1. Marlon Brando used cue cards
Brando insisted that reading his lines during the take increased his spontaneity and made his lines sound less canned. “If you have a general idea of what the words are, then you look at the card and it gives the feeling to viewer that the person is really searching for what he is going to say,” Brando said in the documentary The Making of Superman: The Movie. Brando began using the cards as early as 1966; directors taped cards to lamps, bushes, and even on other actors to keep them from showing up in the shot.
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2. One of the movie’s most famous lines was improvised
If you don’t know anything about The Godfather, you probably recognize the line, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli,” uttered by capo Peter Clemenza after a certain dirty deed. Actor Richard Castellano improvised that line after director Francis Ford Coppola added a line in an earlier scene in which Clemenza’s wife says, “Don’t forget the cannoli!”
3. The horse’s head was real…
…as were actor John Marley’s screams. A fake horse head was used in rehearsals, but when the cameras were actually rolling, Coppola replaced it with the real thing, much to Marley’s surprise.
4. The words “mafia” and “mob” aren’t uttered in the movie
After a meeting with the Italian-American Civil Rights League, an organization formed to combat the use of stereotypes about that group, Coppola agreed to omit the words from the script (though they didn’t appear much anyway). The closest it gets is the newspaper headline, “Mobster Barzini Questioned in Unworld Feud” the day after Michael’s killing spree in the Italian restaurant.
5. One of the movie’s most memorable scenes was a mistake
Former pro wrestler Lenny Montana, who played Luca Brasi, was so nervous to act with Marlon Brando that he couldn’t muster a good take of the scene in the Godfather’s study on the day of his daughter’s wedding, despite a full day of shooting. Coppola didn’t have time to reshoot the scene, so he incorporated Montana’s best attempt in the movie. The result is a revealing look at the softer side of a merciless killer.
6. Sofia Coppola is in all three Godfather movies
Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter Sofia appears as the baby in the baptism scene in The Godfather, as an immigrant girl on the ship that brings Vito Corleone to Ellis Island in The Godfather II (see if you can spot her), and, of course, as Michael Corleone’s daughter in The Godfather III (a role she got after actress Winona Ryder dropped out).
7. Brando turned down his Best Actor Oscar
When Roger Moore called Brando’s name for Best Actor on the evening of March 5, 1973, a diminutive, long haired woman in Apache dress approached the stage. The woman, Sacheen Littlefeather, waved away the Academy Award statue and read from a statement: “I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to that he cannot accept this very generous award…because of the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.” Brando had long had a political streak, and often voiced his support for the formation of a Jewish state, for African-American rights, and for the Black Panther Party. Marlon Brando became the second person to decline the Academy Award for Best Actor (the first was George C. Scott for the award he won for Patton).
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8. Brando didn’t stuff his mouth with cotton for the movie
He did it for the screen test in order to make Vito Corleone “look like a bulldog.” For the filming of the movie, he had a dentist make him a custom mouthpiece to create his sagging jowls.
9. “Don” doesn’t mean what you think it means
The bossess of each of the Five Families in The Godfather are referred to with the title Don (Don Corleone, Don Branzini, Don Cuneo, etc.) and treated like nobility. But the actual meaning of “don” in Italian is closer to “respected uncle,” than “murderous crime boss.” According to Coppola, Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather books, simply made up the usage—and it stuck.
10. Lots of famous actors failed to be cast in the film
Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and Robert DeNiro (watch his screen test) all wanted to play the part of Michael in the film. As for Al Pacino, who received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the role, he didn’t want it. “I thought, ‘how am I going to play this part?'” Pacino told Loaded magazine. “No one wanted me. Except for Coppola.”