To entice the director back for the sequel, the studio agreed to whatever demands he made. Coppola's requirements included no studio involvement, his salary, and that the title be "The Godfather Part II".
Paramount argued only against the last one, claiming that people wouldn't go see it as they would think it was the second half of a film they already saw. However, they promised Coppola agreement so it became the first in a very long line of American made numbered movie sequels.
Then, of course, when he needed money and finally agreed to do another one, he wanted to call it "The Death of Michael Corleone", but the studio insisted on "Part III".
Ellis Island wasn't nearly as well restored during filming as it is now. They had to recreate it in a fish market during the shoot in Europe, and hang a picture of the Statue of Liberty in the window.
In order to get the cast familiar with their characters for the first film, Coppola made them have a dinner together in character and improvise conversations. Due to the expanded nature of the sequel, this exercise was replaced by improv-ing a full day in character at the Lake Tahoe compound location.
The biggest problem with the Lake Tahoe location was the altitude. Every time Coppola tried to make spaghetti for the crew, the water wouldn't boil and the macaroni came out terrible. (If you don’t understand the level of this tragedy, you are not Italian.)
Not everyone got their demands met. Richard Castellano wanted all his dialogue written by a friend of his instead of the screenwriter for the rest of the movie. Hence the inclusion of Frankie Five Angles, who is saddened by Clemenza's death and acts as his replacement.
Troy Donahue played a character named Merle Johnson which is his real name, neat!
There are a million famous quotes that originated in these films. Even, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer," which sounds like an ancient proverb, was first said in Part II.
Fidel Castro said the scenes set in Cuba (filmed in the Dominican Republic) were very accurate.
The scene of Hyman Roth's birthday on top of the building took a week to shoot, because they wanted it sunny and the sun kept going behind clouds. On one day they couldn't find the patterned shirt Roth had been wearing all week so one of the prop guys had to take a sharpie to a white shirt and draw the pattern on. This is why we hire interns.
Mario Puzo was strongly against Fredo being enough of a traitor that Michael would have him killed.
Coppola correctly thought it would make good drama.
Puzo only agreed to write it if Michael wouldn't kill Fredo while their mother was alive... which Coppola correctly thought would be even better drama.
Personal Note: I never had trouble with this part of the story, it was an obvious path from Fredo being weak and easy to manipulate and obvious demonstration of Michael's complete ruthlessness.
I was always much more troubled with Frankie Pentangeli turning states evidence. I think it's because he's very Frissora like (Grandpa's clan).
Coppola said he was supposed to represent the "old school" Italians. That could be why he reminds me of my relatives…or maybe the mustache or him using, "Ugatz!"
Honestly though, I think it’s the whole "Can o Peas" dialogue that really did it.
HOLY CANNOLI I had no idea it was Danny Aiello who tried to strangle Frankie, apparently I hadn't watched these films in far too long.
When the landlord came to apologize to Vito (Dinero), Coppola demanded he exit quickly. Then he installed a trick nail in the door that wouldn't allow it to open until young Tessio pulled it out. The frantic scrabbling at the door was real. Talk about method acting.
"Don Corlione" though used throughout, is an incorrect use of the title. It should be with the first name, Don Vito, or Don Michael. I should have known that, I've seen every version of Zorro there is, and it’s always Don Diego, not Don Vega.
Fredo's story about using the Hail Mary to catch fish came from real events in Coppola's childhood.
That would be thinking saying a prayer helps him catch fish, not that his uncle was killed by his father's unfeeling hit man...
At least I hope not, that's not the sort of thing you want to learn from casual commentary.
Coppola thought he could get Brando back for the final scene to tie everything together until almost the last minute. He rewrote it as a surprise party with Vito arriving off camera because they couldn't reach an agreement. That makes me sad.
Another personal note:
There have been many reviews stating The Godfather Part II is the only sequel (except maybe Bride of Frankenstein) that definitively surpassed the original. Viewing it more objectively now I can see that it does in some ways (scope, acting), but I never enjoyed it as much, except for the young Vito scenes. Due to my weird way of noticing important cultural stuff, I read the book before I saw any of the films.
The rise of Vito Corleone stuff in Part II is in the novel intermixed with the story used to make the first film. As fantastic as the films are, there's a difference between the book and the movies that always disappointed me.
Michael's cinematic path (and very well done it is) is the story of a good man who turns evil. He takes over his father's position, but ends up tearing his family apart instead of holding it together.
The book gave me a much stronger vibe of his story being a man who starts out separate from his family and grows to become a man who is truly like his father. This extends to Kay. While in the first film her final shot is being shut out from Michael’s world and the later films follow and expand on that, in the book she starts to adopt the role Michael's mother played, even accompanying her to church daily to pray for the souls of their husbands.
Where I almost completely give up quoting commentary and run off on my own tangents.