In the final days of shooting The Godfather, director Francis Ford Coppola turned to a young assistant and told him to always remember three things if he wanted to make pictures. One: make sure you have a definitive script before you shoot. Two: work only with people you trust. Three: make your actors comfortable so that they can do good work. Then Coppola added, “I’ve managed to do none of these things on this film,” which was shaping up to be somewhere between a disappointment and a disaster. “I was sure people would feel I had taken this exciting, bestseller novel and transformed it into a dark, ponderous, boring movie,” Coppola told journalist Mark Seal for his engaging, informative, and fast-paced book, Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather.

Published in 1969, Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather was a sex-saturated, mega-selling guilty pleasure; the two things that stuck in everyone’s mind were the decapitated horse and the many awestruck references to the size of Sonny Corleone’s penis. Perhaps put off by the pulpy nature of the material, most of the big-name directors of the day—Arthur Penn, Costa-Gavras, Richard Brooks, Otto Preminger, Peter Yates—turned down the project, so Paramount reached all the way down to an unknown with nothing to his credit as director except three flops

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