The Godfather, released in 1972, was an instant classic for a reason. Based on an equally spellbinding novel by Mario Puzo, this adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola has kept audiences mesmerized – after initial screenings, people were so amazed that they sat in silence for a good few minutes before applauding – and provided endless lines for us to quote. So here’s an offer you can’t refuse – 25 of the wildest facts about this cinematographic masterpiece.
It’s considered the second best movie of all time!
Did you know that only one movie has beat this one for the top of the best movie ever list (according to IMDB)? The Shawshank Redemption is #1, with The Godfather at #2. The film still continues to stun, rake in revenue, and was the highest-grossing film of its year.
Wait, no one wanted to make the movie?
Even though the novel was well-received, the movie was not an easy sell for directors. A total of 12 directors turned down the job before Francis Ford Coppola reluctantly signed on due to financial pressure.
By all regards, his first week of directing was a disaster – Al Pacino got injured on set, and filming was disastrously behind schedule. Paramount Pictures even had a replacement director lined up! Coppola showed the studio, however – aside from its enormous box office success, he also finished filming ahead of schedule and under budget.
What other huge life event almost derailed the filming?
Coppola managed to pull himself together, despite another distraction – a new baby. His third child, Sofia, was born during that time. She ended up acting in The Godfather III and becoming a respected director herself. Also, Marlon Brando threatened to quit unless Coppola stayed, which couldn’t have hurt.
Ever notice this about the cars?
In order to save money, Paramount Pictures wanted to change the setting to Kansas in the 1970s, instead of New York in the 1940s. Thankfully, Coppola stuck to his guns and insisted on keeping the script true to the book.
You can see an interesting detail that gives away the time frame – the cars have wooden bumpers. During the war effort of the 40s, chrome car bumpers were donated by drivers and replaced with wooden ones. It took quite a while until those disappeared from the general public.
Who tried to stop the film from being released?
As a movie about the Mafia, there was the expected backlash. Mob boss Joseph Colombo Sr. tried to stop filming. “It became clear very quickly that the Mafia — and they did not call themselves the Mafia — did not want our film made. We started getting threats,” a production assistant said.
Colombo was ultimately unsuccessful, but managed to get the words “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” taken from the script. Eventually, the community changed their minds and some extras on set were actual mob members.
Which famous director helped with this film?
Francis Ford Coppola did accept a bit of help during filming. Before he was famous, George Lucas helped shoot the montage scenes in the movie. He later said that the money he made doing so helped fund his movie American Graffiti.
Where can you see Francis Ford Coppola’s family?
Sofia Coppola acted in earnest in The Godfather III, and had a passive role in the first film – as the baby getting baptized. Coppola’s family were extras in the scene, which was officiated by a real bishop, and was filmed at the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC and the Church of St. Joachim and St. Anne in the Pleasant Plains on Staten Island.
Who was the role of Vito written for?
Marlon Brando was picked for the role by writer Mario Puzo. He wrote to the actor, “I wrote a book called The Godfather which has had some success and I think you’re the only actor who can play the part Godfather with that quiet force and irony (the book is an ironical comment on American society) the part requires.”
However, studios considered Brando to be bad for filming (due to a reputation for delaying productions) and were looking at casting Laurence Olivier, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, Carlo Ponti, or Danny Thomas for the role of Vito Corleone.
What inspired the cat scene?
In one of the most famous scenes (and images!), the movie opens with Vito Corleone sitting, stroking a cat. That was an improvised bit that Brando and Coppola threw in to help illustrate the character’s personality as both ruthless criminal mastermind and doting, benevolent family man. The cat enjoyed sitting on Brando’s lap, purring so loudly that lines had to be re-dubbed.
What did Coppola do to ensure the acting would seem realistic?
The movie focuses a lot on the family ties and bonds. In order to create the family dynamic, Coppola had all the lead characters sit down for family meals. No one was allowed to break character, to help create the realistic family roles seen in the final film.
Did you know that Lenny Montana actually flubbed his lines?
Lenny Montana, who plays the terrified Luca Brasi, was a real-life tough guy and wrestler, but got genuinely scared in front of Marlon Brando and the camera. His nervous recitation of the lines, and the scene where he is practicing delivering the speech are a product of his nerves, but ended up illustrating the real terror people must have felt at addressing The Don.
How did Marlon Brando get Vito’s look just right?
Vito Corleone was envisioned as a bullish man, with a strong jawline. In order to achieve that look, Marlon Brando was fitted with a prosthetic mouthpiece that muffled his voice and gave him that indecipherable mumble. The mouthpiece took three hours to install each morning, and is on display at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.
Why did Marlon Brando and Al Pacino boycot the Oscars?
Brando was nominated for Best Oscar at the Academy Awards. He refused to accept it for altruistic reasons – the portrayal of American Indians by Hollywood. His award was rejected by Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather.
Al Pacino was also nominated, for Best Supporting Actor, and also refused to attend, for more egotistical reasons. Pacino was angry that he was only nominated for Best Supporting Actor, despite having more screen time than Brando.
What’s the scariest part about the horse scene?
The word iconic is used a lot, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the horse head scene is absolutely iconic. The head was real, taken from a local dog food manufacturer, with fake blood to round out the scene.
During rehearsals, actor John Marley would react to a fake horse head in the bed. However, in the scene that ended up getting filmed, the real horse head was put in the bed, unbeknownst to Marley. His screams are those of genuine terror.
Wait, there was a mooning contenst going on on-set?
On a lighter note, cast members Marlon Brando, James Caan, and Robert Duvall made sure to enjoy themselves during filming. By that we mean that they spent the time trying to out-moon each other. Bare rear ends were common, with each actor trying something more and more outlandish until Brando out-shined them all by showing his backside in the middle of a huge wedding-reception scene. He was awarded with a belt buckle with the words “Mighty Moon King” emblazoned on it for his efforts.
Who really really wanted to play Vito?
Why was Frank Sinatra upset about the movie?
Jimmy Fontane, played by Al Martino, is a boozing, womanizing singer. His character is loosely based on Frank Sinatra, who took great offense to the comparison. Sinatra even attempted to sue the production, and when a well-meaning friend attempted to introduce Mario Puzo and Sinatra, the singer allegedly lost it and tried to start a fight with Puzo. He yelled, “Get out of my f***ing sight…I’ll tear your f***ing head off!” when Puzo tried to say hello, in the hopes of hearing Sinatra out.
In the scene where Vito Corleone gets killed, what interesting reason was given for shooting it aerially?
Most of the shots are quite uniform, aside from one aerial shot. In the scene where Vito Corleone is shot down, Coppola managed to convince the cinematographer, Gordon Willis, to shoot from above, telling Willis that it represented God’s point of view.
What’s interesting about Al Pacino’s grandparents?
Al Pacino’s family immigrated from Corleone, Sicily, where the Don had come from. Corleone means “lionhearted” in Italian.
Another interesting name connection is Coppola – which means a flat-brimmed cap in Italian, and is worn a lot during the film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
What was the opening scene supposed to be?
The movie was supposed to open with a shot of the family wedding, but that was scrapped in favor of the dramatic opening monologue, after a friend looked at the original script and suggested Coppola open the film with something more unexpected.
Who is Moe Greene’s character based on?
Moe Greene, the Jewish mobster who is credited with “building” Vegas, is a direct parallel to Bugsy Siegel. Both were Jewish, worked for famous mob lords, and built up Las Vegas. In the movie, Greene is shot through the eye for moving against the Corleones. Bugsy Siegel was shot by snipers for overrunning costs on building the Flamingo, a famous Las Vegas hotel.
How did the actors get into character?
The actors got into character by hanging out with real life Mafia members. James Caan in particular became close with Carmine “The Snake” Persico and noting “how they’re always touching themselves. Thumbs in the belt. Touching the jaw. Adjusting the shirt. Gripping the crotch.”
What other pranks did Marlon Brando pull?
Marlon Brando was a prankster. Aside from the mooning incident, he also decided to make the other actors work harder. In the scene where he returns home and has his people carry him up the stairs, he decided to put weights under his body, to make it harder for them to lift him.
Why were there oranges in so many scenes?
Finally, some think that oranges are symbolic of death as they appear in quite a few scenes where people die. (Total body count of the movie, including the horse? 18!) In his book on the making of the film, The Godfather Legacy, Harlen Lebo writes, “For [production designer] Dean Tavoularis, oranges were simply another carefully chosen compliment to otherwise somberly dressed sets. ‘We knew this film wasn’t going to be about bright colors, and oranges make a nice contrast,’ said Tavoularis. ‘I don’t remember anybody saying, Hey, I like oranges as a symbolic message.’ “
Finally, watch the Oscar rejection speech!
Watch the speech that Sacheen Littlefeather gave when rejecting Brando’s Oscar!
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