transitions in order to make the parallel stories easier to follow.
The golden telephone presented to Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista is based on an actual event. You can see the actual gold-plated (not solid gold) telephone in Havana's Museum of the Revolution (formerly Batista's presidential palace). The replica made for the movie looks pretty much like the original. No reference to the film is made in the information card of the telephone on display.
This was the first film sequel to receive five Academy Award Nominations for acting. Talia Shire (Best Actress In A Suporting Role), Lee Strasberg (Best Actor In A Supporting Role), Michael V. Gazzo (Best Actor In A Supporting Role) and Al Pacino (Best Actor) all received nominations, while Robert De Niro took home the Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role.
The orchestra that plays in the band shell during the party scene at Lake Tahoe was actually the Al Tronti Orchestra that played nightly for big names like Elvis Presley and Tom Jones at the Sahara Tahoe Casino/Hotel on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe while this film was being shot. Al Tronti himself sits in the orchestra in the front room (only seen in shadow). He wasn't allowed to appear as the orchestra conductor since he looked "too Italian" and the orchestra in the movie was supposed to be a West Coast group not able to play any traditional Italian music.
This was the last film printed in the US in the classic "imbibition" Technicolor dye-transfer process, which produced better color accuracy and longevity than color print films of the time. The British and Italian lines were not shut down until a few years later. The British equipment was purchased by the Beijing Film and Video Lab in 1978 and used to print Chinese color films until the early 1990s.
According to the chart shown during the hearings, the Corleone family's buttonmen/soldiers are: Luca Brasi (deceased), Chris Pennari alias 'The Manager', Donato Tolentinicci, Gaetano De Luna alias 'Gary Dee', Roberto Nelenza alias 'Thunder Bob', William Cicci, Pauli Gato [sic] (deceased), Nino Arneldi alias 'The Patch', Victor Vinatonni alias 'Vicky Veal', Calogero Radeni, Rafilo Gernzo, Carmine Caronda alias 'The Plunge', Francis Forducci alias 'The Kid', Ricardo Simmini alias 'Powder', Frank Corteale, Ettore Radeni alias 'Oily Hand', Salvatore Plumari alias 'Sally Pee', Samuel Corocco, Angelo Granelli alias 'The Trojan' (in jail), Gino Corsetta (in jail), Bartolo Neni alias 'O'Neal' (in jail), Joeseph Bronski alias 'Joey Jail' (deceased), Natale Parri alias 'Fat Nat', Alphonse Barino alias 'Al Barret', Gino Fredonna alias 'Pretty Boy' (deceased), Sabastino Sabela (in jail), Lawrence Tippirri, Gaetano Sirillo, Tony Dinegio alias 'Tony Ding', Carmen Della, Frank Darra alias 'Frankie Dare' (in jail), Alphonse Evolloni alias 'Al Ove' (deceased), Peter Leone alias 'The Lion' (in jail), Cassandros Fracca alias 'David Gelly', Charles Locirno (deceased), Cristoforo D'Binna
Timothy Carey, who had turned down the offer to play Luca Brasi in the original, was offered the role of Don Fanucci in this film. While performing his audition at Paramount Studios in which Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were present, Carey pulled a prop gun loaded with blanks out of a pastry box he had with him, and fired a shot at Coppola, before pretending to commit suicide. Reports differ as to whether Coppola immediately offered Carey the role, or whether Carey was removed by security. In addition, the actor made several monetary demands that caused him to be passed over.
Francis Ford Coppola originally wanted fellow director Elia Kazan to play Hyman Roth, but Kazan passed on the opportunity. On the DVD commentary track, Coppola detailed how he visited Kazan with the request, and remembered that Kazan was bare-chested. As an homage, Roth (Lee Strasberg) is bare-chested when Michael Corleone visits him.
Don Fanucci says that, in order to show proper respect to him, Vito and his friends should allow him to "wet his beak a little", by giving him a share of their profits. This is Sicilian slang, meaning "to get a piece of the pie", a common expression often used to indicate the extortion activities committed by mafia members.
Michael and family stay at "The Washington Hotel" during the senate hearings. The shot of the hotel is the same entrance/exit where John Hinkley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Originally, Kay was to truly have a miscarriage. It was Talia Shire's idea that she would have an abortion instead, as the ultimate way to hurt Michael. To thank her for this idea, Francis Ford Coppola wrote in the scene in which she tearfully asks Michael to forgive Fredo.
The presence of oranges in all three "Godfather" movies indicates that a death or an assassination attempt will soon happen. The Senator is framed for murder after playing with oranges at the Corleone house, and Johnny Ola brings an orange into Michael's office before the attempt on Michael's life. Fanucci eats an orange just before he is gunned down and Michael is eating an orange while plotting to kill Roth. However, after the young Vito Coreleone buys oranges from a street vendor, no immediately related death occurs.
As the "deceased" Mama Corleone, Morgana King only appeared in the coffin for the establishing shot where her face is clearly visible. In all other shots, Coppola's mother, Italia Coppola, stood in for Ms. King since she (King) initially refused to be in the coffin at all.
According to the script, the movie's last shot in the film centering on Michael as he gazes at the lake occurs in 1968. That accounts for Al Pacino's additional wrinkles and slightly receded and graying hairline. It was actually the concluding aspect of a scene with his son, Anthony, who declares he will not follow in his father's footsteps. Anthony was portrayed by an actor about 18 years old; the scene was half filmed, but Francis Ford Coppola lost the light before wrapping for the day and was unable to return to complete the scene.
The shooting script included a scene with an older, diabetic Michael talking with an 18-year-old Anthony but this scene was cut. The discarded scene also included Connie saying that Fredo drowned in the lake. These ideas were eventually used in The Godfather: Part III (1990).