A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1972 – The Godfather
I’ve said all along… whenever a film becomes the highest-grossing film of all time upon release, it’s almost certainly going to become the choice for its year.
And also… it’s The Godfather.
Of course this is the choice for 1972. There’s nothing else that even comes close.
Rather than just leave it at that (because I really could have. Since I don’t need to spend a second explaining this decision), I’m just gonna throw out random trivia for a while.
Did you know they wanted Sergio Leone to direct this movie?
And Peter Bogdanovich. Another great Italian filmmaker.
12 directors actually turned this movie down until Coppola did it. And even he didn’t want to do it. But his company was in debt (which is a recurring theme throughout his career) and he needed the money.
Coppola actually almost got fired a bunch throughout filming. I feel like most people on this movie almost got fired at one point or another. The studio actually had a replacement director shadow him just in case he got fired. They thought he was really screwing up the film with his casting choices and his production delays and the way he shot it. Brando told them he’d quit if Coppola got fired, which bought him some wiggle room.
There’s that story where Pacino was in danger of being fired, so they rushed the scene in the restaurant where he kills Sollozzo and McClusky, and the studio said, “All right, he can act, he’s good.”
Another great story is – the studio did not want Brando at all. Coppola thought Brando was the only person who could play it. (“He was right.” – history) He thought it needed a great actor, like Brando or Olivier. But Olivier’s agent said, “Fuck no.” So it became Brando. (Olivier made Sleuth that year, so he did all right.) But Brando did a screen test for the studio. They forced one, and Coppola didn’t want to offend Brando (because try telling Daniel Day-Lewis he needs to test for a part before he gets it. All right), so he said they just needed to test the equipment. So he goes to Brando’s house, and Brando starts saying what he’s gonna do with the part. He puts shoe polish in his hair and slicks it back, and rolls up his collar, and starts saying, “He’s like a bulldog,” and stuffs tissue paper in his cheeks. And within a few minutes, Brando just becomes the character. To the point where, when the studio watched the screen test, one of the executives went, “Who’s this old guinea? Where’s Brando?” So that pretty much ended that resistance. I think the story as Coppola tells it is, they’re watching Brando do this, and then he starts speaking, and they stop their complaining mid-sentence and go, “Holy shit.”
Also, the other thing I love – the cat Brando plays with in the beginning of the movie… totally just found it on the lot. It scratched the shit out of anyone who came near it, but Brando just picked it up and played with it, and it ended up in the movie.
Here’s another one: they wanted Ryan O’Neal for Michael. But the executives said he was too short. So they got Al Pacino instead.
The other impressive thing was that Sonny’s death scene was done in one take. Considering the amount of squibs, that really worked out for them.
All right, one final story, and I’m done. Duvall told this story. The scene after Sonny is killed, and Tom’s sitting downstairs and Corleone comes downstairs – you know, “My wife is crying upstairs. I hear cars coming to the house.” That scene. Duvall says they do the first two takes, and Brando is incredible in them. And they do the third take, and that one is perfect. Duvall figures they’re just gonna move on, because there’s no way they’re gonna top that. And Brando says, “I wanna do one more.” And they do that fourth take, and that’s the one in the movie. Where, instead of reacting, when Duvall says, “They shot Sonny on the causeway. He’s dead,” Brando just exhales, and completely underplays it. And it’s so fucking great.
This really is a masterpiece.