We’re taught from a young age that when we are faced with adversity, it is how we overcome the barriers that define our success. If so, then Francis Ford Coppola is undoubtedly one of his generation’s most gifted directors. Across a host of incredible films like Apocalypse Now and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Coppola dealt with issues and mistakes that could have sunk his ship. Most notably, on the former project, Coppola nearly bankrupted his finances and left his mental health in the thick smoggy swamps of Indonesia.
Of course, the director’s most famous project, The Godfather trilogy, was not without its own issues to overcome. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino’s appointment was one such issue; the leading duo were not his preferred cast choices. Equally, after a long time filming and with studio executives getting impatient, Coppola was even put forward for the chop. He staved off professional execution and delivered a film highlighting his incredible eye for detail and the subtlety of style that would underpin the entire gangster film genre for decades to come. One scene in the film typifies Coppola’s approach and confirms his genius.
As mentioned, working with your favoured cast is something a director would always like to be blessed with. Sadly, for Coppola, at the time at least, he didn’t have such a situation and managed to cobble through the production with the ensemble at hand. Though the film would be a huge success, much of that was down to Coppola’s ingenious working methods.
The director would ask his actors to improvise and create scenes loaded with tension, he would also push them towards certain feelings and moods. All in a day’s work for most filmmakers. However, one scene showcased how quickly Coppola is able to think on his feet.
Luca Brasi is the most dangerous man in The Godfather. Vito Corleone’s personal bodyguard, he acts as the only man The Godfather truly fears. Famed for murdering six men who attempted to take Corleone’s life, the brutish bodyguard is one of the film’s pivotal figures. To capture the terror and fearsome violence Brasi had within him, the production looked to the former wrestler and ex-Mafia bodyguard Lenny Montana to take on the role.
As such, and with little acting experience in a feature film, Montana was somewhat mawkish in his performances. Montana was a little starstruck when moving around the set and, given the opportunity to stand across from Marlon Brando to deliver a scene, Montana froze up. On the set and the duo are in the study and Montana cannot seem to get his lines right — Montana couldn’t get a single take down. Coppola was exasperated with the day’s filming and had no time for a re-shoot.
As a mark of his quick-witted filmmaking, Coppola thought outside of the box and added a new scene of Luca Brasi (played by Montana) rehearsing his lines before going to see The Godfather. It showed Brasi as the fearful, subservient employee he was, nervous and unable to act like himself when in front of the boss.
It may only be a small scene in The Godfather and it certainly isn’t one that the film’s brilliance hangs on. However, if you’re looking for a way to prove Francis Ford Coppola is an esteemed and cherished filmmaker, that he can overcome barriers better than any other, then this is the scene to point too.