You are listening to the Expresso Entertainment Update. Here is a feature on why Al Pacino was convinced he would be sacked from the film ‘The Godfather’, brought to you by The Indian Express.
“Al Pacino — It’s not presumptuous to state that these two words will be familiar to every cinephile around the globe. The celebrated actor has one Oscar, two Primetime Emmys, and two Tony Awards to his credit. He has been the face of acclaimed features like Scarface, The Godfather, Scent of a Woman, Heat, Donnie Brasco, Carlito’s Way, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon… the list just goes on and on.
But today we discuss his stellar work in Francis Ford Coppola’s groundbreaking The Godfather (1972). And one pivotal sequence, in particular, is the one where Pacino’s Michael Corleone is transformed from a former soldier to an unforgiving mafia leader. Yes, that restaurant scene when the young but tired-looking Michael takes out his gun and shoots a civilian for the first time (presumably).
The scene is set, and Michael is there to talk to the men responsible for taking down his father Don Corleone, the titular Godfather, played by Marlon Brando. He is frisked before entering the darkened room. The gloomy grey-yellow colour palette foreshadows the deaths of the men Pacino’s character has come to negotiate with. The young Corleone wants a ‘guarantee’ that no one will hurt his ageing father again. Words are exchanged in Sicilian, and then Pacino asks for a bathroom break. He has a gun hidden there behind the flush tank; the search for it is long and winding. And then Pacino consciously touches his hair, we are just able to see the back of his head for a while as he is of course making up his mind to take the decisive and dark step of murdering another human. There is much ado about a lot. The silence is deafening, electric almost.
Michael is back from the loo, and more things are said, but this time he tunes out the conversation. He has more pressing things to consider. His mind has already been made up, now he is just waiting for the right time to press the trigger. Then it happens, that long-pending pay-off of seeing one of the leading characters of the feature becomes something cool and practical, and inhuman. Michael is the new Don, in all senses of the term.
But did you know that the role for which Pacino ultimately bagged an Oscar nomination was something he was almost fired from? In an earlier interview with ABC news, the actor had shared that after seeing the first few rushes of the movie, the higher-ups were not quite taken with Al’s performance.
Pacino had said, “They wanted to fire me when I was on the picture … during the shooting, first couple of weeks. Because they kept seeing the rushes, you know, or the footage that was shot, and they kept looking at it and thinking, ‘What is he doing?’”
Pacino remembered, “I was so confused at that time, and Francis Ford Coppola, the director was so supportive, you know, and helping me in it, all of it. If it wasn’t for Francis, I would’ve just not shown up one day and said, ‘Hey, look, man, I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.’ It was — yes, a form of innocence or detachment in a crazy way. It was a kind of detachment. And then so that when the character finally emerges … you say where did that come from? That was what I was going after,”
And then speaking specifically of the restaurant scene, Pacino stated, “Without the great Sterling Hayden and … little Al Lettieri, I wouldn’t be here today. They’d have let me go — even Francis couldn’t stop them,”
The Godfather premiered at the Loew’s State Theatre on March 14, 1972, and was widely released in the United States on March 24, 1972. It was the highest-grossing film of 1972 and was for a time the highest-grossing film ever made, earning between $250 and $291 million at the box office. The film received universal acclaim from critics and audiences, with praise for the performances, particularly those of Brando and Pacino, direction, screenplay, cinematography, editing, score, and portrayal of the mafia. The Godfather acted as a catalyst for the successful careers of Coppola, Pacino, and other relative newcomers in the cast and crew.
The Godfather is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, as well as a landmark of the gangster genre. It was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1990, being deemed “”culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”” and is ranked the second-greatest film in American cinema (behind Citizen Kane) by the American Film Institute. It was followed by sequels The Godfather Part II (1974) and The Godfather Part III (1990).
The Godfather was nominated for seven awards at the 30th Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture – Drama, James Caan for Best Supporting Actor, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando for Best Actor – Drama, Best Score, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
Although many films about gangsters preceded The Godfather, Coppola steeped his film in Italian immigrant culture, and his portrayal of mobsters as persons of considerable psychological depth and complexity was unprecedented. Coppola took it further with The Godfather Part II, and the success of those two films, critically, artistically and financially, was a catalyst for the production of numerous other depictions of Italian Americans as mobsters, including films such as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and TV series such as David Chase’s The Sopranos.
A comprehensive study of Italian-American culture in film from 1914 to 2014 was conducted by the Italic Institute of America showing the influence of The Godfather. Over 81 per cent of films, 430 films, featuring Italian Americans as mobsters (87 per cent of which were fictional) had been produced since The Godfather, an average of 10 per year, while only 98 films were produced preceding The Godfather.
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