Robert Duvall Knew The Godfather Was Special Before Filming Had Even Wrapped

Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel, "The Godfather," is one of the most acclaimed films of all time. Whether or not you've seen the film, you'll likely recognize some of the iconic lines such as, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse," or "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli," or the all-star ensemble cast that Coppola assembled which included the likes of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and many more. 

Robert Duvall, who had previously worked with Coppola on "The Rain People" before "The Godfather," played Tom Hagen, the informally adopted son of Brando's Vito Corleone and consigliere and lawyer for the Corleone family. This wouldn't be the final collaboration between the two, as Duvall would go on to appear in a number of Coppola's future films including "Apocalypse Now"; "The Conversation"; and, of course, "The Godfather Part II." 

Despite a number of collaborations, the actor knew that "The Godfather" was special before the cameras had stopped rolling.

What Duvall said

"The Godfather" earned its place as one of the most acclaimed films of all time. It brought Puzo's original novel to life on the silver screen and adapted it faithfully while Coppola was able to make the film his own. The opening wedding scene in the film is a great example of the faithfulness to Puzo's book. Reading this scene shortly after viewing the film, it's clear that Coppola successfully did a page-to-screen adaptation.

The performances, including Duvall's, are all exceptional, but look at what it did for a young Pacino. At the time of "The Godfather," Pacino had only one major starring role, in "The Panic in Needle Park." Coppola took a huge swing on the unknown Pacino at the time and it's unlikely that Pacino would go on to star in the likes of "And Justice for All," "Scarface," and "Heat" in his storied career without his intense performance "The Godfather" that expanded upon the promise that you see in his performance in "The Panic in Needle Park." The film had equal impact on Brando's career — who'd go on to star in Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" a few years later — which was much in need of a resurgence at the time. 

When asked about his sense of how special "The Godfather" was in an interview with The A.V. Club, Duvall said:

"Well, I've only felt that twice. I felt that about a third of the way through 'The Godfather I.' I said, 'we're really doing something I think pretty special here that will live on for a long time to come.' I felt that we were making a really important film."

Duvall would later be asked about his favorite scene in "The Godfather," crediting the ones where Hagen has to tell Vito about Sonny's death and when he goes to convince the head of a movie studio to give Johnny Fontane — Vito's godson — a role as his favorites. 

Duvall wasn't wrong

It almost goes without saying that Duvall's comments were quickly validated. "The Godfather" was a huge awards contender, garnering 11 Academy Award nominations in 1973 and winning a few including Best Picture in 1973. Duvall would also receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination himself.

The legacy of "The Godfather" continues to grow to this day 50 years after the first film came out in 1972. Paramount even released a series earlier this year titled "The Offer" that chronicled the production of "The Godfather" and Duvall was played by Derek Magyar in the series.

Duvall would go on to return for Coppola's 1974 follow-up to "The Godfather," "The Godfather Part II," but would not appear in the third entry in the series in 1990. A shame for a film that, for most, is not as special as the other films in the series — perhaps due to the missing presence of Duvall.