As universally acclaimed as Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 filmic icon is, its “ubiquitous presence has made The Godfather increasingly difficult to see,” writes The Los Angeles Times’ David Ulin. We remember the broad strokes — the horse’s head, the one-liners repeated ad infinitum by the contemporary Corleones on The Sopranos — but what “we forget, though, is the power of the story, a narrative of assimilation and identity and the compromises we make with ourselves.”
In a review last week, Ulin suggests that a new book, The Annotated Godfather: The Complete Screenplay (Black Dog and Leventhal, 2007), by Jenny Jones of the Walker’s Film/Video department, can help us see the film “fresh after all these years.”
Jones, who worked at Oak Street Cinema and Portland’s Northwest Film Center before becoming the program associate for the Walker’s Regis Dialogues and Retrospectives, wrote the book to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the film’s release. And she does unearth some surprising information:
Twelve directors turned down offers to make the film version of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel, including, at first, the then nearly unknown Coppola, who considered it “sleazy.”
One of the most quotable lines in the movie, “ Leave the gun, take the cannolis,” was ad-libbed by actor Richard Castellano.
Paramount Pictures pushed Puzo to write the original screenplay as a modern story “set in the 1970s, complete with hippies.” When Coppola came on board he dismissed it as “a slick, contemporary gangster picture of no importance. It wasn’t Puzo’s fault. He just did what they told him to do.” It took Coppola and Puzo two more drafts to arrive at the final script, which Jones’ reproduces in full, with notes by Puzo and Coppola scrawled in the margins.
The “most famous technical mistake of the movie” remained because of budgetary concerns. In it James Caan as the hot-headed Sonny missed a punch during a street fight with his brother-in-law, Carlo. “At that point we were just rushing, and it turned out that the best take had this one miss,” said Coppola. “Today they could fix it with digital effects.”
With more than 200 production photos, interviews with actors and crew members, and details on deleted scenes and bloopers, the book, says Jones, offers a rich look into “a film that continues to captivate us, decades after its release, and appeals to both erudite film buffs and TV couch potatoes alike.”