The Godfather: the secret story of the garden scene between Vito and Michael Corleone

“You’ll thank me when you win the Oscar.”

Reshoots get bad press. These additional shots, which occur after the theoretical end of filming, today symbolize the lack of freedom of directors, who see themselves (more or less) imposing modifications by the studios. This was recently the case of Suicide Squad (to inject humor) or RogueOne (to add the epic final scene with Darth Vader).

However, shooting additional scenes and retouching a script along the way is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially when it is the director himself who asks for it. Some of the greatest films in the history of cinema have been there. And The Godfather (1972) by Francis Ford Coppola, which will be screened this Saturday evening at the Cinéma de la Plage, in Cannesto celebrate its 50th birthday in public, is undoubtedly the most striking example.

The Godfather returns to the cinema in a restored version for its 50th anniversary: ​​trailer

At the end of filming Godfather, Coppola is tying knots in his brain. The movie does not work. A scene of reconciliation between Vito Corleone and his son Michael is missing to complete the story. Problem, it does not exist in Mario Puzo’s novel. Desperate, Coppola calls on his friend and screenwriter Robert Towne for help. Towne had saved Bonnie & Clyde a few years earlier and was going to establish himself as one of the greatest feathers of Hollywood of the 1970s by signing in particular Chinatown.

There is urgency, there is only one day left of filming with Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and the director has nothing at all. The challenge is huge for Towne. He must invent a scene that hits the mark and is consistent with the rest of the film. And he only has a few hours ahead of him. He retrieves notes from the original script and works through the night. At 4am, he finished writing the scene. Then comes the time to present the result to Brando.

He was in his makeup chair and he asked me to read the scene to him.“, Towne recalled in a interview given in 1998. “It immediately pissed me off, I said to myself: ‘this motherfucker knows how intimidating it is to do this’. I immediately gave up on the idea of ​​reading the scene well to him, because acting for Brando was not a mistake I was going to make. I read it to him and he asked me to read it again. Then, he did something that I’ve only experienced once since with Tom Cruise: he dissected the scene, line by line, word by word. He wanted to know absolutely everything I could tell him about this dialogue.”

This father-son sequence, where Don Vito reveals to Michael that he wanted to see him become a senator before business caught up with him (“I never wanted this for you“) is amazingly simple and effective. Just like the setting: this relaxing little garden where the Godfather sips his glass of wine while rewriting history…

First castings: Robert De Niro, 27, for The Godfather

Coppola is delighted with the result. “Francis asked me if I wanted to be credited with the screenplay,” explained Towne, still in the same interview. “I answered him : ‘But for what the fuck? It’s just a scene. When you win the Oscar, you’ll thank me for the scene.”

Towne has a hollow nose. At the 1973 Oscars, The Godfather wins the best film and the best adaptation. “It was evident. I had seen 75 minutes of images and I was flabbergasted. I told Francis it was the best thing I’ve seen in my life.

When Coppola comes to collect his statuette, he of course keeps his promise by thanking “Bob Towne for the superb garden scene“. The general public then discovers the name of this little-known author who will win his own Oscar the following year, that of the best original screenplay for the Chinatown by Polansky.

Please note that this free outdoor screening of Godfather will be presented by Andrea Kalas, in charge of the Paramount archives, who will discuss its restoration. At 83, Francis Ford Coppola should return soon with a new film, Megalopolis, which he has dreamed of shooting for several decades. He explained last February that he was ready to invest $120 million out of pocket to make sure you can do it.

To know more about The Godfathergo to our online kiosk : the film was on the cover of Premiere Classics n°18 (January-March 2022). The opportunity to return in detail to its very complicated manufacture, which is also told in The Offera series broadcast on Paramount+ since April in the United States, and which we should soon discover in France.

The chaotic filming of The Godfather is at the heart of The Offer [bande-annonce]

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