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30 Amazing photos from behind the scenes of ‘The Godfather’ – One of the greatest movie trilogies ever made

David Goran
In the director’s chair Francis Ford Coppola oversees a script readthrough for The Godfather Part III (1990)

 

Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, this mob drama, based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, focuses on the powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). When the don’s youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), reluctantly joins the Mafia, he becomes involved in the inevitable cycle of violence and betrayal. Although Michael tries to maintain a normal relationship with his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton), he is drawn deeper into the family business.

In a 1994 interview that can be found on the Academy of Achievement website, Coppola insisted, “The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired.” When word of this reached Brando, he threatened to walk off the picture, writing in his memoir, “I strongly believe that directors are entitled to independence and freedom to realize their vision, though Francis left the characterizations in our hands and we had to figure out what to do.” In a 2010 television interview with Larry King, Al Pacino also talked about how Brando’s support helped him keep the role of Michael Corleone in the movie—despite the fact director Francis Ford Coppola wanted to sack him. Brando was on his best behavior during filming, buoyed by an impressive cast that included Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton. In the Vanity Fair article “The Godfather Wars” Mark Seals writes, “With the actors, as in the movie, Brando served as the head of the family. He broke the ice by toasting the group with a glass of wine. ‘When we were young, Brando was like the godfather of actors,’ says Robert Duvall. ‘I used to meet with Dustin Hoffman in Cromwell’s Drugstore, and if we mentioned his name once, we mentioned it 25 times in a day.’ Caan adds, ‘The first day we met Brando everybody was in awe.'”

 

 

Don Vito Corleone A Man of Reason - Marlon Brando

Don Vito Corleone: A Man of Reason – Marlon Brando

 

 

Makeup artist Dick Smith turns Brando into Don Corleone

Makeup artist Dick Smith turns Brando into Don Corleone

 

 

Marlon Brando during makeup session

Marlon Brando during makeup session

 

 

Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Francis Ford Coppola during makeup session

Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Francis Ford Coppola during makeup session

 

 

Red Buttons, Mario Puzo and Marlon Brando

Red Buttons, Mario Puzo and Marlon Brando

 

 

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) - head of the 'family business' which is an Italian mob organization he forged migrating to the United States

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) – head of the ‘family business’ which is an Italian mob organization he forged migrating to the United States

 

 

Brando betrays amusement at one of his on-set pranks - he added weights to the gurney in order to make it more difficult for his castmates to carry him up the stairs

Brando betrays amusement at one of his on-set pranks – he added weights to the gurney in order to make it more difficult for his castmates to carry him up the stairs

 

 

The relaxed cast gets positioned for pictures of Connie Corleone’s wedding party. Notice that Brando and Caan, at center, are out of character and Robert Duvall, far left, is mugging

The relaxed cast gets positioned for pictures of Connie Corleone’s wedding party. Notice that Brando and Caan, at center, are out of character and Robert Duvall, far left, is mugging

 

 

The wedding scene

The wedding scene

 

It was the 1971 film The Panic in Needle Park, in which Al Pacino played a heroin addict. That role brought him to the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as Michael Corleone in the blockbuster Mafia film The Godfather (1972). Although several established actors, including Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, and little-known Robert De Niro, also tried out for the part, Coppola selected the relatively unknown Pacino, to the dismay of studio executives.

 

 

Marlon Brando and Al Pacino on set of The Godfather

Marlon Brando and Al Pacino on set of The Godfather

 

 

Michael (Al Pacino) & Fredo Corleone (John Cazale) in The Godfather

Michael (Al Pacino) & Fredo Corleone (John Cazale) in The Godfather

 

 

Al Pacino and Smith Dick during makeup session

Al Pacino and Smith Dick during makeup session

 

 

Coppola with his two leading actors. The Godfather would launch Pacino’s film career and revitalize Brando’s

Coppola with his two leading actors. The Godfather would launch Pacino’s film career and revitalize Brando’s

 

 

Al Pacino and Marlon Brando

Al Pacino and Marlon Brando

 

 

Pacino and Brando rehearse a scene

Pacino and Brando rehearse a scene

 

 

Robert De Niro had a pivotal role in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Godfather Part II (1974), playing the young Vito Corleone and his performance earned him his first Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor. De Niro became the first actor to win an Academy Award speaking mainly a foreign language. In this case, multiple Sicilian dialects, although he delivered a few lines in English.

 

 

5

Vito Corleone as a young man, portrayed by Robert De Niro

 

 

Young Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

Young Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

 

 

Coppola cast James Caan as the short-tempered Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Originally, Caan was cast as Michael Corleone (Sonny’s youngest brother); both Coppola and Caan demanded that this role be played by Al Pacino, so Caan could play Sonny instead. Although another actor was already signed to play Sonny, the studio insisted on having Caan, so he remained in the production.

 

 

The family

The family

 

 

James Caan takes a break during filming of the tollbooth assassination scene in which his character, Sonny Corleone

James Caan takes a break during filming of the tollbooth assassination scene in which his character, Sonny Corleone

 

 

James Caan relaxing with a cigarette

James Caan relaxing with a cigarette

 

 

Keaton’s breakthrough role came when she was cast as Kay Adams, the girlfriend and eventual wife of Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather. Coppola noted that he first noticed Keaton in Lovers and Other Strangers, and cast her because of her reputation for eccentricity that he wanted her to bring to the role (Keaton claims that at the time she was commonly referred to as “the kooky actress” of the film industry). Her performance in the film was loosely based on her real life experience of making the film, both of which she has described as being “the woman in a world of men.”

 

 

Diane Keaton and Pacino break character between takes

Diane Keaton and Pacino break character between takes

 

 

Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, and Diane Keaton filming The Godfather in New York City

Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, and Diane Keaton filming The Godfather in New York City

 

 

Al Pacino and Diane Keaton

Al Pacino and Diane Keaton

 

 

As Coppola later recalled in an interview:

“The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. So it was an extremely nightmarish experience. I had two little kids, and the third one was born during that. We lived in a little apartment, and I was basically frightened that they didn’t like it. They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn’t at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I’d ever get another job“.

 

 

Francis Ford Coppola considered bringing Marlon Brando back to play Vito Corleone as a young man, convinced that he could play the role at any age. As he worked on the script, though, he remembered Robert De Niro’s exceptional audition for The Godfather and cast him without offering the part to Brando

Francis Ford Coppola considered bringing Marlon Brando back to play Vito Corleone as a young man, convinced that he could play the role at any age. As he worked on the script, though, he remembered Robert De Niro’s exceptional audition for The Godfather and cast him without offering the part to Brando

 

 

Coppola directs Brando and the cast in the wedding scene at the start of The Godfather

Coppola directs Brando and the cast in the wedding scene at the start of The Godfather

 

 

Coppola, center, with cast members James Caan, Brando, Al Pacino, and John Cazale

Coppola, center, with cast members James Caan, Brando, Al Pacino, and John Cazale

 

 

Coppola and Brando work on the choreography of the scene in which Don Corleone is shot

Coppola and Brando work on the choreography of the scene in which Don Corleone is shot

 

 

Francis Ford Coppola sets up an early scene with Marlon Brando

Francis Ford Coppola sets up an early scene with Marlon Brando

 

 

Coppola sitting in front of Louis, an Italian-American restaurant. Few realized that “The Godfather“ was filmed in the heart of real-life Mafia territory

Coppola sitting in front of Louis, an Italian-American restaurant. Few realized that “The Godfather“ was filmed in the heart of real-life Mafia territory

 

 

In the director’s chair Francis Ford Coppola oversees a script readthrough for The Godfather Part III (1990)

In the director’s chair Francis Ford Coppola oversees a script read-through for The Godfather Part III (1990)

 

 

Photos: vanityfairbfi