Scene Is Believing: The Godfather


Arguably the most pivotal scene of The Godfather is when Michael (Al Pacino) takes the irrevocable step to cast aside his ideals in an attempt to save his family, by gunning down gangster Sollozo (Al Lettieri) and crooked police Captain McCloskey (Sterling Hayden). It is all the more surprising how powerful Pacino’s performance is when you realise it was only the third scene he had shot on the production.

I don’t want my brother coming out of the toilet with just his dick in his hand

On March 31 1971, filming began in the old Luna Restaurant in the Bronx, doubling for the fictional Louis Restaurant, an old style mom and pop Italian place. Interest in The Godfather was already sky high, and thousands turned up outside. Inside, the windows were gelled up to control the light, so no-one could see in. In the scene, Michael has agreed to the meet. Sollozo has unsuccessfully tried to whack Don Corleone, and is ostensibly negotiating a truce. In reality, he believes the other crime families will side with him. Michael knows he won’t be suspected of subterfuge, and agrees to retrieve a gun secreted in the toilet. He plans to execute his fathers enemies as a statement of intent.

After McCloskey is shot in the throat, he is killed with a shot to the forehead. Make-up artist Dick Smith used a combination of latex, Karo blood and a squib. The squib was mounted on a curved metal plate fitted to Hayden’s forehead,and covered with latex, with a small gap. A syringe squirted the Karo blood into the gap, and it was all carefully covered with make-up to match the actor’s skin tone. A wire ran through his hair to a switch that fired the squib. The finished result only required two takes, as the squib burst through and blood flowed down Hayden’s face in a perfect match with the crack appearing in the window behind him.

For the shooting of Solozzo, director Francis Ford Coppola wanted an image to match the gory description for Mario Puzo’s book. Again, make-up came up with an ingenious solution to show the fine mist of blood bursting forth.

“We decided to use red powder – simple red face powder that was packed in an air tube,” Smith said. ”We filled a tube with the powder, ran it up behind Lettieri’s head, and blasted the powder out as the shot was fired.”

In the finished scene, several choices serve to heighten the tension and draw the audiences focus to Michael’s emotional state throughout. Coppola withholds scoring the scene musically until after the deed. Sound designer Walter Murch exaggerates sound at key moments.

The scene is a brilliantly sustained exercise in tension, even though it is seemingly just three men sitting down to a quiet meal. Solozzo recommends the veal, and tells McCloskey to go ahead and eat while he speaks to Michael in Italian. It is deliberately unsubtitled, so the audience is forced to pay attention to body language. Pacino must convey his nervousness to the audience, while at the same time convincing the other characters that nothing is amiss.

As discussed with Sonny and his lieutenants, Michael excuses himself to go to the restroom. As he searches for the gun behind the cistern, we hear the elevated train for the first time, to emphasise his tense state. When he returns to the table and conversation resumes, the train again is heard. This time the screech of brakes rises to drown out speech, perfectly matching the strain across Michaels face before he rises, draws and fires. Murch said “It’s metaphorical, in that…the sound of the train is played so abnormally loud that it doesn’t match what we’re looking at, objectively.”

The men now shot, Michael freezes. He was told to let the gun drop to his side and quickly walk, not run, out of the restaurant. He snaps out of it and walks stiffly away, almost flinging the gun away across the floor. Only now does the operatic music kick in, commenting on the evil deed. Michael, with “blood all over his nice Ivy League suit” as Sonny earlier teased, is now a made man.

Coppola had Paramount executives on his back for a long time during filming. He was fighting to avoid being replaced as Director, his choices constantly questioned. Coppola saw this scene as the moment that saved him and Pacino when executives finally saw the rushes. He was vindicated, being Oscar nominated for best director, and winning with Mario Puzo for best adapted screenplay. Pacino, the unknown, the lynchpin of the entire saga, was nominated in his first major role for best supporting actor. Money talks, and The Godfather was an unqualified success for Paramount. Remember, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”




Originally posted 2012-04-07 12:19:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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