Like most people who ever saw THE GODFATHER, I count it as one of my favorite movies. I have no idea how many times I watched all or favorite scenes in it, movie theater, TV, video tape, DVD. Recently, I watched a two hour documentary on the Godfather saga, very academic. There wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen or heard before, but I sat through it all, as if it was all new to me. But I knew a few stories that weren’t in the documentary. I heard them from some of the crew that worked on the movies. Actually, if they had been included they would have perked up the presentation by providing a little comic relief.
I am glad that I never worked on the film, (Of course, I never had the chance.), because working on a film ruins the pleasure of watching it for me. Instead of watching a scene, I think about what I was doing during the scene, or what happened during the work before and after.
For instance, ICE CASTLES, the original with Colleen Dewhurst, music by Marvin Hamlisch. Most of the scenes shot in Minnesota were on frozen ponds or ice arenas. And most of the time, I was freezing. I tried to sit through the movie once in a theater. I froze all the time I was watching it. Frankly, with the poor acting by the lead, and the soapy story, I don’t think I could enjoy it even if I hadn’t worked on it.
Then there is THE HEARTBREAK KID, the original, the one with Cybill Shepherd. So many things happened during that filming it requires a post of its own. One thing does stand out on its own though, a good many of the crew had just finished working on THE GODFATHER and had a some good stories to tell. For instance:
A Grip’s tale:
“Brando was always clowning around. There’s this scene where he comes home after getting shot. He’s got to be carried up the stairs. Now he’s a big guy. We look around for a couple gorillas to carry Brando in the gurney up the stairs. There’s a big grip and a big gaffer who jump at the chance. They break camera and get an extra $350.
“So while the two go to wardrobe, Brando calls me over. He wants me to put a few sandbags in the gurney with him, and make sure they can’t be seen.
“When the two come back, they lift Brando and the gurney. You can tell they are really straining. They manage to carry the load down the hallway; but when they get to the stairs, they set the stretcher on the floor. And not too gently.
“One of them says to the other, ‘Just how much do you figure this fat f—k weighs.’
“Brando, and the rest of us, crack up. Brando sits up. ‘That beer belly callis ME a fat f—k!!! Somebody get that guy a mirror.”
A Production Assistance tale:
“Damn Brando got me bawled out by highway cops five, six times. The house location was a good hour’s drive from the hotel. Brando always wanted to ride in the crew bus instead of the limo. Not because he wanted to be with the crew. The bus was better to shoot the moon than the limo. Big windows, easy to open. For all I know he had a part in renting them.
“He always had his bare ass sticking out the bus window. People driving along and seeing a bare ass sticking partly out the window. A lot of times, they’d honk and Brando would laugh and wiggle as it best he could. We had to go through some small towns. Boy, did he like that.
“And when we stayed in the city, locations were shorter, more people on the streets, more cops, but it didn’t stop him from mooning.
“At first it was funny, but it got old. And it also got cold. We’d scream at him to close the window, and he’d just laugh.
“We get pulled over by the cops and I’d be the one that got in trouble because I was suppose to be in charge on the bus and couldn’t make him behave. He’d pull his ass from the window, close it, pull up his pants. Ten minutes later, he be mooning cars again. We got phone complaints and letters of complaint and Brando still thought it was funny.
“Studio had hired me to keep Brando in line. I got letters and phone calls from the studio telling me to do my job or they would find someone who could. I told Brando that and he just laughed and promised it happened, he’d get my job back for me. When Brando and Caan and Duvall were screwing around and mooning on the set, I didn’t care. That was Coppola’s problem. But in the bus!!!
“After the day’s shooting, Brando always rode back in the limo. It was too dark to moon the cars.
“Once I suggested to him that some people thought he was a pervert. He said he was rehearsing for his next movie, THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS. He laughed and asked me if I wanted him to get me work on it. I turned him down!”
A Prop Man’s tale:
“Hardest film I ever worked on. I’d went through Alka-Selzer by the case. Food! Every other scene, they were eating. They hired two catering companies. One was the regular one for Craft-Services. The second was used every time we were filming a scene with food in it.
“My crew and I would lay out the food for the scene. Coppola would come in, sit down in a chair, and nibble at the food. He’d get ready to shoot, and we’d have to get the food ready again. He’d yell cut, and pretty soon he’d be nibbling again. Guy drove me crazy.
“I asked the powers-that-be to tell Coppola to leave the food props alone. They told me he was probably binge-eating because of nerves. He knew some of the suits back in the studio wanted him replaced. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think the guy just likes to eat.”
A Sound Man’s Tale:
“When the shooting moved to Sicily, almost all the New York crew were left behind. They picked up a new crew in Rome. But they took me with them.
“Both my parents were born in Sicily, so I could talk Sicilian. It was my first language. I didn’t talk English until I went to school. And only some of the Italian crew could talk or understand Sicilian. I acted more as a translator than a sound man.
“There’s one scene, Michael has just arrived in Sicily. He and his two bodyguards are walking down this road. There’s a shepherd with a flock of goats coming down a little hill, going the other way. The old guy and his goats had stopped our equipment trucks going to the location and they decided to use him and his goats in the scene. I had to talk to the him and tell him what we wanted. He agreed. It took a couple days to set it up and shoot it. The darn goats were harder to control than Brando had been.
“I took him to the catering truck and made sure he got fed. The second day he brought lunch for himself and me. Nothing doing, he wanted to share his bread, cheese, and wine with me. We sat on a big rock and he laid out the spread. He had even gotten a glass from the catering truck so I wouldn’t have to drink out of his wineskin.
“I raised my glass in an old Sicilian toast that my parents used all the time. It translated roughly to ‘May you live to be one hundred and than die with a smile on your face.’
“He gave me a look. I guess a Sicilian would have said that he gave me the ‘evil eye’. He put the cork in his wineskin, stood up, and walked away. I tried to talk to him, but he just kept walking.
“I went and asked one of the Sicilian onlookers what had happened. I was told that my toast was very inappropriate. The old shepherd was just a few months short of being one hundred years old. I was shocked.
“My hand to God! I thought the old guy was maybe in his early 70’s.”
Frankly, I like watching movies; but as far as working them, the money is good, the food is good, the hours are long, the work is hard, and too often, boring. Yet, I know if I ever worked a masterpiece like THE GODFATHER, I would change my attitude as far as working in movies.