The Godfather. Does it really need an introduction? But how much do you know about what happened behind the scenes? Here are 10 little-known facts about this critically acclaimed film trilogy.
Marlon Brando used steel dentures to nail that “bulldog’ look.
One of the most striking features of Corleone was his ‘bulldog-like’ mouth. Interestingly enough, the idea originated with the actor himself. For his auditions, he stuffed his cheeks with cotton wool. This also helped him produce the famed muffled voice as he was trying to imitate real-life mobster Frank Costello. When filming started, he had a dentist make him steel dentures with resin blobs at either end to give him that grim domineering look. That mouthpiece is now on display at the American Museum of Moving Imagine in New York.
Paramount Studios executives were against Marlon Brando getting the Vito Corleone role.
When Coppola initially mentioned Brando as a possibility for Vito Corleone, Paramount boss, Charles Bluhdorn, vehemently opposed it. He only agreed if Brando fulfilled three requirements: 1) he did a screen test; 2) if cast, he would have to do the movie for free; and 3) Personally put up a bond to make up for potential losses caused by his infamously bad on-set behavior. Somehow Coppola got Brando to show up for the screen test, and the studio loved it so much, they forgot about the other two conditions.
Two award-winning Vito Corleones
Marlon Brando won the best actor Oscar for playing Vito Corleone. Two years later, Robert De Niro won the best supporting actor for playing a younger Vito in The Godfather II. He and Brando became the first and only actors to win an Oscar for portraying the same character in two different films. This was after Robert De Niro had auditioned for the role of Sonny in the first Godfather film and was rejected. The two films are also the only first two films of a trilogy to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Mario Puzo invented the terms ‘Don’ and ‘The Godfather.’
The heads of the crime families are referred to as Don (Don Corleone, Don Branzini, Don Cuneo, etc.) and treated like nobility. But the actual meaning of “don” in Italian is closer to “respected uncle” than “murderous crime boss.” According to Coppola, Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather books, who couldn't speak Italian simply made up the usage—and it stuck. Also, before the novel, the term ‘The Godfather’ did not exist.
The toll booth ambush was the most violent scene in film history.
The most complicated scene for the special effects team was the scene at the toll booth where Sonny Corleone is ambushed. To create the illusion of a tommy-gun attack, James Caan's (Sonny) suit was rigged with more than 400 explosive squibs and 127 pouches of fake blood. The scene took three days to shoot and cost about $100,000, which was an extraordinary amount at the time. The result—the most violent movie scene at the time.
Brando became the “Moon Champion” on the set of The Godfather.
During the filming of The Godfather, much of the cast and crew took to playing pranks on each other, and mooning became prevalent. It was widespread throughout the set, and it was hard to go into a room and not find a naked butt staring at you. Of course, Marlon Brando ended up being named “Moon Champion” showing his backside in the middle of a huge wedding-reception scene.
The cat in the opening scene of the Godfather wasn’t in the original script.
In the opening scene of the Godfather film, Vito Corleone is seen holding a cat. But there was never a cat in the original script! The director, Francis Ford Coppola, found the stray cat roaming around Paramount Studios lot and decided to write it into the movie. The cat loved Brando so much that it sat in his lap during takes for the whole day. However, the cat’s purring made some of Brando’s lines inaudible, which meant they had to be looped over.
Paramount wanted the movie to be even more violent and bloodier.
During the making of The Godfather, Paramount Studio was going through a rough patch financially and really needed a big hit. This resulted in a lot of interference from the studio executives who wanted the movie to appeal to a broader audience by making it more explicitly violent. So they hired a “violence coach” to help add more blood and guts and bruises to the picture to appeal to people who wanted exactly that.
Coppola bought a Mercedes Benz 600 stretch limousine and billed Paramount studio.
During filming, Francis Ford Coppola complained about the station wagon that picked him up. Paramount executive Robert Evans made a bet with him— that if the film made $50 million, Paramount would get him a new car. As the film's revenue climbed, Coppola and Star Wars creator George Lucas went car shopping. He bought a Mercedes Benz 600 stretch limousine, instructing the salesman to send the bill to Paramount Studios. The car appears in the opening scene of American Graffiti (1973).
The Godfather III was somehow a disappointment.
Paramount Pictures wanted to make a trilogy, and for fifteen years, they pushed Coppola to helm the third installment, but he always refused. They even tried to get other writers and directors to make the movie, but nothing ever materialized. However, Coppola’s films in the 80s performed poorly, leaving his production company struggling financially. This largely contributed to him finally saying yes. Released on Christmas 1990, the movie arrived on the back of the first two films’ success (they were nominated for a combined 22 Oscars and won nine). However, it didn’t perform that well at the box office and failed to win for Best Picture or any other Academy Award for that matter.