Friday, September 18, 2015

40 Surprising Things You (Probably) Didn't Know about The Godfather

On March 15, 1972, The Godfather hit movie screens. In more than four decades since, it has become acknowledged as one of the greatest movies of all time. TIME has compiled the most interesting stories, anecdotes and tidbits from the film's production.

1. The Cat

As Don Corleone calmly explains his idea of “friendship” to the undertaker Bonasera, the first nearly full-body shot of the don reveals an unexpected guest: a gray and white cat sitting in Marlon Brando’s lap. “The cat in Marlon’s hands was not planned for,” director Francis Ford Coppola said later. “I saw the cat running around the studio, and took it and put it in his hands without a word.” Brando apparently loved children and animals, and it became part of the scene. But it also nearly ruined the shot. When the sound crew listened to Brando’s dialogue, they couldn’t understand a word he was saying and feared they would have to use subtitles. The problem wasn’t Brando but the cat, whose purring wrecked the sound. You can still hear it on the sound track.



2. George Lucas Shot Some Footage

The friendship between Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas goes back decades, to when they were both relatively unknown filmmakers in Northern California. Coppola served as executive producer on THX 1138, Lucas’ first film, and the year after it was finished, Lucas worked as an assistant on The Godfather. Lucas shot the footage of newspaper inserts that show major events during the scenes where the families go to the mattresses as well as the one above, which reveals to Michael the shooting of his father. But perhaps his biggest contribution to the film was a small suggestion he made to Coppola. After filming the scene in which Michael fends off would-be assassins while the don is in the hospital, Coppola realized he didn’t have extra shots to feature the sound of footsteps in the hallways. So Lucas suggested that he use the leftover shots of empty hallways just after the actors had left the frame. Lucas helped Coppola scour his original footage for those precious few seconds, which Coppola used in the film, greatly adding to the tension of an already white-knuckle scene.



3. That Opening Shot

Before helming The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Patton, which featured one of the iconic opening scenes in 20th century cinema. As Coppola was writing The Godfather‘s screenplay, a friend suggested he try for an equally striking opening. Coppola said the part of the book he found most significant was that people call on the don on his daughter’s wedding day because on that day, the don cannot refuse a favor. The undertaker’s story introduced that concept, and also the idea that the laws of the country don’t always protect the citizens, so they call upon the don like clients in the oldest sense, asking for help. Using a “high technology” computerized zoom lens, Coppola started with a tight shot of the undertaker’s face, and then pulled back slowly for 2 min. 20 sec., before holding the shot for another 30 sec. while the undertaker whispers in the don’s ear.



4. The Alternate Ending

The Godfather contains one of the more depressing last shots of ’70s cinema. Kay Corleone (Diane Keaton) comes to the realization that her husband is a murderous gangster while his office door is slowly shut in her face. But Francis Ford Coppola also shot another ending, one more in line with the book’s conclusion — Kay in a church, lighting a candle for the salvation of her husband’s soul, showing the New Hampshire Wasp assuming the rituals of the Italian mother. By choosing to excise that scene, Coppola ended his film with a brutality (albeit one of an emotional kind) not out of place for a movie about the Mafia.



5. It Was Initially Set in the 1970s

As Professor Jon Lewis writes in his BFI Film Classics study of The Godfather, author Mario “Puzo’s first stab at a screen adaptation… re-set the story in the 1970s. It was the Production Chief at Paramount Robert Evan’s idea, but after reading this first draft, pretty much everyone agreed that the update didn’t work. Coppola’s subsequent draft better matched the novel’s nostalgic period piece.”

And thanks to Francis Ford Coppola for that. Can you imagine a long-haired Michael Corleone? (That’s Al Pacino, below, at the film’s premiere.)

Courtesy of Everett Collection

6. The Horse Head

It could be said of so many movie moments, but describing the horse-head scene as one of the most iconic in American film history is no exaggeration. It was already famous from the book — only in Mario Puzo’s novel, the horse’s head was on the bedpost when Jack Woltz wakes up. Audiences rose up in anger over the death of the horse, and many asked if it were a real animal head.

Yes, it was. The studio had encouraged Francis Ford Coppola to use a fake horse head, but he didn’t like the mock-up. His scouts found a horse ready for slaughter at a dog-food plant in New Jersey. The art director picked one that looked like the horse in the film and said, “When that one is slaughtered, send us the head.” Coppola later remembered, “One day, a crate with dry ice came with this horse’s head in it.”

Courtesy of Everett Collection

7. Coppola Wasn’t the First Choice

By 1971, Francis Ford Coppola had written and directed several cheap films produced by Roger Corman, directed The Rain People (starring Godfather co-stars James Caan and Robert Duvall) and won an Academy Award for his screenplay of the George C. Scott film Patton. But the reason he was chosen as director of The Godfather was because he was young (i.e., the studio assumed, cheap and pliable) and Italian, which certainly wouldn’t hurt when the inevitable protests arrived. But several big names were considered before Coppola: Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront), Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), Peter Yates (Bullitt) and Greek director Costa-Gavras (Z, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film). Author Mario Puzo wrote that although Costa-Gavras was interested in the film as an “indictment of American capitalism… he declined because it was too American and he felt that he, as a foreigner, couldn’t handle the nuances.”

Courtesy of Everett Collection

8. There Was Originally a Different First Scene

Initially, Francis Ford Coppola planned to open the film with a bright overhead shot of the Corleone family wedding. But when a friend saw a draft of the script, he wondered aloud if Coppola couldn’t start the film with something more different and unexpected. In the screenplay for Patton, Coppola had the soldier speak a long monologue to an offscreen crowd — in the film, it is memorably dramatized by George C. Scott, who delivers his speech standing in front of a massive American flag. Coppola took his friend’s remarks to heart and wrote a long speech that begins with the simple, memorable, ironic statement, “I believe in America.”



9. Very Few People Wanted Al Pacino for Michael

Studio execs being, well, studio execs, they’re always looking for the next big star. So when Francis Ford Coppola set about to cast Michael Corleone, Paramount knew the role could be a launching pad for a young talent and wanted a Robert Redford type like Ryan O’Neal. Pretty much no one, other than Coppola, wanted Al Pacino. With only one role to his credit — Panic in Needle Park — he wasn’t high on the studio’s list. But when Coppola pictured the scenes of Michael wandering the Sicilian countryside with his bodyguards, he saw Pacino’s face. Still, he screen-tested Martin Sheen and Robert De Niro for the part of Michael, and it didn’t help that Pacino’s sessions were less than stellar. He looked pale and uncertain; not exactly a Mafia don. When George Lucas’ wife Marcia edited the screen tests, she told Coppola, “He undresses you with his eyes.” Coppola agreed and eventually wore the execs down.




10. Burt Lancaster as the Don?

All these years after Marlon Brando’s incredible performance, it’s crazy to think that anyone else could have embodied Don Corleone. But the studio, who wanted anyone but Brando, entertained actors such as Ernest Borgnine, Richard Conte (who later played Don Barzini), Anthony Quinn, Raf Valline and, yes, even Burt Lancaster, seen above in 1971’s Valdez Is Coming. “The casting period went on and on and on,” Francis Ford Coppola said later. “We screen-tested everybody.” But even though Coppola auditioned dozens of actors for many of the roles, he never really considered giving Don Corleone to anyone but Brando.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

11. Brando Was Almost a No-Go

Early in his career, Marlon Brando starred in hits such as On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. But by 1971, he had a reputation for conflicts with directors, off-screen antics and delays on the set. Even though Don Corleone appears in less than a third of the film, Francis Ford Coppola knew he needed an actor who could give the picture power and mystique, and in Brando he had his man. Studio head Stanley Jaffe thought otherwise and told Brando, “As long as I’m president of the studio, Marlon Brando will not be in this picture.” After more badgering, Jaffe finally agreed to three concessions he thought would be deal breakers: that Brando work for far less than his usual salary, take financial responsibility for any delays he caused and, most important, consent to a screen test, which was unheard of for the actor at that time.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

12. Until His Incredible Screen Test

Knowing Marlon Brando would never submit to a formal screen test, Francis Ford Coppola brought a portable camera to Brando’s home, telling him they wanted to “try out some things” on tape. According to one account of the legendary test, Brando was wearing a kimono and had his long hair pulled back. Slowly, he transformed himself into the older don, blackening his hair, (supposedly with shoe polish) and stuffing Kleenex into his lower cheeks to look like a bulldog. Brando then puffed on a cigar and mumbled quietly, exuding his famous screen aura.

When Coppola and producer Albert Ruddy showed the studio executives the footage, they initially didn’t know it was Marlon Brando. Stanley Jaffe, the studio head who had sworn Brando would never be in the picture, reluctantly agreed, and the headline in the Hollywood trade paper Variety proclaimed, “No Stars for Godfather Cast – Just Someone Named Brando.”

Courtesy of Everett Collection

13. Who Is This Coppola Guy?

Stories about Francis Ford Coppola nearly being fired from the film are too numerous to mention. After he co-wrote the screenplay, Coppola went 10 rounds with the studio executives over nearly every casting decision. Then after filming started, the studio execs saw the scene in the olive oil company and were unhappy. Just a few weeks into filming, some of Coppola’s friends told him it looked like he would be fired. Knowing that movie companies rarely fire directors midweek, Coppola took advantage of what he thought could be his last few days. In his own act of godfather-like power, Coppola fired the assistant director and others he considered traitors in his midst. Then he reshot the scenes that had made the execs unhappy. It also didn’t hurt that around that time, Coppola won an Oscar for writing Patton. “I think I just squeaked by,” Coppola said. “I survived.”

Francis Ford Coppola with his Academy Award in 1972. Courtesy of Everett Collection.

14. A Palace Coup

Early in The Godfather‘s filming schedule, editor Aram Avakian, who had co-directed the groundbreaking 1960 concert film Jazz on a Summer’s Day, became displeased with Francis Ford Coppola’s work. He let the studio know about it. In his memoir Infamous Players, Paramount exec Peter Bart recalled, “To my astonishment, [exec Jack] Ballard announced on a conference call that Coppola ‘wasn’t up to the job,’ that he wanted to designate Aram Avakian, the editor, as the new director. [Producer] Al Ruddy had warned me that Avakian had been hovering around Ballard in a conspiratorial manner and that something dire was afoot.” Both Coppola and Paramount head of production Robert Evans claim to have fired Avakian following this turn of events. Coppola (seen above with Brando, out of makeup) brought in two editors to work on the film — Peter Zinner, who worked on the second half, and William H. Reynolds, who worked on the first.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

15. The Prince of Darkness

Before his work on The Godfather, cinematographer Gordon Willis had shot only one major film: 1971’s Klute. Later, he worked on The Godfather II, All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, Manhattan and several other Woody Allen films. One of his fellow cinematographers nicknamed him the “Prince of Darkness” for his work on The Godfather. His interior scenes were lit in such a manner as to partially obscure facial features and provide a general aura of wrongdoing. In the earliest scenes in his study, Vito Corleone’s eyes can barely be seen in some shots. Willis later said his lighting scheme for the film came out of a “necessity to deal with Marlon Brando in his makeup” (which was heavy) and as a means of providing contrast between two worlds — witness how the opening sequence jumps from the don’s dark inner lair to the sunlight-drenched wedding taking place outside. Amazingly, Willis did not receive his first Oscar nomination until 1983 (Zelig). His only honor for his work on the Godfather films was an Oscar nod for 1990’s inferior third, and final, entry in the series.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

16. There Are Very Few Unorthodox Camera Shots

Cinematographer Gordon Willis had a very traditional eye. As he said to film writer Peter Biskind in 1997, “It was a tableau movie, meaning there weren’t a lot of contemporary mechanics introduced, like helicopters and a zoom lens.” But Francis Ford Coppola was able to persuade him to stray from his philosophy for several scenes, including the opening slow zoom backward, the slow zoom in on Michael as he plans to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, and the god’s-eye shot of Don Corleone being gunned down. When Willis pushed back against Coppola, asking whose point of view was being represented by the high-up shot, Coppola responded, “My point of view, God’s point of view, Orson Welles’ point of view!”



17. Kay and the Wig

Though the role of Kay Adams is crucial to the story, she is more of a catalyst than a central figure in the first Godfather. Yet Diane Keaton’s memories of the film center on Al Pacino and a huge wig: “It was [makeup artist] Dick Smith’s idea to stick a 10-pound blond wig on my head, where it sat throughout the entire movie like a ton of bricks.” The wig may have peeved her, but Keaton loved working with Pacino. “For me, the Godfathers, all three of them, were about one thing – Al,” she said.

Kay was the outsider, an elegant Wasp in a world of Italian families and the Mafia. In her memoir Then Again, Keaton wrote, “As for the role of Kay? What epitomized it? The picture of a woman standing in a hallway waiting for permission to see her husband.”

Courtesy of Everett Collection

18. Brando and the Cue Cards

From early on in his legendary career, Marlon Brando used cue cards for his lines, which he felt increased his spontaneity. His lines were printed and placed in his character’s line of sight; stills from the production show that they sometimes required clever placement. In one photo, a cue card is taped on the wall behind a lamp. In another, Robert Duvall is seen holding Brando’s cue cards up to his chest. In the scene above, they are held just beyond the view of the camera.

Some thought Brando used the cards out of laziness or an inability to memorize his lines. Once on The Godfather set, Brando was asked why he wanted his lines printed out. “Because I can read them that way,” he said. And that was the end of the cue-card discussion.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

19. Pacino Hurt Himself Early in the Shoot

Following the scene where Michael has to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, he gets into a car that pulls up right as he runs out of the restaurant. Though it’s hard to tell onscreen, Al Pacino actually jumps onto the car’s running board. Or, misjumps. Pacino timed the leap wrong and twisted his ankle, requiring the use of a cane and crutches for almost two weeks.



20. Everyone Wanted to Know What Brando Looked like as the Don

There was intense curiosity about how Marlon Brando would appear in the title role. But Paramount worked out a deal with LIFE magazine that allowed them to run some of the first pictures (on the cover, naturally) of Brando in makeup. So during public scenes, like the assassination attempt on Don Corleone, filmed in New York City’s Little Italy, police were used to ward away errant and unauthorized photographers.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

21. Luca Brasi Fumbles His Lines

Even though Francis Ford Coppola carefully sketched out so much of the film, unexpected twists during filming resulted in some of The Godfather‘s biggest gems. Perhaps none had a bigger impact (in the literal and figurative sense) than Lenny Montana as the feared enforcer Luca Brasi. Montana, a 6 ft. 6 in., 320-lb. professional wrestler, was working as a bodyguard for real-life mobster Joe Colombo, who had come to the set. Coppola and producer Al Ruddy quickly cast Montana as Brasi. When we meet Luca, he’s waiting to see Don Corleone on Connie’s wedding day, practicing his greeting nervously. But that scene was shot after the one in which Luca greets the Don. When Montana stood in front of Brando, he froze and fumbled his lines. So hoping to take advantage of the misstep, Coppola later set up the scene in the garden where Luca nervously practices his lines while waiting to see the Don, implying that Don Corleone is the one man Luca Brasi fears.



22. Lots of Bare Butt Cheeks

As serious as things were during the shoot as well as in the story itself, the cast of The Godfather found plenty of time for practical jokes. Initially, the other actors were reportedly awestruck by Marlon Brando, but once filming commenced, they began to relax. In a sign of budding friendship with the legendary actor, James Caan and Robert Duvall began dropping their pants and mooning Brando at odd times during filming. But Brando upstaged them all by dropping trou while cameras were being set up for the wedding photo scene, mooning nearly 500 extras on the set. For this act, Caan and Duvall presented Brando with a belt that read “Mighty Moon King.”

Courtesy of Everett Collection

23. What’s with All the Oranges?

Though some have interpreted the presence of oranges in various scenes as a harbinger of death to come (see the oranges that roll across the street as Don Corleone gets shot, the ones in producer Jack Woltz’s dining room, the ones at the meeting of the dons and those in Don Corleone’s garden), the reason for their presence is likely a more practical one. 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.’”

Courtesy of Everett Collection

24. Marlon Brando Was a Real Prankster

When it was time to film the scene of two orderlies lugging an ailing Don Corleone up the stairs of his mansion, a pair of grips from the film crew volunteered to be onscreen. Marlon Brando, ever looking for a laugh, filled his stretcher with weights just to mess with the guys.



25. Luca Brasi Was a Pro at Dying

The giant, burly Lenny Montana utilized some of his professional wrestling skills during his death scene. He was able to use techniques he had learned to make his bulging, bug-eyed face nearly purple while being garrotted.



26. Offensive to Italians?

There were various politicians and advocacy groups who were pre-offended by The Godfather and what they assumed would be a stereotypical view of violent Italian men. One well-documented letter sent to Paramount read, in part:
A book like The Godfather leaves one with the sickening feeling that a great deal of effort and labor to eliminate a false image concerning Americans of Italian descent and also an ethnic connotation to organized crime has been wasted… There are so many careers and biographies that could be made into constructive and intelligent movies, such as the life of Enrico Fermi, the great scientist.”
Courtesy of Everett Collection

27. What’s the Mob?

In an attempt to make peace with Joseph Colombo Sr., founder of the Italian-American Civil Rights League (and, incidentally, a major New York City Mob boss), producer Albert Ruddy (pictured above, with Marlon Brando, on the film’s Little Italy shoot) agreed to remove the words Mafia and Cosa Nostra from the screenplay. (They were barely in there to begin with.) Once the New York Times got ahold of the story, all hell broke loose, with Paramount having to deny that Ruddy was working on their behalf. Still, Ruddy kept his job, but barely.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

28. The Succession Scene Needed a Major Rewrite

In Mario Puzo’s novel, there is no resolution between Vito Corleone and his son Michael. Francis Ford Coppola wanted to convey that they loved each other. So Coppola called on his friend Robert Towne, a renowned screenwriter who later wrote Chinatown, as a script doctor. Towne arrived in New York the day before the scene between Vito and Michael was scheduled to be filmed. Towne faced a tremendous challenge: to add outside material that captured complex and powerful emotions but remain consistent with what had already been filmed. He took notes from the original script and worked through the night, finishing the scene at 4 a.m.

It’s a simple scene in Don Corleone’s garden that focuses as much on regret about the past as it does anxiety over the future. “I never wanted this for you,” Vito says to Michael, explaining he wished to see a Senator or Governor Corleone. Brando’s speech about his dreams for his son runs nearly two minutes. When Coppola accepted the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, he thanked Towne: “That was Bob Towne’s scene,” he said.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

29. Death by a Thousand Bullets

For a character as large and powerful as Sonny, an ordinary death wouldn’t do him justice. So Francis Ford Coppola took inspiration from the finale to Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. In that scene — one of the first in which intensely brutal violence was seen in a popular film — Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are riddled with hundreds of bullets in a roadside ambush.

Sonny’s death at the tollbooth of the Long Beach Causeway is a study in pacing and anticipation. There are little cues, such as the tollbooth operator dropping the coin, that give away the outcome, but there’s no time. When a half-dozen men rise up with tommy guns, James Caan exudes the horrific pain of being hit by hundreds of bullets as 400-plus squibs attached to Caan’s body, the car and the tollbooth exploded on cue. The scene required three days, and the technicians and explosives cost $100,000, a significant amount for a film with a budget of about $6.5 million.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

30. A Too-Realistic Fight

If you ask people about the fight between Sonny Corleone and his brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi, you’ll generally get one of two reactions. People will either cringe at its brutality or point out the miscues, like when James Caan takes a big swing that lands about a foot away from Gianni Russo (Carlo)’s face. But the fight was a lot closer to reality than critics think. When Caan tossed Russo over the fence, then beat him with a trash can, he allegedly broke two of Russo’s ribs and cracked his elbow. There were rumors that Caan and Russo didn’t get along well, which may have contributed to the brutality of the brawl. But as a means of setting up Sonny’s eventual demise, Francis Ford Coppola’s scene is spot-on.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

31. Sofia Coppola Played a Boy

In the justly famous baptism scene near the film’s end, the role of young Michael Francis Rizzi (son of Connie Corleone) was played by an infant Sofia Coppola, who was born in May 1971. Other than the people playing main characters, Sofia is the only actor to have appeared in all three films. Everyone knows about The Godfather III, of course, but in The Godfather II, she can be briefly seen as a young immigrant girl on the ship that brings Vito Corleone to Ellis Island.



32. The Baptism Montage

Of all The Godfather‘s memorable scenes, perhaps none struck as large a chord with the audience as the baptism sequence. It’s the film’s crescendo, and Francis Ford Coppola expertly cuts back and forth between Michael’s godson’s baptism (a symbol of renewal of life and divine protection) and the brutal slaying of the Corleone family’s enemies. In the book, the planning and execution of the murders consumes dozens of pages, so Coppola came up with the idea of unifying the scenes with the baptism in what he calls an “innovation of the film.”

Though the scene may have been conceived out of practicality, its execution lifted it into the realm of the classics. Coppola used 67 shots over five minutes; the first half average six seconds, while the next half are roughly a third of the length each. Between the pacing and the juxtaposition of violent killing with religious ritual, Coppola made a statement about Michael’s willingness to gamble with his soul. But like many scenes, this one didn’t come together until the very end. Coppola wasn’t happy with the sequence. It never really worked, he said, until one of the film’s two editors suggested he overlay an organ track over the entire collection of shots. The sequence is proof that necessity is often the mother of great invention, as long as the director is willing to allow his ears, as well as his eyes, serve as his guide.



33. Deleted Scene No. 1: Michael Shoots His Wife’s Killer

In a scene cut from the film, Michael comes back to America to track down Fabrizio, his former Sicilian bodyguard and the man responsible for the death of his wife Apollonia. Finding him in a pizza parlor, Michael blows him away with a shotgun. Though the scene was never used, the still (with Michael in a white hat) was disseminated widely during the film’s promotion.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

34. Going to See Genco in the Hospital

Immediately following his daughter’s wedding, Don Corleone takes his sons to visit Genco Abbandando, his dying consigliere, in the hospital. Though cut from the film, this scene sheds light on a seemingly throwaway line later uttered by Sonny to Tom Hagen: “If I had a wartime consigliere, a Sicilian, I wouldn’t be in this shape! Pop had Genco — look what I got.”




35. The Problem with Sinatra

Even before Mario Puzo’s novel was published, many assumed that the Johnny Fontane subplot was loosely based on the real-life Frank Sinatra drama when he was trying to earn a role in From Here to Eternity. Puzo successfully avoided running into Sinatra until one night in Los Angeles in 1970, when a friend of Puzo’s insisted on introducing him to Sinatra. After Sinatra refused to meet Puzo and the friend broke down in tears, Puzo uttered, “It’s not my fault.” Sinatra thought he was apologizing for the Fontane character in the book and began to scream at Puzo. The incident made the news and became a public-relations disaster. Later, when Francis Ford Coppola signed on as director, he had a run-in with Sinatra that was more cordial.

Frank Sinatra takes photos of the 1971 Frazier-Ali fight at Madison Square Garden for LIFE magazine. Courtesy Everett Collection.

36. Vic Damone Was Almost Johnny Fontane

The popular singer was originally cast as the Sinatra-esque Johnny Fontane. He dropped out, attributing his pride in being Italian, though he would later state that it was all about the money. The Fontane role is much, much bigger in Mario Puzo’s source material.

Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

37. The Film Was a Family Affair

Aside from young Sofia Coppola’s cameo during the baptism scene and sister Talia Shire’s primary role as Connie Corleone, other members of the Coppola family appeared in The Godfather. Father Carmine (seen above with his son) composed several pieces of music for the film and appeared as a piano player during the “going to the mattresses” montage, and the director’s two sons showed up in minor background roles.

Courtesy of Everett Collection

38. The Score Was Honored (and Then Rejected) by the Oscars

Nino Rota, an Italian composer who had a fruitful creative partnership with director Federico Fellini (Rota composed the scores for La Strada, Night of Cabiria, 8 1/2), was chosen as The Godfather‘s composer in order to give it a true Italian feeling. His score became an essential piece of the film, and its spare trumpet opening and lush love theme have become two of American cinema’s more famous pieces of music. Though nominated for an Oscar, Rota’s score was subsequently withdrawn, because part of the love theme had previously appeared (albeit in a more jaunty form) in the 1958 Italian comedy Fortunella. (Skip ahead to the 55-second mark in the video below to hear the original.)




39. Each of the Main Male Actors Got Oscar Noms

In the years since The Godfather‘s release, critics have marveled at the cast that Francis Ford Coppola put together for the film. At the time, the Academy agreed, honoring each of the principal male players with Oscar nods. Al Pacino as Michael, Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen and James Caan as Sonny were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor, but he turned down the Oscar, instead sending a Native-American activist in traditional Apache dress to state his reason: an objection to the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood films. It was a case of history repeating itself. The last actor who had won an Oscar with a Coppola-penned script was Patton‘s George C. Scott, who became the first actor to turn down the award.

Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, John Cazale. Courtesy of Everett Collection.

40. Ushering in the Age of the Modern Blockbuster

According to Harlen Lebo’s The Godfather Legacy, “by 1972, when The Godfather became box office champion, only two other films had earnings that approached it: Gone with the Wind and The Sound of Music… In the twenty years that followed The Godfather, fifty-eight movies would surpass it in earnings.” Or as producer Al Ruddy put it, “The Godfather brought in the era of the blockbusters, where they’re looking for the $100 million movie, the home run, the tent-pole attraction to build a schedule on. This had never happened before.”


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