AFI Movie Club: THE GODFATHER

THE GODFATHER is secure in the pantheon of the greatest American films of all time – appearing on five of the American Film Institute’s lists. Plus, the iconic – and arguably definitive – gangster film features indelible performances from Al Pacino and Diane Keaton, both recipients of the AFI Life Achievement Award.

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Watch RAY ROMANO announce THE GODFATHER:

Movie Trivia on THE GODFATHER

DID YOU KNOW? According to Paramount Vice President Robert Evans, Burt Lancaster offered the studio $1,000,000 to buy the rights to Mario Puzo’s novel. Lancaster wanted to play Don Vito Corleone, who ended up being played by Marlon Brando.

DID YOU KNOW? The studio originally looked for cost-cutting measures when determining the budget and suggested that the film’s setting be moved from the 1940s and 50s to the 1970s. takes place in a metropolitan city other than New York in order to reduce production costs.

DID YOU KNOW? Actor Richard Castellano – who played Clemenza – improvised the “take the cannoli” line based on a suggestion from his on-screen and real-life wife, Ardell Sheridan. It was a riff on a previous scene where she asked him for dessert.

DID YOU KNOW? Marlon Brando used cue cards instead of memorizing his lines, saying it increased the spontaneity of his performance. His lines were printed and placed off-camera in his line of sight.

DID YOU KNOW? Before Sofia Coppola portrayed Mary Corleone in THE GODFATHER: PART III – and before she established herself as a formidable filmmaker in her own right – she appeared briefly in the first film as a child in the iconic scene of the baptism.

DID YOU KNOW? Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne stepped in to help with the script for THE GODFATHER. His notable contribution was the scene between Michael and Vito Corleone, in which Vito tells Michael that he never wanted this life for him. When Francis Ford Coppola won the Oscar® for Best Adapted Screenplay, he specifically thanked Towne for writing the beautiful scene in the garden.

DID YOU KNOW? The cat that Don Vito Corleone is seen petting at the start of the film was not originally intended to be in the scene. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, he saw a stray cat wandering around the Paramount studio, so he picked up the cat and put it in Marlon Brando’s lap without saying a word. Animal lover (and impeccable actor), Brando knew exactly what to do from there.

DID YOU KNOW? When it was time to film the scene of two orderlies dragging an ailing Don Vito Corleone down the stairs of his mansion, a pair of handfuls from the film crew volunteered for the chance to be there. ‘screen. Marlon Brando, still looking for a laugh, filled the stretcher with weights as a practical joke.

DID YOU KNOW? Paramount studio executives feared that Al Pacino’s acting was not up to the challenge of a role that took up such significant screen time. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, it was Pacino’s performance in the scene where Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey that finally convinced studio executives that Pacino was perfect for the role. Pacino was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award® for his performance.

DID YOU KNOW? Diane Keaton modeled her Kay Adams persona on Eleanor Coppola, the wife of Francis Ford Coppola.

DID YOU KNOW? Robert De Niro was originally cast as Paulie Gatto in THE GODFATHER. Director Francis Ford Coppola released him from his contract when a larger role in THIS GANG COULD NOT SHOOT STRAIGHT was offered to De Niro – a role that had first gone to Al Pacino. After a legal battle, MGM and Paramount have reached a settlement to release Pacino from his contract so he can play Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER. De Niro would return in THE GODFATHER II as the young Don Corleone, for which he won an Oscar®.

DID YOU KNOW? The limited number of initial locations exhibiting THE GODFATHER created huge queues outside of theaters. Ticket sales reached record highs, forcing many theater owners to broadcast the picture 24 hours a day. THE GODFATHER ended up breaking many box office records at the time, including surpassing GONE WITH THE WIND as the highest-grossing film of all time.

DID YOU KNOW? THE GODFATHER has been nominated for 11 Oscars®, including three nominations in the same category – Best Supporting Actor for James Caan, Robert Duvall and Al Pacino. THE GODFATHER went on to win three Oscars® – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando) and Best Picture.

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The Movie Doesn’t End in the Credits: Family Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your answers in the comments section below.

-A common guideline in the film is the separation of professional and personal lives. Are there characters who can successfully compartmentalize these two disparate aspects of their lives? What happens to those who cannot separate their emotions from their work?

– According to you, what characterizes the Corleones as an American family? What is unconventional?

-Why is family so important to the Corleones?

-Does Don Vito Corleone have limits to what he is ready to do? Even if Don Vito is the head of a crime family, do his limits come from his moral standards? How does he – and how does the public – reconcile his moral standards with his criminal and violent business practices?

-What makes Michael change his mind about joining the family business?

-What are the differences between the way Michael runs the family business and the way his father ran it?

-What does Kay realize when the door closes at the end of the film? What are the early indicators that she would become a stranger in her own marriage?

-What makes THE GODFATHER such a classic of American cinema? What makes the story so distinctly American?

-Why does THE GODFATHER still resonate with audiences today?

-How would you rate THE GODFATHER?

In this exclusive video from the AFI Archives, Sydney Pollack talks about the GODFATHER:

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