The Godfather’s journey from unlikely best-seller to silver-screen classic is an epic tale in and of itself. One filled with contention, compromise, and ultimately triumph. Former Paramount President Of Pictures Robert Evans describes it as “more volatile than the war the Corleone family fought on screen.”
While the fraught production wasn’t necessarily pleasant for those involved, it delivered a trail of bread crumbs for film geeks to feast on. With the movie’s 50th anniversary just a year away, I wanted to share some of my favorite behind the scenes stories and footage from the film:
Coppola’s Godfather Notebook
Coppola acknowledges his early disdain for Mario Puzo’s novel. On his first read, he reportedly stopped 60 pages in — disgusted by one of the book’s graphic sex scenes. When he agreed to direct the film, however, he had a change of heart.
On his second go around, the film’s director appreciated the book. He describes it as “revealing a story that was a metaphor for American capitalism in the tale of a great king with three sons.”
Before production, Coppola created a log with detailed notes for each page of the book. He later released this log to the public - marketed as “The Godfather Notebook”. If you have $80 to spare you can purchase a hardcopy edition.
If you wish to save your money, take a glance at the picture above. The scribbles on page remind us of the meticulous work that goes into adapting a book to screen.
Marlon Brando was only 47 when he accepted the part of Vito Corleone. It took hours in the makeup room to transform the middle aged actor into the elder Mafia Boss.
While Dick Smith (the film’s makeup artist) was partly responsible for the transformation, Brando himself created the character’s image in his audition tape. In the footage, Brando appeared with his hair greased back with shoe polish. He stuffed tissue paper in his mouth to produce the Godfather’s hanging jowls and raspy voice.
This early take created the blueprint for Vito’s look and mannerisms. It also convinced the reluctant Paramount, to cast the troubled actor.
Cue Cards On Robert Duvall
During the film’s shoot Marlon Brando requested cue cards with his lines. The crew usually found ways to put these cards on props, but occasionally Brando’s co-stars would have to wear them on set. The photo above shows Robert Duval with one of these cards.
There is still much dispute about why Brando used cue cards. Some claim it allowed him to act more spontaneous, others say the actor was simply lazy. In either case, the young actors in the cast- many of whom grew up worshipping Brando- were happy to help him out.
Robert De Niro As Sonny
Robert De Niro’s first foray into The Godfather saga was an audition for Sonny Corleone. James Caan beat him out for the role, but De Niro’s audition left an impression on Director Francis Ford Coppola. He would later cast De Niro as a young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II — a role which would earn him his first Academy Award.
While we’re all thankful events turned out as they did, its fun to look at the footage and imagine an alternate universe where De Niro played Sonny.
Al Pacino’s Screen Tests
Al Pacino was one of the many controversial casting choices for the film. At the time, Paramount considered him ugly and unproven. Prior to The Godfather, he’d only appeared on screen in the forgettable indie flick “Panic At Needle Park.”
Pacino got the role in large part due to Coppola’s persistence. But the screentests above also impressed the studio: in particular his chemistry with Diane Keaton, the female co-lead for the film.
The footage includes line-readings from James Caan and Martin Sheen. Giving us two intriguing casting “what ifs” to ponder.