MANILA, Philippines — Sure, everyone loves an Oscar Best Picture winner. Throughout the 94-year history of the Academy Awards, film aficionados undoubtedly have their respective choices of Best Picture through the years.
Top of mind in Oscar Best Picture winners is Francis Ford Coppola’s mob drama, The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel of the same title. What many will probably not readily remember is that The Godfather, regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, turns half a century old this year.
In fact, in a recent ranking of Oscar Best Picture winners from worst to best, The Godfather topped the list. Not surprisingly. And at the recent 94th Academy Awards, filmmaker Coppola came out in the tribute to The Godfather on its golden year, with actors Al Pacino and Robert de Niro onstage.
Although the crime novel came out in 1969, it didn’t take that long for the big screen version to come out. Three years later, The Godfather debuted on the big screen in 1972, with a star-studded cast led by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as members of the powerful Corleone family. With Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and James Caan.
The iconic line, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” was uttered by Don Vito Corleone to his godson, Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), whose singing career was on the decline. Somehow the line also made it to countless other Hollywood films and TV shows through the years.
Even before the first The Godfather wrapped up, a sequel was already announced. That came two years later. In 1974, The Godfather, Part 2 debuted on the big screen.
Peter Bogdanovich was offered to work at the helm of The Godfather, but he readily turned down the project since he was not interested in mafia stories. Otto Preminger was considered to direct, too, but had balladeer Frank Sinatra in mind to play Don Vito.
What was initially conceptualized by Puzo as a low-budget gangster film was rejected by Coppola, who ended up with a stratospheric $6M budget for the period piece that was The Godfather. The film made nearly $300M at the tills.
Shot entirely in more than a hundred locations in New York City, The Godfather took a total of 62 days to wrap up, from March 23, 1971 to May 24, 1971. Eventually, the film hit the theaters on March 24, 1972, making it a glorious 50 years this 2022.
The role of Michael Corleone, who was brilliantly essayed by Pacino (in three Godfather films), was reportedly first offered to Warren Beatty. The latter was even given the chance to direct the first The Godfather. But Beatty turned it down. So did Jack Nicholson and even Dustin Hoffman, surprisingly.
Burt Reynolds was earlier considered to play the part even before it was offered to Pacino. So was Ryan O’Neal. David Carradine, Martin Sheen and Tommy Lee Jones auditioned for the role and were briefly considered, but in the end, Michael Corleone landed on the lap of Pacino.
Even Elvis Presley was said to have auditioned for the part of Tom Hagen, although Presley really wanted to play Don Vito.
A young Sylvester Stallone tried out for the characters of Paulie Gatto and Carlo Rizzi, but no such luck spelled for Sly at that time. He later tried his hand at writing and did his first screenplay with The Lords of Flatbush (1974) and got his stellar career break in Rocky (1976), opposite Talia Shire.
Many always thought De Niro made it to the esteemed list of the first The Godfather characters as Santino “Sonny” Corleone, when he was only in his late twenties. Yet, De Niro failed to get the part, which eventually went to Caan, who even received a Supporting Actor nomination for his portrayal of Don Vito’s eldest son.
In The Godfather 2, however, De Niro appeared with a vengeance, when he was signed up to play the young Vito Corleone in 1974. He even earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the part. Meanwhile, Brando was honored with a Best Actor trophy for earlier playing Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather.
The Godfather was a “family affair” for the Coppolas. While the director did not initially want his sister, Talia, to be in the cast as Connie Corleone, in order not to be accused of nepotism, it was The Godfather novelist Puzo, who also wrote the screenplay, that made Talia audition for the part.
Contrary to belief, Nicolas Cage, who is a Coppola, was not part of The Godfather cast. The director’s parents — Carmine and Italia Coppola — played bit parts in the film. The dad even composed the music for the Mattress sequence.
The baptismal baby, Michael Rizzi, was Sofia Coppola, the director’s youngest daughter who was only three weeks old at the time of the shoot. Sofia is now also a renowned and award-winning director.
The Godfather had big and memorable scenes that employed hundreds of extras. One was the famous wedding scene of Connie Corleone and Carlo Rizzi, which opened the film. It was inspired by a real mob wedding and utilized six cameras, including one that took shots from a helicopter. It was filmed for a week in several locations on the same street in New York City, which used the house of Corleone family compound and employed 750 extras.
Don Vito Corleone’s funeral employed 150 extras and 20 limousines in the cortege, with flowers costing $1,000 each at that time.