Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall
Plot: The continuing saga of the Corleone crime family tells the story of a young Vito Corleone growing up in Sicily and in 1910s New York; and follows Michael Corleone in the 1950s as he attempts to expand the family business into Las Vegas, Hollywood and Cuba.
Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only two actors to ever win separate Oscars for playing the same character. Brando won Best Actor for The Godfather (1972) and De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for this movie, both in the role of Vito Corleone.
Robert De Niro spent four months learning to speak the Sicilian dialect in order to play Vito Corleone. Nearly all the dialogue that his character speaks in the film was in Sicilian.
When little Vito arrives at Ellis Island, he is marked with a circled X. Ellis Island immigrants were marked with this if the inspector believed the person had a mental defect.
Though it claims to be based on the novel by Mario Puzo, only the scenes about the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) have any basis in the book. Only one chapter in the book is devoted to Vito's youth and young adulthood. The story revolving around Michael (Al Pacino) and family in Las Vegas is entirely unique to the film.
This was the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The second, and as of 2016 the last, was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
Danny Aiello's line, "Michael Corleone says hello", was completely ad-libbed. Francis Ford Coppola loved it and asked him to do it again in the retakes. Aiello later claimed (on Gilbert Gottfried's podcast) that, due to being nervous about working with Coppola, he didn't hear himself when he said the line and, to this day, has no idea why he said it.
Hyman Roth's character is loosely based on real-life mobster Meyer Lansky. Lansky, who at the time of the film's release was living in Miami, reportedly phoned Lee Strasberg and said, "Now, why couldn't you have made me more sympathetic? After all, I am a grandfather."
The door to Vito's olive oil business was rigged so that it would not open if a nail was inserted into the lock. Coppola kept this a secret from Leopoldo Trieste, who played Signor Roberto, and his difficulty in opening the door was real. Coppola wanted to film Trieste, a known Italian comedian, improvising his way through the scene. When Genco opens the door, Frank Sivero surreptitiously pulls the nail out.
Marlon Brando was scheduled to return for a cameo in the flashback at the end of the film but, because of the way Paramount treated him during The Godfather (1972), he did not show up for shooting on the day the scene was filmed. Francis Ford Coppola re-wrote the scene without Vito and it was filmed the next day.
Originally, it was supposed to be Clemenza who agrees to testify against the Corleones. According to Francis Ford Coppola, Richard S. Castellano (who was the highest paid actor in The Godfather (1972)) wanted to write his own lines and wanted a large salary increase. Consequently, his character was replaced by Frankie Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), who received an Oscar nomination for the performance. But according to Ardell Sheridan, Castellano refused to regain the 50 pounds required to for the role due to health reasons, so Coppola decided to replace him rather than have a thinner Clemenza.
James Caan asked that he be paid the same amount of money to play Sonny Corleone at the end of the film in the flashback as he was paid to do The Godfather (1972). He got his wish.
In an early version of the script, an ongoing story line was Tom Hagen having an affair with Sonny Corleone's widow. This was later discarded, but the line where Michael Corleone tells Hagen that he can take his "wife, children and mistress to Las Vegas" was kept.
A test screening of the film garnered negative reactions from the audience. They found cutting back and forth between Michael and young Vito confusing and bothersome. Francis Ford Coppola and his editors decided to decrease the frequency of the transitions in order to make the parallel stories easier to follow.
Vito's birthday is December 7. Sonny curses at the "Japs" for dropping bombs in Hawaii on his father's birthday.
Francis Ford Coppola's rough cut ran almost six hours in length. Vito's storyline extended into the Prohibition Era, including a gang war with Al Capone and Luca Brasi's exploits as Vito's hatchet man. Michael's story continued, gaining political influence in 1960s Washington through his connections with Senator Geary (implying a role in the Kennedy assassination, among other things). Little of this footage survived, aside from the handful of deleted scenes used in The Godfather: A Novel for Television (1977), and one or two stills showing Robert De Niro as middle-aged Vito. Many of the ideas were recycled for Mark Winegardner's sequel novels and the putative scripts for Part IV.
Originally, Kay was to truly have a miscarriage. It was Talia Shire's idea that she would have an abortion instead, as the ultimate way to hurt Michael. To thank her for this idea, Francis Ford Coppola wrote in the scene in which she tearfully asks Michael to forgive Fredo.
Co-authors Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola disagreed over whether Michael should have Fredo killed. Puzo only agreed on condition that Michael would wait until their mother was dead.
According to the script, the movie's last shot in the film centering on Michael as he gazes at the lake occurs in 1968. That accounts for Al Pacino's additional wrinkles and slightly receded and graying hairline. It was actually the concluding aspect of a scene with his son, Anthony, who declares he will not follow in his father's footsteps. Anthony was portrayed by an actor about 18 years old; the scene was half filmed, but Francis Ford Coppola lost the light before wrapping for the day and was unable to return to complete the scene.
The presence of oranges in all three "Godfather" movies indicates that a death or an assassination attempt will soon happen. The Senator is framed for murder after playing with oranges at the Corleone house, and Johnny Ola brings an orange into Michael's office before the attempt on Michael's life. Fanucci eats an orange just before he is gunned down and Michael is eating an orange while plotting to kill Roth. The young Vito Coreleone buys oranges from a street vendor shortly prior to plotting his assassination of Fanucci.
According to Robert De Niro in The Godfather Family: A Look Inside (1990), he suggested the idea of Vito wrapping his gun with a towel before he shoots Fanucci.