The Godfather is widely considered one of the best movies ever made.
Nonetheless, the film almost never made it to theaters in the first place. Mobster Joseph Colombo waged war on the feature and worked to shut down production entirely.
Colombo didn’t take issue with the film’s content. He was upset with its title. At the time, Colombo headed one of New York’s most powerful mafia families.
He didn’t want people to think that organized crime was some sort of game.
And so Colombo led a campaign of harassment against Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola and producer Albert S. Ruddy. He had them followed and even sent death threats.
In the early 1970s, the Italian-American Civil Rights League requested that Paramount Pictures stop production of The Godfather.
Believing that Italians were being unfairly portrayed as vicious criminals, the League staged rallies across New York City, collecting more than half a million dollars to shut down production.
But Paramount didn’t give in to the pressure. The studio went ahead with filming, and The Godfather was released in 1972 to critical and commercial acclaim. It went on to win three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Joseph Colombo died not long after the film’s release, gunned down at a mafia-sponsored rally in 1971. But his campaign against The Godfather lived on. In 1974, members of Colombo’s family tried to bomb the offices of Paramount Pictures.
Fortunately, the explosives failed to detonate. Had they gone off, they could have killed or seriously injured many people.
It’s ironic that someone like Joseph Colombo, who was himself a mafia boss, would try to shut down a film that was critical of the mafia. But Colombo didn’t want people to see The Godfather as a true representation of life in the mafia. He wanted them to think of it as just a work of fiction.
The Godfather is one of the most popular and acclaimed films of all time, but its path to theaters was far from smooth. Joseph Colombo, head of one of New York’s most powerful mafia families, waged a campaign against the film, trying to shut down production entirely.
Colombo’s issue wasn’t with the film’s content; he was upset with its title. At the time, the word “godfather” was often used to refer to mafia bosses like Colombo himself. He didn’t want people to think of the mafia as some sort of game.
Fortunately, the mafia’s and Colombo’s intimidation tactics didn’t work. Coppola and Ruddy refused to back down, and The Godfather ultimately became one of the most iconic films in history.