The Novel Casting Screenplay & Production
Mario Puzo modeled the character of Don Vito Corleone on New York mob bosses Joe Profaci and Vito Genovese. Many of the events of his novel are based on actual incidents that occurred in the lives of Profaci, Genovese and their families. Puzo based Don Vito’s personality on his own mother’s.
In the novel the Corleone family has a victorious rise to power in earlier New York gang wars in which Don Corleone survives a previous assassination attempt and Al Capone sends triggermen from Chicago in an unsuccessful attempt to aid a rival gang.
The novel details the savage attack on the two men who assaulted the undertaker Bonasera’s daughter, which was led by Paulie Gatto and involved retainer thugs, this was only alluded to in the movie.
Mario Puzo gave Vito’s eldest son the nickname of “Sonny” after the nickname given to the son of ‘Al Capone’. The similarities end there, Sonny Capone did not enter his father’s business.
In the novel a teenager Sonny’ dabbles impulsively in street crime and utterly lacks the tact and cool headedness possessed by his father.
Jack Woltz’s pedophilia is explicitly shown and mentioned by Hagen to Don Corleone in the novel; this was only briefly alluded to in the movie.
Don Corleone’s ingenious plan to bring Michael out of exile in Sicily is detailed in the novel.
The fates of Michael’s bodyguards in Sicily, Fabrizio and Calo differ in the novel. It’s stated that Calo dies along with Apollonia in the car explosion, and Fabrizio, implicated as an accomplice in the bombing, is shot and killed as one more victim in the famous “baptism scene” after he is tracked down running a pizza parlor in Buffalo. The movie has them both surviving, Calo, in fact, appears in the third installment. Fabrizio’s murder was deleted from the movie but publicity photos of the scene exist. However, he is later killed in a completely different scene in The Godfather Saga which was deleted from The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Connie’s confrontation with Michael over Carlo’s death is portrayed somewhat differently in the novel. Although she is initially distraught, accusing Michael of executing her husband as revenge for Sonny’s brutal murder, in the novel she apologizes to Michael a few days later, claiming she was mistaken, apparently glad to be rid of the abusive Carlo and that Sonny has been avenged. She also marries again less than a year later.
Singer Johnny Fontane is a major character in the novel and has misfortunes with women and problems with his voice, however, in the movie this was all trimmed away.
Sonny’s mistress, Lucy Mancini, was a substantial character in the novel, but only appears briefly in the movie. The novel states that Lucy Mancini was not pregnant by Sonny when she moved to Las Vegas, which is a major difference as in the movie The Godfather: Part III (1990) she has a son by Sonny, Vincent Mancini, who plays a major role.
Other characters with smaller roles in the movie than in the novel include Rocco Lampone and disgraced former police officer Al Neri’s recruitment as a Corleone hit man. These characters are reduced to non-speaking roles in the movie.
Characters dropped in The Godfather movie adaptation include Dr. Jules Segal, Vito’s terminally-ill consigliere, Genco Abbandando, in the movie he’s only spoken of, he first appears on film in The Godfather II (1974) and he appears in a deleted scene featured in The Godfather Saga and. Family friend Nino Valenti and Dr. Taza from Sicily are also not included.
In the novel Michael and Kay have two sons, but in the movies they have a son and a daughter.
The novel’s ending differs from the movie. In the movie Kay suddenly realizes that Michael has become “like his family”, however, the drama is toned down in the novel. She leaves Michael and goes to stay with her parents. When Tom Hagen visits her there, he lets her in on family secrets for which, according to him, he would be killed should Michael find out what he has revealed. Kay returns to Michael in an uneasy compromise; she loves him, holds herself apart from the details of his work and attends Catholic mass daily with Mama Corleone to pray for Michael’s soul, just as Mama had done for Vito.
Casting The Novel Screenplay & Production
Francis Ford Coppola initially offered the part of Don Vito Corleone to retired Maltese actor Joseph Calleia but the offer was turned down by Calleia due to health reasons.
Director, Francis Ford Coppola’s casting choices were unpopular with studio executives at Paramount Pictures, particularly Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone. Coppola’s first two choices for the role were both Brando and Laurence Olivier, but Olivier’s agent refused the role saying ‘Lord Olivier is not taking any jobs. He’s very sick. He’s gonna die soon and he’s not interested.’ Olivier lived 18 years after the refusal.
In a September/October 2003 “Cigar Aficionado” magazine cover story, Coppola said, “I wanted either an Italian-American or an actor who’s so great that he can portray an Italian-American. So, they said, ‘Who do you suggest?’ I said, ‘Look, I don’t know, but who are the two greatest actors in the world? Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. Well, Laurence Olivier is English. He looked just like Vito Genovese. His face is great.’ I said, ‘I could see Olivier playing the guy, and putting it on.’ And Brando is my hero of heroes. I’d do anything to just meet him. But he’s 47, he’s a young, good-looking guy. So, we first inquired about Olivier and they said, ‘Olivier is not taking any jobs. He’s very sick. He’s gonna die soon and he’s not interested.’ So, I said, ‘Why don’t we reach out for Brando?'”
Paramount wanted Ernest Borgnin for the role of Don Vito Corleone, but they originally refused to allow Coppola to cast Brando in the role, citing difficulties Brando had on recent film sets. One studio executive proposed Danny Thomas for the role citing the fact that Don Corleone was a strong “family man.” At one point, Coppola was told by the then-president of Paramount that “Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture”. After pleading with the executives, Coppola was allowed to cast Brando only if he appeared in the film for much less salary than his previous films, perform a screen-test, and put up a bond saying that he would not cause a delay in the production (as he had done on previous film sets). Coppola chose Brando over Ernest Borgnine on the basis of Brando’s screen test, which also won over the Paramount leadership. Brando later won an Academy Award for his portrayal, which he refused to accept.
Orson Welles lobbied to get the part of Vito Corleone. However, although Francis Ford Coppola was a fan of his, he had to turn him down because he already had Marlon Brando in mind for the role and felt Welles wouldn’t be right for it.
Andy Griffith, was almost cast in the role of Vito Corleone. He had given such a great audition that Francis Ford Coppola was ready to cast him instead of Marlon Brando.
Edward G. Robinson, Danny Thomas, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, and George C. Scott were all considered by Paramount Pictures for the role of Don Vito Corleone.
Paramount also considered casting Italian producer Carlo Ponti. Director, Francis Ford Coppola objected as Vito had lived in America since childhood and thus wouldn’t speak with Ponti’s Italian accent.
Frank Sinatra, despite his reported distaste for the novel and opposition to the film, had discussions with Coppola about playing Vito Corleone and at one point actually offered his services. Coppola, however, was adamant in his conviction that Brando take the role instead. This would be the third time Brando performed in a part sought by Sinatra, after playing Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954) and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls (1955).
Burt Lancaster wanted the role of Vito Corleone but was never considered.
Brando’s previous film, Queimada (1969), had been a terrible flop and he could not get work in American pictures, being considered by many producers as “washed up”. Paramount executives initially would offer Marlon Brando only union scale for the role of Don Corleone. Finally, the studio relented and paid Brando $300,000, according to Coppola’s account. In his autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002), former Paramount production chief Robert Evans claims that Brando was paid $50,000, plus points, and sold back his points to Paramount before the release of the picture for an additional $100,000 because he had female-related money troubles. Realizing the film was going to be a huge hit, Paramount was happy to oblige. This financial fleecing of Brando, according to Evans, is the reason he refused to do publicity for the picture or appear in the sequel two years later.
Marlon Brando was paid $50,000 for six weeks and weekly expenses of $1,000, plus 5% of the film, capped at $1.5 million. Brando later sold his points back to Paramount for $300,000.
Production began on March 29, 1971, but Marlon Brando worked on the film for 35 days between April 12 and May 28 so he could honor his commitment to the film Last Tango in Paris (1972).
Marlon Brando wanted to make Don Corleone look like a bulldog, so he stuffed his cheeks with cotton wool for the audition. For actual filming, he wore a mouthpiece made by a dentist; this appliance is on display in the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.
Don Vito Corleone’s distinctive voice was based on real-life mobster Frank Costello. Marlon Brando had seen him on TV during the Kefauver hearings in 1951 and imitated his husky whisper in the film.
Marlon Brando based some of his performance on Al Lettieri who plays Sollozzo. While preparing for On the Waterfront (1954), Brando became friendly with Lettieri, whose relative was a real-life Mafioso. Brando and Lettieri would later co-star in The Night of the Following Day (1968). Lettieri also helped Brando prepare for his Godfather role by bringing him to his relatives house for a family dinner.
Apparently Marlon Brando did not memorize most of his lines and read from cue cards during most of the film.
In reality, all the actors who played Marlon Brando’s sons, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, James Caan, and Al Pacino, were only between six and 16 years younger than he was.
When Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather to represent him at the awards ceremonies. The presenters of the award were Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann. When Moore offered the statuette to Littlefeather, she snubbed him and proceeded with her speech about the film industry’s mistreatment of American Indians.
Warren Beatty (who was also offered directing and producing duties), Jack Nicholson, and Dustin Hoffman were all offered the part of Michael Corleone, but all refused.
Martin Sheen, Dean Stockwell and James Caan auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone. Oscar-winner Rod Steiger campaigned hard for the role of Michael, even though he was too old for the part.
Suggestions of Alain Delon and Burt Reynolds for the role of Michael Corleone were rejected by Francis Ford Coppola.
Paramount production chief Robert Evans wanted Robert Redford to be cast in the part, Evans explained that Redford could fit the role as he could be perceived as “northern Italian”, but Coppola thought he was too waspy. Evans eventually lost the struggle over the actor he derided as “The Midget”. The Irish-American Ryan O’Neal then became the front-runner for the part, though it eventually was given to James Caan.
Before being cast as Michael, Al Pacino was committed to starring in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971). Coppola, in a 2003 “Cigar Aficionado” interview, said that Paramount pulled some strings and managed to get Pacino released. The Paramount brass, particularly Evans, were adamantly opposed to casting Pacino, who did poorly in screen tests, until they saw his excellent performance in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). Caan went back to his original role of Sonny when Pacino came on board.
Al Pacino was not well known at the time, having appeared in only two minor films, and the studio did not consider him right for the role of Michael Corleone, in part because of his height. Pacino was given the role only after Coppola threatened to quit the production.
During the shooting of The Godfather, many people were unhappy about the quality of acting Pacino was giving. They thought he was showing the character as dumb and slow-witted. It wasn’t until the scene of the Sollozo murder, on the third and fourth day of shooting, that the big heads at Paramount saw “quality acting” on Pacino’s part. However, Pacino was still not highly regarded until The Godfather became a big hit, and Coppola was criticized immensely, and was threatened to be fired for his cast choices and the manner in which he was filming the movie.
According to Al Pacino in TV documentary, The Godfather Family: A Look Inside (1990), he nearly got fired midway through filming. At the time Paramount execs only saw the early scenes of Michael at the wedding and were exclaiming, “When is he going to do something?” When they finally saw the scene where Michael shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey in the restaurant, they changed their minds and Pacino got to keep his job.
This was Al Pacino’s first Oscar nomination and marks the first of 4 consecutive nominations, a feat he shares with Jennifer Jones (1943-46), Thelma Ritter (1950-53), Marlon Brando (1951-54) and Elizabeth Taylor (1957-60).
A then-unknown Robert De Niro auditioned for the roles of Michael, Sonny, Carlo and Paulie Gatto. He was cast as Paulie, but Coppola arranged a “trade” with The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971) to get Al Pacino from that film. This in turn enabled De Niro to star as the young Vito Corleone in the sequel, which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role.
Anthony Perkins auditioned for the role of Sonny.
After Paramount production chief Robert Evans insisted that James Caan be cast as Michael, Carmine Caridi was cast in the role of Sonny. According to Evans, he told Francis Ford Coppola that he could cast Al Pacino as Michael as long as he cast Caan as Sonny. Although Caan had been Coppola’s first choice as Sonny, he decided that Caridi was better for the role and did not want to recast Caan. Evans insisted on Caan because he wanted at least one “name” actor to play one of the brothers and because the 6’4″ Caridi would tower over Pacino on screen. Caridi was later given a small part in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
James Caan credits the stage persona of “insult comic” Don Rickles for inspiring his characterization of Sonny Corleone.
Jerry Van Dyke, Bruce Dern, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and James Caan auditioned for the role of Tom Hagen. The role eventually went to Robert Duvall.
The only comment Robert Duvall made about his performance in The Godfather is that he wished “they would have made a better hairpiece” for his character.
A young Sylvester Stallone auditioned for Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto, but didn’t get either role.
Mia Farrow auditioned for Kay which eventually went to Diane Keaton.
Diane Keaton based much of her portrayal of Kay Adams on Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, Eleanor Coppola.
Originally the character of Connie Corleone was supposed to be played by someone Francis Ford Coppola called “plain looking, the daughter of a big-shot who is only married off because she’s the daughter of some big Mafioso guy.” Coppola was reluctant to let his sister Talia Shire audition for the role of Connie. He felt she was too pretty for the part and did not want to be accused of nepotism. Only at Mario Puzo’s request did Shire get a chance to audition.
William Devane was considered for the role of Moe Greene.
The character Moe Greene was modeled after Jewish mobster Bugsy Siegel.
Jewish actors James Caan and Abe Vigoda portray Italian characters (Santino Corleone, Salvatore Tessio), while Italian Alex Rocco, portrays a Jewish character (Moe Greene).
Frankie Avalon and Vic Damone, both established and experienced singers, auditioned for the role of Johnny Fontane. Francis Ford Coppola was most impressed with Damone and gave the role to him, but Al Martino was cast by the producers, and used his organized crime connections to ensure he kept the part. Ironically, Fontane sings “I Have But One Heart,” which was Damone’s first hit song.
According to Mario Puzo, the character of Johnny Fontane was not based on Frank Sinatra. However, everyone assumed that it was, and Sinatra was furious; apparently when he met Puzo at a restaurant he screamed vulgar terms and threats at Puzo. Sinatra was also vehemently opposed to the film. Due to this backlash, Fontane’s role in the film was scaled down to a couple of scenes.
Francis Ford Coppola originally wanted Stefania Sandrelli for the role of Apollonia, but she turned it down. Olivia Hussey was also considered for this role by casting director Fred Roos.
The casting of Richard Conte as Don Brazini was an idea by the mother of Martin Scorsese, who asked Francis Ford Coppola if he could be in the movie.
This was the final American studio film of actor Richard Conte (Don Emilio Barzini).
Frank Puglia was originally cast as Bonasera but had to back out due to illness.
Apparently Gianni Russo used his organized crime connections to secure the role of Carlo Rizzi, going so far as to get a camera crew to film his own audition and send it to the producers. However, Marlon Brando was initially against having Russo, who had never acted before, in the film; this made Russo furious and he went to threaten Brando. However, this reckless act proved to be a blessing in disguise: Brando thought Russo was acting and was convinced he would be good for the role.
During pre-production, Francis Ford Coppola shot his own unofficial screen tests with Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton at his home in San Francisco. Robert Evans was unimpressed by them and insisted that official screen tests be held. The studio spent $420,000 on the screen tests but in the end, the actors Coppola originally wanted were hired.
Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton each received $35,000 for their work on The Godfather, and Robert Duvall got $36,000 for eight weeks of work.
Along with Mario Puzo’s source novel, Francis Ford Coppola based many of The Godfather characters on members of his own family.
To some extent, The Godfather was a family affair for Director, Francis Ford Coppola. In chronological order of appearance:
- His sister Talia Shire portrayed Connie Corleone throughout the trilogy.
- His mother Italia Coppola serves as an extra in the restaurant meeting, she also had a scene as a Genco Olive Oil Company switchboard operator, but this ended up on the cutting room floor.
- His father Carmine Coppola who had a distinguished career as a composer, conductor and arranger, wrote additional music for the film and appeared as the piano player in the Mattress sequence.
- His sons Gian-Carlo Coppola and Roman Coppola were cast as Frank and Andrew Hagen, the two sons of Tom Hagen. They are seen in the scene where Sonny beats up Carlo and behind Al Pacino and Robert Duvall during the funeral scene.
- And his daughter Sofia Coppola is the baby Michael Francis Rizzi in the climactic baptism scene near the movie’s end (she was three weeks old at the time of shooting). Sofia later had a prominent role in The Godfather: Part III (1990) as Michael’s daughter, Mary.
Frank Sivero appears as an extra in the scene where Sonny beats up Carlo Rizzi. He would later appear in The Godfather: Part II (1974) as Genco Abbandando.
The associate producer, Gray Frederickson, made a cameo appearance as the cowboy in the studio when Tom Hagen encounters Woltz the first time.
According to Gary Frederickson, Lenny Montana, (who played Luca Brasi) had worked as a Mafia bodyguard, and had also bragged to Frederickson about working for the Mafia as an arsonist.
Ardell Sheridan, who plays Mrs. Clemenza, was Richard S. Castellano’s wife in real life.
This was Joe Spinell’s first film. He plays Willi Cicci, but is uncredited.
In the novel, Don Cuneo’s first name is Ottileo, but in the film he was known as Carmine Cuneo as homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s father, Carmine Coppola.
According to an August 1971 article by Nicholas Pileggi in The New York Times, a supporting cast member became so committed to his role that he accompanied a group of Mafia enforcers on a trip to beat up strike breakers during a labor dispute. But the enforcers had the wrong address and were unable to find the strike breakers. The actor’s name was not revealed.
Screenplay & Production The Novel Casting
Paramount executive Peter Bart bought the film rights to Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather” before it was even finished. It was still only a 20-page outline.
Paramount’s original idea was to make this a low-budget gangster film set in the present rather than a period piece set in the 1940s and 1950s. Francis Ford Coppola rejected Mario Puzo’s original script based on this idea.
The word “Mafia” does not appear in the screenplay. Apparently, the Italian-American Civil Rights League had an agreement with the film’s producer not to use the term “Mafia” in the film.
The term “godfather” was never actually used by the actual mob, author Mario Puzo just made it up. Yet after the book and film came out people started assuming it was, so it started appearing in news reports. And it is now actually used by the mob.
Francis Ford Coppola was not the first choice to direct the movie. Italian director Sergio Leone was offered the job first, but he but turned it down since he felt the story, which glorified the Mafia, was not interesting enough. He later regretted refusing the offer, but would go on to direct his own critically acclaimed gangster film, Once Upon a Time in America (1984), which focused on Jewish-American gangsters.
Peter Bogdanovich was then approached to direct The Godfather but he also declined the offer and made What’s Up, Doc? (1972) instead.
According to Paramount production chief Robert Evans, Coppola also did not initially want to direct The Godfather because he feared it would glorify the Mafia and violence, and thus reflect poorly on his Italian-Sicilian heritage ; on the other hand, Evans specifically wanted an Italian-American to direct the film because his research had shown that previous films about the Mafia that were directed by non-Italians had fared dismally at the box office, and he wanted to, in his own words, “smell the spaghetti”. When Coppola hit upon the idea of making it a metaphor for American capitalism, however, he eagerly agreed to take the job.
At the time, Coppola had directed eight previous films, the most notable of which was the film version of the stage musical Finian’s Rainbow, although he had also received an Academy Award for co-writing Patton (1970). Coppola was in debt to Warner Bros. for $400,000 following budget overruns on George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971), which Coppola had produced, and he took The Godfather on Lucas’s advice.
Francis Ford Coppola insisted on the film being called “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather” rather than just The Godfather (1972), because his original draft of the screenplay was so faithful to Puzo’s novel he thought Puzo deserved the credit for it.
According to Francis Ford Coppola in his “Cigar Aficionado” magazine interview, he had a meeting at his home in 1969 with producers Albert S. Ruddy and Gray Frederickson to discuss The Conversation (1974). He had sent the script to Marlon Brando who called him during the meeting to politely turn it down. Right before the meeting, Coppola took note of a newspaper advertisement for an upcoming novel titled “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo. Just a few months later, all five people would meet to discuss a film version of the novel.
According to Paramount production chief Robert Evans, Mafia crime boss Joe Colombo and his organization ‘The Italian-American Civil Rights League’ started a campaign to stop the film from being made. In Evans autobiography he states that Colombo called his home and threatened him and his family.
Paramount received many letters during pre-production from Italian-Americans, including politicians, decrying the film as anti-Italian. They threatened to protest and disrupt filming. Producer Albert S. Ruddy met with Colombo who demanded that the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” not be used in the film. Ruddy gave them the right to review the script and make changes. He also agreed to hire League members (mobsters) as extras and advisers. The angry letters ceased after this agreement was made. Paramount owner Charlie Bluhdorn read about the agreement in The New York Times and was so outraged that he fired Ruddy and shut down production. But Evans convinced Bluhdorn that the agreement was beneficial for the film and Ruddy was rehired.
According to Producer Albert S. Ruddy’s assistant, Bettye McCartt, Ruddy was warned by police that the Mafia was following his car. Ruddy would switch cars with McCartt in an effort to lose them. One night, McCartt found her car with the windows shot out and a note that read “Shut down the movie or else.”
There was intense friction between Coppola and Paramount, and several times Coppola was almost replaced. Paramount maintains that its skepticism was due to a rocky start to production, though Coppola believes that the first week went extremely well. The studio thought that Coppola failed to stay on schedule, frequently made production and casting errors, and insisted on unnecessary expenses. Coppola says he was shadowed by a replacement director, who was ready to take over if Coppola was fired, but despite such intense pressure, he managed to defend his decisions and avoid being replaced.
As Paramount senior management were dissatisfied with the early rushes, they considered replacing Francis Ford Coppola with Elia Kazan with the hope that Kazan would be able to work with the notoriously difficult Marlon Brando. Brando announced that he would quit the film if Coppola was fired and the studio backed down. Paramount brass apparently did not know of Brando’s dismay with Kazan over his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950’s.
The Godfather was set and shot in New York, at over 100 locations. Originally the entire film was to be shot in the Hollywood back lots in order to save production costs; however production designer Dean Tavoularis threatened to add two stories to each back lot building in order to replicate the look of New York City, the studio relented and allowed for shooting in New York.
Francis Ford Coppola turned in an initial director’s cut running at 126 minutes. Paramount production chief Robert Evans rejected this version and demanded a longer cut with more scenes about the family. The final release version was nearly 50 minutes longer than Coppola’s initial cut.
Most of the principal photography took place from March 29, 1971 to August 6, 1971, although a scene with Pacino and Keaton was shot in the autumn, there were a total of 77 days of shooting, fewer than the 83 for which the production had budgeted.
According to Francis Ford Coppola, the film took 62 days to shoot.
Although the dark photography of Gordon Willis was eventually copied by many other films, when the developed film came back from the lab, Paramount executives thought the look was a mistake. They ordered a different look but Willis and director Francis Ford Coppola refused.
According to Francis Ford Coppola, the term “Don Corleone” is actually incorrect Italian parlance. In Italian, addressing someone as “Don” would be like addressing them as “Uncle” in English, so the correct parlance would be “Don Michael” or “Don Vito”. Coppola says that Mario Puzo, who couldn’t speak Italian, simply made up the idea of using “Don” with a person’s last name, and it has now become a pop culture staple.
The film’s opening scene, is a long, slow zoom, starting with a close-up of the undertaker, Bonasera, who is petitioning Don Corleone, and ending with the Godfather, seen from behind, framing the scene. This zoom, which lasts for about three minutes, was shot with a computer-controlled zoom lens designed by Tony Karp. The lens was also used in the making of Silent Running (1972).
The scene in the beginning where Marlon Brando is giving instructions (some involving violence) while petting the cat was somewhat improvised. It was Brando’s idea to hold and pet the cat during the scene, to show both his character’s violent and kind sides.
The cat held by Marlon Brando in the opening scene was a stray the actor found while on the lot at Paramount, and was not originally called for in the script. The cat purred so loudly that it drowned out the lines from the other characters. They ended up having to re-record their voices.
The actor playing Luca Brasi, Lenny Montana, was so nervous about working with Marlon Brando that, in the first take of their scene together, he flubbed some lines. Francis Ford Coppola liked the genuine nervousness and used it in the final cut. The scenes of Brasi practicing his speech were added later.
The smack that Don Vito Corleone gives Johnny Fontane was not in the script. Marlon Brando improvised the smack and Al Martino’s confused reaction was real. According to James Caan, “Martino didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
John Martino (who played Paulie Gatto) ad-libbed the words “Madon” (Madonna) and “sfortunato” (unfortunate) when Paulie talks about stealing the wedding purse.
James Caan improvised the part where he throws the FBI photographer to the ground. The extra’s frightened reaction is genuine.
At Connie’s wedding, Sonny is seen in close quarters with Lucy Mancini (Jeannie Linero) Connie’s maid of honor at the event (wearing a pink dress). According to the novel, Sonny takes Lucy as his mistress (she is “that young girl” Don Corleone mentions to Sonny; she is also seen before Sonny visits Connie). The novel and film trilogy differ on her fate, though: in the novel she eventually moves on, settling down with a Las Vegas doctor; she is briefly seen in The Godfather: Part III (1990), with her son Vincent playing a major role.
The Don’s wife, Carmella Corleone, is seen singing at the wedding. Morgana King, who plays Carmella, is a gifted opera singer.
The character of Hollywood mogul Jack Woltz’s was patterned after Warner Bros. chief Jack L. Warner. His personality was based on MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who was a great racing aficionado and owned a racing stable. Mayer abandoned the sport, reportedly after his son-in-law William Goetz, who was his partner in the stable, got involved with the Mafia and fixed a race Mayer’s horse was the favorite to win.
The mansion of Jack Woltz was also used as the mansion of Alan Stanwyk in Fletch (1985).
In the novel, Jack Woltz, the movie producer whose horse’s head is put in his bed, is also shown to be a pedophile as Tom Hagen sees a young girl (presumably one of Woltz’s child stars) crying while walking out of Woltz’s room. This scene was cut from the theatrical release but can be found on the DVD (though Woltz can still briefly be seen kissing the girl on the cheek in his studio in the film).
During rehearsals, a false horse’s head was used for the famous horse’s head in the bed scene. However, for the actual shot, a real horse’s head was used, acquired from a dog-food factory. They painted on the stripe and added the fake blood. According to John Marley (who played Jack Woltz), his scream of horror was real as he was not informed that a real head was going to be used.
One of the movie’s most shocking moments involved the real severed head of a horse. Animal rights groups protested the inclusion of the scene. Coppola later stated that the horse’s head was delivered to him from a dog food company; a horse had not been killed specifically for the movie.
When Luca Brasi goes to visit the Tattaglia’s and is strangled, you can see his face turning slightly black due to strangulation. This effect was achieved by placing a type of translucent powder on the actor’s face which tints black when it comes in contact with water. So while Luca Brasi was being strangled, a fine mist of water was sprayed over his face to trigger the color change.
As Don Vito Corleone is buying oranges prior to the assassination attempt, there’s a poster in the store window advertising a boxing match involving Jake LaMotta. Robert De Niro plays the young Vito in The Godfather: Part II (1974) and also went on to play LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980).
The movie Michael and Kay were watching before Michael finds out that his father was shot was Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). McCarey’s name appears outside of Radio City Music Hall.
Apparently Richard S. Castellano, who played Peter Clemenza, ad-libbed the line “Take the cannoli”, which is part of one the most memorable lines in the movie “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
For the scene where Clemenza is cooking, Francis Ford Coppola originally wrote in the script, “Clemenza browns some sausage”. Upon seeing this, Mario Puzo crossed out “browns” and replaced it with “fries”, writing in the margin, “Gangsters don’t brown.”
The hospital scenes were filmed in two different locations: the exterior scenes were filmed at a side entrance to the Bellevue Hospital; and the interior shots were filmed at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in Manhattan, New York City.
The scenes in which Enzo the Baker comes to visit Vito Corleone in the hospital were shot in reverse with the outside scene shot first.
Gabriele Torrei, the actor who plays Enzo, had never acted in front of a camera before and his nervous shaking after the confrontation Michael has with Capt. McCluskey and car drives away was real.
According to Al Pacino, those were real tears in Marlon Brando’s eyes when Michael pledges himself to his father in the hospital scene.
According to Francis Ford Coppola in the DVD commentary, in the scene outside the hospital when Michael encounters Capt. McCluskey, the officer standing to the left of McCluskey, “Phil” is actually former legendary New York City police officer, Sonny Grosso. Grosso was the actual partner of Eddie Eagan, who was portrayed by Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in The French Connection (1971). Grosso’s character, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo was played by Roy Scheider. Grosso went on to direct and produce numerous police dramas for TV, usually about the New York Police Department (the best known is “NYPD Blue”).
Al Pacino wore a foam latex facial appliance that covered his entire left cheek and was made up with colors to match his skin tone and give the effect of bruising, to simulate the effect of having his jaw broken by Captain McCluskey.
During the scene where Sonny Corleone says “badda-beep, badda-boop, badda-boop, badda-beep”, James Caan originally heard the phrase “bada-bing!” from his acquaintance, the real-life mobster Carmine Persico, and improvised its use in the film.
During the scene in the study when the family decides Michael Corleone needs to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, Sonny Corleone is seen idly toying with a cane. The cane belonged to Al Pacino, who had badly injured his leg while filming Michael’s escape from the restaurant.
The scene with Michael driving with McCluskey and Sollozzo avoided the use of back-projection because of cost. Technicians moved lights behind the car to create the illusion.
At the meeting in the restaurant, Sollozzo speaks to Michael in Sicilian so rapidly that subtitles could not be used. Apparently this is the English translation of what says:
- He begins with: “I am sorry. What happened to your father was business. I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned. You must understand why I had to do that. Now let’s work through where we go from here.”
- When Michael returns from the bathroom, he continues in Sicilian: “Everything all right? I respect myself, understand, and cannot allow another man to hold me back. What happened was unavoidable. I had the unspoken support of the other Family dons. If your father were in better health, without his eldest son running things, no disrespect intended, we wouldn’t have this nonsense. We will stop fighting until your father is well and can resume bargaining. No vengeance will be taken. We will have peace. But your Family should interfere no longer.”
The startling scene of McCluskey’s shooting was accomplished by building up a fake forehead on top of actor Sterling Hayden. A gap was cut in the center, filled with fake blood, and capped off with a plug of prosthetic flesh. During filming, the plug was quickly yanked out with monofilament fishing line, making a bloody hole suddenly appear in Hayden’s head.
According to interviews in the Coppola Restoration DVD set, The Godfather was originally planned with an intermission due to its three-hour length. The intermission would have happened immediately after Michael murders Sollozzo and McClusky, which explains the operatic instrumental that begins playing when Michael is shown fleeing the restaurant, as well as the ensuing “newspaper” montage, which would have been the first scene post-intermission.
George Lucas put together the “Mattress Sequence”, the montage of crime scene photos and headlines about the war between the five families, as a favor to Francis Ford Coppola for helping him fund American Graffiti (1973). He asked not to be credited.
George Lucas used photos from real crime scenes in the “Mattress Sequence”. One of the most prominent photos shows two cops kneeling beside what looks like a man sleeping on the ground with his head propped up against a fence. That man is Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, Al Capone’s right-hand man who had, in fact, committed suicide with a gunshot to the head.
Because Corleone, Sicily, was too developed even in the early 1970s, the Sicilian town of Savoca, outside Taormina, was used for shooting the scenes where Michael is in exile in Italy.
During the sequences filmed in Sicily, Michael’s broken-jaw make-up does not match the make-up used during the sequences filmed in New York. This is because Paramount Pictures would not pay the costs of sending makeup artist Dick Smith to Italy with the rest of the crew.
Fabrizio, Michael’s Sicilian bodyguard who planted the bomb that killed Appolonia, was originally to be found by Michael at a pizza parlor he opens in America and subsequently blown away with a shotgun at the end of the movie as per “The Godfather” novel. This scene was filmed but ultimately cut because the makeup artists plastered Angelo Infanti with so much fake blood that the scene looked ridiculous. Photos of Michael Corleone with a hat, shotgun blazing, appeared in many magazines, despite the scene’s eventual deletion. Fabrizio’s death was filmed again, for The Godfather: Part II (1974), this time by car bomb (as the ultimate form of poetic justice), but that scene was also deleted from the theatrical version. It was restored in The Godfather: A Novel for Television (1977).
During an early shot of the scene where Don Vito Corleone returns home and his people carry him up the stairs, Marlon Brando put weights under his body on the bed as a prank, to make it harder to lift him.
Paramount was in financial trouble at the time of production and was desperate for a “big hit” to boost business, hence the pressure Coppola faced during filming. At one point during filming, Paramount production chief Robert Evans felt the film had too little action and considered hiring an action director to finish the job. To satisfy Evans, Francis Ford Coppola and his son Gian-Carlo Coppola developed the scene in which Connie and Carlo have their long fight. As a result, Evans was pleased enough to let Coppola finish the film.
In the scene where Sonny beats up Carlo, a truck in the background and a wooden box on the sidewalk are strategically placed to hide anachronistic objects in the background. The scene took four days to shoot and featured more than 700 extras.
During filming, James Caan and Gianni Russo (who plays Carlo Rizzi) did not get along and were frequently at loggerheads. During filming Sonny’s beating up Carlo, Caan nearly hit Russo with the stick he threw at him, and actually broke two of Russo’s ribs and chipped his elbow.
In the same scene, where Carlo is beaten by Sonny, a poster bearing the name “Thomas Dewey” can be seen on a wall. Thomas E. Dewey was New York City prosecutor who pursued gangsters in the 1930’s.
While Sonny is driving alone in his car, he’s listening to the 3 October 1951 radio broadcast of Russ Hodges calling the Dodgers-Giants playoff – a half-inning before Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”
In the scene where Sonny is killed by the men with the Tommy Guns, James Caan was very apprehensive about how many squibs he was wearing (149, a record number at that time, and therefore very dangerous). He only did that scene because he didn’t want to lose face in front of the female crew members.
Francis Ford Coppola shot Sonny’s assassination scene in one take with different cameras positioned at each shot. This was because there were 149 squibs taped onto James Caan’s body to simulate the effect of rapid machine-gun fire, and they couldn’t shoot another take.
The meeting between the heads of the Mafioso was filmed in the boardroom of the Penn-Central Railroad. This explains the train mural seen behind Don Barzini (Richard Conte).
Screenwriter Robert Towne wrote the scene on the patio between Don Corleone and his son Michael.
In the scene where Vito is in the garden with his grandson, he puts an orange peel in his mouth, and the kid looks scared. Well, the kid was really scared as Marlon Brando improvised that, and the kid wasn’t expecting it.
The three-year-old child actor Anthony Gounaris responded best when his real name was used while shooting the film. That’s why Michael’s son’s name is Anthony.
Don Corleone’s death scene, while it featured in the novel, was originally not to appear in the film because studio executives felt that the audience would see the funeral and know what had happened. Francis Ford Coppola shot the scene with three cameras in a private residence in Long Island (the makeshift garden itself was created from scratch and torn down immediately after shooting), with Marlon Brando ad-libbing his lines.
According to Francis Ford Coppola on The Godfather DVD commentary, the intercutting of the baptism scene with the gang killings during the movie’s climax did not really work until editor Peter Zinner added the organ soundtrack.
The baptism was filmed in two churches: the interior shots were filmed at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York and the exterior shots were filmed at the Mount Loretto Church in Pleasant Plains, Staten Island.
The shooting of Moe Green through the eye was inspired by the death of gangster Bugsy Siegel. To achieve the effect, actor Alex Rocco’s glasses had two tubes hidden in their frames. One had fake blood in it, and the other had a BB and compressed air. When the gun was shot, the compressed air shot the BB through the glasses, shattering them from the inside. The other tube then released the fake blood.
Aram Avakian was originally hired as the film’s editor but was fired after disagreements with Coppola.
Nino Rota was originally nominated for an Oscar for his score (and would probably have won) but the nomination was withdrawn when it was realized that he had substantially re-worked parts of his earlier score for Fortunella (1958).
The film makes use of a variety of Italian words:
- Paulie says “sweet tonnato” which is an early Italian-American slang term roughly translated as ‘if only’.
- Michael explains that Tom is a “consigliere,” or a counselor.
- Vito calls Johnny Fontane a “finocchio,” an offensive term for a homosexual.
- Sonny refers to Paulie as a “stronzo,” a term equivalent to “asshole”.
- Carlo and Connie both say “vaffanculo” during their fight, which means “fuck you”.
- Don Zaluchi calls the sale of drugs to children as an “infamita,” or an infamy
and both the Dons Corleone use the word “pezzonovante,” which means “.95 caliber,” or more accurately meaning “big shot”.
The presence of oranges in The Godfather trilogy seems to indicate that a death-related event will soon occur, however production designer Dean Tavoularis claimed the oranges were simply used to brighten up the darkly shot film. In chronological order of such events:
- Hagen and Woltz negotiate Johnny Fontane’s position at a table with a bowl of oranges on it, and later Woltz discovers his horse’s severed head.
- Don Corleone buys oranges right before he is shot.
- Sonny drives past an advertisement for Florida Oranges before he is assassinated.
- At the Mafioso summit, bowls of oranges are placed on the tables (specifically in front of those Dons who will be assassinated).
- Michael eats an orange while discussing his plans with Hagen.
- Before Don Corleone dies, he plays with an orange.
- Tessio, who is executed for attempting to betray Michael, plays with an orange at Connie’s wedding.
- Carlo Rizzi, who wears an orange suit right before Sonny beats him up, causes Sonny’s death and is himself garrotted in retribution.
- The only deaths in the film that don’t appear to have oranges foreshadowing them are the assassinations of Paulie, Sollozzo, McCluskey and Apollonia.
The early buzz on The Godfather was so positive that a sequel was planned before the film was finished filming.
Franco Corsaro filmed a scene as the dying consigliere Genco Abbandando but it was deleted. In the scene, which takes place after the wedding, Vito Corleone and his sons go to the hospital to pay their respects to Genco who is dying of cancer. They attempt to console him and Genco begs Vito to stay with him as he is dying. The scene does appear in some TV edited version of the film (in place of edited versions of the murder scenes) and is in The Godfather: A Novel for Television (1977).
In 1975, Coppola edited The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) together for TV, putting the scenes in chronological order and adding some previously unseen footage, but also toning down the violence, sex, and profanity. This version of the story was called The Godfather Saga and was rated TV-14.
In 1981, Paramount released The Godfather Epic box set which combined parts I & II in chronological order, again with additional scenes not shown in theaters.
In 1992, Coppola would again re-edit all The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974) and The Godfather: Part III (1990) in chronological order dubbed The Godfather Trilogy 1901-1980. It was released on VHS and laserdisc in 1993. The total run time for this version is 583 minutes (9 hours, 43 minutes). The VHS version spanned five VHS tapes and incorporated new previously deleted scenes that had not been seen in The Godfather Saga. This set also included a sixth VHS tape: “The Godfather Family: A Look Inside” a making-of documentary.
None of the releases, The Godfather Saga (1975), The Godfather Epic (1981) or The Godfather Trilogy 1901-1980 (1992) contain all the additional scenes in one package. The Saga contains scenes not in the Epic or Trilogy, the Epic contains scenes not in the Saga or Trilogy, and the Trilogy contains scenes not in the Saga or the Epic.
Although there are many claims of real Mafiosi as cast members Francis Ford Coppola stated in a May 2009 interview with Howard Stern that no organized crime members were cast or used as consultants. Coppola went on to explain there are expectations of reciprocity once one is provided a “favor” by an organized crime member or otherwise involved in a business action with the same. He specifically denied the connection of Gianni Russo to organized crime. The closest Coppola claims to have come to a real gangster during production, at least to his knowledge, was an interaction with Lenny Montana, who played Luca Brasi. Coppola said when he asked if Montana knew how to spin the cylinder of the revolver Montana replied “You kiddin’?”
Director Stanley Kubrick believed that The Godfather was possibly the greatest movie ever made, and had without question the best cast.
A promotional board game titled “The Godfather Game” was released in 1971.
According to an article in August 1971 by Nicholas Pileggi in The New York Times, Paramount planned to release a line of spaghetti sauce bearing The Godfather logo to promote the film. It also planned Godfather restaurant franchises that would sell pizza, hero sandwiches, Italian ices and Italian breads and pastries. A spin-off television series was also planned but none of these ideas came to fruition.
The movie quote “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” was selected as no. 2 by the American Film Institute (AFI) on it’s list as one of the top 100 movie quotes. It was also voted as the no.10 of ‘The 100 Greatest Movie Lines’ by Premiere in 2007.
The name of the traditional Sicilian hat (as worn for by Michael’s bodyguards) is “coppola”.
Michael Corleone does not wear a hat (Apart from as required by his Marine Corps uniform) until he becomes involved in the family business.
Al Pacino’s maternal grandparents emigrated to America from Corleone, Sicily, just as Vito Corleone had.
Al Pacino and Diane Keaton actually fell in love during the shoot, and were a couple for quite some time.
According to Ardell Sheridan (who played Mrs. Clemenza), Mafia captain and future boss Paul Castellano visited the set and spoke with Richard S. Castellano (who played Peter Clemenza). It was not until after Paul was killed in 1985 did Richard reveal to her that Paul was his uncle.
Radio personality Howard Stern has said that he would gladly have any cast member of this film as his guest and they can show up at his studio unannounced. Though over the years cast members such as Robert Duvall and James Caan were pre-scheduled guests, his “just show up” policy was never taken up until Gianni Russo arrived one day. Stern immediately had him escorted into his studio, even though he was in the midst of other guests at the time and interviewed him.
The only film to date to be nominated for four acting Oscars exclusively for male performances.
Marlon Brando won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Vito Corleone. Robert De Niro, who played the younger Vito Corleone via flashbacks in Part II, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. They remain the only two actors to win Oscars for playing the same character.
Total Trivia Entries: 147
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