‘The Godfather’: 50 ways to love the masterpiece as it nears half a century
Watching the greatest movie of all time when it returns to theaters Thursday is more fun when you know where Sofia Coppola shows up, how George Lucas contributed and what all those oranges mean.
The greatest movie of all time debuted in theaters 50 years ago next month and will be back in theaters Thursday to mark the occasion. In celebration, we present 50 Ways to Love “The Godfather.”
1. Oranges. Beware the oranges. Anytime we see an orange in “The Godfather,” death and heartbreak are sure to follow.
2.Connie’s wedding: The soon-to-be-late Tessio juggles an orange.
3. The street where Don Corleone gets shot: oranges spilled. (“I’m gonna buy some fruit.” “OK pop.”)
4. Producer Jack Woltz’s dining room table: a giant bowl of oranges.
5.The room where the heads of the five families meet: an orange atop the bowl of fruit on the table.
6. Don Corleone’s garden: oranges.
7. According to Harlen Lebo’s book “The Godfather Legacy,” production designer Dean Tavoularis often used oranges to add some bright color to the muted hues of the sets. (Maybe so, but STILL. So many death oranges!)
8. The studio wanted “The Godfather” to be set in the modern time period of the 1970s and perhaps in Kansas City to save on the budget, but Coppola insisted on keeping it anchored primarily in New York from 1945-1955. Good decision.
9.Actor Richard Castellano, playing Clemenza, improvised one of the most memorable lines from the film: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
10.Francis Ford Coppola’s good friend George Lucas was in charge of the montage of newspaper headlines and crime scene photos depicting the bloody war between the five families.
11. Lucas’ contribution was his way of saying thanks to his friend Francis, who helped him raise funds for “American Graffiti.”
12. Coppola’s father Carmine is the piano player in the aforementioned montage.
13. The combined salaries of Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton: $105,000. (They were each paid $35,000.)
14. Robert Duvall was paid $36,000 for his two months of work. Must have had a better agent.
15. Marlon Brando was 47 years old when he played Don Corleone — the same age as Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix are today.
16. Before Brando was cast, the top choices to play Don Corleone included Ernest Borgnine and Laurence Olivier.
17. Joe Spinell, who played the hitman Will Cici, went on to portray the loan shark Gazzo in “Rocky.”
18. When Clemenza recites the ingredients for his spaghetti sauce (“You start off with a little bit of oil, then you fry some garlic, then you throw in some tomatoes …), that’s the Coppola family recipe.
19.Nearly every critic in America praised the film, but Stanley Kauffman of the New Republic slammed Brando’s performance, said Al Pacino “rattles around in a part too demanding for him” and opined James Caan was merely “OK as his older brother.”
20. Sofia Coppola was in all three “Godfather” films.
21. In the original, she was Michael Francis Rizzi, the infant son of Connie and Carlo who is getting baptized.
22. In “Godfather II,” Sofia can be seen very briefly as an immigrant girl on the ship taking Vito Corleone to Ellis Island.
23. In “Godfather III,” she was Mary Corleone, daughter of Michael and Kay.
24. Brando skipped the Academy Awards and sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his stead to explain he was declining the Oscar to protest Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans.
25. Pacino was also a no-show at the Oscars because he felt he should have been in the best actor and not supporting actor category, given he had more screen time than Brando.
26. Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando won Oscars for playing the same character at different points in his life. (Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix won Oscars for playing the Joker — but two very different versions of the character in two standalone movies.)
27. That was a real horse’s head.
28. James Caan’s Sonny favored the nonsensical phrase “bada bing.”
29. Caan had overheard the real-life mobster Carmine Persico using the phrase.
30. A generation later, “The Sopranos” would pay tribute to “The Godfather” by having the strip club named “Bada Bing.”
31. “Modern Family” paid tribute to “The Godfather” in an episode titled “Fulgencio,” which features a baptism ceremony intercut with scenes of revenge. (Nobody is actually killed, because “Modern Family” was a sitcom and that would have been insane.)
32.Don Corleone’s cat was a stray found on the Paramount lot.
33. Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman all reportedly turned down the role of Michael.
34. “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
35.“I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion.”
36. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
37. “Do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!”
38. “Fredo, you’re my older brother and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.”
39. “That’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
40.Pacino and Keaton got hammered after filming the big wedding scene because they were both convinced the movie was going to be terrible and potentially career-damaging.
41. James Caan recently tweeted a black and white photo of himself covered with “blood” after filming the scene in which Sonny is killed. (Two girls are seen looking through the window of the toll booth. They appear to be either confused or horrified.) Wrote Caan: “ ‘Jimmy, that’s a wrap!’ Yeah, yeah I know. End of Tweet.”
42. Some 400 squibs were affixed to Caan to produce one of the bloodiest scenes since “Bonnie and Clyde.”
43. The killing of Sonny at the Long Beach Causeway took three days to film and cost about $650,000 in today’s dollars.
44.Brando famously refused to learn his lines, so cue cards were taped on lamps, desks, bushes and even other actors.
45. “The Godfather” is still the 25th highest grossing film of all time, with an adjusted-for-inflation gross of $722 million.
46.At the 45th Academy Awards, the film won best picture, best actor for Brando and best adapted screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo.
47. Caan, Duvall and Pacino were all nominated in the supporting actor category, but the winner was Joel Grey for “Cabaret.”
48. All deep and abiding respect for Joel Grey, but the fact Pacino didn’t win for playing Michael Corleone is mind-boggling.
49. Two years later, the Academy had the opportunity to get it right when Pacino was nominated for best actor for “The Godfather Part II” — but the Oscar went to Art Carney for “Harry and Tonto.”
50. “The Godfather” is the most memorable, most influential, most quoted, most beloved, most discussed, most imitated, most revered and most entertaining American movie ever made.*
*With the possible exception of “The Godfather Part II.”