It may not have been as momentous as the heads of the five families meeting for a Mob-war peace treaty. But the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival’s Godfather event – which reunited director Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Talia Shire – gave festivalgoers the opportunity to see the key players of the Oscar-winning Mafia dramas talk about the original 1972 movie and its equally celebrated 1974 sequel before a sold-out crowd at Radio City Music Hall. (One assumes they were convinced to converse about these classics in honor of the first movie’s recent 45th anniversary, though maybe the festival simply made them an offer they couldn’t … well, you know.)
Following back-to-back screenings of the first two films, the panel’s participants and moderator Taylor Hackford shuffled out to a row of chairs, arranged in a setting that resembled the Don’s den (complete with a portrait of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone and a bust of a horse’s head), and quickly dove into an hour-plus discussion of their memories in making what’s become the touchstones for modern cinema du Cosa Nostra. Over the past four and a half decades, these movies that have been pored over and picked clean regarding their behind-the-scenes drama and backstage shenanigans. So you’d think there might not be anything more to say – the stories of how the studio just wanted an exploitative quickie, how Coppola had to fight to keep his job and how no one wanted to hire a box-office-poison Brando or a relatively unknown Pacino have been recounted in countless making-of docs, books and biographies.
But that didn’t mean there weren’t a couple of anecdotes and answers that perked up the ears of jaded Godfather scholars. Here were five things that caught our attention. (You can watch the whole panel here.)
1. Coppola had talked to Brando before The Godfather – about playing the lead in The Conversation
The filmmaker recalls reading the New York Times one Sunday morning while he was living in San Francisco and having an ad for Mario Puzo’s book – which featured the now-iconic image of marionette strings – catch his eye. “I thought it looked like an intellectual book about power,” he recalled. Then the first of two coincidences happened: Producers Al Ruddy and Gray Frederickson, who’d end up producing the adaptation “but weren’t associated with The Godfather yet,” happened to be in town shooting a film, and stopped by Coppola’s house to say hello.
Then came the second one: While the three men were shooting the breeze, the phone rang – and it was Brando on the line. Coppola had never spoken to the star or met him before, but he had submitted a script he’d been working on, called The Conversation, to the legendary actor. The future Don Corleone had personally rang up the director to say he was turning down the story of a surveillance expert (which would eventually be played by Gene Hackman, when…