To honor the 50th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” Paramount Pictures is re-releasing a restored version of the movie to a limited number of AMC theaters on Feb. 25th.
I took the fact that my favorite film was being rereleased on my birthday as a sign and made myself an offer I couldn’t refuse– a need to somehow connect with it.
In an effort to further entrench myself in the shadowy fictitious world of “The Godfather,” I decided to do some digging and, if possible, visit some of New York area shooting locations of this cinematic gem.
With the help of websites scoutingny.com and movie locations.com, I was able to find the addresses.
I had already visited a few Godfather locations. When I was at my great-grandmother’s funeral in April 1989 at Calvary Cemetery in Sunnyvale, Queens, an older relative mentioned that that was where Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) was laid to rest.
I was a chaperone for a high school trip to Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington, Long Island, where the livingroom of one of the homes there stood in for the bedroom of film producer Jack Woltz (John Marley).
In a shocking scene, he awakens to find his prized horse’s bloodied head at the foot of his bed. This summer I stayed at a hotel a block away from the gate at the Paramount lot on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood which doubled as the entry for Woltz International Pictures.
Some places, like the exteriors of the hospital where the wounded Don Corleone is admitted and the Best & Co department store where Michael (Al Pacino) and Kay (Diane Keaton) Christmas shop, have been demolished.
The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary on 14th Street is where the interiors of the Don’s hospital were shot, but the place has been completely renovated since filming.
I stopped in anyway, but my visit was essentially fruitless.
Louis Restaurant in the Bronx, where Michael shoots drug lord Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and crooked police Capt. McCluskey (Sterling Hayden), was turned into a fabric and yarn store, but appears now to be out of business.
My calls went unanswered, so I scratched it off my list.
Many places still exist, however, and I started at the Don’s home, where the film begins.
The Corleone family compound, set in Long Beach with its palatial lawns and English Tudor houses, was filmed on Staten Island, where Coppola and company took over Longfellow Avenue in the well-to-do section of Todt Hill.
The production team built a fake wrought iron gate and used styrofoam walls near the end of the cul de sac to give the impression that the compound was much larger than it really was.
According to Forbes, the property at 110 Longfellow Avenue has been extensively renovated since the filming and zillow.com has the property listed with an estimated value of $2.6 million.
I immediately recognized the home and felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I walked up to the front stone path.
Todt Hill, incidentally, is the highest natural point in all of New York City–a seemingly perfect spot for a New York Mafia don to perch.
It’s also interesting to note, for what it’s worth, that Todt is derived from tod, the German word for dead. A coincidence? Sure, but a fitting one for a murderer.
The Godfather opens with Don Corleone’s daughter Connie’s (Talia Shire) wedding in the home’s spacious backyard.
Hordes of guests dressed in their 1940s best, danced, drank wine and celebrated under the afternoon sun and lush green trees.
I visited Longfellow Ave in February when the branches were bare and the grass was blanketed in patches of snow, but I could still picture the wedding as I looked over the property’s waist high stonewall.
I thought about Michael introducing his girlfriend Kay to his adopted brother and the Don’s consigliere, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) and his weak and overlooked older brother Fredo (John Casale).
I pictured Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), a character based on Frank Sinatra, crooning to the wedding guests.
Corleone enforcer Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) was nervously practicing his lines before meeting with the Godfather, and the heavyset caporegime Clemenza (Richard Castellano), dancing and guzzling red wine by the pitcherful.
I parked my car at about the same spot where hotheaded Sonny, annoyed with the FBI outside of his sister’s wedding, grabs and smashes an agent’s camera to the ground.
The home is also the place of death.
Don Vito suffers a fatal heart attack in a bittersweet scene there while playing with his grandson in a garden of tomato plants.
An inground pool now covers the same spot as the garden.
Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo), Connie’s traitorous and vicious husband, is garroted in a car as it slowly exits the property and crunches over the gravel driveway.
The mournful sound of a lone trumpet playing the film’s theme filled my head as I stood in the middle of Longfellow Avenue in the morning’s bitter cold.
The office for Genco Olive Oil, the family’s front company, was filmed in what was once the heart of Little Italy at 128 Mott Street in the Mietz Building.
The structure is still around today, but it now houses Chinese businesses, rather than Italian ones.
Don Vito buys some fruit from the green grocer across the street at 137 Mott before being gunned down in front of his office.
A fire burned in a metal barrel next to the grocer’s bushels of produce and a poster advertising an upcoming Jake LaMotta bout hung in his window.
Today, the address is a Chinese drug store that sells herbs and offers Covid tests.
As I stood on the icy sidewalk among throngs of local Chinese shoppers with plastic bags of dried fish, I tried to picture a weeping Fredo, the fallen and bleeding Don, and the scattered oranges in the road.
Michael and Kay come out of a show at Radio City Music Hall to read of the Don’s shooting from a late edition at a newsstand.
Despite the absence of a phone booth and a newsstand, the sidewalk and the hall’s exterior looks today almost exactly as it did in the film.
Even the neon lights are the same; the only thing missing was the name “The Bells of St. Mary” on the marquee.
The scene where Luca Brasi meets with Sollozzo was filmed in two places.
The shots of Brasi walking down the hallway were filmed at Hotel Edison on West 47th Street in Manhattan and the part when he is garroted was shot in the fish-themed bar of the now defunct Hotel St. George in Brooklyn.
I easily found the Edison, a busy Times Square hotel. Just like it describes itself on its website, it features “vintage touches and an art deco aesthetic dating to the hotel’s historic opening day during the Jazz Age.”
The gold and white hallways look pretty close to how I remembered from the film, albeit a little less polished now. The only thing missing was the satisfying clack of Brasi’s patent leather shoes as he made his way to the meeting.
The soles of my sneakers didn’t offer the same sound, but at least I wasn’t strangled in there.
The high ranking Peter Clemenza was in charge of the operations in the Bronx, but lived not too far from where I once had an apartment in Brooklyn in the late 1990s.
The home at 1999 East 5th Street on the edge of the Gravesend stood for Clemenza’s house.
It was in the home’s basement where he teaches Michael how to use a gun before the latter murders Sollottzo and Capt. McCluskey.
The house looks practically the same as it did in the film, except there was a newer car in the driveway and the trunk of the tree in front of the home looked a lot wider.
When Sonny gets word that Carlo is abusing Connie, he heads over to 118th Street where he beats the hell out of his brother-in-law on the sidewalk in front of a group of onlookers.
Carlo is left unconscious by an open water hydrant, his flashy orange outfit drenched with water and stained with blood.
This was one of only a few spots I couldn’t fit in in my research, but I found recent pictures of the location and though the front of the building has changed, I could still picture everything.
In an interview with Fox anchor Greg Kelly, Russo said that Caan was very physical and left him with broken ribs and a chipped elbow after the scene.
Though most causal fans will tell you the pivotal scene where Sonny gets shot was filmed at the Jones Beach Causeway toll booth, it was actually filmed elsewhere.
The scene was filmed on a disused stretch of runway at the old Mitchel Air Force Base, which is adjacent to the parking lot of Nassau Community College in Garden City, Long Island.
Part of the air field is where Nassau Coliseum was built right after “The Godfather” filmed there.
It’s funny to think that the same area where I used to see the circus as a boy was where Sonny Corleone was riddled with bullets.
After Sonny’s death, Don Corleone calls a meeting of the five families to quash the mob violence.
The exterior of the meeting was shot at the Federal Reserve building which looks exactly as it did in 1971 except for one major change: it’s clean.
The surfaces have thankfully been power washed since the early ’70s.
On a side note, the shot of the building’s exterior has one of the film’s handful of bloopers: the waving flag has 50 stars. The scene is supposed to take place in the early 1950s, before Hawaii and Alaska became states in 1959.
The film’s incredible climax happens after the Don’s death when Michael decides to settle all family business prior to the move to Las Vegas and agrees to be godfather to Connie’s baby.
Using the baptism as an alibi, Michael coldly reads the vows at the altar as the killings are carried out in a classic sequence of cinematic juxtaposition.
Shots of the Catholic rite of admission cut back and forth with clips of the Corleones’ foes being violently picked off one by one. All the while, a church organ plays haunting chords.
Just like Luca Brasi’s death, the sequence involving the church was filmed in two places and I visited both.
St. Joachim and Anne Roman Catholic Church is at the southern tip of Staten Island and was where the exterior was shot.
Two years after filming, the church suffered a fire that destroyed everything but the main facade.
The rebuilt part of the church is smaller than its predecessor, but when looking at it straight on, it appears like it did in the film.
On the steps after the baptism, Michael is furtively informed that all of the hits are done. I stood on the same steps; geese fed on the saturated grass on the churchyard in front of me and the morning sun reflected off of the distant Raritan Bay.
The church interior was shot at Old Saint Patrick’s on Mulberry Street, a few blocks away from the Genco Olive Oil building.
Apart from the organist, I was the only person there before a little old lady hobbled in and mumbled through her prayers in her pew.
I stood in the back, hat in hand and mind on Connie’s son’s baptism. My view was the same as the establishing shot of the scene and I marveled at the altar’s beauty.
As the organist played music similar to that in the sequence, I thought of the forthcoming violence.
Though the killings of mobster Moe Greene and the heads of the five families are brutal, there is a poetry to them.
Don Barzini (Richard Conte) is whacked by Corleone crony Al Neri (Richard Bright) who is disguised as a police officer on the steps to the New York Supreme Court building in Foley Square.
Just like with the Federal Reserve building, it looks cleaner and smaller than it did on film.
The steps that Barzini tumbled down were fenced off, but I stood right where Neri crouched and popped two shots into the Don’s back.
Moe Greene was getting rubbed down when he gets rubbed out. The image of him taking a bullet to the eye while having a back massage is one of my first lasting images of the film.
The scene was actually filmed in the steam room of the McBurney YMCA on 14th Street in Manhattan.
The club is still there (since 1844 apparently), but when I asked to see the lamp room where the scene was filmed, I was denied because of COVID-19 restrictions.
‘I just want to take a quick look,’ I said, pointing to my eye and hoping my pun would open a door for me. It did not.
Two assassinations were filmed at the St Regis Hotel on 55th Street. Don Stracci (Don Costello) and his bodyguard are blasted by a Clemenza’s shotgun in the hotel elevator.
After a cigarette and a shave at the hotel barbershop, Corleone soldier Willie Cicci (Joe Spinell) trapped Don Cuneo (Rudy Bond) in one of the hotel’s revolving doors and plugged him four times in the chest.
I entered the hotel through a revolving door that was most likely the same brass lined and ornate one from the film.
I got nervous for a second when the door stopped, thinking perhaps I was doomed. I walked the shiny hallways and looked at the elevators.
There was no way to know which floor’s elevator landing was used in the film, but I still got a vibe of the scene anyway.
The barber shop on the lower level has been replaced by a high-end hair salon. I poked my head in and got a few dirty looks and then decided not to get their $75 hot shave.
I first saw parts of the movie with my father when I was seven or eight years old when it aired on broadcast television.
Obviously, I didn’t fully understand it then, but some iconic images, like Sonny Corleone (James Caan) at the toll booth and Moe Greene (Alex Rocco) taking a bullet in the eye, left strong impressions.
I watched the entire epic at age 16 and fell in love with its compelling plot, rich and rounded characters and classical brand of filmmaking.
Many people my age and older consider “The Godfather” the greatest movie ever made and for good reason.
It won three Academy Awards, Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Marlon Brando, who declined the award) on its way to becoming the first blockbuster of the 1970s, ushering in a new era of filmmaking.
As I drove back to my home on Long Island after my long day of research in the city, I felt very content having connected with my favorite film.
I learned from my pilgrimage that even though I didn’t have a drop of Italian blood in my veins, I still feel like a paisan because I am a lifelong New Yorker and “The Godfather” is the quintessential New York film.
With the exception of the Sicilian scenes and a few shots in LA and Las Vegas, “The Godfather” was almost entirely filmed in New York with all five boroughs appearing in the final cut.
Whenever somebody from outside of New York refers to “The Godfather,” I swell with pride and I am an honorary Italian thanks to the movie, a Tom Hagen, if you will. I feel like part of a family and that’s another offer I can’t refuse.
Check out the Hollywood 50th Anniversary celebration below and the new trailer!