Shocking Secrets Behind 'The Godfather'

May. 24 2018, Updated 4:49 p.m. ET

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The Godfather" became an instant classic when it hit the big screen on March 14, 1972, and is considered one of the greatest films of all time. Blending brutal violence with the ­drama of a highly codified underworld, the movie mesmerized audiences with an eye-opening peek into a shadowy society of mobsters and mayhem.

In honor of the 45th ­anniversary of the iconic ­­motion picture, RadarOnline.com uncovers some of the fascinating secrets behind "The Godfather."

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In the film's opening scene, Marlon Brando is holding a cat, but the original script didn't call for an animal. Director Francis Ford Coppola scooped up the stray while walking through the lot at Paramount Studios and decided to include the cuddly cat. But its ridiculously loud purring actually muffled some of Brando's lines in the original takes.

John Marley's character of Jack Woltz awakens to a bloody bedroom scene that includes a severed horse's head. But without the actor's knowledge, an actual horse's head was acquired from a dog food factory and used during filming — and John's horrified screams were real! Animal rights groups protested the gory moment, but it remained in the film.

While the movie mobsters were all business on camera, Marlon Brando, James Caan and Robert Duvall engaged in silly hijinks behind the scenes, mooning each other in a goofy game of one-upmanship that ended when Brando bared his backside in the middle of the wedding reception scene — flashing nearly 500 extras. The other actors admitted defeat, and Marlon was presented with a belt that read "Mighty Moon King."

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Gary Fredrickson, the film's associate producer, said actor and professional wrestler Lenny Montana — who portrayed Luca Brasi — once worked as a Mafia bodyguard and arsonist.

While many actors sought to play Vito Corleone — including Hollywood legend Orson Welles — Coppola had his heart set on Brando, who agreed to take the gig — only if Burt Reynolds would not be cast as Sonny, a role which ultimately went to Caan. Brando felt Burt didn't have the big-screen chops.

Studio head Stanley Jaffe only agreed to hire Brando if the actor would be given less than his usual salary, take financial responsibility for any delays he caused, and consent to a screen test — which was unheard of for Brando at the time.

During his audition, Brando wanted Vito to look "like a bulldog" and stuffed his cheeks with cotton. During filming, he wore a custom-made mouthpiece, steel-bar dentures that sat below and in front of his lower teeth and included resin "plumpers" to give him the character's trademark jawline.

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Sonny's death — in a hail of bullets at the tollbooth of the Long Beach Causeway — ­required such substantial ­special effects and so many technicians, it cost $100,000 — a hefty chunk of the movie's $6.5 million budget.

After the scene where ­Pacino's Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey, he jumps onto a car's running board for his getaway. But in reality, Pacino misjudged his leap and twisted his ankle so badly he needed to use a cane and crutches for nearly two weeks!

Protests abounded over the movie and its portrayal of Italians, with much of the noise coming from the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which raised $500,000 to halt production of the film — and was also  accused of intimidation tactics when the crew filmed in New York City. Turns out the league was headed by real-life mob boss Joseph ­Colombo.

The Colombos were not the only people upset about the film, which was based on ­­Mario Puzo's bestselling book of the same name. Singer Frank Sinatra was against the movie from the get-go and had ­allegedly threatened to break Puzo's legs because his character of Johnny Fontane, played by Al Martino, resembled the singer.

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During the famous baptism scene at the end of the film, baby Michael was played by the director's infant daughter, ­­Sofia Coppola, who also ­appeared in bit parts in the film's two sequels.

"The 'Godfather' films are personal," says Coppola. "Even though our family were never gangsters ... the real day-to-day reality of the Italian family that was put into the gangster films was based on my family and what I remember as a kid.

"You can't make films without them being personal to some extent."

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