Entertainment

How 'The Godfather' Became An American Classic Even Though It Was 'Nightmarish' Behind The Scenes  

Ryan Sargent
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In 1972, The Godfather made its debut and was instantly hailed as one of the best movies ever made. The Godfather is beloved by critics and audiences alike for many reasons, but primarily because of the masterful direction by a young Francis Ford Coppola and legendary performances from Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. Yet, behind the scenes of The Godfather, the movie came close to falling apart. Scare tactics and troubled casting made production "nightmarish."

While there was a high cost to making one of the greatest gangster movies, much joy and humor also abounded. Stories from the making of The Godfather include a lot of pranks and unusual characters. In the end, a dedicated cast and crew came together to tell the story of the rise and fall of Michael Corleone and the Corleone family.

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Mario Puzo And Francis Ford Coppola Only Worked On The Movie To Pay Off Debts
Mario Puzo And Francis Ford Co... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list How 'The Godfather' Became An American Classic Even Though It Was 'Nightmarish' Behind The Scenes
Photo:  Paramount Pictures

According to Paramount Pictures head Robert Evans, The Godfather author Mario Puzo approached him in 1968, not to pitch a movie but to get out of trouble for gambling debts. According to Evans, he offered Puzo $10,000 with a commitment for $75,000 if the book was published - but he never expected to hear from Puzo again. He only took the deal as a favor to a friend. When the book was finally published, however, it was a sensation.

Francis Ford Coppola also had little interest in directing The Godfather. At first, he turned down the opportunity because he found the intimate scenes in the book to be too graphic, but his friend George Lucas convinced him to take the job, pointing out Coppola's company, American Zoetrope, owed $600,000 to Warner Bros.

Francis Ford Coppola Created A 720-Page Notebook To Prepare For The Movie
Francis Ford Coppola Created A... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list How 'The Godfather' Became An American Classic Even Though It Was 'Nightmarish' Behind The Scenes
Photo:  Black Dog & Leventhal

Francis Ford Coppola is famous for conducting intense research and preparation before filming many of his movies. The Godfather was no exception, with Coppola digging into the world and culture of the Italian syndicate. Apparently, on the Paramount lot, there was a large bulletin board in the Godfather production offices that included dozens of photos of slayings and services from the '40s and '50s.

Much of the material ended up in a 720-page notebook Coppola put together throughout production. He later sold a condensed version of it.

Marlon Brando Saw The Movie As A Metaphor For Corporations And The Vietnam War
Marlon Brando Saw The Movie As... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list How 'The Godfather' Became An American Classic Even Though It Was 'Nightmarish' Behind The Scenes
Photo:  Paramount Pictures

When Francis Ford Coppola and others persuaded Marlon Brando to accept the role of Vito Corleone, the esteemed actor searched for an interesting angle in which to portray his part. He found it when he realized the family always described their hits as "business" - or "a matter of policy." Brando felt the cold treatment of people was "so American," and the story was "about the corporate mind." 

He also said the characters in The Godfather reminded him of Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, and Dean Rusk, whom he felt were the architects of the Vietnam War.

James Caan Helped First-Time Actor Lenny Montana Relax By Pulling A Prank On Marlon Brando
James Caan Helped First-Time A... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list How 'The Godfather' Became An American Classic Even Though It Was 'Nightmarish' Behind The Scenes
Photo:  Paramount Pictures

When real wiseguys visited the set of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola spotted one of their bodyguards, Lenny Montana, and cast him on the spot to be Luca Brasi. Montana was a former wrestler before joining the Colombo family as muscle. He, however, was not a trained actor, so when filming his scenes with Marlon Brando, Montana was nervous. He flubbed his lines and was stiff on set; much of the stuttering seen in the film's final cut was Montana trying to remember his lines.

Coppola asked James Caan to loosen Montana up and help him relax. Thus, Caan persuaded Montana to play a prank on Brando to get him to break character by writing the words "f*ck you" on a piece of tape and attaching it to Montana's tongue. When Montana stuck out his tongue, Brando fell to the floor laughing.

When continuing the scene the next day, Brando returned the favor by taping the words "f*ck you, too" to his tongue.