It's rare, indeed, that a Hollywood sequel is as good, or better than, the original film - rarer still when the original is one of the greatest American films ever. All the more reason to cherish The Godfather: Part II, which airs tonight, immediately after The Godfather, on AMC.
About 1972's The Godfather (8 p.m.), there are few superlatives left to throw around. Suffice it to say that it's one of those films that demands to be seen, lest one be accused of cultural ignorance. A culmination of the 1960s-era trend of turning bad guys into heroes, Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece fires on every cylinder: great acting (Marlon Brando is every bit as good as his reputation suggests), masterful direction, sublime cinematography (Gordon Willis turns the dark into a character itself) and pitch-perfect writing, with lines that have become part of the cultural vernacular.
The Godfather: Part II (midnight), released two years later, doesn't try to trump or replicate the earlier film. Instead, it adds layer after layer, filling us in on Don Corleones both past (Robert De Niro's young Vito) and future (following Al Pacino's Michael into the 1960s). It's takes on business and family, power and corruption, betrayal and redemption, turning the entire Corleone family into an American success straight out of Greek tragedy. Though maybe not as readily accessible as the first film, it's a wonderfully satisfying effort in its own right.
Also today, Stanley Kubrick's 1957 Paths of Glory (8 p.m., TCM) is one of the great anti-war films, as well as the movie that established Kubrick's reputation as an auteur director (before the term was widely known) of the first order. Kirk Douglas stars as a conscience-stricken French commander whose troops refuse an impossible order, and are forced to suffer the unfair and indefensible consequences. Watch for a wily performance from Adolphe Menjou as the general who simply won't countenance such a dereliction of duty.