When looking back on the class, one of my favorite events was seeing The Godfather played on the big screen at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. It’s funny when looking back on it, because when I first saw this film when I was younger, I hated it, and thought it was just a very long and boring film, while now it is by far my favorite movie. It IS an extremely long film at roughly three hours, yet the film is so well put together that for me, it now goes by in the blink of an eye. After looking further into this film, I was pretty shocked at some of my findings, both about Marlon Brando and the film in general. To start, Brando was only 50 when this film was being produced. It is insane to see pictures of him before and after his makeup. Even crazier is the fact that Brando had a custom mouthpiece during filming to give his jaw its puffy appearance!
Not only this, but Brando was almost not even allowed to play the role. Like the big studio head in the film not letting Johnny Fontaine play the star role, Paramount President Stanley Jaffe said strongly, “As long as I’m president of the studio, Marlon Brando will not be in this picture, and I will no longer allow you to discuss it,” then went on to add, “If Marlon Brando is in this picture, it will gross $5 million less than if no one is in it.” However, Jaffe then offered the role to Brando on three conditions, which he felt would persuade Brando to not want the role. 1) Brando would appear in the movie for a salary far below the actor’s usual minimum. 2) Brando would take personal financial responsibility for any production delays he caused (he was known for this, hence the difficulty Jaffe had with hiring him). 3) Brando would consent to a screen test. (All this info comes from from Harlan Lebo’s The Godfather Legacy: The Untold Story of the Making of the Classic Godfather Trilogy.) It is crazy to contrast this pre-production attitude towards Brando with how well his role was received: he went all the way to receiving the Oscar for best actor in a leading role.
When considering Brando almost didn’t receive the role, as well as director Coppola’s comments in an interview with the Academy of Achievement (http://www.achievement.org/) , it is remarkable that the film was finished. “The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it,” Coppola said. “They were very unhappy with it. 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.” Coppola went on to say that he wasn’t even sure that he would ever get another job directing, which is extremely surprising to me. The actors agreed with the experience being nightmarish and almost walked out of the production at various points. Knowing this, I connected it with my own struggles I’ve had in the production process, which made me appreciate the film even more, as there were so many instances of it almost being nixed.