Filming on Location, 1971

 

Why are those people in this crowded photo staring at you so intently? There’s a camera, so it’s a film shoot. For clues, look at the general surroundings. It’s an industrial area of New York. The styles of the cars, haircuts and clothes suggest the very early ‘70s. The man pointing a light meter at you is Gordon Willis. The anxious-looking man with the bushy beard is Francis Coppola. It’s the spring of 1971, fifty years ago, and you’re an actor in “The Godfather”. You have no idea what audiences will think of the finished film. In truth, neither do Gordy or Francis.

Acting is always tougher than it looks, and doing it in the streets, with crowds behind barricades, is often the toughest of all. On a sound stage, or on Broadway, you don’t have to outshout jets landing at La Guardia, sanitation men filling garbage trucks, sirens, dogs, or drunks yelling, “Where’s Brando?” When that camera rolls, you’re supposed to shut out all that you see and hear in front of you, and inhabit the mind of a mafia don’s son in December 1945.

One of the biggest challenges of film acting is filming “out of continuity”—out of the actual order of scenes in the story. This happens even in Hollywood, but when almost the whole picture is filmed on the lot, the production is usually free to put up sets and rehearse the actors in the same order as the screenplay. Everyone likes working this way, when it’s possible. On location it’s rarely possible. Access to locations is often time limited, sometimes severely. There are only so many hours when New York will close off the streets around Rockefeller Center to film in front of Radio City Music Hall, so you’d better be ready to get everything you need as fast as you can. Art takes a back seat to the clock.

Seasons also control scheduling. “Godfather” started filming in March, when NYC days are still dark and rainy, so it shot most of its interiors first, as well as night scenes. Then, with better weather and longer daylight hours later in the spring, they filmed the beginning of the movie, Connie Corleone’s wedding, as well as scenes near the end, in churches, cemeteries, and on the steps of Wall Street. This scattered scheduling is tough on actors trying to maintain a consistent character arc. “Okay, remind me, at this point, how cold and ruthless am I supposed to be by now? 20%? 50%? 90%?”

Cover sets are a bane of acting in movies, and they can’t be avoided. A cover set is just a backup to cover a change in schedule, generally because the weather is no good. If you’ve spent all weekend memorizing five pages of dialog and working up your confidence for an important scene, it’s understandably disappointing to have a last-minute shift over to a substitute scene that neither you, the other actors, or the director had focused on yet. That’s why the backup scene is usually chosen to be something simple you’d have to film sometime soon anyway, like an office discussion or one side of a telephone conversation. Cue cards are made up to replace the memorization that couldn’t take place. Actors understand the practical need for it, but it doesn’t happen on a studio lot, or on a Broadway stage.

Controlling the streets and crowds is always a compromise. Filming permits are precise right down to the general direction the cameras will be pointed. But as much space as the permits clear for filming, most casts and crews also require as much or more space behind the cameras, for their fleets of trucks. People are often astonished how many vehicles are needed to make a movie, each one driven by burly Teamsters. At the least, you need a camera services truck, and “Godfather” had one of the first, a walk-in studio camera department called a Cinemobile. Fouad Said, the Egyptian-born cinematographer of TV’s “I Spy”, invented and marketed the Cinemobile to deal with the many locations of that globe-trotting show, revolutionizing the camera production side of going on location.

You’ll need a generator truck to support the colossal number of lights, and probably a production office in a motorhome or trailer. On big productions with lots of bit players and extras, the costume and make-up departments each get their own trailers. All this stuff needs to be guarded. All these people have to be fed. Rest rooms must be provided. On the perimeter there needs to be a mobile command post for NYPD, and parking space for nervous studio executives, agents of the stars, assistants, and (at least in the time of “The Godfather”, and for thirty years thereafter) messengers carrying cans of film to the lab. While all this is going on, advance crews are preparing the next location before the whole caravan moves to it, and yet-more junior advance crews are preparing the ones after that.

Fifty years ago, filming anywhere but on a Los Angeles studio lot was treated as “on location”. To some degree, it still is. The term TMZ refers to an arbitrary “thirty mile zone”, a map radius drawn from a spot near Wilshire Boulevard. Anything beyond it is treated as on location, triggering contract clauses requiring special rates of pay, and rules regarding meals and lodging.

New York was always a special case. Silent films were made in New York for years before cameras ever rolled on the west coast. When sound arrived, there was a brief rush to quickly and cheaply throw together sound stages in New York, in the mistaken belief that Broadway actors would be needed for the talkies. Once that 1928-’31 fad died out, those primitive, bare-bones facilities would be all the city’s film businesses could offer. To the major studios, NYC was where their corporate headquarters were, not where films were made. With rare exceptions, Hollywood filmmaking teams made short visits to the streets of Manhattan only when they needed a specific outdoor city scene for films like “On the Town”, “North by Northwest” or “West Side Story”. The indoor scenes were filmed in Los Angeles, which had, and still has, the best movie-making equipment, facilities, and technical personnel in the world.

New York’s “native” film crews made do with a handful of TV shows, a few low budget independent films, and from about 1950 on, lots of TV commercials. They were familiar with problems like limited room, congested streets, fickle weather, and sidewalk onlookers. They knew how to navigate the bureaucracy to get filming permits. Without the resources of the west coast crews, cameramen like Boris Kaufman, Owen Roizman and Gerald Hirschfeld made up for it with a gritty urban look.

A couple of things made filming “The Godfather” on location a particular challenge. “The Godfather” was made with a predominantly east coast, local crew, but Coppola didn’t want that hard, bright, realistic east coast look. He was aiming for something statelier and solemn, something hard to create with a gigantic cast and crew in the streets of 1971. Unlike “The French Connection”, then the most recent big-time crime picture to film in New York, this was going to be a period piece, set from 1945 to ’55. A lot of the outdoors was going to have to be modified to fit that era, or excluded from the camera image. 

For another thing, more than 12 million people had already read the book. Unlike, say, “Star Wars”, it wouldn’t be a film that came out of nowhere. The film crews weren’t going to be able to sneak up on the city. Readers already knew what the big scenes were. Casting Marlon Brando was controversial; everyone wanted to see what he looked like as the Don, but Life Magazine had been promised an exclusive on pictures of him. Few people knew who Al Pacino was. Crowd control would be a bigger than usual problem.

New York City is full of Italian-Americans, all of whom seemed to have read the novel, and there were strong mixed feelings. A lot of people were excited about the film. But a time when Black groups demanded respect and an end to insulting stereotypes, many white ethnics were in no mood to accept insults themselves.

Protective leagues and anti-defamation groups sprang up. That spring, my girlfriend was living on Second Avenue and 70th Street. We watched the nightly Italian-American protest marches at the FBI’s New York offices up the block on Third. Since the storyline of “The Godfather” would involve filming in Italian neighborhoods south of Greenwich Village and on the edge of Spanish Harlem, it was necessary to establish good community relations. In the blunt, practical world of that era, that meant payoffs, and lots of them, to “neighborhood groups” that had the muscle to encourage cooperation as well as do things the cops couldn’t legally do, like scaring nervy kids off fire escapes that would be on camera. It wasn’t done by Marquis of Queensbury rules, but it worked.

Location filming has its moments of humor. When Vito Corleone was gunned down in the streets of Little Italy, all the spectators standing on the fire escapes of the non-filming side of the block cheered Marlon Brando’s elaborate fall to the ground. After the director called “cut”, Brando stood up and graciously bowed to the crowd. When the production moved uptown, way uptown to Pleasant Avenue to film Sonny Corleone’s street beat-down of his brother-in-law, James Caan was surprised that his for-the-camera brutality made him the hero, not the villain, of the noisy mob of local onlookers.

By July, a subset of the crew had moved on to Italy. By this point, Paramount was cheapening the production, lightening the load wherever it could, but Coppola was able to convince them that going forward with the Sicily shoot would add a dimension to Michael Corleone’s character that you wouldn’t necessarily get filming in the studio’s preferred location, upstate New York. With the cast and crew gone, New York’s gossipy tabloid media turned to other subjects.

That summer, Academy Award winning cinematographer, inventor, and entrepreneur Ross Lowell was testing the idea of teaching a film lighting class at New York University. Based on the success of that prototype summer course, he’d begin decades of NYU instruction on working on location with portable light fixtures, many from his own company, Lowel-Light. I was his student assistant in July-August 1971. Since it was his first time on campus, he pulled out all the stops, and we got to meet many accomplished movie cameramen (as they all were back then). One of Ross’s friends was Gordon Willis, fresh off the “Godfather” job.

He came across as an artistic risk-taker who, unusually, was plain-spoken and unpretentious. Willis talked about how to subtly light a location, without overdoing it to the point of losing the qualities that made you like it to begin with. (I’ll give him that; I doubt that a single Godfather viewer has ever said, “Why did they have to overdo it with all those glaring lights?”) Willis complimented Ross Lowell on the usefulness of his Lowel-Lights, and declared that thanks to them, he no longer carried bulky arc lights in his location equipment packages. One tenth the weight and size, less wasted heat, fewer workers to attend them. Location filmmaking had come a long way. Better film from Eastman and better lenses were also making working in less light possible.

He knew, of course, that everyone wanted to hear insider stuff, and despite a reserved manner he gave us some. He said that Coppola was “to a fault” in the habit of bringing a magazine photo or a 16mm film clip to the set, ostensibly to praise his interest in detail but with a slight suggestion of risking being too derivative of older examples.

Still, Gordy was gentlemanly, especially by Hollywood standards. He thanked Coppola for defending him to the studio. Willis knew Paramount didn’t like his dark “look” and joked that the soundman was also in the doghouse because of Brando’s sometimes indecipherable mumbling. “It was a hard shoot.” The actors, he said simply, are great; we’ll just have to see how people react to the film. Not a ringing endorsement. Nothing bad, but little that suggested code language for “In a couple of months this will be the biggest box office hit since ‘Gone With the Wind’”. Without naming names he said that he thought “the girl” (Diane Keaton) had been miscast, but he wasn’t mean about it. It was a shrug.

Willis talked about the challenges of making a film in real places that’s set roughly 25 years in the past. Ross, who’d visited the set of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” earlier in the year, described how equally smart selection of real locations, and the era’s new lightweight camera and lighting equipment, had enabled Kubrick to film in (then) present day London yet present a credible vision of life roughly 25 years in the future.   

An aged mobster’s regal gestures to his family’s sacred honor are an inspired imitation of an older generation’s roots in rural Europe. For the writer, the director, and the actors alike, they were a distant, stirring memory of the America of their parents and grandparents. When “The Godfather” opened in 1972, critics jokingly wondered if the Mafia was so poor that they could only afford 10-watt lightbulbs. But for hundreds of millions of film viewers around the world, the dark, dignified images of “The Godfather” became the definitive look of a time and place that’s now almost beyond living witness.

 

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  1. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    “But for hundreds of millions of film viewers around the world, the dark, dignified images of “The Godfather” became thedefinitive look of a time and place that’s now almost beyond living witness.”

    Sometimes our memories come out of the shadows. Sometimes our memories are the shadows. Thank you, Gary for another stunningly thoughtful and well done post. I appreciate your sharing it with us.

    • #1
  2. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Terrific post, Gary.

    I finished re-re-re-watching The Godfather a couple of evenings ago, and am half way through re-re-re-watching The Godfather II now. I am often nostalgic for a time I didn’t live through and an America that might not have been but that still looks good, and the scenes of Vito arriving by sailing ship at Ellis Island (in Godfather II) make me both proud and melancholy.

    Fantastic movies, and a great insider post about them. Thanks!

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    JennaStocker (View Comment):
    Sometimes our memories come out of the shadows. Sometimes our memories are the shadows.

    I think that may have been a different movie.

    • #3
  4. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    Many movies and TV shows are filmed (is that still the right word?) in my town, but since it’s in Texas, there is no need for an NYPD mobile command post. What there definitely is is food. Those crews eat, and eat well!

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Terrific post, Gary.

    I finished re-re-re-watching The Godfather a couple of evenings ago, and am half way through re-re-re-watching The Godfather II now. I am often nostalgic for a time I didn’t live through and an America that might not have been but that still looks good, and the scenes of Vito arriving by sailing ship at Ellis Island (in Godfather II) make me both proud and melancholy.

    Fantastic movies, and a great insider post about them. Thanks!

    Thanks, Henry! One of the things that was unusual about Godfather Part II was the relative speed with which it was written and filmed. After Francis Coppola took a little time off to make The Conversation in San Francisco, he was back in Little Italy in late 1973, and GII opened at Christmastime 1974. Money wasn’t as tight. They were able to bribe an lower East Side block to take down their rooftop TV antennas for a few days so De Niro could run along the rooftop, disposing of his murder gun. 

    A timeless lesson in human nature: all of the people who swore they’d never work together again agreed to work together, once there was a king’s ransom to be shared. 

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Gary McVey:

    Protective leagues and anti-defamation groups sprang up. That spring, my girlfriend was living on Second Avenue and 70th Street. We watched the nightly Italian-American protest marches at the FBI’s New York offices up the block on Third. Since the storyline of “The Godfather” would involve filming in Italian neighborhoods south of Greenwich Village and on the edge of Spanish Harlem, it was necessary to establish good community relations. In the blunt, practical world of that era, that meant payoffs, and lots of them, to “neighborhood groups” that had the muscle to encourage cooperation as well as do things the cops couldn’t legally do, like scaring nervy kids off fire escapes that would be on camera. It wasn’t done by Marquis of Queensbury rules, but it worked.

     

    The Italian-American Civil Rights League was one of those groups. It was founded by Joseph Columbo. If Columbo had one of those nicknames, like Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo or Carmine “The Cigar” Galante, I’ve never heard it. Instead, there was a crime family named after him. His opposition  to The Godfather did not sit well with his confreres. They thought that it was attracting too much attention.

    • #6
  7. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    John H. (View Comment):

    Many movies and TV shows are filmed (is that still the right word?) in my town, but since it’s in Texas, there is no need for an NYPD mobile command post. What there definitely is is food. Those crews eat, and eat well!

    Very true. Like the US Navy, Hollywood knows that good food keeps the workforce productive. Besides the catering truck for regular mealtimes, there’s also something called Craft Services, basically tables of free snacks and coffee. On Godfather, this was lavish, fattening stuff. On Baywatch, it was the opposite: lots of low, low calorie snack food. Whatever the production needs. 

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    My parents were in downtown Chicago in 1980 while I was away at school. They saw a crowd, and moseyed over to see what the hubbub was about. A bunch of CPD squad cars came flying out of lower Wacker Drive, lights and sirens running as if Dillinger and Capone were shooting it out in Daley Plaza. Then, they went back, and came flying out again. The Blues Brothers was filming the cop chase.

    • #8
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Gary, your film insider posts are always a real treat.  Thank you.

    • #9
  10. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Percival (View Comment):

    Gary McVey:

    Protective leagues and anti-defamation groups sprang up. That spring, my girlfriend was living on Second Avenue and 70th Street. We watched the nightly Italian-American protest marches at the FBI’s New York offices up the block on Third. Since the storyline of “The Godfather” would involve filming in Italian neighborhoods south of Greenwich Village and on the edge of Spanish Harlem, it was necessary to establish good community relations. In the blunt, practical world of that era, that meant payoffs, and lots of them, to “neighborhood groups” that had the muscle to encourage cooperation as well as do things the cops couldn’t legally do, like scaring nervy kids off fire escapes that would be on camera. It wasn’t done by Marquis of Queensbury rules, but it worked.

     

    The Italian-American Civil Rights League was one of those groups. It was founded by Joseph Columbo. If Columbo had one of those nicknames, like Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo or Carmine “The Cigar” Galante, I’ve never heard it. Instead, there was a crime family named after him. His opposition to The Godfather did not sit well with his confreres. They thought that it was attracting too much attention.

    The Joe Columbo hit (he took three shots and was paralyzed, but didn’t die) is retold in thin disguise by the pilot film to the Kojak series, The Marcus-Nelson Murders. Having the chief of the alleged anti-discrimination cause gunned down by the Mafia tended to undercut the pro-Italian-American message. 

    • #10
  11. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Gary, your film insider posts are always a real treat. Thank you.

    Thanks, Jerry. Honored to have your patronage. 

    • #11
  12. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Percival (View Comment):

    My parents were in downtown Chicago in 1980 while I was away at school. They saw a crowd, and moseyed over to see what the hubbub was about. A bunch of CPD squad cars came flying out of lower Wacker Drive, lights and sirens running as if Dillinger and Capone were shooting it out in Daley Plaza. Then, they went back, and came flying out again. The Blues Brothers was filming the cop chase.

    Cities are understandably wary of car crashes going out of control, or gunfire scaring the citizens. I can’t speak about Chicago, but New York and Los Angeles have particularly strong regulations about fake police cars; they have to be transported on flatbed trucks with their rooftop lights completely covered and the city insignias on their sides obscured. They don’t want anybody to mistake them for real patrol units. 

    • #12
  13. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I love The Godfather I and II, and always enjoy any trivia. I had read the book before the film  came out, and many people who have seen it since aren’t really aware there was an existing bestseller that was somewhat different plot- wise and the characters were different than I ( and I think most people) imagined. But I quickly adapted to the Don being Marlon Brando and AlPacino as Michael.

    The film is a masterpiece and Copolla was a real champion for his vision, having to fight for various actors and insisting on many things that made a huge difference in the film being so good. He was also very lucky.

    The script was brilliant as well. The opening scene – the wedding scene is staggeringly good. The amount of characters introduced and so much backstory along with the central theme laid out by Bonasera the undertaker, seeking ‘justice’ from Don Corleone after an American court let the rich kids off too lightly. We see the Don as a fair-minded mobster at the same time. All without a hint of info-dumping. 

    Then another brilliant aspect is the score written by Coppola’s uncle ( I think) Nino Rota.

    The only film in history to have three Best Actor nominations Brando ( who won) Pacino and James Caan. Not to forget Robert Duvall nominated as best supporting actor. 

    Thank you, Gary for the insights and the inside information!

     

    • #13
  14. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Gary McVey: Location filming has its moments of humor. When Vito Corleone was gunned down in the streets of Little Italy, all the spectators standing on the fire escapes of the non-filming side of the block cheered Marlon Brando’s elaborate fall to the ground. After the director called “cut”, Brando stood up and graciously bowed to the crowd. When the production moved uptown, way uptown to Pleasant Avenue to film Sonny Corleone’s street beat-down of his brother-in-law, James Caan was surprised that his for-the-camera brutality made him the hero, not the villain, of the noisy mob of local onlookers.

    What a couple of great little vignette stories.

    A truly outstanding post, Gary.  I always learn a bunch from and really enjoy your walks down feature film history.

    • #14
  15. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Franco (View Comment):

    I love The Godfather I and II, and always enjoy any trivia. I had read the book before the film came out, and many people who have seen it since aren’t really aware there was an existing bestseller that was somewhat different plot- wise and the characters were different than I ( and I think most people) imagined. But I quickly adapted to the Don being Marlon Brando and AlPacino as Michael.

    The film is a masterpiece and Copolla was a real champion for his vision, having to fight for various actors and insisting on many things that made a huge difference in the film being so good. He was also very lucky.

    The script was brilliant as well. The opening scene – the wedding scene is staggeringly good. The amount of characters introduced and so much backstory along with the central theme laid out by Bonasera the undertaker, seeking ‘justice’ from Don Corleone after an American court let the rich kids off too lightly. We see the Don as a fair-minded mobster at the same time. All without a hint of info-dumping.

    Then another brilliant aspect is the score written by Coppola’s uncle ( I think) Nino Rota.

    The only film in history to have three Best Actor nominations Brando ( who won) Pacino and James Caan. Not to forget Robert Duvall nominated as best supporting actor.

    Thank you, Gary for the insights and the inside information!

    Thanks, Franco! One of the best bits in the early part of the movie was inspired improvisation on Coppola’s part. They filmed most of the interiors first, including the wedding day scene where hulking bodyguard Luca Brasi is in the Don’s office, offering his hopes that Connie’s first child will be “a masculine one”. The actor, Lenny Montana, wasn’t a professional actor; he was a real bodyguard and a former wrestler. He couldn’t deliver his lines. They did take after take and he got worse and worse. And it’s all in the finished movie–you can actually see Duvall and Brando trying not to crack up laughing. That wasn’t in the script, it was real. Instead of tossing the whole scene out, Coppola improvised a bit during the later, outdoor filming of the wedding scene that would actually come first, of Luca Brasi outside the house, laboriously rehearsing what he’s going to say to his boss. That cues Kay, Michael’s clueless girlfriend, to ask, “Michael, who’s that scary guy over there?”. 

    • #15
  16. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    My parents were in downtown Chicago in 1980 while I was away at school. They saw a crowd, and moseyed over to see what the hubbub was about. A bunch of CPD squad cars came flying out of lower Wacker Drive, lights and sirens running as if Dillinger and Capone were shooting it out in Daley Plaza. Then, they went back, and came flying out again. The Blues Brothers was filming the cop chase.

    Cities are understandably wary of car crashes going out of control, or gunfire scaring the citizens. I can’t speak about Chicago, but New York and Los Angeles have particularly strong regulations about fake police cars; they have to be transported on flatbed trucks with their rooftop lights completely covered and the city insignias on their sides obscured. They don’t want anybody to mistake them for real patrol units.

    In Chicago these days, I wouldn’t think a little extraneous gunfire would attract any notice.

    • #16
  17. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Gary, you are so good at bringing things to life.

    I enjoy all the information you present. But your tone in this piece is as though you have taken us, one by one, by the arm, and directed our movements through the actual  film location.

     

    • #17
  18. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    The entire family of my freshman roommate (excluding him, of course) were extras in the marriage reception scene.  His sons, both lawyers, were cast in the recent TV movie The Irishman.  My roommate loved Al Pacino and was an extra in Pacino’s debut film, Panic in Needle Park.

    • #18
  19. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Gary, I am in awe. I LOVE all of these posts; you make them come alive, and explain them to rank laymen like me – people who were wowed by the movie, but merely as consumers.

     

    • #19
  20. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Percival (View Comment):

    My parents were in downtown Chicago in 1980 while I was away at school. They saw a crowd, and moseyed over to see what the hubbub was about. A bunch of CPD squad cars came flying out of lower Wacker Drive, lights and sirens running as if Dillinger and Capone were shooting it out in Daley Plaza. Then, they went back, and came flying out again. The Blues Brothers was filming the cop chase.

    I didn’t see the car flying out of the Marina Towers parking garage and plunging into the Chicago River.

    But I try not to brag about that. 

    Most of the people who were working on my floor of the IBM building at that moment got a front row seat, because we were across the street at about the same height.  Somehow, everyone on the floor knew about it (maybe just because they had seen all the helicopters hovering over the river.)

    I was busy doing something that I thought important at the time, so I didn’t join the gawkers.  (Even then, I was not much of a follower). The IBM building might have toppled over if I had joined the crowd–I might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I am inclined to brag about that, the lives I saved, etc.

    But if we change the subject to another movie, “Ordinary People”, well, I have a “I was there, aren’t I amazing” story that would make Gary M. himself struggling to top it. 

    Except Gary just tells the story of his life, which actually involved being part of Hollywood, and he never brags.  We have to wait till he decides to tell us a little bit about the inside story of that part of our culture, and we are always gratified, without him having to brag!

     

    • #20
  21. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Filming on location can have some other problems:

    • #21
  22. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    iWe (View Comment):

    Gary, I am in awe. I LOVE all of these posts; you make them come alive, and explain them to rank laymen like me – people who were wowed by the movie, but merely as consumers.

    Thanks, iWe! You put me in closer touch with God, I put you in closer touch with the godless; I think I’m getting the better of the deal. 

    • #22
  23. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Gary, you are so good at bringing things to life.

    I enjoy all the information you present. But your tone in this piece is as though you have taken us, one by one, by the arm, and directed our movements through the actual film location.

    As usual, you’re too kind, CarolJoy. About those locations: in 1971, the movement for historical preservation had barely gotten off the ground. Old buildings weren’t lovingly restored; they were just old, and things like marble frescoes were just painted over. So it took some thought and planning to come up with sites that fit the 1945-’55 era, like the gigantic neon sign that still fronted Jack Dempsey’s bar. Coppola wanted to re-create the Camels sign in Times Square, which blew giant “smoke rings” (actually, steam), but Paramount wouldn’t pay for it. 

    • #23
  24. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    What a great post!  It is hard to believe that The Godfather was filmed 50 years ago.  Wow. 

    I still remember watching it in the movie theater in Tucson.  What a film.  I rewatched it and The Godfather, Part II recently.  They hold up very, very well.  

    • #24
  25. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Filming on location can have some other problems:

    Those things happen. When “The President’s Analyst” filmed in New York, procedures hadn’t been fully worked out yet. The star, James Coburn, was being chased by two actors playing policemen; a real cop, unaware of what was going on, saw the foot chase and decked Coburn with his nightstick, requiring stitches.  His Black co-star, Godfrey Cambridge, joked “Thank God it was you, Jimmy. If it was me, they would have killed me!”

     

    • #25
  26. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Gary McVey: When the production moved uptown, way uptown to Pleasant Avenue to film Sonny Corleone’s street beat-down of his brother-in-law…

    I’m not particularly observant or astute about movies, but I thought this fight scene looked sloppy, like those fake wrestling shows. It could well be that there were lots of similar moments in the two movies that I simply overlooked; as I say, I’m not a discerning viewer. But I noticed the punches not quite landing, etc., here.

    Still fantastic movies. I’m going to finish II now….

    • #26
  27. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: When the production moved uptown, way uptown to Pleasant Avenue to film Sonny Corleone’s street beat-down of his brother-in-law…

    I’m not particularly observant or astute about movies, but I thought this fight scene looked sloppy, like those fake wrestling shows. It could well be that there were lots of similar moments in the two movies that I simply overlooked; as I say, I’m not a discerning viewer. But I noticed the punches not quite landing, etc., here.

    Still fantastic movies. I’m going to finish II now….

    It’s a sloppy fight, but it’s real; the actor, Gianni Russo, had two cracked ribs. The East Harlem neighborhood where the fight was filmed was heavily Italian even into the 1940s, but by 1971 it was mostly Puerto Rican. 

    • #27
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    What a great post! It is hard to believe that The Godfather was filmed 50 years ago. Wow.

    I still remember watching it in the movie theater in Tucson. What a film. I rewatched it and The Godfather, Part II recently. They hold up very, very well.

    Thanks, Gary! We 1952 people remember a few things. 

    • #28
  29. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    An oddball detail of interest to car buffs: if you look closely at the cars blocking the streets approaching Connie’s wedding, you’ll catch a brief glimpse that some have wooden bumpers. This is because the War Production Board okayed Detroit to start building cars again after VE day in May, but didn’t okay the use of rationed chrome until the end of 1945. So the few cars that made it to the end of the production line right after the war were shipped to customers with temporary wooden bumpers. Dealers replaced them with the real thing once they became available. 

    Cars were in incredible demand and short supply after the war and for years afterwards, but due to strikes and material bottlenecks (what we’d now call supply chain issues), very few cars were made in 1945. Few people ever saw one with wooden bumpers. But the Corleones were, shall we say, well connected, so Coppola figured they’d be among the few who could get delivery on a car right after the war ended. 

    • #29
  30. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Gary McVey:

    Protective leagues and anti-defamation groups sprang up. That spring, my girlfriend was living on Second Avenue and 70th Street. We watched the nightly Italian-American protest marches at the FBI’s New York offices up the block on Third. Since the storyline of “The Godfather” would involve filming in Italian neighborhoods south of Greenwich Village and on the edge of Spanish Harlem, it was necessary to establish good community relations. In the blunt, practical world of that era, that meant payoffs, and lots of them, to “neighborhood groups” that had the muscle to encourage cooperation as well as do things the cops couldn’t legally do, like scaring nervy kids off fire escapes that would be on camera. It wasn’t done by Marquis of Queensbury rules, but it worked.

     

    The Italian-American Civil Rights League was one of those groups. It was founded by Joseph Columbo. If Columbo had one of those nicknames, like Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo or Carmine “The Cigar” Galante, I’ve never heard it. Instead, there was a crime family named after him. His opposition to The Godfather did not sit well with his confreres. They thought that it was attracting too much attention.

    The Joe Columbo hit (he took three shots and was paralyzed, but didn’t die) is retold in thin disguise by the pilot film to the Kojak series, The Marcus-Nelson Murders. Having the chief of the alleged anti-discrimination cause gunned down by the Mafia tended to undercut the pro-Italian-American message.

    As these movies were being made, my high school football coach, Italian-American Bronx native, was telling us poor dumb country boys that there was no such thing as the Mafia. Then he would launch into a tale of something his father did that was eerily similar to Bonasera‘s request for justice, that ended, among other things with his Principal deciding to retire the same night. 

    • #30