It’s one of the most iconic film quotes of all time: A mob capo tells his colleague to “leave the gun, take the cannoli” after a murder in 1972’s The Godfather. The line wasn’t in the script. But the actor who delivered it may have been undone by his own clever wordplay.
In the new book, “You Talkin’ to Me?": The Definitive Guide to Iconic Movie Quotes, author Brian Abrams takes a forensic approach to the history of the line. It’s spoken by actor Richard Castellano, who played Peter Clemenza, a devout underling of mob boss Don Corleone (Marlon Brando). When Clemenza rubs out Corleone’s untrustworthy driver, he beckons a colleague to leave the gun.
At least, that was what was in the script. At the urging of his wife, Ardell Sheridan, who also played his onscreen bride, Castellano ad-libbed “take the cannoli.”
The Clemenza character survived the bloodshed of the first film, which meant Castellano had the good fortune to be asked to appear in the sequel, 1974’s The Godfather Part II. But instead of counting his blessings—or cannoli—the actor apparently took the opportunity to drive a hard bargain. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, Castellano wanted more money and dialogue approval, which is virtually unheard of for a supporting role. Coppola refused and Clemenza suffered an offscreen death.
While Bruno Kirby played a younger version of the character in the flashback half of the sequel, the Clemenza character was replaced with a new capo, Frank Pentangeli (played by Michael V. Gazzo, who earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the role).
Castellano later denied the story, insisting that the problem wasn’t about money or lines but how the Clemenza character had been written in the sequel—as a congressional witness testifying before an organized crime committee. “I saw Clemenza as a teacher,” he said. “He teaches how to make spaghetti, how to use the gun. [Coppola] can’t tell me that Clemenza, after years of loyalty to the old man, would go in and testify against organized crime. Not unless you proved to me ... that he had become a fearful man, that he had become a betrayer.”
Castellano also said he turned down the role because he was being asked to gain and lose weight to portray Clemenza at different periods in time. “I was down to 194 pounds. When I received the script five minutes later, it had me rolling in at 300 pounds.”
Castellano died in 1988 at age 55 of a heart attack; Coppola, now 84, recently wrapped his big-budget science fiction passion project, Megalopolis. Their friction is but one of many stories to emerge from The Godfather, including the production’s uneasy dynamic with the real mafia, a blow-up between author Mario Puzo and Frank Sinatra, and the time Sylvester Stallone toyed with making his version of The Godfather Part III.