During an early shot of the scene where Vito Corleone returns home and his people carry him up the stairs, Marlon Brando put weights under his body on the bed as a prank, to make it harder to lift him.
Lenny Montana (Luca Brasi) was so nervous about working with Marlon Brando that in the first take of their scene together, he flubbed some lines. Director Francis Ford Coppola liked the genuine nervousness and used it in the final cut. The scenes of Luca practicing his speech were added later.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis earned himself the nickname "The Prince of Darkness," since his sets were so underlit. "Paramount Pictures" executives initially thought that the footage was too dark, until persuaded otherwise by Willis and Francis Ford Coppola that it was to emphasize the shadiness of the Corleone family's dealings.
Marlon Brando wanted to make Don Corleone "look like a bulldog," so he stuffed his cheeks with cotton wool for the audition. For the actual filming, he wore a mouthpiece made by a dentist. This appliance is on display in the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.
James Caan improvised the part where he throws the FBI photographer's camera to the ground. The actor's frightened reaction is genuine. Caan also came up with the idea of throwing money at the man to make up for breaking his camera. As he put it, "Where I came from, you broke something, you replaced it or repaid the owner."
The cat held by Marlon Brando in the opening scene was a stray that Coppola found while on the lot at "Paramount Pictures," and was not originally called for in the script. So content was the cat that its purring muffled some of Brando's dialogue and, as a result, most of his lines had to be looped.
The smack that Vito gives Johnny Fontane was not in the script. Marlon Brando improvised the smack and Al Martino's confused reaction was real. According to James Caan, "Martino didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
There was intense friction between Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount Pictures, in which Paramount Pictures frequently tried to have Coppola replaced, citing his inability to stay on schedule, unnecessary expenses, and production and casting errors (Coppola actually completed the film ahead of schedule and under budget).
According to Richard S. Castellano, he defended Gordon Willis during a disagreement Willis was having with Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola got revenge on Castellano by making him do twenty takes of the shots of Clemenza walking up four flights of stairs.
Note the attention to detail: most of the cars have wooden bumpers. Bumpers were removed by car owners during World War II, and replaced with wooden ones. The chrome ones were turned in to help with the war effort. After the war, it took several years for them to be replaced.
Marlon Brando did not memorize most of his lines and read from cue cards during most of the film. As a matter of fact, Marlon, who was the father of Method acting, was famous for this; he felt that doing a cold open type reading for the cameras, and then using that very first un-practiced take, was the best way to get an authentic performance. He did the exact same thing for Superman. The set for Krypton was filled with the cards pasted here and there for Marlon as he read his lines for the first time.
Francis Ford Coppola insisted on the film being called "Mario Puzo's The Godfather" rather than just "The Godfather", because his original draft of the screenplay was so faithful to the novel, he thought Puzo deserved the credit for it.
Francis Ford Coppola turned in an initial Director's Cut running two hours and six minutes. "Paramount Pictures" production chief Robert Evans rejected this version, and demanded a longer cut with more scenes about the family. The final release version was nearly fifty minutes longer than Coppola's initial cut.
The scene where Sonny beats up Carlo (Connie's husband) took four days to shoot, and featured more than 700 extras. The use of the garbage can lid was improvised by James Caan.
According to Al Pacino, the tears in Marlon Brando's eyes were real, in the hospital scene when Michael pledges himself to his father.
Orson Welles lobbied to get the part of Don Vito Corleone, even offering to lose a good deal of weight in order to get the role. Francis Ford Coppola, a Welles fan, had to turn him down because he already had Marlon Brando in mind for the role and felt Welles wouldn't be right for it.
Francis Ford Coppola held improvisational rehearsal sessions that simply consisted of the main cast sitting down in character for a family meal. The actors and actresses couldn't break character, which Coppola saw as a way for the cast to organically establish the family roles seen in the final film.
Don Vito Corleone's distinctive voice was based on real-life mobster Frank Costello. Marlon Brando had seen him on television during the Estes Kefauver hearings in 1951, and imitated his husky whisper in the film.
According to Mario Puzo, the character of Johnny Fontane was not based on Frank Sinatra. However, it was widely assumed that it was, and Sinatra was furious. When he met Puzo at a restaurant, he screamed vulgar terms and threats at Puzo. Sinatra was also vehemently opposed to the film. Due to this backlash, Fontane's role in the film was scaled down to a couple of scenes.
George Lucas put together the "Mattress Sequence" (the montage of crime scene photos and headlines about the war between the five families) as a favor to Francis Ford Coppola for helping him fund American Graffiti (1973). He asked not to be credited. Lucas used photos from real crime scenes. The corpse on the ground near a chain link fence is Frank Nitti (aka "The Enforcer"), Al Capone's right-hand man who had not been murdered, but actually shot himself. During the scene, Coppola's father, Carmine, is the piano player.
Al Pacino boycotted the Academy Awards ceremony, angry that he was nominated for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar, noting that his character had more screentime than his co-star, Best Actor winner Marlon Brando.
Al Pacino's maternal grandparents emigrated to America from Corleone, Sicily, just as Vito Corleone had.
The early buzz on this movie was so positive that a sequel was planned before the film was even finished filming.
One of the reasons why Francis Ford Coppola finally agreed to direct the film was because he was in debt to "Warner Brothers," following $400,000 budget overruns on George Lucas's "THX 1138 (1971)." Lucas urged him to take the job.
Gianni Russo used his organized crime connections to secure the role of Carlo Rizzi, going so far as to get a camera crew to film his own audition and send it to the producers. However, Marlon Brando was initially against having Russo, who had never acted before, in the film. This made Russo furious, and he went to threaten Brando. However, this reckless act proved to be a blessing in disguise, because Brando thought Russo was acting, and was convinced he would be good for the role.
For the scene where Clemenza is cooking, Francis Ford Coppola originally wrote in the script, "Clemenza browns some sausage." Upon seeing this, Mario Puzo crossed out "browns" and replaced it with "fries", writing in the margin, "gangsters don't brown."
Stanley Kubrick thought the film had the best cast ever and could be the best movie ever made.
Sergio Leone was approached to direct the film, but turned it down since he felt the story, which glorified the Mafia, was not interesting enough. He later regretted refusing the offer, but would go on to direct his own critically acclaimed gangster film, "Once Upon a Time in America (1984)."
Francis Ford Coppola originally planned to open the film with the wedding, immediately introducing all the characters. Then a friend pointed out how interestingly he had written the opening scene of Patton (1970). Coppola then re-wrote the opening with the Bonasera scene.
Paramount Pictures' original idea was to make this a low-budget gangster film set in the present, rather than a period piece set in the 1940s and 1950s. Francis Ford Coppola rejected Mario Puzo's original script, based on this idea.
Francis Ford Coppola was reluctant to let his sister, Talia Shire, audition for the role of Connie. He felt she was too pretty for the part, and did not want to be accused of nepotism. Only at Mario Puzo's request did Shire get a chance to audition.
Francis Ford Coppola worked with relatives in this film, (making it a family film in many contexts). In chronological order of appearance: his sister, Talia Shire, portrayed Connie Corleone throughout the saga, his mother, Italia Coppola, served as an extra in the restaurant meeting, his father, Carmine Coppola, was the piano player in the Mattress sequence and, he composed the music, his sons Gian-Carlo Coppola and Roman Coppola, can be seen as extras in the scene where Sonny beats up Carlo, and he is at the funeral, and his daughter, Sofia Coppola, is the baby, Michael Rizzi, in the baptism (she was three weeks old at the time of shooting).
Al Pacino, James Caan, and Diane Keaton were all paid $35,000 for their work on the film.
In 1974, the film premiered on NBC over two nights: Saturday, November 16, and Monday, November 18, from 9-11 p.m.. Both nights, at 11 p.m., New York City's Municipal Water Authorities had some overflow problems from all of the toilets flushing around the same time.
The scenes of Michael and Kay at the wedding at the beginning were shot at night. Due to the rushed schedule, Francis Ford Coppola had to get their scenes in the bag. Cinematographer Gordon Willis was furious at having to rig up so many lights.
The Don's wife, Carmela "Mama" Corleone, is seen singing at the wedding. Morgana King, who played Carmela, was a gifted jazz singer, and portraying Carmela was actually her film debut, as well as her acting debut.
There was a great deal of mooning on-set, started by James Caan and Robert Duvall. In an effort to break some tension during a rehearsal for the first scene, the pair mooned Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando, and Salvatore Corsitto. Caan told TIME Magazine, "My best moon was on Second Avenue. Bob Duvall and I were in one car and Brando was in another, so we drove up beside him and I pulled down my pants and stuck my ass out the window. Brando fell down in the car with laughter." Richard Bright claimed that it got to the point where every time you turned opened a door, you expected to see someone's behind. Even Al Pacino got in on the act, as he told Ladies' Home Journal, "In a scene where I sit behind a desk, wardrobe made a big fuss about getting me a shirt with a smaller collar. So while everyone was looking at the shirt, I took off my pants. When I came out from behind the desk, I got a laugh, even though we had to do the scene over." The ultimate moon came when Brando and Duvall mooned four hundred cast and crew members during the shooting of the wedding scene. They planned it carefully and Caan, who overheard the plan, started to shout, "No, no, not here!" Everyone working on the production and most of the extras roared with laughter (some of the older ladies didn't appreciate the view). Eventually, Brando was crowned best prankster, designated by a heavyweight-style leather belt with the title, "Moon Champion".
Michael's speech to Apollonia's father was originally written to be in Sicilian, as it was in the novel. Al Pacino, however, did not speak Sicilian fluently, and could not learn such a lengthy speech. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the scene at the last minute to have Michael speak English, and have Fabrizio translate for him.
James Caan originally heard the phrase "bada-bing!" from his acquaintance, the real-life mobster Carmine Persico, and improvised its use in the film.
While filming the scene in which Carlo beats her, Talia Shire lost a shoe. Not wanting to have to restore the set and wait for the camera to be set up for a second time, she simply continued to play through the scene, even at the risk of cutting her foot on all the ceramics she had just destroyed.
Radio personality Howard Stern has said that he would gladly have any cast member of this film as his guest, and they can show up at his studio unannounced. Though over the years, cast members such as Robert Duvall and James Caan were pre-scheduled guests, his "just show up" policy was never taken up until Gianni Russo arrived one day. Stern immediately had him escorted into his studio, even though he was in the midst of other guests at the time, and interviewed him.
The film's opening scene, a three-minute zoom-out of Amerigo Bonasera and Don Corleone, was achieved with a computer-controlled zoom lens, which had earlier been used in Silent Running (1972).
A young Sylvester Stallone auditioned for the roles of Paulie Gatto and Carlo Rizzi, but was not cast for either. Stallone instead decided to try his hand at writing, first completing the screenplay for the modestly successful The Lords of Flatbush (1974). He would later get his break in Rocky (1976), alongside Talia Shire, who portrayed Connie Corleone in this film.
Paramount executive Peter Bart bought the film rights to Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" before it was even finished. It was still only a 20-page outline.
Gordon Willis was forced to use overhead lighting for Marlon Brando's scenes, because of his make-up. He decided to extend it throughout, which is one reason the movie is so dark.
Mafia crime boss Joe Colombo and his organization, The Italian-American Civil Rights League, started a campaign to stop the film from being made. According to Robert Evans in his autobiography, Colombo called his house and threatened him and his family. Paramount Pictures received many letters during pre-production from Italian-Americans, including politicians, decrying the film as anti-Italian. They threatened to protest and disrupt filming. Producer Albert S. Ruddy met with Colombo, who demanded that the terms "Mafia" and "Cosa Nostra" not be used in the film. Ruddy gave them the right to review the script and make changes. He also agreed to hire League members (mobsters) as extras and advisers. The angry letters ceased after this agreement was made. Paramount Pictures owner Charlie Bluhdorn read about the agreement in The New York Times, and was so outraged, that he fired Ruddy and shut down production, but Evans convinced Bluhdorn that the agreement was beneficial for the film, and Ruddy was rehired.
The relationship between Francis Ford Coppola and Gordon Willis was highly combustible. They would often have screaming rows, with a few broken props as a result. After one incident, such a loud noise exploded from Coppola's office that the crew thought that Coppola had shot himself (he had only broken a door). They also conflicted because Willis was very hard on the actors and actresses about hitting their marks, with his low lighting scheme, if they missed, they would be filmed in total darkness. Coppola, on the other hand, considered himself a protector of actors and actresses. He felt that he could get the most out of them by nurturing them.
According to Francis Ford Coppola in the DVD commentary, in the scene where Captain McCluskey confronts Michael in front of the hospital, the officer who balks at arresting Michael ("He's clean, Captain. He's a war hero.") is NYPD Detective Sonny Grosso, one of the detectives made famous by his involvement in breaking the "French Connection" case.
Mario Puzo modelled the character of Don Vito Corleone on New York City mob bosses Joe Profaci and Vito Genovese. Many of the events in his novel are based on actual incidents that occurred in the lives of Profaci, Genovese, and their families. Puzo based Don Vito's personality on his own mother's.
When Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for this movie, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather (Marie Louise Cruz) to represent him at the awards ceremonies. The presenters of the award were Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann. When Moore offered the statuette to Littlefeather, she snubbed him and proceeded with her speech about the film industry's mistreatment of Native Americans.
During pre-production, Francis Ford Coppola shot his own unofficial screentests with Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton at his house in San Francisco. Robert Evans was unimpressed by them, and insisted that official screentests be held. The studio spent four hundred twenty thousand dollars on the screentests, but in the end, the actors and actresses Coppola originally wanted were hired.
The only comment Robert Duvall made about his performance was that he wished "they would have made a better hairpiece" for his character.
During the 45th Anniversary reunion in 2017, Al Pacino, to Diane Keaton's amusement, revealed that during the filming of the wedding scene, they both "got back" as it was "chaos", and he thought that the film would not do so well. He stated: "we started drinking and we were just talking about 'where do we go from here? We're done. It's the worst film ever made.'"
Marlon Brando based some of his performance on Al Lettieri, who plays Sollozzo. While preparing for On the Waterfront (1954), Brando became friendly with Lettieri, whose relative was a real-life Mafioso. Brando and Lettieri would later co-star in "The Night of the Following Day (1969)." Lettieri also helped Brando prepare for his Godfather role by bringing him to his relative's house for a family dinner.
For the long exterior shots of Tom entering the studio lot, and Tom and Jack Woltz walking around the grounds, the second unit filmed extras with wigs and hats in order to avoid having to pay Robert Duvall and John Marley.
According to Albert S. Ruddy's assistant, Bettye McCartt, Ruddy was warned by police that the Mafia was following his car. Ruddy would switch cars with McCartt in an effort to lose them. One night, McCartt found her car with the windows shot out and a note that read, "Shut down the movie or else."
To add a sense of reality to the wedding scene (and because he only had two days to shoot it), Francis Ford Coppola had the cast freely act out and improvise in the background of the wedding scene. He then shot specific vignettes amongst the action.
Paramount Pictures senior management, dissatisfied with the early rushes, considered replacing Francis Ford Coppola with Elia Kazan, with the hope that Kazan would be able to work with the notoriously difficult Marlon Brando. Brando announced that he would quit the film if Coppola was fired, and the studio backed down. Paramount Pictures brass apparently did not know of Brando's dismay with Kazan over his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.
Although the dark photography of Gordon Willis was eventually copied by many other films, when the developed film came back from the lab, Paramount Pictures executives thought the look was a mistake. They ordered a different look, but Willis and Francis Ford Coppola refused.
The film was set and shot in New York City, at over one hundred locations. Originally, the entire film was to be shot in the Hollywood backlots, in order to save production costs. However, production designer Dean Tavoularis threatened to add two stories to each backlot building in order to replicate the look of New York City, and the studio relented, and allowed for shooting in New York City.
The studio originally wanted to scrap the now-iconic "puppet strings" logo (which was first created by graphic designer S. Neil Fujita for the novel's release) with Mario Puzo's name above the title for the movie release, but Francis Ford Coppola insisted on keeping it, because Puzo co-wrote the script with him.
During filming, Francis Ford Coppola complained about the station wagon that picked him up, so he and Robert Evans made a bet that if the film made $50 million, "Paramount Pictures" would spring for a new car. As the film's grosses climbed, Coppola and George Lucas went car shopping, and bought a Mercedes Benz 600 stretch limousine, instructing the salesman to send the bill to "Paramount Pictures." The car appears in the opening scene of "American Graffiti (1973)."
Real-life gangsters responded enthusiastically to the film, with many of them feeling it was a portrayal of how they were supposed to act. Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the former underboss in the Gambino crime family, stated: "I left the movie stunned. I mean I floated out of the theater. Maybe it was fiction, but for me, then, that was our life. It was incredible. I remember talking to a multitude of guys, made guys, who felt exactly the same way." According to Anthony Fiato after seeing the film, Patriarca crime family members Paulie Intiso and Nicky Giso altered their speech patterns closer to that of Vito Corleone's. Intiso would frequently swear and use poor grammar, but after the movie came out, he started to articulate and philosophize more.
According to Ardell Sheridan, Mafia Captain (and future boss) Paul Castellano visited the set and spoke with Richard S. Castellano. It was not until after Paul was killed in 1985, did Richard reveal to her that Paul was his uncle.
James Caan was at first considered to play first Tom Hagen (for what he actually auditioned), and then Michael Corleone, before being eventually being cast as Sonny Corleone.
The ribbons on Michael Corleone's Marine Corps uniform are the Silver Star, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and the Purple Heart on the top row, and the Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal with a service star and an arrowhead, the European/African/Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with a service star, and the World War II Victory Medal on the bottom row. In The Godfather: Part II (1974), however, Michael tells a congressional committee that he was awarded the Navy Cross during the war. But the Navy Cross is such a prestigious medal that it can take some time for its approval, and Michael could have won it, been discharged, and become a civilian before the award became official. This often happened.
James Caan hung out with various disreputable characters, in order to better understand the underworld lifestyle.
Paramount Pictures wanted the film to appeal to a wide audience, and threatened Francis Ford Coppola with a "violence coach" to make the film more exciting. Coppola added a few more violent scenes to keep the studio happy. The scene in which Connie smashes crockery after finding out Carlo has been cheating was added for this reason.
Originally, Francis Ford Coppola was against directing the film, as he felt it glorified the Mafia and violence, and it would reflect poorly on his Italian-Sicilian heritage. However, he eagerly took the job, once he thought of making it an allegory of American capitalism.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) go to see The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). The sequel to Going My Way (1944), it was the first sequel to be nominated for Best Picture. The second was The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Mario Puzo was very proud of one particular line from the novel, "A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns". He was adamant that it be used in the film, but Marlon Brando felt it was too preachy, and it was excised.
Martin Sheen and Dean Stockwell auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone. Oscar winner Rod Steiger campaigned hard for the role of Michael, even though he was too old for the part. Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Dustin Hoffman were all offered the part of Michael Corleone, but all refused. (Beatty was also offered directing and producing duties.) Suggestions of Alain Delon and Burt Reynolds were rejected by Francis Ford Coppola. Paramount Pictures production chief Robert Evans wanted Robert Redford to be cast in the part, but Coppola demurred, as he was too WASP-y. Evans explained that Redford could fit the role, as he could be perceived as "northern Italian". Evans eventually lost the struggle over the actor he derided as "The Midget". The Irish-American Ryan O'Neal then became the front-runner for the part, though it eventually devolved onto James Caan. Before being cast as Michael, Al Pacino was committed to starring in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971). Coppola, in a 2003 "Cigar Aficionado" interview, said that Paramount Pictures pulled some strings and managed to get Pacino released. The Paramount brass, particularly Evans, were adamantly opposed to casting Pacino, who did poorly in screentests, until they saw his excellent performance in The Panic in Needle Park (1971). Caan went back to his original role of Sonny when Pacino came on-board. Robert De Niro tested for Michael and Sonny, and was almost cast as Carlo, before being cast as Paulie. Then, De Niro was offered Pacino's former role in "Gang". With Coppola's blessing, De Niro backed out to take the part. This, in turn, enabled De Niro to star as a young Vito in the sequel, which won him an Oscar, and made his career.
The character of Hollywood mogul Jack Woltz's was patterned after Warner Brothers chief Jack L. Warner. His personality was based on MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who was a great racing aficionado, and owned a racing stable. Mayer abandoned the activity, reportedly after his son-in-law William Goetz, who was his partner in the stable, got involved with the Mafia and fixed a race. Mayer's horse was the favorite to win.
The film makes use of a variety of Italian words: Paulie says "sfortunato", which means "unlucky guy". Michael explains that Tom is a "consigliere", or counselor. Vito calls Johnny Fontane a "finocchio", an offensive term for a homosexual. Sonny refers to Paulie as a "stronzo", a term equivalent to "asshole". Carlo and Connie both say "vaffanculo" during their fight, which means "fuck you". Don Zaluchi says the sale of drugs to children is an "infamia", or an infamy. Both Don Corleones use the word "pezzo novanta", which means ".90 caliber", or more accurately, an idiom meaning "big shot".
Frankie Avalon and Vic Damone, both established and experienced singers, auditioned for the role of Johnny Fontane. Francis Ford Coppola was most impressed with Damone, and gave the role to him, but Al Martino was cast by the producers, and used his organized crime connections to ensure he kept the part. Ironically, Fontane sings "I Have But One Heart", which was Damone's first hit song.
According to Alex Rocco, he originally auditioned for the role of Al Neri, but Francis Ford Coppola insisted that he play Moe Greene instead. Rocco, an Italian-American, felt that he would not be able to play a person of Jewish descent. According to Rocco, Coppola told him, "'The Italians do this', and he punches his fingers up. 'And the Jews do this", and his hand's extended, the palm flat. Greatest piece of direction I ever got. I've been playing Jews ever since."
At one point during filming, Robert Evans felt the film had too little action and considered hiring an action director to finish the job. To satisfy Evans, Francis Ford Coppola and his son Gian-Carlo Coppola developed the scene in which Connie and Carlo have their long fight. As a result, Evans was pleased enough to let Coppola finish the film.
Francis Ford Coppola had a background in theater, and used it to prepare the script. He would take pages out of the book and paste them into a notebook, which gave him enough room to make detailed notes on the scenes he wanted to use, what he had to do to make them work, and what pitfalls to avoid. (One example: "Italians who-a talk-a like-a dis.")
When Sonny beats up Carlo, a truck in the background and a wooden box on the sidewalk are strategically placed to hide anachronistic objects in the background.
Despite having his Oscar nomination withdrawn by the Academy upon discovery that he had reused the same theme from his previous score for Fortunella (1958), composer Nino Rota was still awarded the Golden Globe, BAFTA and the Grammy for Best Original Score. Oddly enough, Rota won the Oscar for Best Original Score for the sequel The Godfather: Part II (1974), even though the score used the same love theme from the original film.
The slow camera movement that opens the film, which starts with a close-up of Bonasera's face and ends up behind Vito's head, takes more than two minutes to complete. This was created with a recently invented computer-timed lens, which could be programmed to zoom for specific time increments. There are actually very few zoom shots in the picture, as Francis Ford Coppola and Gordon Willis eschewed them for dramatic effect.
The name of the traditional Sicilian hat (worn, for instance, by Michael's bodyguards) is "coppola".
One of Marlon Brando's first scenes was the meeting with Sollozzo at his office. "Paramount Pictures" executives were not impressed with his acting in that scene, and complained to Francis Ford Coppola about it. However, when he asked if they wanted him to re-shoot the scene, they declined. Coppola feared that he was about to be fired, but also knew that he would not be fired until the weekend. It being a Wednesday, he knew he had time to recover. He identified fourteen crew members; including his original assistant director and his original editor, Aram Avakian (who was revealed to be the "ring leader" - this was corroborated by Robert Duvall) , whom he thought might have been reporting on him to the studio, and fired them. With new crew members, he re-shot the scene.
Mario Puzo gave Vito's eldest son the nickname of "Sonny" after the nickname given to the son of Al Capone. The similarities end there. Sonny Capone did not enter his father's business.
Robert De Niro was originally cast as Paulie Gatto, while Al Pacino had accepted a role in Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). Francis Ford Coppola wanted Pacino so badly for the role of Michael that he persuaded the producers of the other film to release him from his contract. This meant he had to provide a replacement, so De Niro was released from his contract on this film.
The scene between Tom and Sollozzo was shot in an abandoned diner. The snowstorm when they exit the diner was real.
The first of four successive years that Al Pacino was nominated for an acting Academy Award. A Best Supporting Actor nomination for this film was followed by Best Actor nominations for Serpico (1973), The Godfather: Part II (1974) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975).
Robert Evans apparently screened the films about gangsters that Paramount Pictures had released before he arrived at the studio, including The Brotherhood (1968). He noticed that most of the films were unsuccessful, and also that they had not been written nor directed by Italian-Americans, and said that he hired Francis Ford Coppola in part, because he wanted to "smell the spaghetti".
The opening wedding celebrations were filmed over a period of a week, and employed over seven hundred fifty extras.
After Marlon Brando's death, his own annotated script for the film fetched $12,800 at a New York City auction, the highest amount ever paid for a film script.
Al Pacino made just $35,000 for starring in the film (the same as James Caan and Diane Keaton and $1,000 less than Robert Duvall). However, having made runaway hits Scarecrow (1973) and Serpico (1973), Pacino managed to command a $600,000 salary for The Godfather: Part II (1974), as well as a 10% cut of the movie's adjusted-gross income.
After Robert Evans insisted that James Caan be cast as Michael, Carmine Caridi was cast in the role of Sonny. According to Evans, he told Francis Ford Coppola that he could cast Al Pacino as Michael as long as he cast Caan as Sonny. Although Caan had been Coppola's first choice, he decided that Caridi was better for the role, and did not want to re-cast Caan. Evans insisted on Caan because he wanted at least one "name" actor to play one of the brothers, and because the 6'4" Caridi would tower over Pacino on-screen. Caridi was later given a small part in The Godfather: Part II (1974). There is a rumor that Burt Reynolds was originally cast as Sonny Corleone, but Marlon Brando wouldn't act with him, considering him more a television star.
In his 1994 autobiography "Songs My Mother Taught Me", Marlon Brando said he turned the film down repeatedly because he did not want to glamorize the Mafia.
The meeting between the heads of the Mafioso was filmed in the boardroom of the Penn-Central Railroad. This explains the train mural seen behind Don Barzini (Richard Conte).
Marlon Brando wanted Al Martino replaced, as he felt the singer's acting was wooden.
While filming a scene with Marlon Brando, Lenny Montana opened his mouth to speak and stuck out his tongue, which had on it a "fuck you" note. Brando, always one for a good joke, laughed uproariously.
In the novel, Don Cuneo's first name is Ottileo, but in the film he was known as Carmine Cuneo, an homage to Carmine Coppola.
Along with Mario Puzo's source novel, Francis Ford Coppola based many of the characters on members of his own family.
According to Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando considered Salvatore Corsitto's performance to be the best in the film, because it was the most genuine.
Al Martino had a rough time on-set. Because of his inability to conjure up emotion, his lines were constantly being re-written, and most of his scenes were shot from behind.
While filming Sonny's tryst with Lucy, Eleanor Coppola went into labor. Francis Ford Coppola went to the hospital after the scene was completed, and Sofia Coppola was born.
Before the film was in production, Paramount Pictures had been going through an unsuccessful period. Their latest mafia based movie, The Brotherhood (1968), had been a box-office bomb. In addition, the studio had usurped their budget for their recent films: Darling Lili (1970), Paint Your Wagon (1969), and Waterloo (1970). The budget for the film was originally two and a half million dollars, but as the book grew in popularity, and Coppola argued for a larger budget, the budget was raised to six million dollars.
The baptism scene was filmed in two churches. The interior shots were filmed at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in New York City, and the exterior shots were filmed at the Mount Loretto Church in Pleasant Plains, Staten Island.
While filming the hospital scenes, doctors and nurses kept sneaking through for a peek at Marlon Brando.
According to Francis Ford Coppola, it was George Lucas who helped him solve the lack of filmed empty corridors in the hospital scene by using the ends of shots that had been filmed after Coppola had called, "Cut".
John Martino ad-libbed the words "Madone'" (Madonna) and "sfortunato" (unfortunate), when Paulie talks about stealing the wedding purse.
Production began on March 29, 1971, but Marlon Brando worked on the film for thirty-five days between April 12 and May 28, so he could honor his commitment to "Last Tango in Paris (1972)."
The immortal line: "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse " makes it into each Godfather movie in some way or another.
James Caan credits the stage persona of "insult comic" Don Rickles for inspiring his characterization of Santino Corleone.
Abe Vigoda got the part of Tessio by answering an open casting call and beat out hundreds of other actors.
According to associate producer Gary Fredrickson, Lenny Montana (Luca Brasi) had worked as a Mafia bodyguard, and had also bragged to Frederickson about working for the Mafia as an arsonist.
In the novel, Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto) is the last person who is allowed to see Don Corleone (Marlon Brando), while Nazorine, The Baker (Vito Scotti), was first. The change to Bonasera being first for the film was to show the way that Nazorine requests a favor is the more appropriate and to suggest that Nazorine heard about Bonasera's lack of respect.
This was Richard Conte's final American studio film before his death on April 15, 1975 at the age of 65.
In 1990, this film was selected for the National Film Registry, Library of Congress.
Diane Keaton based much of her portrayal of Kay Adams on Francis Ford Coppola's wife, Eleanor Coppola.
According to Talia Shire, her therapist urged her to start asserting herself in the family, which is why she tried out for the film.
The casting of Richard Conte was an idea by the mother of Martin Scorsese, who asked Francis Ford Coppola if he could be in the movie.
The film took seventy-seven days to shoot, six days less than the original schedule of eighty-three days.
According to an August 1971 article by Nicholas Pileggi in The New York Times, Paramount Pictures planned to release a line of spaghetti sauce bearing the "The Godfather" logo to promote the film. It also planned Godfather restaurant franchises that would sell pizza, hero sandwiches, Italian ices, Italian breads, and pastries. A spin-off television series was also planned, but none of these ideas came to fruition.
In the original novel, the sequence of Don Corleone granting people requests on his daughter's wedding day is extended, and has more people asking for favors. Interestingly, one of the people seeking an audience with the Don, looking for money to run a pizza restaurant, has the surname of Coppola.
Though Francis Ford Coppola wanted to portray Italians authentically, he cast many actors in the Corleone family who were not Italian: Marlon Brando was of Dutch ancestry, James Caan is German and Jewish, and Abe Vigoda was Russian-Jewish. Nevertheless, he wanted someone with Sicilian looks to play Michael, which is why he fought for Al Pacino, despite a strong desire on Paramount Pictures' part to cast a "name", like Ryan O'Neal or Robert Redford, and Coppola's own concession that many Italians are blonde-haired and blue eyed, like Redford and O'Neal.
Elvis Presley, an avid fan of the book, auditioned for the role of Tom Hagen, though he really wanted to play Vito Corleone.
Francis Ford Coppola inserted the detail of people eating Chinese food out of white takeout containers, a memory from his childhood.
Robert Evans hated Nino Rota's original stab at the score. Francis Ford Coppola threatened to quit over this, until Evans backed down.
Francis Ford Coppola cast Diane Keaton for the role of Kay Adams, due to her reputation for being eccentric.
The mansion of Jack Woltz was also used as the mansion of Alan Stanwyk in Fletch (1985).
Fred Roos cast John Cazale after seeing him in an off-Broadway play called "Life", which co-starred Richard Dreyfuss (who invited Roos). Roos recalled, "We were looking for a Fredo at that time, and I had no idea who John Cazale was. He knocked me out. First chance I got, I brought him in and I said, 'Francis, this is Fredo, we don't need to look any further, this is him'".
This is the fourth of five films as of 2014 in which three actors were competing for the same Oscar for the same film, which were Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall. The other films were: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), in which Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone competed for Best Actor, On the Waterfront (1954), in which Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger competed for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Tom Jones (1963), in which Diane Cilento, Edith Evans, and Joyce Redman competed for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and The Godfather: Part II (1974), in which Robert De Niro, Michael V. Gazzo, and Lee Strasberg competed for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (which De Niro won).
Franco Corsaro filmed a scene as the dying consigliere Genco Abbandando, but it was deleted. In the scene, which takes place after the wedding, Don Vito Corleone and his sons go to the hospital to pay their respects to Genco Abbandando, who is dying of cancer. They attempt to console him, and Genco begs Vito to stay with him as he is dying. The scene does appear in some television airings of the film (in place of edited versions of the murder scenes) and is in The Godfather Saga (1977). Genco is still mentioned in the film, when Santino 'Sonny' Corleone complains to Tom Hagen about not having a proper war-time consigliere.
No cannolis are mentioned in the novel or the shooting script. Francis Ford Coppola included this detail from his memories of the particular white boxes of cannolis that his father would bring home from work.
Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only two actors to ever win separate Oscars for playing the exact same character. Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather (1972) and De Niro won Best Actor in a Supporting Role for The Godfather: Part II (1974), both in the role of Vito Corleone. (Coincidentally, neither actor was present to accept the award.) However, Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix both won Oscars for playing two different versions of the same character in two separate movies. Ledger won Best Actor in a Supporting Role for playing The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), and Phoenix won Best Actor for playing The Joker in Joker (2019).
The Corleones are based on the Borgias, a Spanish family that emigrated to Rome in fifteenth century Europe. The patriarch, Rodrigo, became Pope Alexander VI. Rome at that time, like New York City in the 1940s, had five powerful families. The other families in Rome were the Colonna family, the Medici family, the Orsini family, and the Sforza family. The real New York City families were the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese families.
According to Francis Ford Coppola in his "Cigar Aficionado" Magazine interview, he had a meeting at his house in 1969 with producers Albert S. Ruddy and Gray Frederickson to discuss The Conversation (1974). He had sent the script to Marlon Brando, who called him during the meeting to politely turn it down. Right before the meeting, Coppola took note of a newspaper advertisement for an upcoming novel titled "The Godfather" by Mario Puzo. Just a few months later, all five people would meet to discuss a film version of the novel.
In the novel, when pleading his case to the Don, Johnny explicitly explains why Woltz doesn't like him. Francis Ford Coppola changed this, preferring to have the explanation come from Woltz's tirade.
In April 1972, Paramount Pictures took out an ad in the trade papers which read, "In less than four weeks of national distribution, The Godfather, is already the twelfth highest grossing film, domestically, of all time. No motion picture has grossed so much in such a short period of time."
Screenwriter Robert Towne wrote the scene on the patio between Don Corleone and his son Michael.
The scene of Michael and Kay Christmas shopping required 143 extras, in addition to period cars. The streetlights were replaced to match the period at $1,000 a pop, as well as street signs. 60 crew members were present.
The wedding scene, due to its size, was filmed on several locations on the same street that the house used for the exterior shots of the Corleone Family compound, which is located on Longfellow Avenue, Todt Hill, Staten Island, New York. The house had a low stone perimeter fence, which was enlarged to give the impression of a "family compound". The famous gate that marks the entrance to the Corleone compound was built for the film, and was torn down after shooting.
In the scene where Clemenza, Rocco and Paulie Gato drive through New York, stock footage from the early 1940s is used, as the production staff could not recreate main thoroughfares and skyscrapers from a bygone era. When the shots the script demanded were found, the staff just needed to find a car that matched the model and duplicate its license plate.
Frank Albanese, who played Uncle Pat Blundetto in The Sopranos (1999) and the smiling lawyer for a young Henry Hill in Goodfellas (1990), was one of the two hitmen (with a machine gun) who jumps into the bedroom, rubbing out one of the Dons with his mistress, while Michael eliminates the other Dons during the baptismal scene.
The producers offered Burt Reynolds the Michael Corleone role before they offered it to Al Pacino. When Marlon Brando got wind of this he threatened to quit if Burt Reynolds was part of the project. Hearing this made Reynolds back out of the project too. "I was flattered he was upset," said Reynolds, later.
The Mount Loretto Church in Staten Island, where the exteriors for the baptism scene were filmed, burned down in 1973.
According to an August 1971 article by Nicholas Pileggi in the New York Times, a supporting cast member became so committed to his role that he accompanied a group of Mafia enforcers on a trip to beat up strike breakers during a labor dispute. But the enforcers had the wrong address, and were unable to find the strike breakers. The actor's name was not revealed.
Nino Rota composed a piece titled "The Pickup", which was to play during Tom Hagen's arrival in Hollywood. The studio felt the piece did not fit the scene and had it replaced with a jazz standard titled "Manhattan Serenade". Rota's original piece appeared on the soundtrack album.
Exterior shots of the Woltz estate are actually Harold Lloyd's house. Interior scenes were shot at the Guggenheim estate in Long Island. Guards had to be hired for the priceless art, and the bed was a rental.
In the scene where Carlo is beaten by Sonny, a poster bearing the name "Thomas Dewey" can be seen on a wall. Thomas E. Dewey was first the appointed Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and later elected District Attorney of New York County in 1937. Dewey successfully pursued gangsters in both jobs. He was elected Governor of New York in 1942, and was serving as Governor during the period portrayed in this film. Dewey lost the elections for President of the United States in 1944 and 1948.
Burt Reynolds was considered for the part of Sonny Corleone by Coppola, but Marlon Brando refused to work with him, considering him a second-rate actor. Also, there was supposed animosity dating back to when Reynolds did an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) years earlier, in which he spoofed Brando's persona. Brando reportedly was not amused by the episode, and had never liked Reynolds since.
Francis Ford Coppola hired production designer Dean Tavoularis having been impressed with his work on Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Little Big Man (1970).
The hospital scenes were filmed in two different locations: the exterior scenes were filmed at a side entrance to the Bellevue Hospital, and the interior shots were filmed at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in Manhattan, New York.
The series of murders committed during the film starts and ends with a strangulation.
Ardell Sheridan, who plays Mrs. Clemenza, was Richard S. Castellano's girlfriend at the time, and Castellano had lobbied Francis Ford Coppola for her to get the role, which would be Sheridan's film debut. Sheridan and Castellano also portrayed husband and wife in The Super (1972), and they would later marry in real life, too.
Jerry Van Dyke, Bruce Dern, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and James Caan auditioned for the role of Tom Hagen.
Before the sit-down meeting, and before the journey in the car to "New Jersey", the group meets in front of a restaurant called Dempsey's Manassa Restaurant. Jack Dempsey, the "Manassa Mauler" was born in Manassa, Colorado, lending the town's name and part of his nickname to the restaurant.
The Lumen Martin Winter mural of Empire Express 999 seen during the meeting of the five families in the old New York Central Rail Road boardroom had been in the possession of The Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission. In the fall of 2014, it was deaccessioned by the commission, and put up for auction. It was purchased by an avid fan of the movie, and is now in his private residence.
Michael's description of how his father launched Johnny Fontaine's singing career was not in the shooting script, nor was Fredo's introduction.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis initially turned down the opportunity to work on the film, because the production seemed "chaotic" to him. After Willis later accepted the offer, he and Francis Ford Coppola agreed to not use any modern filming devices, helicopters, or zoom lenses. Willis chose to use top-light in the majority of the scenes due to Marlon Brando's eye make-up. He made use of shadows throughout the film and applied sepia tones to several scenes. Willis and Coppola agreed to interplay light and dark scenes throughout the film.
While the novel names Santino as the eldest son of Vito and Carmela, The Godfather trilogy indicates Fredo is the eldest. Edited in chronological order, the first child of the two is shown as Fredo being treated for pneumonia. Santino is later shown once the stolen rug is in the Corleone flat. In addition, Coppola is quoted in The Godfather trilogy as depicting Fredo is the eldest.
Producer Albert S. Ruddy later said that "It was the most miserable film I can think of to make. Nobody enjoyed one day of it."
Six cameras were used to shoot the wedding sequences, including four in the garden to capture cinema verite shots, as well as a soundman wandering around to record improvised dialogue. There was also a camera in a helicopter, but many of these shots were too jumpy, and weren't used.
In the wedding scene, when they are singing "C'è la luna mezzo mare" the camera cuts to a man with his arms around two young girls this is Louis Prima, one of the artists who has recorded the song.
The first day of shooting was brought forward a week to March 24 due to the weather forcast promising snow flurries but with no sign of snow large snow blowers were brought in to create fake snow in front of Best and Company on Fifth Avenue with the store's windows being suitably dressed with a Xmas look.
When Marlon Brando openly questioned to Francis Ford Coppola why Gianni Russo was cast in the movie, and then suggested, in front of Russo, re-casting him, Russo quietly pulled Brando aside and said, "If you ever talk to me like that again, or if you ever stand in the way of me getting this role again, I'm going to break you apart and suck on your heart". Marlon was stunned for a moment. Then he said, "That was brilliant!". Brando didn't realize that Russo was infact a former mafioso wise guy, and was infact dead serious. He thought Russo was acting, but he was not! Needless to say Brando didn't mess with Russo again. You can view the interview where Russo admits all this on YouTube.
The Corleone house was constructed for the film to include two stories, complete with a living room, dining room, full kitchen, panelled study, and a foyer with stairs leading to the bedroom.
A diary about the film's production, "The Godfather Journal" by Ira Zuckerman, was published as a mass market paperback by Manor in 1972.
Richard Conte appears in only four scenes, and only has dialogue in one: the meeting of the Dons.
Many interludes were written, but do not appear in the film: Tom Hagen on the plane to California. Carlo and Connie's wedding night. Sonny visiting Lucy Mancini's apartment. A close-up of Vito thinking. Michael and Kay on a train to New Hampshire. Luca Brasi taking the subway to his meeting with Tattaglia. Vito embracing Tom as his new consigliere.
There's actually four parts to the Godfather: Part I (1972); Part 2 (1974); Part 3 (1990); and then Part 4; which is 2020's "The Death of Michael Corleone". Coppola actually released part 4 as an epilogue to part 3; in a new director's cut that was released that year. There's also yet another iteration of these movies that Coppola released in 1981 called "The Godfather Saga" in which Coppola edited together parts 1 and 2 and added previously unreleased footage; and put it all together for a whole new longer movie which was used for network airings in the 80s. Coppola then released a VHS version of this called Godfather 1902-1959: The Complete Epic, which was available to home viewers for rental.
Sir Laurence Olivier was originally offered to play Vito Corleone. Unfortunately, due to his failing health, he had to decline, leading to Marlon Brando being cast.
Francis Ford Coppola's mother Italia Coppola had a scene as a Genco Olive Oil Company switchboard operator, but it ended up on the cutting room floor.
This is the second Best Picture Oscar winner in which Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor, also in which three of Brando's co-stars were nominated for Best Supporting Actor but none of whom received the award. The first film was On the Waterfront (1954). Coincidentally, the story of both films is about organized crime set in the New York City-Hoboken area. A key difference between the two however is that Brando's character (Terry Malloy) in the earlier film fights against organized crime. Whereas in the latter film, Brando's character (Vito Corleone) is the head of a major organized crime family.
According to a 1982 interview done for the U.K., Jack Nicholson turned down the role of Michael Corleone because he felt the lead should be Italian and also because the draft of the script given to him did not include scenes with him and Marlon Brando.
Robert Evans told the story that Puzo owed the mob $10,000 or so and he had the beginning of a novel called "Mafia". Evans basically optioned it for the amount of money that Puzo owed the mob.
The Woltz International Pictures lot is actually Paramount's lot in Hollywood. This was not production designer Dean Tavoularis' choice, he detested the look of it, and even suggested the Warner Brothers lot as an alternative, but it was used for budgetary reasons. It was also the location for the Paramount Pictures backlot scenes in Sunset Blvd. (1950).
According to a production assistant, between takes of the restaurant scene, Sterling Hayden snacked on fruit and milk, as he only ate natural foods. He read "Dear Theo", a collection of letters from Vincent van Gogh to his brother. He then mysteriously disappeared. He had taken a stroll, fallen asleep down by the river, and was awakened by boys throwing rocks at him.
In one scene, Sonny makes the expression "Going to the mattresses". This would become a popular phrase that is still being used a half century later.
When Mrs. Corleone is being coaxed into singing, for a split second a bald man with a moustache is seen. Michael V. Gazzo, the bald man with the moustache, played Frank Pentangeli in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Frank Sivero appears as an extra in the scene where Santino 'Sonny' Corleone beats up Carlo Rizzi. He would later appear in The Godfather: Part II (1974) as young Genco Abbandando.
Francis Ford Coppola was hired by Robert Evans to direct the movie after Peter Bogdanovich, among others, turned it down.
Al Lettierri who played the Turk was a very powerfully built man. Francis Ford Coppola said that shaking hands with him was like putting your hand in a vice.
The earliest known Hollywood reference to a mob boss being called a godfather was in Pocketful of Miracles (1961), where Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) is said to have a lot of experience as a godfather. This reference even predates Joe Valachi's use of the term in his U.S. Senate testimony in 1963.
Don Corleone's (Marlon Brando) slap on his godson (Al Martino) at Connie Corleone's (Talia Shire) wedding wasn't originally in the script, but Francis Ford Coppola kept it in the film.
Olivia Hussey was considered by casting director Fred Roos for the role of Apollonia. Francis Ford Coppola originally wanted Stefania Sandrelli, but she turned it down.
In the novel and the shooting script, it is Michael who tells Kay about the Sicilian tradition of never refusing a request on a daughter's wedding day.
Public Enemy sampled the line, "They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls" for their song "1 Million Bottlebags" on their 1991 album "Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black".
Actor Richard S. Castellano (Clemenza) and director Francis Ford Coppola did not get along well during filming. Castellano claimed that for one sequence Coppola maliciously made him do multiple takes of Clemenza running up a flight of stairs, a rough task for an obese man. His heavy breathing in the printed take was not acting.
According to Francis Ford Coppola, Gordon Willis' favorite shot was an overhead shot of the Sicilian countryside.
Francis Ford Coppola wanted to cast Timothy Carey, but Carey turned the part down, so he could film a television pilot.
In a life immitates art moment mob boss Johnny Camino threatened the CEO of Paramount; which is how Gianni Russo got the job in Godfather.
When Michael goes to Las Vegas to see Moe Greene, if you look carefully in the car at the beginning of the scene, the guy in the front seat is dressed like and is supposed to be Fredo, but you can clearly see that it's not John Cazale. Then in the next moment in the hallway leading to the hotel room it's clearly John Cazale again.
Vic Damone was originally cast as Johnny Fontaine, but dropped out, ostensibly because he couldn't in good conscience play a character so anti-Italian-American. He later revealed it was because of the poor pay.
The film that inspired Chris Columbus to become a filmmaker when he first saw it at the age of fifteen.
Francis Ford Coppola invited Italian superstar singer Mina to play Kay Adams. She turned down the offer as she was not interested in an acting career. The role ultimately went to Diane Keaton.
When Paramount Pictures approached Otto Preminger to direct, he wanted Frank Sinatra to play Don Corleone.
Contrary to the information in "Filming Locations," the scene where Don Corleone leaves the hospital in the ambulance is not the "new" Lincoln Hospital on 149 St. in the Bronx (opened in 1976). That scene was filmed at the old Lincoln Hospital which was at that time off of Southern Blvd at East 141 Street. The ramp where the ambulance is located was the entrance to the Emergency Room where ambulances would bring the patients (as they were the night they were setting up the shoot). The building is no longer there.
Francis Ford Coppola initially offered the part of Don Vito Corleone to retired Maltese actor Joseph Calleia, but the offer was turned down by Calleia due to health reasons.
Peter Donat, Martin Sheen, Roy Thinnes, Barry Primus, Robert Vaughn, Richard Mulligan, Keir Dullea, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson, and James Caan were considered for the role of Tom Hagen. John Cassavetes and Peter Falk also sought the role. Of those actors, only Donat ultimately appeared in The Godfather: Part II (1974), in the role of Questadt.
Sidney J. Furie was originally in line to direct. Producer Albert S. Ruddy had just come off Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970) with Furie, and was handed the task of producing after that film had been brought in under budget and under schedule. Ruddy personally requested Furie to direct the picture, but Francis Ford Coppola's Italian heritage won the day.
Jill Clayburgh, Susan Blakey, and Michelle Phillips screentested for the role of Kay. Francis Ford Coppola also considered Geneviève Bujold, Jennifer Salt, and Blythe Danner.
The actual backstage of the Corleone house set served as the set for the backstage of Woltz International Pictures.
The town square in Sicily is central in all three movies. In the Godfather, Michael passes by it when he is "banished" to Sicily. In the Godfather II, Vito is in front of it when smuggled out of Sicily in a cart, In Godfather Part III, Michael and his family are in front of it when they visit Sicily to see Anthony perform.
Simonetta Stefanelli who played Michael Corleone's first wife, Apollonia, in Sicily who also appears topless in the film was only 16. Her birth date is November 30, 1954 and principal photography for the film took place from March to July 1971, making Simonetta age 16.
Sterling Hayden wandered off set between takes of the restaurant scene. He was found asleep by a river where children were throwing rocks at him.
As Michael and Apollonia are strolling they are followed by a herd of female chaperones. The herd joke is reinforced by the sound of goat bells.
To keep a veil of secrecy when shooting on some 90% of scenes filmed in the New York suburbs Brando's scenes were shot in a concentrated period of 35 days.
When the phone rings and Connie answers it In the scene where Connie is beat up by Carlo, the voice on the other end of the phone is that of Talia Shire who plays the role of Connie. So she's speaking to herself
Bill Butler did some uncredited cinematography for the film, namely in the scenes shot in Los Angeles, as director of photography Gordon Willis was busy filming in the main locations in New York City.
Ten percent of the film was shot on soundstages at Filmways Studio lot in New York City.
Peter Bogdanovich was approached to direct, but he also declined the offer because he was not interested in the Mafia. In addition, Richard Brooks, Sidney J. Furie, Costa-Gavras, Lewis Gilbert, Larry Peerce, Otto Preminger, Franklin J. Schaffner, and Fred Zinnemann were all offered the position, but declined.
Aram Avakian was originally hired as the film's editor, but was fired after disagreements with Coppola.
Just like in the movie, James Caan (Sonny) is older than Al Pacino (Michael) though it was only for a month ( both actors were born in 1940). Also, Marlon Brando ( born 1924 ) who played their on-screen father is only 16 years older than both of them and only 11 years older than John Cazale, who also played one of his on-screen son Fredo.
Al Martino, who plays Johnny Fontane in the movie, was not director Francis Ford Coppola's first choice for the role. However, Martino used his connections with organized crime boss Russell Bufalino to get the role. Bufalino would later be portrayed by Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese's movie The Irishman (2019), which also stars Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa.
In the exterior scene at the Las Vegas Hotel (before Michael Corleone meets with Moe Greene), Fredo Corleone, Michael, Tom Hagen, and Al Neri are seen briefly exiting the car at the Hotel entrance. The man wearing the yellow jacket and who appears to be Fredo, is not actually actor John Cazale. Similarly, the scene also shows a stand-in for Tom emerging from the vehicle, as the man has gray hair and is clearly not Robert Duvall. For some reason, when this exterior scene was scheduled to be shot, John Cazale and Robert Duvall either weren't available or stand-ins were used to save costs. Director Francis Ford Coppola or the Assistant Director wisely shot the scene with the focus on Al Pacino as Michael, and avoided frontal camera views of Fredo and Tom to maintain the illusion that the original actors were appearing in the scene.
Throughout the film series, MIchael Corleone only kills two people...Captain McClusky and Solozzo. This was also the first time Michael kills anyone.
Charlie Bluhdorn, the President of Gulf + Western, wanted Charles Bronson to play Michael Corleone.
When Marlon Brando, as Don Corleone, purchases some oranges on the street (just before the gunmen attack him) a storefront sign advertises a fight featuring Jake LaMotta. Robert DeNiro, who will go on to play the young Corleone in The Godfather Part II will go on to play Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. Of course DeNiro will earn Oscars for both The Godfather Part II and Raging Bull.
Ben Key and Eddy Westcott are both huge fans, and have even said in interviews that they based their characters in The Two Of Us (2018) on Al Pacino and Marlon Brando in this movie, respectively.
Al Pacino was called "sonny" by his friends growing up, just like his fictional brother Santino 'Sonny' Corleone.
The exterior of Jack Woltz's (John Marley) home in the film used to be that of film comedian Harold Lloyd'
As the Corleones prepare for the hit on Sollozzo and McCluskey, they face a problem because they don't know where the meeting between them and Michael will be held, and they won't know where to plant the gun. Sonny then suggests they "just blast whoever's in the car." Which foreshadows his death later in the movie.
In the novel, as well as in the sequel/prequel, before there was Cosa Nostra in America there was the Black Hand in the early 20th century. The Black Hand in Italian/Sicilian-American communities in major cities was not a gang but an extortion method that was often perpetrated by freelance criminals against prominent Italian-Americans. Vito Corleone (after killing the neighborhood extortionist Don Fanucci) became a Black Hander but not nearly as predatory as was his predecessor. This was before the formation of Cosa Nostra "crime families" that came decades later.
The Jack Woltz Mansion was in actuality the former home of William Randolph Hearst, is located in North Hollywood, and was referred to as "the Beverly House". Due to increasing age and medical issues, San Simeon became too remote, and Hearst moved to this home in 1947 with his mistress actress Marion Davies. He lived here until his death at age 88 in 1951.
Like the character Michael Corleone, many members of the cast and crew of "The Godfather Trilogy" were military veterans, most of whom served during World War II. Author and screenwriter Mario Puzo and actors Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, William Bowers and Paul Lambert served in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Actor Sterling Hayden was in both the Army and the Marine Corps, serving as an officer in the latter; Hayden was also a secret agent during the War, serving in the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. Actors Abe Vigoda, John Marley, Richard Conte, Rudy Bond, Hank Robinson, Richard Matheson and Eli Wallach were all in the Army, while Al Martino, Harry Dean Stanton and Roger Corman served in the Navy. Harrison Ressler arranged and performed in USO shows during the War. Other cast and crew members served in the Korean War including cinematographer Gordon Willis who was in the Air Force, while actors Robert Duvall, Danny Aiello, Tony Lip and Randy Jurgensen served in the Army. Actor Gary Kurtz was in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and Ron Gilbert was drafted into the Army in the summer of 1960.
Vito refuses to get into the narcotics business after the war, not only because he knows his political friends would abandon him but because he believes in the future that the drug business could kill the Mafia. In Real Life, the Mafia has been crippled since The '70s mostly due to the war on drugs bringing federal attention to mafia activities.
The church baptism scene was filmed in two locations on Staten Island, NY. The interior scenes were filmed inside of St Patrick's church in the Richmond Town section. The exterior scene was shot at The Old Church of St. Joachim and St. Anne on the grounds of Mount Lorretto in the Pleasant Plains section of Staten Island. This church burned down in 1973 and a new church was rebuilt in its place in 1976 using the old facade.
Sonny and Fredo are never shown speaking directly to each other in the first film, even when they appear together (in the bedroom scene where Sonny puts his arm around Fredo and explains to Vito that they're sending him to Las Vegas, both of their responses are directed towards their father, not each other).
The explanation of the Sicilian tradition of a father not refusing any request on his daughter's wedding day was originally from Michael to Kay. One could argue this makes more sense than Tom Hagen explaining it to his own Sicilian wife.
When Vito addresses Tom as "Consigliere of mine," he pronounces the g, something an Italian native speaker wouldn't do.