Since it was released in 1972, The Godfather has remained atop many all-time favorites lists, with a profound impact not only on Hollywood, but on popular culture around the world. Francis Ford Coppola’s sweeping masterpiece about the Corleone family gave the world quotable lines and indelible images, a total package of a film that is essentially perfect from start to finish.
When a film is truly iconic the way that The Godfather is, audiences will also remain fascinated with specific lines and shots, scenes, motifs, and the events that took place behind the scenes during the production. Why did oranges appear at pivotal moments? Who else was considered for the role of Michael? How did the mafia really feel about the depiction of La Cosa Nostra on-screen? We’re gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse. Below, read on to learn more about inarguably one of the greatest films ever made, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Godfather.
The information below was created and provided by Paramount Pictures.
About the Production
1. Paramount’s Peter Bart bought the film rights to Mario Puzo’s "The Godfather" before it was finished, when it was still only a 20-page outline.
2. Albert S. Ruddy became the producer on The Godfather after pitching it to Charles Bluhdorn as “an ice blue terrifying movie about the people you love.”
3. Crime boss Joe Colombo and his organization, the Italian-American Civil Rights League, started a campaign to stop the film from being made.
4. Frank Sinatra leaned on his mob friends to threaten the people involved in making The Godfather.
5. Coppola held improvisational rehearsal sessions in which the main cast sat down for a family meal. The actors couldn’t break character, which Coppola saw as a way for the cast to organically establish the family roles.
6. Coppola successfully convinced Paramount to make the film a period piece, despite the fact that it would cost more than the studio wanted.
7. 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.
8. The wedding scene took four days to shoot and employed at least 350 extras.
9. Cinematographer Gordon Willis called the look of the film “a newspaper photograph in bad color” and ensured that the distinctive vision would be preserved in the negative through his own technique of photochemical exposure.
10. The line “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” appears in both The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II.
11. 120 locations were used in and around New York City. 12. The exterior of Jack Woltz’s home was shot in Beverly Hills at the Hearst estate.
13. The blood was created using Karo syrup combined with red and green food coloring.
14. The cat held by Marlon Brando in the opening scene was a stray that Coppola found at Filmways Studio in Harlem, NYC. It purred so loudly during the scene that dialogue had to be re-recorded.
15. Αt that time there was probably no more violent scene in film history than Sonny Corleone’s death. James Caan wore 127 blood-filled explosive squibs to simulate bullets hitting him and the car had over 200 pre-drilled squib holes.
16. The studio originally wanted to scrap the now-iconic “puppet strings” logo (which was first created by graphic designer S. Neil Fujita for the novel’s release) with Puzo’s name above the title for the movie release, but Coppola insisted on keeping it because Puzo co-wrote the script with him.
17. Sonny’s death was the most expensive scene in the movie, costing $100,000.
18. There is an urban myth that oranges portend upcoming negative events, but the reason production designer Dean Tavoularis used them was that he knew cinematographer Gordon Willis tended to shoot without much light and that something would be needed to bring spots of brightness. Also, to Coppola, the orange was a symbol of Italy.
19. Famed screenwriter Robert Towne worked on the scene between Vito and Michael in the garden where Vito teaches the son he hoped would be a senator or governor how to be the next Godfather.
About the Cast
20. Puzo wrote a personal letter to Marlon Brando, telling him he was the only person who could play The Don.
21. Paramount execs viewed Brando as box office poison and did not want him in the movie.
22. Marlon Brando used cue cards on set, possibly because he preferred the spontaneity of not memorizing his lines and possibly because Coppola insisted on them since Brando did not memorize his lines.
23. Marlon Brando based the distinctive voice of his character Don Vito Corleone on real-life mobster Frank Costello.
24. Marlon Brando’s total screen time is less than one hour.
25. Many famous actors failed to be cast in the film. Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, and Robert De Niro were all considered for the part of Michael.
26. Al Pacino signed on to a movie called The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, which conflicted with The Godfather schedule. He was able to get out of the contract and was replaced by Robert De Niro.
27. To work on The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Robert De Niro gave up the role of ‘Paulie Gatto’ in The Godfather.
28. Al Pacino made just $35,000 for starring in the film—the same as James Caan and Diane Keaton and $1,000 less than Robert Duvall.
29. Al Pacino’s maternal grandparents emigrated to America from Corleone, Sicily, just like Vito Corleone.
30. James Caan and Al Pacino were only ten years younger than the American Jazz singer Morgana King, who played their mother. John Cazale (Fredo) was only five years younger than her.
31. The line “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” which is spoken by Richard Castellano as ‘Clemenza,’ was improvised and not in the script.
32. Many members of Coppola’s family participated in the films:
a. Talia Shire (sister) played Connie Corleone in all three films
b. Italia Coppola (mother) played an extra in the restaurant meeting scene
c. Carmine Coppola (father) – played the Piano Player in the mattress sequence and composed the music for that scene
d. Sofia Coppola (daughter) – played the baby Michael Rizzi in the baptism scene of The Godfather (she was three weeks old at the time of shooting), was an extra in The Godfather: Part II, and played Mary Corleone in Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone
e. Gian-Carlo Coppola and Roman Coppola (sons) – played extras in the baptism scene; Roman played young Sonny in Sicily in The Godfather: Part II
f. Eleanor Coppola (wife) is also in the baptism scene
g. Francesco Pennino’s (grandfather) music was used in The Godfather: Part II for the immigrant theater scene
About the Film's Release
33. Coppola was told to deliver a cut no longer than 2 hours and 15 minutes or else the studio would move the editing from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He delivered that length, but was told that he ‘shot a movie but brought down a trailer.’ Ultimately, the studio supported a longer cut, but the editing was moved to Los Angeles regardless.
34. The film’s final runtime is 2 hours and 55 minutes.
35. The original release date was around Christmas but was pushed for the editors to turn around the lengthier cut.
36. The lines to see The Godfather when it was originally released are legendary. In Westwood, enterprising UCLA students charged $5 to hold a place in line.
37. Producer Al Ruddy stole a print from Paramount to hold an exclusive screening of The Godfather for the mob.
38. The Godfather was the highest-grossing film of 1972 and was for a time the highest-grossing film ever until The Exorcist was released the following year.
39. The Godfather was nominated for 11 Academy Awards® and won three: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando), and Best Writing, Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium (Coppola and Puzo).
40. The Godfather won Best Picture, and Coppola won Best Director for The Godfather: Part II.
41. Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only two actors to win Oscars® for playing the exact same character, Vito Corelone.*
42. Sacheen Littlefeather turned down Marlon Brando’s Academy Award® in protest against the way Hollywood and the U.S. had treated Native Americans.
43. Robert Duvall, James Caan and Al Pacino were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
44. Paramount’s holding company at the time, Gulf & Western, got a lot of negative feedback from the Italian-American community for making The Godfather.
45. The Godfather was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1990, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
46. The Godfather is ranked #2 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest American Films of All Time.
47. Nino Rota’s score was nominated for an Academy Award® but was withdrawn as ineligible when it was learned that portions of the music were originally composed for the 1958 Italian film Fortunella.
48. Producer Al Ruddy gave up his sequel rights to make The Longest Yard.
And Everything Else
49. The name of the traditional Sicilian hat worn by Michael’s bodyguards is called a “coppola.”
50. The words “mafia” and “mob” aren’t uttered in The Godfather.
*Note: Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix won Oscars® for playing different versions of the same character in two separate movies: Ledger as "The Joker" in The Dark Knight and Phoenix as "The Joker" in Joker.