“You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me ‘Godfather.'” There are many classic lines from the iconic 1972 film The Godfather. And for good reason: the film, directed by Francis Coppola, is critically acclaimed, won three Academy Awards for the year it was released, and is considered by many to be, quite simply, one of the greatest films of all time. And typically, those who disagree only do so because they think it IS the absolute best!
A lot of fans know the tale of the Corleone family, but they don’t know the behind-the-scenes stories that brought the film together. Here are a few things you may have missed, including something you might not have known at all about the classic horse head scene.
Marlon Brando Wasn’t The Studio’s First Choice
It’s a role that has largely defined his career. Although Marlon Brando was a big Hollywood star before The Godfather — he won an Academy Award for his part in On The Waterfront, for instance — Paramount Pictures didn’t think he fit the role as Vito Corleone. Francis Coppola saw things differently, however, and pushed for Brando to do a screen test.
The test worked, and Brando impressed the studio with how well he actually brought the character to life. Coppola knew what the studio heads didn’t — that’s Brando’s acting chops, from the way he spoke to the way he carried himself, was the perfect portrayal for Don Corleone.
Al Pacino Was Almost Passed Over
We already detailed how Paramount Pictures didn’t want Marlon Brando at first to be Don Vito Corleone. Equally puzzling is the fact that the studios didn’t think Al Pacino was right to play Michael Corleone. Paramount wanted someone different for the part, and pushed for actors like Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, and others to be considered.
While those actors are all great in their own respects, it’d be hard to imagine the film with anyone other than Al Pacino involved. He blew away expectations with his audition for the role, and mesmerized audiences with his portrayal on the big screen.
Marlon Brando Protested His Oscar Win
Marlon Brando was hands-down the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The Godfather. Most people who are in his position tend to prepare themselves with a speech they might give at the event. But Brando actually had different preparations in mind…
He didn’t accept the award. He didn’t even show up — Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather there to speak on his behalf, to tell the audience and the Academy that he was denying the award due to mistreatment of Native Americans in Hollywood. It was a controversial choice, as many saw it as a disrespectful move toward the film industry that was trying to recognize Brando’s accomplishments.
Coppola Was Almost Fired
Paramount Pictures almost made a lot of bad decisions regarding who would be working in and on their film. First, they had issues with Brando, then Pacino. At one point, they also thought about canning Francis Coppola, the director and co-writer of the screenplay.
Coppola wasn’t the first choice Paramount had for directing the movie, but once filming started, they really got fuming about him. They didn’t like the direction the filming was taking, and even had a backup director ready to replace him. But one scene, in particular, they loved due to Coppola’s direction: the scene where Michael Corleone kills Sollozo and McCluskey. The direction that scene took likely saved Coppola’s job.
Actors Hung Out With Real-Life Mobsters
Several actors from the film took to studying their subject matter carefully. That meant they sought out “consultants” for their roles — in other words, James Caan, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and others sought out actual mobsters so that they could study their mannerisms and habits. Judging from the film’s successes, it paid off.
Caan himself later recalled that he learned a lot about mobsters actions while speaking — including how they often touched themselves while doing so. They’d adjust belts, fix ties, fidget with their fingers, and do all sorts of other things. Caan adopted these mannerisms himself when he was on-screen.
That Horse Head Looks Real For A Reason
You may recall an iconic scene from The Godfather that involves a horse’s head. Jack Woltz, a character who is a movie producer within the film, had refused a request from the Corleones, and so to show how serious they were about their “request,” left the head beside him on his bed. It was a chilling scene, one that has been imitated (usually comedically) in pop culture ever since.
Coppola was not happy with the fake horse heads he had seen that were going to be used for the part. So he became determined to use a real one. Don’t worry: he didn’t go out to some random pasture and kill a random horse. Rather, he went to a dog food factory, where a horse was already prepared to be “put down,” and asked if he could use the head from them. They agreed, and sent the head to the studio… on ice.
“Leave The Gun, Take The Cannoli”
Francis Coppola, who also directed the film, was a co-writer of the screenplay for The Godfather. While he can take credit for a lot of lines in the movie, he can’t claim this one: “leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
The line, which was improvised, comes about when the mobsters return to Paulie’s car after executing him. They determine that they don’t need the gun as much, but the food in the car? Yeah, they’ll take that. There’s obvious humor in the line, but a bit of darkness, too: having just killed someone, what’s on their minds? Food!
Pay Attention To What’s Not Said
Listen carefully the next time you watch The Godfather, and pay attention to the things you don’t hear. The words “mafia,” “mob,” and “Cosa Botra” never once appear in the film’s dialogue. That’s an amazing accomplishment in a film that’s about organized crime, but there was a specific reason this was done: the filmmakers wanted to ensure the Italian-American Civil Rights League knew that they wouldn’t use these terms in the script.
Such words are considered negative stereotypes by many Italian-Americans. The lack of these words in the film didn’t detract from its purpose one bit, which goes to show you that taking time to avoid causing emotional harm to others won’t necessarily hurt the finished product of one’s art.
Over The Moon
For a film to be as serious as The Godfather is, the actors and stagehands behind the scenes had to let loose a little bit. Some of them let loose their belts and dropped their drawers and “mooning” each other in between scenes. Famously, James Caan and Robert Duvall would be the main perpetrators, showing off their rear-ends to Marlon Brando while he was filming his scenes.
Brando got in on the action too, mooning the actors during the wedding scene. His action probably got bigger laughs than the other two, as he dropped his pants during a part of filming that had many more extras involved.
The Godfather Was Almost Set In Kansas City
Paramount had other ideas, too, for the film. In case you weren’t aware, The Godfather was actually based on a book of the same name. The studio wanted to adapt the book’s main setting — post-World War II, New York City — to be set instead in the 1970s. And in Kansas City.
Coppola pushed hard against the studio’s demands, arguing that he should stay close to the source material. A period piece about organized crime, staying within NYC, was a better choice. Nothing against Kansas City here, but we’re fortunate Coppola fought hard against a number of the studio’s choices.
Dinner And A Movie
Imagine sitting to share a dinner with some of these great actors. Getting so much talent to enjoy each other’s company in one sitting might seem like a hard task to accomplish, but Coppola actually insisted on it. What’s more, he had his actors stay in character during the meals.
This helped to establish a feel for everyone’s character, as well as their own character’s feelings for others within the script. It helped establish “family” roles too, so that actors who were meant to be family members of others on the screen would come off as authentic as possible for audience members.
Sonny’s Death Scene
There’s a scene in The Godfather where Sonny Corleone is shot and killed by a barrage of Tommy guns at a tollbooth. The scene lasts for less than one minute, but it took three days total to film in order to get it completed. James Caan wore a suit with 127 fake blood pouches inside, and there were more than 400 explosive squibs to get the desired effect of the killing.
In all, the scene cost $100,000 to complete — a lot of money for the amount of time that it appears in the film. But the final outcome is well worth the money spent.
They Considered Adding An Intermission
The movie lasts for an astonishing 175 minutes — that is just under three hours. It’s hard for theater-goers today to last that long in their seats, and Coppola knew audiences would have a hard time sitting still for his movie. He briefly considered adding an “intermission” in the movie so that theater-goers could get up, walk around, use the restroom, or get more snacks.
Ultimately, the decision went the other way, and audience members just had to sit in their seats for the duration of the film. There was also a worry that an intermission could ruin the momentum the film had been leading up to.
The Cat Was A Last-Minute Addition
Sometimes it’s the small things that really make a scene work in Hollywood. It’s difficult to imagine the opening scenes of The Godfather without Don Vito Corleone holding his pet cat while discussing business. It turns out, the cat itself was a last-minute addition.
The cat was a stray that Coppola had found on the set. He asked Brando to try improvising his lines with the cat in his lap. That day, the cat didn’t want to leave Brando’s side, so they kept it in the film! To many fans of the film, the cat’s presence in the scene is almost as iconic as any other person’s presence in the room… except, of course, Brando himself.
Brando Takes A Bow
There’s a scene in the movie where an assassination attempt occurs against Don Corleone. This was filmed in a public location, so when filming commenced, a large crowd gathered to watch it as it happened. It took several takes to complete because the crowd reportedly kept cheering at Brando.
It was a bit annoying for some of the cast and crew to have to redo the scenes over and over again. But Brando apparently was thrilled with the attention he was getting. When he finished his last take for the scene, he acknowledged the crowd, taking a bow as if to say “thank you” for their support.
The Wedding Shot Was Mostly Free Form
Coppola was only given two days to film the wedding scene in The Godfather. This meant he couldn’t fret over every little thing in the wedding, and had to put his focus on the dialogue and other actions of the main characters — and that’s precisely what he did. Aside from those parts, the wedding is filmed almost entirely “free form.”
Coppola essentially threw a wedding together and filmed it as if people were enjoying a real party that was happening. Hey, if he ever needs another gig, maybe he could find a gig as a wedding planner, or at least a videographer.
Al Pacino Skipped The Oscars Too
Marlon Brando wasn’t the only actor from The Godfather to have missed the following year’s Academy Awards program. Al Pacino also refused to attend the event, but for a different reason: he felt he had been snubbed.
Pacino was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film. Pacino felt that was a bit insulting, however, as he wanted to be nominated for Best Actor. Brando had been nominated, after all, and yet Pacino actually had more screen time in the film than the veteran actor did. Fortunately, that year Pacino lost out for the award, and it wasn’t a mistake for him to skip out — Joel Grey, who played the M.C. in the film Cabaret, won Best Supporting Actor instead.
Oranges Mean Death
One way to know if someone is about to get the ax in The Godfather is to look for oranges. The fruit represents death in the movie, and almost every character who is seen in frame with the citrus gets sent to their grave. Coppola isn’t the only filmmaker who has ever used color tricks like this in movies.
M. Night Shyamalan famously used the color red in The Sixth Sense to indicate the presence of a ghost. If you watch closely, there’s red somewhere in every scene Bruce Willis’ character is in, hinting at the shocking twist.
Brando Used Cotton Balls For His Audition
Marlon Brando’s speaking style is intimidating within the film. The line of his jaw, too, gives you the sense that this is a guy you just don’t want to upset. If he asks you for a favor, you follow through on it.
The attributes he exhibits as Don Vito Corleone weren’t real, however — in his audition, Brando actually stuffed his mouth full of cotton balls to get the desired effect. Later on, when he secured the part, Brando was given a custom-made prosthetic dental appliance to help him achieve the signature attributes of his character’s jawline and speech patterns. The instrument is presently on display at the New York Museum of the Moving Image.
A real baby was used for the baptism scene in the film. That baby is none other than Francis Coppola’s own daughter, Sofia Coppola, who has had her own career in Hollywood too, going into acting for some of her father’s films (including “reprising” her role as the girl being baptised in later Godfather chapters) and establishing her own career as a director.
Sofia Coppola has another thing in common with her father: they’re both Oscar winners. She won Best Original Screenplay in 2004 for her film, Lost in Translation, which starred Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. We still don’t know what Murray’s character whispered at the end of that film!
Robert De Niro Really Wanted To Be A Part Of The Film
It was no secret to producers that Robert De Niro wanted to be a part of the first Godfather film. He auditioned hard for many of the roles within the film, but alas, as history notes, he was not part of the film. He did go on to star in Martin Scorcese’s film Mean Streets, however, which brought him greater fame and made him more well-known in time for the Godfather’s sequel.
In The Godfather II, De Niro plays Don Vito Corleone when he was younger. His portrayal of the mob boss earned him high praise, and helped him to get many other parts in gangster movies down the road, including in films like Goodfellas and Casino.
Puzo Made Up Slang For The Script
Mario Puzo may have written one of the greatest screenplays about Italian-Americans ever made, but that doesn’t mean he understood the culture. The author and screenwriter didn’t speak Italian, and as a result, made up slang to use in the movie. The word most often used these days that Puzo gets credit for is “Don.”
In The Godfather, a “Don” is considered a mob boss. While this word isn’t technically made up by Puzo, it was re-appropriated. A closer and more accurate translation of the word is “Uncle,” although now everyone uses for something much scarier!
The Actor Who Played Brasi Was Starstruck On Set
Another iconic scene in the film happens when Luca Brasi pays respects to Vito Corleone. Brasi appears nervous and out of sorts when the meeting happens, a reaction that wasn’t acting by Lenny Montana. Montana was so nervous about acting with Marlon Brando, he couldn’t avoid the nerves on his first take.
Coppola decided that he liked the reaction of Montana messing up his lines, and kept it in the film. He said the emotion portrayed by Montana was perfect for how his character would have actually reacted to Vito.
Sergio Leone Was Supposed To Direct
You already know there was drama on set with Francis Ford Coppola. You also know he wasn’t the studio’s first choice to direct the film. But did you know who was? When Mario Puzo originally wrote the script, he wrote it as a modernization of his novel with Sergio Leone behind the lens.
Leone rejected the idea of directing because he refused to glorify the mob. Puzo’s bad luck continued when Coppola didn’t want to glorify the mob either. Coppola was given the job though, and convinced everyone that period piece about American capitalism would work better.
The Movie Almost Had A Different Logo
Francis Ford Coppola had to fight with Paramount Pictures to keep the now-iconic logo with its stark puppet, featuring author Mario Puzo’s name. Paramount wanted to replace that logo but Coppola resisted. The original logo was created by the famous graphic designer S. Neil Fujita, who was also responsible for the In Cold Blood book jacket.
Puzo originally published the book in 1969. Including the name was important to Coppola because Puzo had co-written the script with him.
There’s A Real ‘Beverly House’
It turns out that the scene with Mr. Woltz discovering a horse head in his bed was shot in a real house. “The Beverly House” is located in Beverly Hills, California, and was put on the market in 2014. The price? A staggering $135 million.
The compound has 19 bedrooms, a two-story library, a family room/terrace with room for 400 guests, a nightclub, and a wine cellar. JFK honeymooned in the house, which was once owned by William Randolph Hearst.
The Key To Great Spaghetti
If there is one Italian stereotype that will never be broken, it’s the love for spaghetti. If you’ve ever struggled to make the perfect spaghetti sauce, look no further than The Godfather. The scene where Clemenza recites the sauce recipe while cooking the dish was a Coppola family secret until the film was released.
Now that you know, it’s time to try it for yourself. The good thing about spaghetti sauce is the ingredients are cheap to buy, so even if you’re on a budget, you can make something that tastes like a five-star meal!
Brando Pulled One Really Heavy Prank
It’s no secret that by the time Marlon Brando shot The Godfather, he wasn’t exactly skinny. Knowing it would already be a struggle for his co-stars to pull him up the stairs in one scene, Brando decided it would be funny to make it nearly impossible.
Before filming the scene, Brando stuffed his body with additional weights. The struggle you see on the faces of the actors during the scene is totally genuine. We don’t know if Brando ever apologized, but we’re betting he didn’t. After all, no one loved a good prank more than Brando!
Most of the movie was scripted from start to finish, as movies typically are, but many of the improvised parts of the film are what really sell the idea that the actors took their roles seriously. One memorable scene demonstrates this…
James Caan, who played Sonny Corleone, tossed an extra playing a photographer from the FBI in the film to the ground. The fear and confusion in the extra’s face is genuine — Caan improvised the action, as it wasn’t written in the script that he’d do anything physical to the person. He also added in the part where he tosses money to the photographer.
God’s Point Of View
Gordon Willis, the cinematographer for The Godfather, liked to keep things simple. He tended to stick to shots that looked at things from other characters’ points of view — that is, they were on the ground, and level with the people who were involved in the scene. That wouldn’t work for one part of the movie, however — during Don Vito Corleone’s shooting.
Willis didn’t want to do an aerial shot. To convince his cinematographer to do it, Coppola told him that the scene was from someone else’s vantage point — it was merely “God’s point of view,” he explained to Willis.
Johnny Fontane, played by Al Martino, is a crooner in the film who wants to use his ties to the mob to get a movie role. Many have suspected that Fontane is meant to be an allegory to the real-life singer, Frank Sinatra, who was also believed to have had ties to the mob during his career. Some have even suggested his role in the movie From Here To Eternity was attained because of those alleged connections.
Sinatra and Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, both deny that the part of Johnny Fontane was written about him. Sinatra was, however, for a short time considered for a role in the film — not as Johnny, but the Don himself, Vito Corleone.
The Real Mobster In The Film
One of the actors in the film actually had connections to the mafia. Gianni Russo claimed he had connections to real-life mobster Frank Costello. He would perform small errands for him and was able to secure a part in the film because of that. He played Carlo Rizzi, even though Russo hadn’t played a part in a film before that point.
For other actors, the casting of Russo in the film was an affront to actors they felt might be more deserving of it. Marlon Brando, for example, took issue with Russo for being an amateur in such a big film — until Russo threatened him. Brando, thinking he was sticking to character, became convinced of his ability to perform the role.
A little known fact about cars used during World War II was that metal for their bumpers were stripped, used instead to help in the war effort. Wooden bumpers took their place, and in the post-war years, remained on some cars for a few years after.
A film could be forgiven for overlooking this small detail, but Coppola, aware of this tidbit from history, wanted to keep his film, set in the post-war 1940s, as authentic as he possibly could. With the cars, you’ll notice that their bumpers are not made of metal — they’re instead made of wood. A little bit of extra work was needed to make this happen, but it makes the film seem all-the-more real.
Brando Didn’t Memorize His Lines
While shooting The Godfather, Marlon Brando refused to memorize his lines. He felt it was counterintuitive to his style of method acting. To accommodate his ridiculous demands, the crew had to hide cue cards off-camera that Brando could read off of.
Hiding the cue cards could be tricky. They would be held by an extra, hidden behind props, held by actors, and even hidden out of view on actors wardrobe. The Godfather wasn’t the only film Brando made this demand either. He acted this way for every movie he starred in!
Anthony Corleone Was The Young Actor’s Real Name
Okay, not the Corleone part, but the name of Michael’s son in the film was Anthony, which was also the name of the young actor playing him. In the script, the character’s name wasn’t Anthony, but while filming, the boy would only respond to his real name, forcing the actors to use it.
This means that out of everyone one set, from legendary actors to mobsters turned actors, the one person with the most power was a three-year-old boy. Does that make you smile as much as us?
Corleone, Italy — Or Was It Savoca?
During some of the more chaotic scenes of the film, many of the Corleone family members run away to hide out while things are dangerous. Michael actually goes to Corleone, in Sicily, but the movie didn’t waste reel on filming there — the area was over-developed, and wouldn’t fit in with the post-war motif. Instead, they filmed in Savoca.
Because of the film’s success, you can actually tour Savoca and see the many locations where The Godfather was filmed. They’ve been kept preserved, and some tours last for four hours — including a stop where the marriage scene took place.
Robert Duvall felt very lucky to be a part of The Godfather. He even expressed his thankfulness in an interview with the New York Times. “I was fortunate to be in the two big film epics of the last part of the 20th century: Godfather, and Lonesome Dove on television.”
He did have a small complaint, however. The character he played, Thomas Hagen, had a different hairstyle for the film. It required Duvall to wear a hairpiece. He expressed this complaint alongside his being thankful for being included in the film. Duvall said he wished “they [the filmmakers] would have made a better hairpiece” for him. Well, it can’t all be roses.
One Of Puzo’s Favorite Lines Was Left Out
Just because he wrote the book that the movie was based on didn’t mean that Mario Puzo’s favorite line was going to make the film. In fact, the actor who was set to deliver the line didn’t think it was that great at all.
In the book, Don Vito Corleone says, quite matter-of-factly, “A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” But Marlon Brando thought the line didn’t fit with his characterization of Corleone, and lobbied to have it dropped. Brando won, and one of Puzo’s best lines from the book never made the film.
Dinner (And Breakfast, And Lunch) And A Movie
Movies don’t ignore the small details, and that means realizing that characters actually do have meals from time to time. For The Godfather, however, it wasn’t just a few scenes that had meals: the actors were treated to dozens of scenes where food and drink was set in front of them.
How many scenes had food in them? Some hardcore fans of The Godfather sat and counted them all. In total, there are 61 scenes that have people either directly enjoying the meal, or that implied they were eating (e.g. had food out in front of them). Some websites even exist that tell you how to make the food seen in the film!