- - Thursday, December 30, 2021

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli” is one of many iconic lines from the “The Godfather” film.

Mark Seal uses the line in the title of his book, “Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather.” The backstory behind the near-perfect crime film is nearly as dramatic as the film itself.

I reached out to Mark Seal and asked him why he wrote the book.

“I have an almost lifelong fascination with the movie, which I first saw as a college freshman on spring break in 1972,” Mr. Seal replied.

He said that in 2009 he wrote about the making of “The Godfather” for Vanity Fair magazine, and he interviewed many of the people who helped make the movie.

“With the 50th anniversary of the film looming, I felt it was the perfect time to expand the magazine story into a book — and continue my fixation with the film — and, in the course of additional research and interviews with Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, James Caan and other members of the cast and crew, I was often surprised at what I found,” Mr. Seal explained. “I also delved into the massive trove of documentation about the movie, including Mario Puzo’s papers, now archived at Dartmouth University, and the minutes of the 1971 production meeting that Francis Coppola led with his creative team, each word recorded by a stenographer. It shows how the movie came to life.”

Why do you think most critics, as well as viewers, believe “The Godfather” is the greatest film ever made?

“Because it was filmed in New York as a period piece in the 1940s, which gives it a timeless feel, and makes as fresh today as it was half a century ago. And because it doesn’t merely cast its Mafia characters as gangsters, but family men and women that you can’t help but care about. As ‘The Godfather’ producer Al Ruddy says in the book, ‘It may be the greatest family movie ever made.’”

How would you describe Mario Puzo?

“The true hero of ‘The Godfather,’ a loveable but financially down-and-out writer, with a fertile imagination and a gambling habit, who spent his first forty years struggling in near poverty, only to wind up in a gutter with a severe gallbladder attack,” Mr. Seal said. “‘That’s when I decided to become rich and famous,’ he would later say. Puzo began dreaming up the saga that became ‘The Godfather.’ Mario Puzo was a writer who would claim to have never even met a genuine gangster but who would create a fictional story so authentic that it seemed real, a saga that would be adopted by the Mob as its own, emulating its language and titles and creed.”

How would you describe Francis Ford Coppola?

“When he was hired as the director of ‘The Godfather’ in 1971, he was a brilliant young Italian American director, who had just turned 30 and had taken on a movie almost no other director would touch,” Mr. Seal said. “He took the job for the money, but he immediately found himself in a fight from start to finish to get the movie in his head onto the screen. Coppola didn’t even believe ‘The Godfather’ would be a ‘mild success,’ as he put it.”

How would you describe the clashes between producer Robert Evans and Mr. Coppola overcasting and other issues?

“Evans and Coppola battled over practically every aspect of the film. The war overcasting the family Corleone was more volatile than the war the Corleone family fought on screen, Evans wrote. They argued about the music, the movie’s length, final edit and more. Thankfully, the cast that Coppola envisioned from the start — Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando – was the cast that came to be. But without the director’s fierce determination, it could have easily gone another way.”

Mr. Seal said that the Italian American Civil Rights League tried to stop the film with a campaign of letters, protests and alleged threats. Then Mr. Ruddy met with the league’s founder, Joe Colombo, reputed to be the head of one of the New York mob families. Colombo wanted one thing: the deletion of one word that he felt symbolized the stereotyping of Italian Americans in media, popular culture and film — Mafia.

“With this book, I hope to offer a well-researched dive into an iconic American film. Like many films in that category, it has its limitations, controversies, and faults.”

• Paul Davis’ “On Crime” column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers.

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Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather
By Mark Seal
Gallery Books, $28.99, 448 pages

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