“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” –Don Vito Corleone
The Godfather. Does it really need an introduction? Whether you re-watch once a year, haven’t seen any of the trilogy since the first time, or *gasp* you’ve never seen any of the films, there’s so much interesting stuff to learn, both in terms of what happens front of the camera as well as what happened behind the scenes. Not to mention it’s cultural legacy—just how many times has it been referenced in The Simpsons? Here are 42 glorious facts about The Godfather.
The Godfather Facts
42. Family Affair
The Godfather is about the Corleone family, but it is a movie made by the entire Coppola family. Francis Ford Coppola had each of his parents, his sister, two of his sons, and his daughter appear in the trilogy.
One of the most iconic scenes in movie history is when Luca Brasi pays his respects to Vito Corleone. However, this wasn’t due to the acting, but rather its basis in reality. The scene in the movie is the first take that Coppola had done, and is in fact genuine. When Lenny Montana, the actor portraying Brasi, showed up to set he was so nervous about acting alongside Marlon Brando that he actually messed up his lines. Coppola thought that this overwrought feel was perfect for conveying just who Don Corleone was.
40. Allegory of the Mob
The Godfather is a cinematic allegory for American capitalism, but this wasn’t the original intention of the story. Actually, Francis Ford Coppola didn’t want to take on the project of directing The Godfather at first, and only decided to do so once the idea of making it into an allegory came to him. Originally, he thought the story was a glorification of the Mafia and it would be in poor taste to make a film which could cast Sicilians in a negative light.
39. Heart of a Lion
The Corleone family is surname means “Lionheart” in Italian.
38. Two Boycotts
In what is now a piece of Hollywood legend, when Marlon Brando won his Oscar for Best Actor for portraying Vito Corleone, he boycotted the ceremony in order to protest Hollywood’s racist depiction of Native Americans. However, Al Pacino also boycotted the same Academy Awards ceremony, as he felt his nomination for Best Supporting Actor was disrespectful, considering that he had more screen time than Marlon Brando in the film.
37. Original Intentions
The Godfather was originally intended to be a low-budget gangster film with a contemporary story, and Mario Puzo wrote the script for it to be directed by Sergio Leone. However, Leone didn’t want to glorify the Mafia, and after Francis Ford Coppola came in, he was against the idea and rejected the script, instead wanting to make a period piece.
36. Poor Italian
Coppola didn’t love the script for what would become The Godfather at first. Puzo, who didn’t actually speak Italian, had made up some slang for the script that was actually wrong. Though the usage of “Don” is now ubiquitous for a boss, it actually is closer to calling someone your “uncle.”
35. Caan Confrontation
James Caan killed it in the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. We know it and he knows it, but producer Robert Evans seemingly did not, as he cut out over 45 minutes of footage of Caan, which limited the depth of his character. This led to a confrontation between the two men at the premiere, in which Caan exclaimed, “Hey, you cut my whole fuckin’ part out!” Can someone cut together the lost footage and make a Sonny-centric movie?
34. Fight for Your Guy
There was a large in-studio fight for the casting of Michael Corleone, as various stars were considered, from Martin Sheen to Jack Nicholson, but Coppola found most of the actors to be too much in the mold of a WASP to play the part. He eventually won the casting battle by getting his guy Al Pacino into the role, much to the chagrin of producer Robert Evans, who referred to Pacino as “The Midget.” I think maybe this Evans fellow shouldn’t be involved in the casting process for any movie.
33. Role Reversal
Al Pacino was only able to accept the role of Michael Corleone, however, after the Paramount pulled some strings, and got him out of his role in the film The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. His role in the movie was then filled by Robert De Niro, who was originally cast as Paulie in The Godfather, but was allowed by Coppola to drop out in order to take Pacino’s role in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. This would work out in everyone’s favor, however, as it then allowed De Niro to be cast as young Vito Corleone in The Godfather II. This proved to be De Niro’s big break in film and earned him his first Oscar.
32. Two Vitos
After Robert De Niro won the Academy Award for his performance in The Godfather II, he and Brando became the first and only actors to ever win an Oscar for portraying the same character in two different films. The two films are also the only first two films of a trilogy to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
31. Real Blood Sheets
The frightened screams of actor John Marley in the horse head scene are not acting. They’re real because the actor expected to be waking up next to a fake horse, not a bed full of real blood and guts. Yeah, that’s right, it was a real horse head.
30. No Family Secret
Want to learn how to make a good tomato sauce? Well, look no further than The Godfather! The recipe that Clemenza recites while cooking the spaghetti sauce in the film is the Coppola family recipe.
29. No Mafia
To get the movie made, Francis Ford Coppola had to come to certain agreements with different groups of Italian-Americans. One such agreement was with The Italian-American Civil Rights League, as they fought against the use of the words “Mafia” or “Cosa Nostra” in the film, to which Coppola agreed, and struck from the script. Oh, and by fought, I mean they made direct threats.
28. Keeping It Mafia
It is probably for the best that Coppola had the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” taken out of the movie, as he also had a wide variety of extras who were actually in the mafia. In fact, these extras were in the movie as a result of The Italian-American Civil Rights League, which was actually run by mob boss Joe Colombo.
27. Orange You Glad To Know
The color orange is used frequently throughout The Godfather to represent death, and whenever the orange fruit is shown, it foreshadows an impending death.
Mario Puzo was proud of his novel The Godfather and there is one line from it that he specifically requested to be in the film, as he thought it to be some of his best writing. The line, spoken by Vito Corleone, reads, “A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” Marlon Brando, never one to keep silent, disagreed as he thought that the line was too preachy, and refused to use it. Sorry, Mario!
25. Nervously Shaking
Marlon Brando had an intimidating effect on other actors, especially those with limited experience. The scene when Enzo visits Vito Corleone in the hospital was shot out of sequence because of this, as actor Gabriele Torrei had never acted in front of a camera or beside Brando before, and was actually shaking due to nervousness. This led to Coppola using the footage of him shaking before the scene for the shot of him outside the hospital.
24. Bulldog Brando
In order to produce the “bulldog” effect for Vito Corleone, Marlon Brando was fitted with a mouthpiece that he wore throughout the film. That mouthpiece is now on display at the American Museum of Moving Imagine in New York.
23. Using Your Connections
Not everyone in The Godfather was an actor. Gianni Russo, the man who played Carlo Rizzi, was originally involved as a mob associate to the Mafia boss Frank Costello and used his organized crime connections to secure his role in the film.
22. Threatening Act
This was Gianni Russo’s first film, and Marlon Brando was not thrilled about having someone without any acting experience in the movie, especially one with such an important role. This all changed, however, when Russo approached Brando and threatened him. Unaware that this was a real threat, Brando thought Russo was portraying his character and found it so fantastic that he changed his mind.
21. Voice Recognition
Marlon Brando actually based the voice of Vito Corleone on Frank Costello. After hearing recordings of his voice during the Estes Kefauver hearings of 1951, which investigated organized crime which crossed state borders, Brando thought it would be perfect for the part, so when he gave his audition he stuffed his mouth with cotton balls in order to produce the muffled voice.
20. That’s a Lot of Extras
The Godfather was a film of epic proportions and director Francis Ford Coppola had to have an incredible amount of extras used throughout the film. This reached monumental heights during the scene when Sonny confronts Carlo and kicks the crap out of him, as Coppola used over 700 extras while filming it, as well as the wedding scene that opens the film opens, which used 750. The effect is pretty true to life if you’ve ever found yourself at an Italian wedding that’s so huge that you don’t even know the names of the bride and groom.
19. Heavy Lifting
Marlon Brando was already heavy enough when he showed up to film The Godfather, but that didn’t stop him from pulling pranks based on his weight. During the scene when his character Vito Corleone returns home and is greeted by his associates who then carry him up the flight of stairs, Brando thought it would be funny to stuff his body with additional weights, so that the actors would have a real struggle lifting him.
18. Improvisational Skills
A movie of such depth has to have some improvisational genius to it, and much of it came from James Caan. He improvised using the garbage can lid to beat up Carlo, the use of the phrase “bada-bing!” after hearing it from real life mobster Carmine Persico, as well as tossing the FBI photographer to the ground, and then throwing the money at him for breaking his camera.
17. Brando Can Improvise Too
Of course, James Caan wasn’t the only actor on set to improvise throughout the film. One of Brando’s most famous improvised scene comes when Vito smacks Johnny Fontane in the face. This makes actor Al Martino’s reaction all the more real, as he was definitely not expecting to get slapped around by the legendary Marlon Brando. James Caan later commented on the scene saying, “Martino didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
16. Changing Film Forever
Famed cinematographer Gordon Willis wanted to take a new approach to filming when he took on the job of The Godfather, and he insisted that each shot in the movie should be from a point of view. Thus, each shot in the movie is an even composition taken from a level height of four feet.
15. God’s Point of View
If you’ve seen The Godfather, however, you know that there is a scene in which we watch Vito Corleone get shot at from an aerial view. In order to convince Gordon Willis to make this an aerial shot, Francis Ford Coppola told him that this was the point of view of God.
14. Stray Cats
Vito Corleone seems to have had a soft spot for cats, but this wasn’t in the script. Instead, Marlon Brando decided to sit with a cat in his lap during the opening scene of the film after Coppola found it as a stray in the streets. This was from the weirdest thing he did on set, though.
13. Loud Purring
The stray cat that took on a supporting role in our introduction to Vito Corleone was so comfortable and content in the lap of Brando that its purring made Brando’s lines inaudible, and subsequently had to be redubbed into the scene to make it usable in the movie. Don Vito’s not so tough after all, I guess.
12. War Time Efforts
Staying true to the time period, the film features wooden bumpers on all of its cars. This is because during World War II, most cars were stripped of their chrome bumpers and fitted with wooden ones, as the material was donated to the military in order to aid production for the war.
11. Little Dogs
There was backlash when it came to the horse head scene, as animal rights activists protested the movie as a result of it. Coppola saw the hypocrisy in this, stating: “There were many people killed in that movie, but everyone worries about the horse. It was the same on the set. When the head arrived, it upset many crew members who are animal lovers, who like little doggies. What they don’t know is that we got the head from a pet food manufacturer who slaughters two hundred horses a day just to feed those little doggies.” Touché.
10. Call Me By My Real Name
The name Anthony is used for Michael Corleone’s son in the film because during production, the 3-year-old actor would only really respond to his real name—which was Anthony—when the camera was rolling.
9. A Shot in the Dark
Part of the allure of The Godfather is the shadowy way in which it was shot, which was done so to produce a darkened effect around the Corleone family. However, when Paramount studios saw the film, they thought it was too dark, and had to be properly convinced of the artistic merit by Coppola and Gordon Willis. This earned Willis the nickname “The Prince of Darkness.”
8. More Blood
Paramount had to feel grateful for the film, as during its production they were in serious financial trouble. Not sure if the movie would be a hit or not, they specifically asked Francis Ford Coppola to add in more explicit violence, so that it would sell better.
7. Now That’s a Spicy Squid
Marlon Brando loved his food. During the filming of the scenes that take place in Little Italy, Brando became so obsessed with spicy squid with hot sauce that he had to have it in range while filming. During the shot when Vito leans over the dead body of his son Sonny, Brando is actually holding a container of the squid off camera.
6. First Choice
It is difficult to imagine anyone else as Vito Corleone, even the best of the best, but Brando was not the first option for the character. Instead, Laurence Olivier received the first offer for the role but had to turn it down, as he was dealing with health problems at the time.
5. Through The Wire
Al Pacino plays Michael Corleone with his mouth wired shut so well because he actually had his mouth wired shut during the filming of those scenes.
4. Cue Me IN
Brando wasn’t one to remember his lines, as he felt it ran counter-productive to his method acting and he actually used cue cards on set. These cue cards were sometimes hidden behind props, or even worn under the clothes of the rest of the cast.
3. The King of Moons
During the filming of The Godfather, much of the cast and crew took to playing pranks on each other in order to break the tension of the movie, and the act of mooning became the go-to gag. It was widespread throughout the set, and it was hard to go into a room and not find a naked butt staring into your soul. Marlon Brando, of course, ended up being named “Moon Champion,” and was given an honorary leather belt for his prank efforts.
2. Horses Head, No Care
Ah, the iconic horse head scene. It’s pure cinematic gold that has been the source of much controversy since it was shot. While the shot of Jack Woltz waking up next to the head of his dead horse may be synonymous with the film, it almost didn’t make it in, as Coppola didn’t like the scene in the book all that much. After some consideration, however, he felt it too iconic to leave out of the movie.
1. Frankie No Likey
Frank Sinatra had clout. Ol’ Blue Eyes himself was under the assumption that the character of Johnny Fontane was based on him, as it had long been rumored that Sinatra used mob connections to ease his transition from singer to actor. He took his anger out on Mario Puzo by publicly threatening him at a restaurant, calling him a pimp and threatening to beat him up. Although accounts vary, this possibly led to a large reduction in Fontane’s role in the film.