Godfather, The (1972): Locations; Shooting

Principal photography took place from March 29, 1971, to August 6, 1971, although a scene with Pacino and Keaton was shot in the autumn. There were a total of 77 days of shooting, fewer than the 83 for which the production had budgeted.

The opening shot is a long, slow pullback, starting with a close-up of Bonasera, who is petitioning Don Corleone, and ending with the Godfather, seen from behind, framing the shot. This move, which lasts for about three minutes, was shot with a computer-controlled zoom lens designed by Tony Karp.

The cat in the opening scene used to hang around the studio, and was simply dropped in Brando’s lap at the last minute by the director.

Horse Head

One of the movie’s most shocking moments involved the severed head of a horse.  Animal rights groups protested the inclusion of the scene. Coppola later stated that the horse’s head was delivered to him from a dog food company; a horse had not been killed specifically for the movie.

In the novel, Jack Woltz, the movie producer whose horse’s head is put in his bed, is also a pedophile as Tom Hagen sees a young girl (presumably one of Woltz’s child stars) crying while walking out of Woltz’s room. This scene was cut from the theatrical release but can be found on the DVD.

The shooting of Moe Greene through the eye was inspired by the death of gangster Bugsy Siegel.  Actor Alex Rocco’s glasses had two tubes hidden in their frames. One had fake blood in it, and the other had a BB and compressed air. When the gun was shot, the compressed air shot the BB through the glasses, shattering them from the inside. The other tube then released the fake blood.

The scene of McCluskey’s shooting was done by building a fake forehead on top of actor Sterling Hayden. A gap was cut in the center, filled with fake blood, and capped off with a plug of prosthetic flesh. The plug was quickly yanked out with monofilament fishing line, making a bloody hole suddenly appear in Hayden’s head.

The most complicated scene was the death of Sonny Corleone at the Jones Beach Causeway toll plaza midway through the film. Filmed for more than $100,000 on a small Long Island airport runway at the former Mitchel Field, it was accomplished in just one take with at least four cameras. Caan’s suit, rigged with 127 squibs of fake blood, and 200 squib-filled holes in the small toll booth building and the 1941 Lincoln auto, simulated the submachine gun ambush.

Locations

Locations  around New York City were used for the film, including the then-closed flagship store of Best & Company on Fifth Avenue, which was dressed up and used for the scene in which Pacino and Keaton are Christmas shopping.

A scene with Pacino and Keaton was filmed in the town of Ross, California. The Sicilian towns of Savoca and Forza d’Agrò outside of Taormina were also used for exterior locations. Interiors were shot at Filmways Studio in New York.

A side entrance to Bellevue Hospital was used for Michael’s confrontation with police Captain McCluskey.

The scene in which Don Barzini is assassinated was filmed on the steps of the New York Supreme Court building on Foley Square in Manhattan, New York City.

The wedding at the Corleone family compound was shot at 110 Longfellow Avenue in the Todt Hill section of Staten Island. The Tudor homes on the block gave the impression that they were part of the same “compound”.Paramount built a Plexiglas “stone wall” which traversed the street – the same wall where Santino smashed the camera. Many of the extras in the wedding scene were local Italian-Americans who were asked by Coppola to drink homemade wine, enjoy the traditional Italian food, and participate in the scene as though it were an actual wedding.

Two churches were used to film the baptism scene. The interior shots were filmed at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.  For the baptism, Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 was used, as were other Bach works for the pipe organ.

The exterior scenes following the baptism were filmed at The Church of St. Joachim and St. Anne in the Pleasant Plainssection of Staten Island. In 1973, much of the church was destroyed in a fire.

The funeral scene was filmed at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens.

The toll booth scene was filmed at the site of Nassau Coliseum in Uniondal, New York on Long Island, which was under construction at the time. It also utilized the former Mitchel Field, and the roadway used was once a runway.