When Robert Evans Fought to Make The Godfather Longer

Robert Evans The Godfather The Kid Stays in the Picture

Robert Evans, the producer and Paramount executive who died Monday at 89, left behind a legendary career that he frenetically chronicled in his autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture. But his greatest success was The Godfather.

As the head of Paramout Pictures, Evans led The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, among other films. As he recounted in The Kid Stays in the Picture, he opposed many of the key decisions in The Godfather, from Al Pacino’s casting as Michael Corleone to the choice of Francis Ford Coppola as director. He lost those fights, to the betterment of all. But he did win one important fight—a long argument with Coppola over the length of the film.

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The Godfather comes in at just under three hours. But at the first screening in August 1972, the picture clocked in at two hours and six minutes, as Evans recounted in The Kid Stays in the Picture. He wrote that immediately after the screening, he summoned Coppola to his office.

“You shot a great film,” Evans quoted himself telling Coppola. “Where the fuck is it—in the kitchen with you spaghetti? It sure ain’t on the screen. Where’s the family, the heart, the feeling—left in the kitchen too?”

Coppola argued that his friends had praised the film. So Evans suggested they call in Robert Towne, who had helped write Marlon Brando’s death scene in The Godfather and would later write Chinatown, for a second opinion. Evans said Towne agreed with him on almost every point.

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“Schmuck! You shortchanged yourself,” Evans said he told Coppola. “What studio head tells a director to make a picture longer? Only a nut like me. You shot a saga, and you turned in a trailer. Now give me a movie.”

Evans said Coppola objected that re-editing The Godfather would keep it from making its Christmas release date. Evans threatened to quit Paramount. Eventually, Coppola returned to editing. Evans described one confrontation as Coppola left the editing rooms at Goldwyn Studios while reworking The Godfather.

“You’re making this picture so long, Evans, half the people will be asleep before it’s over,” he quoted Coppola as saying.

He said he told Coppola that the film “had a shot at making fifty million in America alone, if you don’t compromise,” and agreed to buy Coppola a Mercedes if it did.

It did.

“The day The Godfather passed $50 million, Francis bought a Mercedes 600, the most expensive on the market. The bill wasn’t sent to Paramount, but personally to me, Robert Evans,” he wrote.

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