|While the gangster genre is filled with incredible, tightly wound pictures that shed light on the darker sides of life, like “Goodfellas” or “Bonnie & Clyde, “the best and most famous is “The Godfather.”
The story of the trials and tribulations of the Corleone family has captivated audiences for more than 40 years, spawned one of the best sequels ever made with “The Godfather Part II” (and a slightly mediocre one with Part III), and has brought Mafia one-liners into the conscience of just about anyone who’s seen the movie more than once.
In fact, critics have often discussed that Part II has delivered the ultimate coup of actually being better than the first film. I think they are equally amazing, with each offering a different form of continuity and story of how the family developed.
How the first film developed is almost just as interesting.
First off, the producer and head of Paramount Pictures, the great Robert Evans, gave Mario Puzo $12,500 down as an option for the story to be developed into a book. He thought he’d never see Puzo again but sure enough the writer came back to his office with the epic tome that would be the basis for the movie.
The problem was, no one wanted to make another Mob film.
Over the previous few years, numerous other gangster movies had been made and absolutely none had done well at the box office. When Evans went to the studio to pitch it, he was shot down repeatedly until he told them why the other films had failed.
Evans explained that all of the poor producing pictures had been made by Jewish directors and it was his idea to use an Italian director so that (in his words) “You could smell the spaghetti.”
Once the film was green lighted, the studio couldn’t find a director that wanted to make the picture.
Finally someone suggested Francis Ford Coppola and Evans balked.
Once he decided to roll the dice with the young director, Coppola didn’t want to do it either. Evans later said “This guy couldn’t get a cartoon made in town and he didn’t want to direct ‘The Godfather.’”
The Italian didn’t want to make another film that denigrated his beloved countrymen until he realized, with the help of close friend George Lucas, that it could be a metaphor for the rise of Capitalism in America.
Coppola signed on then went to work.
Martin Scorcese took Coppola to his parents’ house to talk the film over. They wanted to put Al Pacino and Marlon Brando in the two main roles. The studio refused both suggestions.
Brando had fallen out majorly with the studios due to his insane behavior on the set of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and Pacino was a nobody in those days. Evans wanted Ernest Borgnine and Warren Beatty for the roles.
The arguments between the two on the picture were legendary.
The studio finally agreed on the two after Brando researched the role and Coppola filmed him stuffing his mouth with Kleenex and using show polish to blacken his hair, then speaking in Don Corleone’s voice, and the other actors up for Pacino’s role backed out. It didn’t get any easier when the production started.
The Mob-run Italian American Friendship Association blocked Coppola from filming in key New York locations and threatened other members of the production.
Al Ruddy, one of the producers on the films, finally went to them for a sit down.
Joe Colombo Sr., head of one of the “Five Families of New York” told Ruddy the only way they would allow the film to be made is if every instance of the word “Mafia” was taken out of the script.
Ruddy, acting upset, agreed.
He didn’t tell them that it was only appeared once in the script.
Once the Mob was on board, they couldn’t get enough of the making of the film. They hung out on set, offered role and script suggestions, and even wanted to go to the premiere.
Coppola wrapped the film after six months of shooting.
He edited the film in San Francisco and it ended up at a little more than two hours. When he showed the product to Evans, the producer went ballistic.
“Francis, what is this? You shot a great picture. Where did you leave it in the kitchen with your spaghetti?” Evans told Coppola to make it longer.
Coppola went back and added more to the film until there it sat at nearly three hours.
Everyone, including Evans and Coppola thought the film would be a flop.
For the premiere, Evans invited Henry Kissenger along and the statesman obliged. They went to the theater and the lights went down.
Three hours later the film ended and the audience sat in complete silence. Then, roars came from the crowd.
The film went on to be a global success and is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
Of course, I completely agree.