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Published On: Wed, Feb 18th, 2015

Remembering ‘The Godfather’ 40 years later: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Francis Ford Coppola

For decades, The Godfather: Parts I and II has truly made audiences an offer they can’t (and, in fact, don’t want to!) refuse. Now in its 40th year, this saga comprises two of the most iconic and unforgettable films ever made.

“Quite deservedly, both Godfathers won Oscars for best picture,” says Richard Pells, author of the new book War Babies: The Generation That Changed America (Cultural History Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-990-66980-7, $17.99, www.richardpells.com). “But these films aren’t just good entertainment. Together, they played a significant role in the development of modern American cinema.”

Here, Pells shares six interesting facts to keep in mind the next time you watch the story of the Corleone family:

Marlon Brando The Godfather photoThe Godfather launched a new generation of filmmakers and actors. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Francis Ford Coppola or enjoyed his films. But Paramount’s choice to hire him as director of The Godfather seemed odd to many because at that point, Coppola had directed only four movies, and all had been commercial failures.

“Believe it or not, Coppola was nearly fired during the filming of the first film because Paramount, which wanted The Godfather to be a guaranteed blockbuster with big-name stars, was unhappy with his casting choices,” shares Pells. “Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, and others were all virtually unknown when Coppola cast them.

“Interestingly, Coppola, Pacino, and De Niro were all members of the war baby generation, born between 1939 and 1945,” he adds. “This generation, distinct from the greatest generation and baby boomers who bookended them, sparked a renaissance in American filmmaking. They became known for making movies that were personal and idiosyncratic, and that spoke directly to social concerns and private predicaments.”

From "The Godfather": James Caan, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and John Cazale

From “The Godfather”: James Caan, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and John Cazale

Coppola’s heritage and childhood played a large part in shaping the movies. It’s a good thing that Paramount took a chance on the unproven Francis Ford Coppola, because without him in the director’s chair, The Godfather might have turned out much differently. Coppola’s Italian heritage is evident throughout the film, from many characters’ Sicilian dialects, to actors delivering almost operatic “arias” on their familial obligations, to the films’ memorable music. (Coppola’s father, Carmine, was a musician who worked on the scores for both Godfather films.)

Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola on set

Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola on set

“Even the traditional puppet theater shown in the early 20th century segment of The Godfather: Part II can be traced to Coppola’s childhood,” Pells says. “Confined to a bed after contracting polio, the young Coppola entertained himself with a puppet theater. This experience was instrumental in developing his imagination, visual fantasies, and creative instincts.”

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  1. Your Name...debanjan says:

    Al pacino is a legend.

  2. zohre says:

    Hi. I am an Iranian and I have to which good father at least every season! We love Pacino. He is a manic. Good for you

  3. Remembering the greatness of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Godfather part II’ - The Global Dispatch says:

    […] Remembering 'The Godfather' 40 years later: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Dian… […]

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