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Hef's Movie Notes: The Godfather
  • November 24, 2011 : 20:11
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Tonight: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather.

The ultimate in modern gangster movies, this moody, murky, murderous film is a classic of almost mythical proportions that chronicles the rise, fall and rise, once again, in a single mafia family in New York.

Paramount purchased the screen rights to Mario Puzo’s novel for just $35,000 when it was still in galley form.

When it became a best seller, the studio gave him an additional $100,000 to write the screenplay, plus a small percentage of the profits.

The Writer’s Guild of America recently named The Godfather screenplay the second best ever written, a runner-up to Casablanca.

Chinatown, by Robert Towne, “was number three.” Towne worked on The Godfather screenplay as well. He wrote the scene on the patio where Brando warns Al Pacino of an anticipated assassination attempt.

Citizen Kane was number four on the Writer’s Guild list of Best Screenplays—and “Sunset Boulevard” was number seven.

Tomorrow night’s film, The Godfather - Part 2 was number ten.

The American Film Institute picked The Godfather as the third greatest film of all time—after Citizen Kane and Casablanca.

Francis Ford Coppola wasn’t the studio’s first choice to direct.

Robert Evans, the head of production at Paramount, offered the opportunity to direct to Peter Bogdonovich. He declined. So did others—including Sergio Leone.

Who regretted the decision later, said so, and in 1984, made his own classic gangster epic, Once Upon a Time in America, with De Niro.

When early rushes displeased Paramount executives, they almost brought in Elia Kazan, to better control the notoriously difficult Brando. But Brando backed Coppola, and said he’d quit if Paramount fired him.

Brando actually tested for the part and others were considered for the role as well—including Edward G. Robinson (the original “Little Caesar”), Orson Welles, George C. Scott, Ernest Borgnine and, incredibly enough, Sir Laurence Olivier.

In a Playboy Interview, Coppola said that Frank Sinatra wanted to play the role, but it was Brando who both Coppola and author Mario Puzo had always favored.

Brando took the part for just $100,000—and a percentage of the profits.

When the film became a blockbuster, Brando’s participation in the profits eventually escalated to a reported $16 million.

The Godfather resurrected Brando’s career. He hadn’t made a successful film in over a decade.

The Godfather made a star of Al Pacino, who got the part on the basis of his performance as a junkie in The Panic in Needle Park (1971), his second film.

But Pacino tested five times before he got the role. Warren Beatty, French actor Alain Delon and Bert Reynolds were rejected by Coppola.

Paramount Production Chief Bob Evans argued for Robert Redford, a “northern Italian.” Evans derided Pacino, calling him “The Midget.”

So Pacino initially took a role in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

And when Paramount finally opted for Pacino over Redford, they had to buy out Pacino’s contract from MGM.

The abandoned role at Metro was filled by Robert De Niro, who would later become a star in The Godfather – Part 2.

Martin Sheen auditioned for the Pacino part and Ryan O’Neal was considered as well.

But Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman were actually offered the role of Michael Corleone and turned it down.

Jimmy Caan had worked for Coppola in The Rain People (1969).

He campaigned for the role of Michael Corleone that went to Al Pacino, but settled for the part of Michael’s brother Sonny instead.

Caan’s character is named “Sonny” because that was the nickname of Al Capone’s son.

Jimmy Caan’s performance in tonight’s film, and his appearance as dying football player Brian Piccolo in the TV film, Brian's Song, the same year made him a star.

Robert Duvall’s screen career began with To Kill a Mockingbird (1963), and included Coppola’s The Rain People (1969), M.A.S.H. (1990) and the first George Lucas film, THX-1138 (1971), but it was The Godfather that made him a star as well.

The Al Martino role was based on Frank Sinatra, although Mario Puzo pretended otherwise.

Vic Damone and Frankie Avalon tested for the role. Sinatra was very upset at the film characterization.

The horse’s head in the bed is real. It came from a slaughterhouse where horses were being killed for dog food.

The backyard and exterior of the house where the movie director wakes with the horse’s head in bed belongs to our friend Leonard Ross. The house has been used in a number of movies.

The body count in tonight’s film, excluding the horse, is 17.

The cat held by Brando in the opening scenes of the movie was a stray he found on the studio lot.

There was no cat in the script.

Brando did not memorize his lines, relying instead on cue cards.

Brando stuffed his cheeks with cotton for the screentest, but wore a dental appliance during the actual film.

Watch for oranges in any of the three Godfather movies. They mean that a death, or a close call, will soon occur.

Alex Rocci’s Las Vegas character, Moe Green, was modeled after mobster Bugsy Siegal.

The movie, based on Mario Puzo’s novel, manages to combine a remarkable mixture of gangster myth and reality that lifts it to epic proportions.

Unlike the classic gangster films of the past—such as Little Caesar (1930) and Public Enemy (1931) that were intended to prove that “crime doesn’t pay” — The Godfather suggests that it pays very well indeed! Up to a point!!!

In an interview with Newsweek, Brando said, “In a way, the mafia is the best example of capitalism we have. Don Corleone is just an ordinary business magnate who is trying to do the best he can for those he represents and his family.”

Brando’s role is based, in part, on Carlo Gambino, the real life mob chief of one of New York’s five families.

With a little lucky Luciano thrown in for good measure.

Talia Shire is Coppola’s sister. She play’s Brando’s daughter in the film.

Sofia Coppola (the director’s daughter, and now a director herself) appears as Pacino’s niece in the Christmas scene, and co-starred in Part 3 of The Godfather Trilogy.

George Lucas directed the mattress montage, without credit, as a favor to Coppola.

On March 1, 1971, the Italian American Civil Rights League announced that the words “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” would not be used in the film.

The real mob frowned on that.

The studio had agreed to not use the terms “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” to avoid labor problems while they were filming in New York.

The mob controlled the New York labor unions.

The film’s shooting schedule ran from March 29 through August 6, 1971.

A hundred N.Y. locations were used.

Originally budgeted for just $2 million, Paramount expected it to be just another contemporary crime drama.

When Coppola was hired to direct, all that changed and the budget was increased to $6 million.

Coppola’s previous screen credits (Finian’s Rainbow in 1968 and The Rain People in 1969) had been failures. And producer Al Ruddy‘s credits were even less impressive.

But together they managed to convince Production Chief Bob Evans and the Paramount brass that this could be an important picture.

And it was!

The New York premiere was March 15, followed a week later in Los Angeles, with a national release on March 24, 1972.

The critical and public reaction was astounding.

As of May 11, 1997, The Godfather was the highest grossing film of all time.

The picture earned ten Oscar nominations—including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Brando), Best Supporting Actors (for Pacino, Caan and Duvall), Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Film Editing and Costume Design.

The Godfather won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year and Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Mario Puzo and Coppola also took home an Oscar apiece for Best Screenplay.

Coppola won the Director’s Guild Award for Best Director...

But, in a rare instance where the DGA Award did not predict the Oscar winner, the Academy gave Best Director honors to Bob Fosse for Cabaret.

Two years later, the Academy corrected the oversight by naming The Godfather – Part 2 Best Picture of the Year.

Beating out Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

And giving Coppola an Oscar for Best Director.

“The Godfather – Part 2” also earned Robert De Niro an Oscar for Best Actor.

Plus additional Oscars for Coppola and Mario Puzo for the screenplay.

So now--from 1972--

THE GODFATHER

read more: entertainment, movies, movie reviews, hef's movie notes, hugh hefner

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