It's arguably the greatest fictionalized tale about organized crime ever committed to film and one of the greatest movies of all time, in any genre. The Godfather is still a wonder to behold, decades after it premiered in 1972. Its lines are among the most quoted, its themes among the most imitated, its performances among the most admired. The Godfather won three Oscars and was nominated for seven more. Most fans of the book and its adaptation know the line "take the cannoli" was improvised. Here, we look at 10 things you never knew about The Godfather.
Warren, Jack, and Dustin wanted offers they couldn't refuse.
Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Dustin Hoffman are among the future film icons who auditioned, unsuccessfully, for The Godfather. Robert DeNiro earned an Oscar for his performance in The Godfather Part II, but he originally went after the role of Sonny in the first installment. (Producers did offer him the smaller role of Paulie.)
Orson Welles really wanted to play Don Corleone. Screen tests surfaced nearly 40 years after The Godfather was released. The screen legend, who starred in one of the other greatest movies ever, reportedly offered to lose some weight to land the role.
It's fairly well known that Marlon Brando stuffed cotton wool into his cheeks to achieve the sort of bulldog look he envisioned for his character. But that was just for the audition. What's lesser known is that he spent three hours per day in the makeup chair during filming. The process included the application of steel-bar dentures specially made by a dentist.
New York, New York.
The studio reportedly wanted to change the book's setting to a then-modern day 1970s and have it made in Kansas City, to save money. Francis Ford Coppola fought to keep the period setting and to shoot in the much more costly New York City.
Stray Cat Strut.
There was no cat in the script. Francis Ford Coppola found the cat wandering around the studio lot and subsequently gave it a part in the movie. According to The Shortlist, Brando later had to re-record his lines, due to the cat's super loud purring.
The Horse's head was real.
The fake horse head used in rehearsals for what became one of the movie's most famous scenes was replaced with the real thing in order to elicit a visceral reaction from the actor, which it did. The horse head was acquired from a dog food factory.
Speaking of horsing around...
Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and James Caan were notorious jokers on the set of The Godfather, often trying to out prank each other. Legend has it that Brando was even given a belt buckle as a trophy after winning a long-running "mooning" contest.
A family affair.
Most fans know that, for better or worse, Sofia Coppola shows up in The Godfather Part III. But Francis Ford's daughter is in the first movie, as well, during the Christening scene. His sister, Talia Shire, is in all three Godfather films. His father, whose piano work is in the movie, appears with his wife in one scene. Sofia Coppola, of course, went on to become an acclaimed filmmaker in her own right, responsible for well-received movies like Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, and The Beguiled.
A friend of ours...
George Lucas assembled the "Mattress Sequence," using real crime scene photos, for his pal Coppola, who had helped fund the future Star Wars creator's American Graffiti. Film historians have noted the similarity between the deaths of Luca Brasi in The Godfather and Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Hmm.
A lasting legacy...
It's a nearly impossible task to summarize all of the glowing tributes to The Godfather found in pop culture, like the obvious nods in The Sopranos and beyond. Some of our favorites are found in classic episodes of TV's Seinfeld (Kramer as Godfather!) and The Simpsons, when Bart is pelted with snowballs in a shot-for-shot homage to Sonny's famous demise at the tollbooth of the Long Beach Causeway.