Happy New Year!
Well, the clock has now struck midnight on the West Coast and that officially means that it is 2022 in the United States! It’s a new year, which means that we have another chance to get things right or, at the very least, not repeat the mistakes of the previous year.
I’m looking forward to 2022 for a number of reasons. We’ve got a lot planned here at Through the Shattered Lens. So, what better way to start things off than by sharing a scene that I love from one of the greatest and most important films of all time, 1974’s The Godfather Part II?
The scene below takes place on New Year’s Eve. The scene starts in 1958 and it ends in 1959. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his brother Fredo (John Cazale) are in Havana at the invitation of Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). Roth know that Cuba could be a gold mine for the American mob but Michael, from the start, realizes that the country’s corrupt government is on the verge of collapse. Tragically, it’s also in Havana that Michael realizes that Fredo betrayed him to his enemies.
On December 31st, 1958, as the corrupt and wealthy celebrate a new year in Havana, the communist rebels ride into the city. While the President of Cuba prepares to announce that he will be fleeing the country, Michael confronts his brother and tells him that he knows the truth. Later, as they both attempt to flee the country, Michael and Fredo see each other on the streets. Fredo runs from Michael, refusing his offer to help. Though Fredo would eventually return to the family, the film’s ending revealed Fredo’s first instinct was the correct one.
Much of the scene below is based on fact. The Cuban government did fall on New Year’s Eve and Fidel Castro and his rebels did triumphantly ride into Havana on January 1st. Before Castro came to power, the Mafia did have a major stake in Cuba and reportedly quite a few mobsters were in Havana when Castro took over. Meyer Lansky (on whom the film’s Hyman Roth was based) was one of the many mob officials who were rumored to have caught the last flight off of the island. Seeking to be the only mob boss in his country, Castro did force the Mafia out of Cuba, which led to an alliance between organized crime and the CIA to try to overthrow Castro. At the time that The Godfather Part II was released, the details of the CIA and the Mafia’s attempts to assassinate Castro were just starting to be revealed to the public. As powerful as the scene below is today, it probably resonated even more with audiences in 1974. In 1974, this was all still recent history and it undoubtedly brought to mind the still-fresh national trauma of the assassination of the Kennedy brothers.
Beyond the historical significance of the scene below, it also features brilliant work from two actors who will forever be linked together, Al Pacino and the late John Cazale. Cazale and Pacino first met while they were both working off-Broadway, years before Mario Puzo even started writing the novel that would become The Godfather. They were close friends and, along with co-starring in The Godfather films, they also played bank-robbing partners in Dog Day Afternoon. Tragically, John Cazale died of cancer at the age of 42. He only appeared in five films, every one of which was nominated for Best Picture and one could argue that the Academy’s failure to nominate Cazale for either Dog Day Afternoon or Godfather Part II is one of the most unforgivable oversights in Oscar history.
That said, it’s a new year. Save the arguing for later. Here’s a scene that I love: