What's the Most Important Scene to Francis Ford Coppola in 'The Godfather'?

'The Godfather'Credit: Paramount Pictures
Francis Ford Coppola was always at odds with others while making The Godfather. But one scene saved his job. 

If you're a film buff or just a fan of movie history, then you probably know some of the stories behind The Godfather.

As legend has it, Francis Ford Coppola was always trying to make the movie darker, slower, more intentional. And the studio was trying to speed it up and make it brighter. They wanted sex, drugs, and violence to be massive parts of the movie, not these subtle interludes in a family drama. 

This back and forth had each party very stressed out. Not to mention Coppola was handling the crew and famous actors as well. 

Paramount had offered the gig to direct The Godfather to Arthur Penn, Elia Kazan, Richard Brooks, and Costa-Gavras... and settled for Coppola when they all turned it down. 

They even had stand-in directors visit set and be at the ready in case they had to fire Coppola. 

So why did they never pull the trigger? 

Well, one scene came into Paramount and proved that Coppola should keep the job. 

What's the Most Important Scene to Francis Ford Coppola in The Godfather?

When Michael Corleone murders Sollozzo and McCluskey, Paramount knew they had a hit on their hands. People were in awe of Pacino's performance and the rawness of the violence juxtaposed against his emotions. It was clear Coppola was onto something, and they let him finish. 

They were not disappointed. The scene stands out as one of the best in cinema history. The sound design, with the L-train getting louder and escalating as violence nears, is extraordinary. And the tension is so thick at that table you could cut it with a knife. 

It also shows Michael's character arc, going from war hero to mafioso. He never wanted to become his father, but this shows that his loyalty to his family is something he holds above all else. 

Another reason it's so great? Dramatic irony!

There's a difference of information between the audience and the antagonists in the scene. We know Michael has the gun waiting in the bathroom, but they don't. When he comes back, we expect him to shoot, but we see Michael sitting down again. He's uneasy in the situation. They think he's stressed about negotiating, but he's really stressed about killing them. 

When Michael fires, he does as he's told, remembering to leave the gun and head outside. As the plan is achieved, the movie switches gears. Michael heads to Italy, and time moves forward. 

A scene this deep and interesting secured Coppola his job and made the film a cinematic classic.

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A further irony: During a previous scene in which the Corleones are seen in the Don's office discussing the necessity of the murders of Sollozzo and McClusky, Santino is depicted idly toying with a cane the viewer presumes belongs to the absent Vito.

In reality the cane belonged to actor Al Pacino, who had badly injured his leg while filming the shot showing Michael's escape from the restaurant after killing Sollozzo and McClusky.

In other words, the scene of the Family planning the murders was filmed after the filming of the murders themselves.

April 16, 2021 at 4:47PM


The Godfather is one of America's most perfect films, all due to the brilliance of Francis Coppola. Coppola was no newcomer to Hollywood, having written scripts for The Rain People, Patton, and directed a small number of films including, get this, Finian's Rainbow. However, Coppola hadn't really had his big chance, yet, and knew it.

With a lot of misgiving, Paramount called on Coppola... after trying to court other more experienced directors. Besides, Coppola was an experienced screenwriter, so he could work with Mario Puzo to come up with a final script. Despite that, several other directors were asked to drop by and have a look at the production in case Coppola had to be replaced. How's that for a confidence builder?

The story has been told of Coppola cringing in the stall of a restroom while he heard a couple of experienced crew people talking about how pathetic he was. Instead of pathetic, Coppola crafted a movie that defined our vision of the criminal underworld called "The Mafia."

It's also said that a lot of present-day gangsters started wearing suits and ties after seeing the dapper style of the post-WWII mobsters. Coppola had created a movie so powerful that reality started to bend toward the fictional screenplay. All this on a picture that was supposed to be basically a "B" movie along the lines of The Valachi Papers.

By the end of the film, the audience is torn, appalled by the violence but somehow sympathetic to so many of the characters. Coppola's genius is to bring us all into "the family" with domestic strife, dinner at the family table, crying kids, and characters we secretly identify with.

The Godfather, along with The Godfather II – the world's most well-cast sequel – form an indelible picture of the post-war organized crime scene. So ingrained are we to Italian-Americans as gangsters that without the Little Italy accent, a criminal would have to show us his rap-sheet to prove he was a bad guy. For better or for worse, this image is going to plague Italian Americans for a long time to come.

To tell a story, you have to really know it, to be immersed in it. With his Italian-American background, those family scenes are right out of Coppola's own past. With that fact in mind, it's easier to think of The Godfather as not just another gangster movie, it's your own personal invitation to join the Corleone family. And that's an offer you may not be able to refuse.

April 24, 2021 at 11:51AM, Edited April 24, 11:51AM

Don Cely
Producer Director