Things You Didn’t Know About “The Godfather”

Credit: The Godfather

It has been fifty years since The Godfather was released. The 1972 timeless classic is widely considered one of the greatest films of all time—and for good reason. It became the standard by which every other gangster movie was held.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it was based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 best-selling novel of the same name. Coppola co-wrote the screenplay with Puzo, and it starred Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Richard Castellano, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, and John Conte.

It’s the first installment in the trilogy and mainly focuses on the youngest son, Michael Corleone, as he transforms from a reluctant spectator and outsider to a ruthless mafia boss.  

Even after half a century, The Godfather remains influential with its iconic scenes and lines. Let’s take a look at some of the most fascinating facts about the movie.

Coppola and Puzo teamed up for the project because of financial problems.

Puzo sold the rights to his book to Paramount Pictures in 1968 before The Godfather was even published. At the time, he was still a struggling writer, and his earlier works didn’t sell much.

As for Coppola, he just co-founded an independent movie studio with his friend and fellow director, George Lucas. Coppola initially refused to helm the film when he was first approached by Paramount Pictures. But it was Lucas and his other friends who convinced him to take the job because his company needed the money.

Paramount Pictures wasn’t too keen on bringing Marlo Brando and Al Pacino on board.

Credit: The Godfather

Brando was a respected actor, but he also earned the reputation of being difficult to work with and even unprofessional at times. Paramount asked Coppola to consider other actors like Danny Thomas, Burt Lancaster, Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Quinn, and others to play the role of Vito Corleone. Coppola, however, didn’t budge.

What convinced Paramount to hire Brando was his stunning transformation and commanding on-screen presence. 

Al Pacino, on the other hand, was still new to the scene. He did have experience on the New York stage, but he only had one film credit. Some of those who auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone included Dustin Hoffman, Michael Sheen, and Robert De Niro. Paramount even offered it to Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Robert Redford. 

Before James Caan was given the role of the hotheaded youngest son, Sonny, he was actually slated to play Michael. Paramount eventually decided to switch the roles—let Caan play Sonny and Pacino play Michael.

Pacino was hesitant at first and wanted to turn it down.

I thought, ‘How am I going to play this part?’” he revealed to Loaded magazine. “No one wanted me. Except for Coppola.”

Marlo Brando used cue cards during filming.

Brando was known for using them in his movies. The directors often taped the cards to bushes, walls, lamps, or even other actors. There are old photos that back this up. The actor didn’t memorize his lines. 

He explained that this method helped him sound less canned, and it also increased his spontaneity.

If you have a general idea of what the words are,” he said, “then you look at the card and it gives the feeling to [the] viewer that the person is really searching for what he is going to say.”

Richard Castellano improvised the line, “Take the cannoli.”

It’s one of the most famous lines in the movie, spoken by capo Peter Clemenza. He was only supposed to say, “Leave the gun.” 

The improvisation was inspired by an earlier scene where Clemenza’s wife said, “Don’t forget the cannoli!” Some reports claimed that his on-screen wife was the one who suggested the ad-lib.

Brando didn’t stuff his cheeks with paper towels or cotton wools during filming.

Credit: The Godfather

He did that during the screen test because he wanted Don Vito Corleone to “look like a bulldog.” In the movie, however, he asked his dentist to create a mouthpiece to give him his sagging jowls. This prosthetic is on display in the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.

The word “mafia” never appeared in The Godfather.

Real-life crime family boss Joe Colombo Sr. led a group that formed the Italian American Civil Rights League, which aimed to combat stereotypes in the media. They protested the film when it was first announced and even bombarded those involved in production with boycotts and threats.

Before filming was due to begin, producer Albert Ruddy sat down with Colombo’s son, Anthony, and they arrived at an agreement. The organization agreed to greenlight the project if they can review the script, remove the terms “mafia” and “La Cosa Nostra,” and if Paramount will agree to donate the proceeds of the New York premiere to the group.

Ruddy agreed, which angered Paramount, but the threats stopped, and they were able to proceed with the filming.

The Godfather is a cinematic masterpiece.

There’s just no other way to describe it. The sequels are just as excellent, but The Godfather is in a league of its own.

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